Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Teaching Academic English

I've finished my first month of teaching! Well, perhaps I should clarify that by saying that although I've finished teaching for the month of September, I've only actually taught four classes. My first week at ICRS was spent settling into my office and modifying the syllabus put together by Amber last year so that I could actually teach it. Then I went off to Bali for 10 days for the Idul Fitri holiday. And then I came back to teach my awesome schedule of only two classes per week. So now that I have this first month (or 4 classes) under my belt, I thought it was time to give an update on my teaching situation this year.

Let's backtrack to my first week at ICRS. I spent most of this week being alternately extremely grateful for all the files that Amber had left behind and also super intimidated by the work she had done. She was the first ELF at ICRS and she literally wrote the book on the academic writing curriculum here. Seriously. She WROTE A TEXTBOOK as part of her project last year. And while I was very thankful for all her groundwork and clearly labeled folders and documents on the hard drive, I also grew increasingly worried that I was in over my head. Amber is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition. Not too surprisingly, her extremely thorough syllabus is peppered with jargon from her field: discourse communities, genre analysis, rhetorical sequence, rhetorical situation, summary reminder phrases, and rhetorical prospectus. Fear raced through me as I read over her syllabus for the first time. How was I supposed to teach students to write a rhetorical prospectus if I didn't even know what that term meant? And, I wondered, if I had trouble understanding the terms on her syllabus, how did her students feel?

Fortunately, a nice long chat about expectations with my counterpart Ipung helped calm me down. Taking into account that my background is in TESOL, not rhetoric and composition, and also considering the feedback from last year's students who felt they had more work then they could handle in the academic writing class, Ipung and I decided that I could tweak the syllabus a bit. So, I went back to the drawing board and hashed out an adapted version of Amber's syllabus that I felt much more comfortable teaching. I took out the year-long research paper project (complete with annotated bibliography, lit review, and rhetorical prospectus) and focused instead on 4 distinct assignments each semester. This term I'll have my students write a personal literacy narrative, a summary of a religious studies article, a reaction paper and a final writer's reflection paper. Next term, I'll assign an editorial and response, a comparative summary of two religious studies articles, a book review and a film critique. Then they'll have a final publication project where they select and polish two pieces of writing from the year to be published and distributed to all members of the class and the ICRS office. My hope is that my students will see my class as a workshop where they can get comfortable with the conventions of writing in academic English. For most, this semester will be their first experience doing so since their bachelor and master's degrees were entirely in Indonesian. (As a side note, all ICRS classes are conducted in English. ICRS is an international, interreligious PhD program that attracts applicants from all over the world.)

Even after feeling good about my changes to the syllabus, I was still nervous for the first day of class. I was about to step foot into my first classroom of PhD level students. Many of them are currently lecturers at other universities on Java and have published numerous articles and books (in Indonesian) on religious studies, a field I know extremely little about. My students are Muslim, Buddhist and Christian and are comfortable tossing around buzzwords like 'interfaith dialogue'. This is completely new territory for me. Luckily, our first few sessions together have gone extremely well. There are only 12 students in the class and they all seem very approachable and eager to learn about academic English. I have a feeling that I will learn just as much from them this year about religious studies and 'interfaith dialogue' as they will (hopefully) learn from me about academic writing in English.

As part of the course, my students are required to come see me at least once per assignment for a 30 minute individual consultation session. This is a time where we can talk about the feedback they have gotten from their peers, the revisions they are working on, grammar points they want to clarify and anything else that comes to mind. I've had a handful of sessions so far and was, in a sense, relieved to hear that my students are still looking for help with things like prepositions and thesis statements. These requests I can handle, since they're much more within my realm of experience than, say, research proposals or rhetorical moves.

To finish this post, I'd like to share a funny anecdote from a recent individual consultation session. The student came in, sat down and handed me the first draft of his essay. I glanced over it and asked him, "Do you have any specific questions about this essay?" To my surprise, he started listing the places he had visited in America. He rattled off numerous states and even mentioned attending some sort of month-long program in Hawaii. I listened politely while trying desperately to figure out the connection between his list of places visited in America and draft 1 of his essay. Finally, he stopped and said, "No, I've traveled a lot there. I don't think I have any specific questions about the USA."

1 comment:

  1. Ah, how 3 little syllables change the whole meaning. Too cute.