Revising Seminar in Thinking and Writing (with an eye on inclusion) (PILOT Reflections)
In my first year teaching at SHU, I found the wide range of students I encountered to be eye-opening. My Seminar for Thinking and Writing class included top-notch students who showed up already knowing how to do college-level research, and it also included students whose fear of public speaking or whose dyslexia caused significant challenges.
Since Seminar in Thinking and Writing is a year-long course that also serves as sort of first-year-experience “homeroom” class, I think it makes good sense to have a wide range of students in the class. SHU also offers a one-credit lab and a three-credit developmental course that goes along with STW, for those students who need extra help. If I work more closely with the other resources on campus that are available to students, I think I can make STW a better experience for students with additional learning needs.
In my previous STW course, only one student was identified in advance as needing special accommodation; and a volunteer from the class took notes for another student who has difficulty following oral instructions. But issues with time management, fear of public speaking, and the pressure of timed assignments also surfaced. In a slightly different but not unrelated category are those students who missed far too many classes due to athletic commitments.
I was glad to see that the course asked us to look at the example of a student-athlete with far too many commitments. It’s refreshing to be reminded that I’m not the only instructor who feels frustrated about how difficult it is to teach students who miss class. A student who misses class misses out on the discussions, informal interaction, and bonding that takes place in the classroom. That student also misses the opportunity for Q & A, and timeliness is a factor, too – a question that I would love for a student to ask two weeks before an assignment is due may be a burden for me to answer (and impossible for the student to absorb) the night before the assignment is due.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record, reminding students how important it is to manage one’s time. But I’m the pot calling the kettle black – I often chat far too long with students during my office hours, and then rush through a stack of papers to return them in time. There are some necessary activities that are not fun, and there are some fun activities that are not necessary.
One major adjustment I will make is to rely less on the oral delivery of instructions. However, when I shift to written prose descriptions, I tend to get too verbose. I have a large collection of online instructional handouts, and any time I find myself explaining anything in words, part of my brain starts wondering, “How can I make this chunk of text do double-duty as part of an online handout (or weblog entry)?” Invariably, I add too many hyperlinks to related concepts, which frustrates the student who simply wants to know what I want for this particular assignment.