Keeping it Human

I am writing this with contradictory midterm evaluation feedback floating around in my mind. “More small groups please!” “I hate small groups!” The one thing that came back as a consistent piece of positive feedback, however, was about one-on-one meetings. They like them. This semester I only have fifteen students, and while I only have one semester of co-teaching 34 students to compare anything to, one of the most rewarding things has been being able to have more one-on-one contact time with all of them. After feeling last semester like I only really got to know my students by the end of the semester, one of my main goals for this time around was to reach that stage quicker. I started the class with required office hours in the first two weeks in which I gave them feedback on their diagnostic in person and talked about their feelings about writing. While I remember little about the writing part of the discussions, there were so many other benefits. 1) I think they appreciated voicing their concerns. 2) They learned where office hours were held, and I got to put in a plug for coming back to see me. 3) I got a better sense of their lives, what they’re into, who likes nature documentaries, who has never seen a documentary, who is a potential Olympian (whaaat), who had tried to take an R1B twice before but dropped out each time, and who might be a film major. And 4) It honestly also just made getting up in front of all of them less intimidating.

I scheduled two more required one-on-one meetings across the semester (replacing our Wednesday back to back class and screening with three hours of meeting marathon). They correspond one per each major assignment, and the second one just happened. I read all their drafts quickly and marked major points to talk about with keywords to myself at the top of the page. This was much more pleasant to me than writing written comments and far more productive because they could get instant clarification on what they couldn’t understand. It also allowed the feedback session to double as a brainstorming session for those who needed to make major changes. And allowed me to reassure the ones who came in expressing doubts but had actually promising drafts. And to gently suggest that a lot more work (and office hours follow up) was needed for those who were struggling. In short, it was more human. 

I’ve been thinking of “keeping things human,” as cheesy as it is, as a sort of guide star for my semester. On the spur of the moment I had them do a quick free write on Monday describing a scene they would film if they were making a documentary about the power outage. The variety of approaches was great, they had to think about formal choices and style, and everyone was amused. Perhaps it was just because it was top of mind, but a number of them asked for more in class free writing on their mid-term evaluation. And, of course, one of them said they thought it was pointless. 

3 thoughts on “Keeping it Human”

  1. Hi Tory,
    Thanks for your post and reflections! I also just finished reviewing midsemester evaluations and can absolutely relate to the contradictory feedback, especially about in-class activity preferences (although I personally love the idea of the freewrite about the power outage!).
    Your feelings about meeting with students being helpful not only to them but to you really resonate with me, particularly in terms of feeling comfortable with each other and establishing that early on in the semester (and meeting potential Olympians!). I think I’m going to take a cue from you and schedule the first meeting even sooner (I usually do mine in Week 4 or so), and also try out meeting with students about rough drafts rather than providing only written feedback. I think the downside of only providing written feedback is that sometimes the students you’d most like to see come to office hours don’t wind up doing so, for a variety of reasons. I like the idea of making space for that to happen– it feels more democratic. I’ll be curious to hear more about the extent of written notes you include on their drafts before you meet with them.
    See you soon!
    Marlena

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  2. Tory, thank you for writing this. As you all know, I’ve long been a fan of required in-person office hours and giving feedback one-on-one. Your post helped me realize that this semester I have built too much of that into my syllabus and these meetings have now mostly become rote. I’m not “keeping it human” anymore! This semester I’m doing too much and when that happens, I’m realizing, “keeping it human” is what falls away and I just start ticking things off my list without fully showing up for anything. Not good and I appreciate the reminder to keep it human/keep it real.

    As for contradictory feedback, I’d love to discuss strategies for dealing with that today in our group meeting…I’ve always been perplexed how to handle this but have sometimes had good on-one-on discussions with students where they clarify what they don’t like about an exercise or activity and then I can adjust the activity to respond to that. That has sometimes worked to resolve the contradictions. More on that later, see you all soon!

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  3. I’m particularly intrigued by your account of how one-on-one conferencing is transforming your approach to structuring written feedback on student drafts. Any practice that can streamline and expedite how and when students receive serviceable feedback on their writing seems like a win to me–especially an approach that can minimize confusion and miscommunication and make the process feel more personal and supportive. I’m also requiring one-on-one writing conferences in my course this semester, and I’ve noticed similar positive responses and outcomes with my students after completing our first round of meetings. It’s been gratifying (and a little surprising) to hear students explain how their one-on-one meeting was the first time that a piece of feedback, a concept, or a writing strategy that we’ve been working with extensively in class has really “clicked.”

    Since I am a visual learner, receiving detailed comments on my writing has always helped me. Written comments give me something to study and return to in my attempts to internalize the advice. My own bias has likely caused me to over-comment on student writing. Even when guided by a “less is more” mentality, I still find commenting on drafts incredibly taxing and time consuming on my part, and I’m not convinced that the students find the comments immediately useful. I’m wondering if shifting more of this time and energy to face-to-face conversations about drafts could improve the speed and quality of these cycles of drafting and responding. After having some breakthrough moments in conferences, I’ve been brainstorming how I might modify the way I’m structuring feedback in order to better support multiple modalities. Your post and the success you are finding with conference gives me courage to experiment more with how I respond. I would love to hear more about how you are coding/marking papers in order to facilitate more detailed conversations about student work.

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