A RhetNet SnapShot Reply:
THE GRADING VORTEX
Lynne, this class had grades, but they were high, because the groups worked very hard and brought their grades way up. How did I know the groups were truly collaborating? I could see it. I could see that there were some students who took the lead, who always called the other, who always emailed me with the questions they wanted answered, who took charge of MLA style, who were leaders in general. But in a class of nineteen, I knew who was doing what.
Here's how the class was set up: last year at a brainstorming breakfast hosted by student affairs, the dean of student life said he would like to hear more from students, and I replied that I had students who would like to be listened to. I'd always wanted to teach a class where students were the genuine authorities and where their writing would be significant, would be attended to, would be important. So this dean and I set up the course with one experimental section out of a large FY comp program. The class broke into four groups, each reporting to a dean or director from Student Affairs, and each wrote two reports, one which detailed their responses to the first weeks of life at Marquette (and the creation of community here) and one at the end of the semester which made recommendations.
The deans came to class the second week and told the students the kinds of things they needed to know. They also told them the things they did *not* need to know. They made it abundantly clear that they knew all about alcohol, drugs, and sex on campus, that they knew about fake IDs, and the white underbelly of campus life. They didn't want the students to hold back or falsify. And they wanted student voices, not some disembodied voice of report writing. Big job.
But what a pleasure that class was. You should have seen their faces light up when I told them what we would be doing.
Midway between the two reports they wrote one individual paper (I needed to see if individual students had writing problems that did not manifest themselves in e-journal writing). This paper had as its audience a student at risk, and its goal was to convince this student that there were ways around their problems. The person in charge of retention at MU came to the class and had a discussion with my students, the end result of which was that they got to "come out," admitting that they, too, were at risk, and many of them ended up seeking out services they needed to improve.
When the deans had read the first reports (and they all disseminated them in ways that let the students know that they were indeed important to them) they told them what they had found useful and what would have helped further.
By the end of the semester, these students had an uncanny understanding of the workings of a university, and such a good take on their own performance there. They also saw the complexity of the issues they had to write about; at the beginning of the year, the reports seemed easy to write, but as they developed better critical thinking strategies, they saw the problems for what they are: complicated, difficult to solve, complex, multifaceted. Throughout the semester the class developed a true sense of community. It sounds too good to be true. Could I replicate such a great experience for them and me? I think so.
Sorry this was so long-winded and cheerleaderish, but if anyone wants an even longer version, I'm working on it for our director of FY comp, who wants to try to integrate elements of what I did into the program.