Online Teaching: A New Semester, A New Plan

Over the past few days on Twitter, there’s been a lot of talk about reassessing and re-evaluating methods used in the Fall 2020 semester, the first semester some of us taught fully online. Stimulating conversations about platforms, schedules, assignment sequences, etc., have captivated me. I’m reading through long threads and reply chains of methods and considerations, of questions as well as answers. The collegial support, first of all, is so amazing. And the ideas being shared are invigorating. They also made me review the methods I’ve been using – and constantly tweaking – this semester, and the plans I’ve been making for the Spring 2021 semester. And I – to my own surprise, as usual – have lots of thoughts! So, time for a blog post rounding up some things I’ve learned over the last few months of our new normal.

As usual, this turned out to be far more than I expected to write. So skip down to the end to see what I’m planning for next semester if you don’t want to read in-depth reflections of my past semester.

Content Links:

Consideration #1: Scheduling
Consideration #2: Assignment Sequences
Consideration #3: Accountability
Spring 2021 Scheduling
Spring 2021 Assignment Sequences
Spring 2021 Accountability

Consideration #1: Scheduling

In the fall semester, I’ve been teaching three classes. One class is scheduled to meet twice a week for 1.5 hours each time, and the other two are scheduled to meet once a week for 3 hours. In planning my classes over the summer, I wanted to avoid “Zoom-fatigue,” and I also wanted to take advantage of the online tools available to us now. I designed the syllabus to be a mix of synchronous and asynchronous class. My plan was for each class to meet for half of the weekly allotted time.

For the twice-a-week class (English 300), we would meet only on Monday mornings for 1.5 hours. The other 1.5 hours of scheduled meeting time would be replaced by asynchronous Discussion Boards, due by Sunday evening before we meet. I planned to upload a video lecture on Sundays, about the text which students would be reading for the following Monday. So students’ weeks would look like this:

  • Watch the video lecture, starting on Monday afternoon.
  • Read the text due the following Monday.
  • Participate in Discussion Boards by Sunday.
  • Come to class on Monday morning, when we would discuss the video lecture, text, and discussions.
  • And repeat…

For my English 300 class, this worked fairly well. I think the reason it worked is in large part due to the strict assignment routine I set up, which I’ll discuss in the next consideration.

This was not the case for my other two classes, both of which were English 223. These two classes were scheduled for once-a-week meetings, 3 hours each. One section met on Monday evenings, and the other section on Thursday evenings. Again, I planned to meet for 1.5 hours rather than 3 hours, with the other 1.5 hours of class time replaced by asynchronous Discussion Boards and a video lecture. Students’ weeks were supposed to look the same as what I envisoned for the English 300 class:

  • Watch the video lecture, starting on Tuesday morning for the Monday evening section, and starting on Friday morning for the Thursday evening section.
  • Read the text due the following Monday or Thursday.
  • Participate in Discussion Boards by Monday morning or Thursday morning.
  • Come to class on Monday or Thursday evening, when we would discuss the video lecture, text, and discussions.
  • And repeat…

The main problem with this schedule is that it gave me little time to read Discussion Boards before class. I had made the deadline just before synchronous class meetings because I wanted to give students the full flexibility that asynchronicity affords. I knew that some students would wait until the last second, but I (foolishly, I guess) assumed at least some students would post earlier in the week. I stressed over and over again in the first month of the semester that the earlier they post, the better. My English 300 class was a bit better at posting earlier in the week, which I think may be due to a few reasons.

First, they had signed up for a bi-weekly class. So setting aside time on Wednesday morning was part of their plan when they registered. My English 223 students had registered for one evening a week, and they were unlikely to use the remaining 1.5 hours to get started on the following week’s texts after spending 1.5 hours in synchronous class.

Second, most of my English 223 students had signed up for evening classes because they work full-time during the day. Many of them also have children or parents to take care of when they get home. They simply do not have time during the day to do 1.5 hours worth of work. And their other evenings are occupied by their other classes.

Third, I was a lot looser in my initial planning for English 223 than I was for English 300. As I mentioned before, my English 300 class kept to a strict routine, and the purpose of each assignment and of the overall course structure was entirely transparent. I did not do so well with my English 223 class. So, onto the next consideration.

Consideration #2: Assignment Sequences

Over the summer, as I planned my Fall 2020 classes, I wanted to set up a routine of the same assignments each week. That way, students would know the broad outlines of what was expected of them each week, and not have to worry about forgetting new assignments.

For my English 300 class, this goal worked out well.

In part (I suspect), this was because I had a clearer idea of the overall goal of the course. English 300 is Introduction to Literary Study. It’s a required course for all English majors, and its goal is to prepare students to study English literature. Fairly simple. When I looked at sample syllabi provided by the English department (this was my first semester teaching the class), I saw that some professors treated the class like a historical survey. I knew immediately that I would not do that. The department has other classes specifically for that purpose. Other professors treated it like a theory class, studying one theory in depth every few weeks. I didn’t want to do that either. I knew that I wanted to teach skill more than theory or content. So I combined a few things, and decided on this approach:

  • I would begin the semester with a lecture on New Criticism, pointing out that students are already familiar with this method of analyzing texts and providing terms for concepts and analytical techniques they are already comfortable with. We would read two short texts (a translation of Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” and Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon”) and apply the methods of New Criticism to the texts.
  • Then, I would divide the class into five groups. Each group would be assigned one theory to read in the textbook. We would spend two weeks reading and discussing the theories.
  • After that, the whole class would read the same primary texts each week, and each group would read that week’s text through the lens of their assigned theory.
  • The first essay would ask students to analyze one of the texts we read using their assigned theory.
  • We would then repeat the process, shuffling the groups with each new group studying another theory for a week, reading new primary texts, and writing another essay using this second theory.
  • We would end by reading one more text, everyone thinking about all the theories we’d studied over the semester, and they would write a final paper using any two theories they wanted.

The first week went wonderfully, as we close-read “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Reluctant Dragon.” In Discussion Boards, I pointed out when students were using theoretical lenses like feminism, Marxism, animal studies, etc., to prepare them for seeing the new theories as things they already know and think about, rather than scary complicated new ideas.

In the next few weeks, students stressed the fuck out. They read 30-page chapters on theory, and freaked out about not understanding it on the first read. Despite my numerous reassurances that I did not expect them to understand them on the first read, despite the Discussion Boards which were divided into two sections:

  • 1) What did you find interesting in this chapter? Anything you recognized from previous classes or general knowledge?
  • 2) What questions do you have? What confused you?

They worried not only that they didn’t understand the theory itself, but that they didn’t know how to apply the theories to literary texts. I started despairing and almost pulled the plug on my whole plan. But I stuck with it. And I’m glad I did. I just had to keep reiterating that I did not expect them to become experts overnight, and that the whole point of devoting the following weeks to reading texts through their assigned theories was that they would learn how to read texts through theoretical lenses!

When we read primary texts, each week’s two Discussion Boards were the same:

  • Open Discussion on the text: I started some threads with questions and observations. This was a space for extremely casual and informal discussion of and reaction to the texts.
  • Theoretical Application: This forum each week asked students to use terms and ideas from their assigned theories to think about that week’s texts. I asked them to either write an interpretation of a specific plotline, character, element, etc., or to write some questions about the text through their theoretical lens.

I engaged in both weekly Discussion Boards often throughout the week (which I was able to d because students posted throughout the week and didn’t wait until the last second). I used lots of emojis and memes in the Open Discussion forum to encourage informality, and I wrote lengthy comments in response to the Theoretical Application posts. I also utilized the private feedback spaces to guide individual students who were struggling, rather than calling them out where the whole class could see.

Each synchronous class session was designed the same as well:

  • We begin with an open discussion where students can ask questions or tell us their burning opinions about the text. I address any issues I saw come up in the Discussion Boards, I mention some on-point comments from the Discussion Board, and we have an informal chat (via unmuting and texting in the chat widow) for about 20 minutes.
  • Students then move into breakout rooms, meeting with their assigned theory group to discuss their theory and its application to the text, expanding on their Discussion Board conversations. (I move between groups to answer questions and guide conversations.)
  • We come back to the main room, where students can ask questions that came up during groupwork or share some exciting insights.
  • Students then get shuffled into random groups, where each student teaches the others about their theory and recaps what their group discussed about the text. (Again, I move between groups.)
  • Finally, we come back into the main room, debrief, set up for the next week, and say goodbye.

By the time we moved on to the second set of theories, students commented on how different the experience was the second time around, that they now understood what the point was, and that it’s easier this time around because they know what to expect, they know how to think about theory, and they know how to think about applying the theory to literature. (One student even said “our professor is a genius,” which I will absolutely take.)

I did change the essay requirement so that students didn’t have to use any particular theory. It was a good decision, because it opened the opportunity for students to write about any aspect of the text that caught their interest in the preceding weeks. And the essays were almost all a smashing success.

My English 223 classes were a different story.

English 223 at Lehman is (for one more semester, before the curriculum overhaul takes effect in Fall 2021) an overview of English Literature for non-majors. It’s supposed to cover all of British literature, from Old English to 21st-century literature. That’s… a lot.

Again, this was my first time teaching the course, so I turned to sample syllabi provided by the English department. It seemed like some professors tried to cover all literary eras with three or four short texts each week; some skipped around and assigned a mixture of longer and shorter texts, without covering all literary eras; and many focused on their area of expertise. There did not seem to be a clear consensus on what the purpose of the course was. The catalog description is “Masterworks that form the basis of the literary heritage of the English language. Authors may include Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift or Pope, Wordsworth or Keats, Yeats, and a nineteenth- or twentieth-century novel.” I decided to frame the course as a question about the description itself, asking who decides what gets categorized as a “masterwork,” and what “the literary heritage of the English language” even means.

I started the semester with a collection of readings about “the” canon, about “identity canons” (ie, the gay canon, the canon of women writers, the Latinx canon, etc.), and about how and why we read. I then began a backwards-march through British literature, beginning with a postmodern dystopian novel (Individutopia, by Joss Sheldon) and aiming to end with Beowulf. The point was to flip the expected, to ask “what is the current state of English literature” before moving on to “what forms the basis of this body of literature?”

The plan for routine was:

  • A detailed video lecture about the ideas I wanted to focus on, including historical context and literary analysis.
  • Two Discussion Boards each week, with specific questions that students choose from. Students post one original thread in each forum, and reply to at least five classmates overall.
  • Groupwork in synchronous class sessions to work on various literary analysis skills.

From the beginning, this was a disaster. I had taught composition classes before, where students were not English majors. I thought I knew what to expect. But students in my 223 classes struggled with reading the texts on the canon and all its issues, and seemed to be using the page citations in my Discussion Board questions as an invitation to read only those pages. So their responses were completely out of context. Too late, I realized that I should have begun with at least one or two weeks about how to read, only then (maybe) moving on to these meta discussions.

Discussion of Individutopia was okay, not great. The essays on Individutopia displayed a complete lack of knowledge about writing paragraphs, essays, thesis statements, etc. This is a writing intensive class, but it’s not a composition class. I had set aside time to teach writing, but not to the extent that most students clearly needed. I do not blame the students, of course. But I was very frustrated.

We moved on to the Modernism week, where I had students reading an excerpt from Woolf’s essay on Modernism, Joyce’s “Araby,” and Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I was a bit hesitant to assign that much reading for one week, but the sample syllabi I had consulted assigned far more per week than that. It was an unmitigated disaster. Clearly, almost no one read all three texts. Some students could not differentiate between the editor’s headnote and the actual text. And the comments on the video lecture displayed very little understanding of the concepts of modernism I was explaining.

After that week, I changed the entire syllabus. I scrapped all the future readings. I had not assigned any full novels after the two weeks on Individutopia, in order to allow each week to be focused on a different literary era. Now, I assigned Pride and Prejudice to be read over three weeks (I provided the text as a PDF, not asking students to make a sudden mid-semester purchase), the 2005 movie for one week, and Ibi Zoboi’s Pride for three weeks. The remainder of the semester would be spent on in-class essay-writing work. I split the class into three groups, with each group required to attend synchronous classes only once every three weeks. Smaller class sizes would, I hoped, allow me to provide more direction to individual students. All students were told to watch the recording of class lectures afterwards.

I also reduced Discussion Boards to one per week, no longer requiring students to create a new thread: their only Discussion Board requirement was to post three times per week, original thread or as a response to a classmate (or me, since I did start some threads). I added Reading Responses instead of the second Discussion Board. I wrote detailed instructions for short responses, designed to scaffold some reading and writing skills I hadn’t thought I would need to teach, in preparation for the second essay. I emphasized again and again that these Reading Responses were preparation for the essay, and that some students may even be able to use whole sentences or paragraphs from the Reading Responses in their essays.

  • The first Reading Response for Pride and Prejudice asked students to identify three characters, describe their social status, wealth, and personality; and reflect on how these three elements affect their interactions with others (total 250 words).
  • In that week’s synchronous class, we focused on analyzing short passages of text.
  • The following week’s Reading Response asked students to copy over a single short passage, explain why they chose it, and analyze its significance (total 250 words).
  • In that week’s synchronous class, we zoomed out to look at chapter summaries. In groups, students wrote chapter summaries in a Google Slides document. I asked them to write a five-point plot summary, a one-sentence plot summary, and one sentence about the chapter’s significance to the novel’s overall plots, relationships, and themes.
  • The Reading Response for the following week asked them to do literally that exact thing with one chapter chosen from the next 20 chapters.
  • In the following week’s synchronous class, by which time students were supposed to have finished reading the novel, we made lists of couples in the novel. We took notes on how their relationships end (happy? rich? in love?) and the trajectory of how each couple go to where they are. I showed them how looking at these patterns can lead us to answer “what is the novel saying about relationships? about marriage? about society’s rules? etc.?” (See image below.) Students pasted potential thesis statements into the chat, I copied them into a document I was sharing on their screens, and I asked each student to explain their thesis (essentially asking for proof and support). I bolded components of the thesis to show how theses can be broken down into components that require support and proof.
  • They watched the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie for the next week, and the Reading Response asked them to do review the thesis work we had done in class, and then think about whether the relationships and social rules play out the same way in the movie (again, total 250 words).
  • The essay asked them to take all of that work and put it into an essay which makes a claim about what the novel (or movie) says about marriage, relationships, social rules, pride, etc.
Image: Document of notes taken in class as described above, charting relationships’ trajectories and end results. The last one is crossed out because the student realized, after trying to prove it, that this interpretation is insupportable by the novel – a victory for learning about how interpretation and support works!

None of that worked as planned, either.

The students who were doing fine continued to show up for synchronous classes as required, and some even attended during weeks when they weren’t scheduled (they asked my permission first). They also submitted their Reading Responses with thoughtful writing, showing sufficient preparation for writing their next essay. They made appointments to speak with me during office hours, and we reviewed their first essay and their Reading Responses one-on-one.

Some students who had been struggling stopped coming to synchronous classes at all. I wasn’t holding them accountable for attendance, and they knew that. So they stopped coming.

Some students who had been severely misunderstanding the texts and the assignments submitted Reading Responses that were way off the mark. When that happened, I provided detailed feedback and encouraged them to meet with me during office hours, and to visit the writing center. When I finally got in touch with a few who were really failing, they candidly told me that they were not even reading the assignment sheets, just assuming that a Reading Response meant “write some thoughts about what you read.” I was despairing, no idea how to fix this. (You would think that these students would then make sure to read the directions for the following assignments. That did not happen.)

Eventually, I was able to see that my feeling of failure here was coming from the unique position that online teaching puts both professors and students in. I know not every student will get an A, and I know a good few students might fail. But in “regular” classes, I don’t see it as clearly as I was seeing it now, every week, with every assignment. As Jody Greene points out in an excellent Twitter thread, the result of our wonderful thinking about how to keep students engaged and motivated during these online semesters often results in exposing the accountability (or lack thereof) we may not have realized wasn’t in place before. So, onto the next consideration.

Consideration #3: Accountability

My immediate reaction to Jody Greene’s tweet thread was this:

Two tweets from Dainy Bernstein. Tweet 1 text: "This is pretty much it. Students are used to opening the text five minutes before class, skimming the intro, reading Sparknotes. In class, depend on clues from other students to pick up and engage just enough in conversation and groupwork. Now, they can't do that." Tweet 2 text: "That's not necessarily a good thing. When I realized early this semester that I was asking students to come up with original thoughts each week in a way I wouldn't expect in f2f classes, I scaled it all way back. Making space for removing that pressure actually raised engagement."

As I said above, online teaching means that I see and register students’ failure to engage or understand differently. If a student is checked out in a regular classroom setting, I may notice it, but it won’t distract me. I won’t obsess over it. In online teaching, if a student is doing the bare minimum or less, it’s right there in my face when I read their Discussion Boards and Reading Responses, when I check on the Grade Center (which I am doing so much more often than I usually do). At first, I thought – great! This is built-in capability to keep an eye on students, identify who needs help early, and actually support students better! I forgot that some students just aren’t interested in that. And that some students don’t think they need help, no matter how much I may offer it.

Like, this RMP review shouldn’t bother me, because I know I reached out to all students who got zeroes on assignments and essays to offer help, I know that I spent forty-five minutes talking to one student who got a zero on his essay and subsequently gave him an A, and I know that each zero was very much deserved, and yet it still bothers me (and not just because of the misgendering).

screenshot from Rate My Professor, with an "awful" rating. Review reads: "Skip her class she is a lousy grader. She likes to give zeroes on papers."

Now, Jody Greene’s observation that “our previous expectations of how much work students were actually doing in our classes were off by a mile” is a good one. But I did always know that a significant percentage of students rarely do the reading before class, and that the ones who do don’t always read it as carefully as I would like.

And that’s usually fine! In-person classes allow students to sit back during the first part of discussion, to listen to the conversation and pick up on key details. When we point to specific lines in the text, they can get a sense of the text. When I assign groupwork, they’ll admit to their groupmates that they didn’t read (but please don’t let the professor know), and their group members will catch them up and protect them from my potential wrath.

And all of that is fine. That’s how learning works. With those who have more time and energy (and interest) sometimes carrying those whose jobs and families overwhelm them.

(The students who genuinely don’t care won’t be doing these things I describe to catch up in class. They’re a whole separate story. But again, I can usually ignore them during in-person classes, after establishing that they’re not interested in my help. I only have to deal with them when they’re upset at their inevitable bad essay grades.)

But students are feeling now that they’re being expected to do more work, because we are holding them accountable and grading bits and pieces of weekly work on a level we have not done until now. Sure, we collected and graded in-class writing, but being in person and jotting down some things on a paper during class sessions is very different from submitting Discussion Boards or Reading Responses outside of synchronous class sessions.

Which leads me to my Spring 2021 plans.

Will they work better? Only time will tell. But they’re based on all of the above thoughts and considerations, so maybe.

Spring 2021 Scheduling:

I’m teaching two classes in Spring 2021. They’re both classes I’ve taught before, though not for a little while. My English 121 class (English Composition II: Introduction to Literature) meets on Wednesday evenings for 4 hours. My English 301 class (British Literature I: Origins to Early Modern) meets on Tuesday evenings for 3 hours. I am planning to ask students to attend class for the full time, rather than splitting things up into a combination of synchronous and asynchronous. Here’s how they’ll work:

English 121: English Composition II: Introduction to Literature

The class is scheduled to run from 6pm to 9:40pm. Composition classes are always 4 hours / 4 credits at Lehman. Once-a-week 4-hour classes can be brutal. I taught two back-to-back sections of once-a-week 4-hour composition classes at College of Staten Island one semester, so I have some ideas from that coming into play here too.

  • We begin class at 6pm via Teams video sessions. I will lecture a bit and facilitate discussion of the assigned reading, the writing skill we’re discussing, etc.
  • At 6:45pm, our video session will end. Students remain logged into Teams but our activity moves to the text channels. They will read or re-read the text for that week, and will chat via text channels. They will ask questions about specific words or ideas and get answers from me in real time. They will respond to specific prompts. They will engage in informal conversation with classmates and with me. We’ll do this for 1 hour 15 minutes (the extra 15 minutes is a buffer for getting drinks, bathroom breaks, and getting back into the video session).
  • At 8:00pm, we’ll return to a Teams video session. We’ll review any questions, talk about implications of the text channel discussions, etc. I will introduce a new key concept or skill.
  • At 8:45pm, our Teams video session ends again. Students remain logged onto the text channels. They complete some writing work, sometimes individually and sometimes in pairs or groups. They ask questions via the text channel, and they submit their writing. I won’t be able to see their work as they write.
  • At 9:15pm, we return to the Teams video session. We review any questions and insights, we take a look at a few students’ work, we critique them, and we wrap up the session. I tell them what we’ll be reading / writing for next week, and we say goodbye at 9:40pm.
  • I stay on for a half hour longer to comment on the writing of students’ whose submissions were not used as samples in the last section of class.

English 301: British Literature I: Origins to Early Modern

(First of all, yes, the course title is being changed along with the complete curriculum overhaul.)

This class is scheduled meet from 6pm to 8:40pm on Tuesdays. It is a writing-intensive course, but (in contrast to the 223 classes I taught in fall 2020) almost all students enrolled in this class are English majors. Many are also education majors. I am planning to use plenty of class time to teach, practice, and critique writing. Those weeks when they’re writing essay drafts will of course look slightly different than the schedule I outline here:

  • We begin class at 6pm via Teams video sessions. Students will have (supposedly) read the assigned text ahead of class. I will have prepared them for reading via a short lecture at the end of the previous week’s class. We’ll spend half an hour on open discussion, plot review, etc. I will set up the focus of the evening.
  • At 6:30pm, our video session will end. Students will remain logged onto Teams and will move to text channels. They will follow instructions to re-read (or read for the first time) the text, or specific sections of a longer text. They will ask for clarification about specific words, lines, characters, plot points, etc. I will post prompts and questions to think about as they read. They will discuss these questions and themes with me and with each other in the text channel. I will encourage them to cite specific lines as they share their thoughts and analyses. For some sessions, they’ll work in pairs or groups. For some sessions, I’ll provide worksheets for them to use in addition to the regular text-chatting.
  • At 7:30pm, we will return to our Teams video session. We’ll talk about the points brought up in the text chat. I’ll make any corrections or clarifications necessary, which I’ll have been marking down during the hour of text-chatting.
  • At 8:00pm, we’ll end the video session again and move back to text-chatting. This time, I’ll ask students to move beyond the comprehension / light analysis of the previous text-session. They will write brief analytic responses to the text we’ve been discussing, using my prompt which will direct them in skills of literary analysis (building throughout the semester).
  • At 8:30pm, we’ll jump back into our video session one last time. We’ll review any questions, and I will set them up for next week’s reading.

And that’s it!

It’s a lot of moving back and forth, but it accomplishes at least two things:

  1. It avoids “Zoom fatigue.”
  2. It allows the “extra work” of Discussion Boards and Responses, when there’s an asynchronous component, to more closely resemble the “regular” in-class work of reading, discussing, and low-stakes writing.

Spring 2021 Assignment Sequences

Since I’m setting aside so much time during synchronous class sessions for writing, I won’t feel the need to “check in” and “make sure” students are reading more than I normally do in in-person classes. As Roopika Risam put it on Twitter:

Screenshot of tweet thread by Roopika Risam (username @roopikarisam) QT Jody Greene: Tweet 1 reads: "Unpopular opinion but there’s a pandemic on. If you trusted that students did the reading and were satisfied with how they did in your class before the pandemic, don’t add more assignments for “accountability” just because it gives you a sense of security." Tweet 2 reads: "Having worked in faculty support for online teaching during this pandemic, I’ve seen so many courses designed to obtain proof that students read *everything* assigned. It adds up. Then multiply by 5. And that’s before factoring in direct and indirect pandemic effects." Tweet 3 reads: "No wonder students are struggling! We didn’t prepare them for this much “accountability” before and are now dumping it on them in the middle of a public health, economic, and political crisis like many of them have never experienced before."

So now I’m able to more consciously go back to designing assignments the way I used to: designed to help students practice skills of reading and writing, not to prove that they’re doing the work.

Assignment Sequence for English 121:

The overarching idea behind the whole sequence is, of course, scaffolding. I begin this composition class with basic skills of summarizing and close reading, and then move on to a more complex essay. We end with a research essay. The weekly assignments are directly tied to these essays.

Each week, students will submit a short piece of writing, except for weeks when essays are due, of course. Each week’s assignment is due on Monday of the following week (five days after our synchronous session). The assignment will be drawn directly from what we worked on in the synchronous session, giving students an immediate chance to practice the skills they just learned. The will be allowed – and encouraged – to simply revise their in-class work for submission by Monday.

The assignments are as follows, week by week:

  1. Introduction Video: a close reading of a personal item.
  2. Summary of the short text we read and discussed in class.
  3. Essay #1: a short (2-3 page) close reading of one of the previous weeks’ short texts.
  4. Summary of a critical essay (we will read this entirely in class, no reading due while they work on their essay).
  5. Summary and analysis of a critical essay.
  6. Creative writing (we’re talking about narratives and how the stories we tell, and the way we tell them, reveal things about us, our values, and our hopes for the future, etc.)
  7. Essay #2 First Draft.
  8. Essay #2 Graded Draft, after a session on revision, organization, development, and peer review.
  9. Spring Break – no work. (Only I have to grade all their essays!)
  10. Summary of the movie we discussed in class.
  11. Analysis of the movie.
  12. A “video essay,” based on the YouTube video essay we discussed in class.
  13. Research Question for the final essay, following a practical session about choosing and refining a research question.
  14. Annotated Bibliography, following a practical session about finding and evaluating sources.
  15. Final Essay First Draft, after a session on citation and peer review.

The Graded Draft of the Final Essay will be due during Finals Week.

Assignment Sequence for English 301:

This is primarily a literature class, so it’s weighted less heavily to writing. As I’ve described above, I will assign reading due before the synchronous class times, as usual. But I am also building in the opportunity for students to catch up in case they didn’t have time to start or finish reading before class. The writing for this class is also scaffolded, but I’m not asking the students to do any low-stakes writing outside of class. Their essays, including all scaffolded stages, are due on Fridays, following the Tuesday synchronous classes. (I’ll accept submission over Saturday and Sunday also with no penalty.)

So the week-by-week writing schedule looks like this:

  1. Introduction Video.
  2. None.
  3. Essay #1 Graded Draft (on medieval and early modern poetry, using the work they’ll have done in class over the past three weeks).
  4. None.
  5. None.
  6. None.
  7. Essay #2 First Draft (on medieval romance; they’ll have submitted a proposal which I will respond to immediately at the end of class).
  8. Essay #2 Graded Draft (following a peer review session in class on Tuesday).
  9. Spring Break – no assignments (again, I will spend Spring Break grading!)
  10. None.
  11. None.
  12. Annotated Bibliography (following two sessions on finding secondary sources).
  13. Final Essay Proposal (on medieval and early modern drama).
  14. Final Essay First Draft.

During Finals Week: Final Essay Graded Draft (following peer review in our last synchronous session).

Gosh, even just typing that makes me feel like a weight’s been lifted off my chest. I can’t even imagine what that will do to students juggling four or five classes.

And finally: Spring 2021 Accountability

None. I’ve eliminated the need for it.

With tremendous thanks to all my colleagues on Twitter (and Facebook, and the ESA Discord server) whose ideas and discussions are so valuable as we grapple with all this. Here’s hoping this intense work informs my teaching practices forever after. (Sorry, I am feeling very choked up with emotion after re-reading and proofreading this…)

Happy teaching, y’all!


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