View Full Version : A big mistake

09-03-2008, 10:22 AM
This fall I have taken on an adjunct instructor's job at my local university (The University of Alaska -Anchorage), teaching two night classes at a satellite campus location outside the main campus. One is in physical geology, the other in English composition, the latter specifically titled "Introduction to College Writing". That ought to be nebulous enough.

Now, to a great extent, like Indiana Jones, in the English class, I'm making it up as I go. The major intent of the course is to improve student writing skills in essays and research paper writing. I've decided to concentrate, in the first half or so of the semester, on having them write a lot of small essays, less than 1000 words generally, of various kinds, to be critiqued, revised and edited before being turned in for a grade.

But here's the mistake. I considered a topic for the first assignment, and lit on the idea of having them describe a memorable classroom experience, in college or high school. Then, stupid me, I told them a story of the kind I wanted them to write, of about the only class I still find truly memorable from my 1960s undergrad years. Then, even stupider me, I told them I would participate in the work by writing that story into an essay of my own, and we would all critique it for further editing, as an example of how to shape and mold writing into a finished form.

So, I've spent my evening doing homework of my own assigning, and it has evolved into a beast around twice the length I want them to do. Now I have to get it all typed and ready for reproduction tomorrow, so I can give everyone a copy. It is pure rough draft, I have deliberately not rewritten or edited anything, because I want it that way for class work.

And now, almost finished with it (I have a couple of concluding paragraphs to write), I find myself utterly depressed. I haven't been able to write anything worthwhile all year, in fact dating back to maybe summer 2007, and am on the verge of just retiring from the entire exercise. This thing I've written for a specific purpose, and I guess that makes it worthwhile for the immediate moment (See, children, how terrible your instructor can write? You need to do better than this.)

But it's just reinforced the feeling that nothing else I've written or am capable of writing has any future. Crystal meth would be a more socially acceptable obsession.


09-03-2008, 06:34 PM
I don't know, the essay above is pretty interesting. However, vague intro to writing courses depress me, too. Luckily I was able to avoid taking them -- students with a certain GPA coming in were assumed to know how to write already. (Hahahahaha. I work with Ph.Ds who can't write yet.)

I guess it comes down to writing for writing's sake, or Krishna's great advice: You have a right to work. You don't have a right to the fruits of work. Hard to accept, but ultimately freeing.

09-03-2008, 06:58 PM
It seems that you need to learn your own lesson.

The object of this exercise is to show your students 'how to shape and mold writing into a finished form'. You've deliberately created a 'rough draft' so that they can actually see you do it with some of your own writing. (By the way, I think this is a wonderful teaching exercise. I wish I'd had an instructor that did the same thing.)

But the important thing is - you know it's a rough draft. You can explain why. You can tighten it up and make it better.

ALL rough drafts are terrible. The secret to being a writer is taking that unpolished gem and making it into a jewel. And you can do that.

aka eraser
09-03-2008, 07:13 PM
Blac, I have a hunch you'll find the polishing process reveals a gem of an essay when all's said and done. Let us know.

09-03-2008, 07:24 PM
Twice the length? You have an instant example of wordiness and a great opportunity to show a pruning exercise to get to the point and stick to it, and adhere to guidelines -eh?

Good luck, Blackbird -I have no doubt this will turn out splendidly for all concerned.

09-03-2008, 07:25 PM
Depression is awful and can skew a person's perspective of things. If you've been feeling this negative about your writing for so long, you might want to take a step back and assess your mindset overall. Is it really the writing, or something more that simply manifests into dissatisfaction in your work? What originally jazzed you about writing? How can you rediscover that?

Often, people who are struggling with the disease of depression will begin to abandon friends, hobbies and activities that they love because they lose what got them jazzed to begin with.

Seek help; as the days shorten in Alaska, that could compound the problem. It's not that you're not writing things that are meaningful, it's that you've ceased to get what you used to out of the activity of writing. You can get it back.

I've been there; I know. Feel free to PM me if you'd like to talk offthread.:Hug2:

09-03-2008, 07:34 PM
I'll bet the class will love it. Kind of like a grown-up version of "I Spy." Don't second guess yourself, blacbird. Go for it. Pretend (to yourself) it's the greatest tool for teaching writing ever. The students won't know you're doubting yourself or the project.

09-03-2008, 08:01 PM
Never let them see you sweat. Anything they find fault with that you didn't intend, just pretend you did it on purpose. As a learning excercise. Yeah. That's the ticket. Yeah.

09-03-2008, 08:28 PM
In my composition class, the prof let us choose our topics. We had five assignments over the course of the term, all about 3 pages each, each one focusing on a particular style of writing (specific to general, general to specific, chronological, etc.). He had the benefit of years of experience on which to rely for examples, but he also chose examples from a textbook (that I never bought).

09-03-2008, 10:06 PM
I would have loved seeing a writing teacher's process when I was in school. I think this is a brilliant exercise. They'll see how to cut, how to edit, and that no one starts with perfect prose.

Hang in there! Keep moving forward despite your doubts.

09-03-2008, 10:11 PM
You're going to teach them how to write a rough, maybe even how rough a rough can look. :)

You are going to teach them to "murder their darlings" and focus.

But, you know... You have an opportunity to teach this kids something else as well.

How to take criticism about their writing. How it is "the writing, not the writer" that is to be criticized, and how both can be made better in the process.

Good luck.

09-04-2008, 10:50 AM
Well, I had my class tonight. Got to demonstrate, in detail, how spectacularly my writing sucks.

It's good to be superior at something, I guess.


Appalachian Writer
09-04-2008, 11:01 AM
Your first mistake: becoming an adjunct instructor. I've worked as an adjunct for almost 10 years and I know whereof I speak. The slave labor of the educational system. Second: Intro to College Writing, an expository course, should begin as simply as possible. You've got the idea. Most classes begin with a personal narrative. Should you allow new students to critique your work? Probably not.

Your goal is to prepare the student for writing on a college level. You should move from the personal narrative to a slighty more complicated one, say process analysis, and finally your last assignment should be an argument paper that requires some documentation. The second semester class will give students their true experience re:writing a research paper. If you need any help, let me know. I've got lesson plans and assignments coming out the ying-yang.

09-04-2008, 11:17 AM
Actually, I thought the class went well. I'm not concerned about other people critiquing my stuff, not in the least. I was in the Army, and have had my stuff "critiqued" by pros.

As an aside, another thing we are aiming to do is to produce, at the end of the course, an anthology of the best of the classwork, just for student enjoyment, via Lulu.


09-04-2008, 12:39 PM
Well, I had my class tonight. Got to demonstrate, in detail, how spectacularly my writing sucks.
Don't you get to rewrite your first draft? So your final draft, half the size of the first, will come to be regarded as an exquisitively crafted example of how a fine purse can be made from a sow's ear? (Whoops... like everyone already said.)

As an aside, another thing we are aiming to do is to produce, at the end of the course, an anthology of the best of the classwork, just for student enjoyment, via Lulu.
Intro To Self-Publishing 101? :D