Friday, March 27, 2015

Lose the Textbook and Build Student Autonomy

I got rid of my textbook for my one school.  I need to find out if I can for the other school too.  I just didn't find myself using it enough to justify asking students to buy it.  When I taught high school I barely used the book because I had 7 copies (that were falling apart) for classes of up to 32 students.  I'll let you think about the logistics of that for awhile.

Ok.  Crazy right?  Anyways I've gotten used to not using textbooks.  There are times I have used them and liked having the option but in my college writing classroom they are no longer necessary.

So, what have I done instead?  This semester I am getting my students to buy in by giving them A LOT of autonomy in the form of choice.  I've done this by assigning them independent reading projects.



This means they are finding their own mentor texts.  The first one that I developed was focused on opinion writing.  I had them use online sources like Slate, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Salon to find essays that took a specific stance on a topic.

I told them they needed to find five different texts all about "pop culture" but I didn't stress if they got a little away from that.  The point was I wanted them to choose articles that interested them.  I didn't worry if they found archived pieces or not.  I wanted them to have variety.

Once they found their articles they had to complete five different tasks that asked them to examine the choices the authors made.  They did one task per article though I could have arranged it any way I wanted or used less samples.  Essentially they looked for things like thesis statements- and their placement, length of essays, use of figurative language, organizational features etc.

In doing so we found that most authors didn't write in a standard five paragraph essay format.  They realized thesis statements always come early in a piece but they don't have to be the last sentence of the first paragraph.  Some, not all, saw figurative language even though they were reading non-fiction.

I think it was quite successful though- next time I will probably pick one essay that I want them all to read and examine before we move into the independent part.

The big take away product at the end was writing a summary and response paper that was 1,000 words long.  This introduced the concepts of summarizing, quoting, and paraphrasing and using MLA citations.  Yet, they didn't have to use multiple sources.  They are still revising these papers as we are doing a portfolio as a final but I have seen drafts from everyone!

If you're interested in using my exact format I've put my handouts up for sale at my store.  Here are some of the pages that are included:





Thanks for reading!  Let me know how it works out!

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