by: Jon Pirtle, Atlanta
According to Scripture, coherence is inseparable from God. Paul writes, “And he [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 English Standard Version). Another English version (NKJV) translates the verb phrase as “consist”: “And He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, and the NIV reveal that the Lord Jesus holds all things together. He is sovereign over all things; therefore, the universe is characterized by orderliness. It is not random; rather, it holds together because God himself is a God of order and we creatures are designed to reflect that orderliness (though imperfectly) through our writing. As God’s people, we ought to reflect the logos/grammar/coherence of God; writing well does that.
In teaching literature and writing courses at Belhaven over the last few years, I have witnessed many students struggle with written expression. Therefore, during each class, I spend up to half an hour addressing some common errors in contemporary culture’s written expression. For example, it’s is not the same as its. And there is not the same as their or they’re. Fragments, misplaced apostrophes, improper use of contractions, confusion over affect versus effect, etc. seem to plague many American writers. How much more important is it, therefore, for us to inculcate the essential role of correct grammar and coherence in writing?
I appreciate so much the rubric that Belhaven uses for student writing. It consists (pun intended) of seven parts: content, organization, fluency, word choice, conventions, voice, and worldview analysis. When students use the rubric effectively, their writing holds together. The “meat” (content) of the ideas they’re exploring and evaluating (worldview analysis) flows (fluency) in an orderly design (organization). When they write in a believable and convincing tone (voice) with proper syntax (word choice) and correct grammar (conventions), the writing satisfies what we as readers crave—coherence.
When meeting with students individually about their essays, I indubitably ask this: “What is the main idea you wanted me to see here?” The answer to that simple question reveals much. Very often, life-changing learning occurs shortly thereafter. Why? Because all of us (students and teachers) crave coherence.
We are designed by a God of order who revealed himself–not haphazardly but coherently. When we write well, we honor our brothers and sisters in Christ and glorify our Father in heaven.
What is Academic Rigor? I suspect that the definition of that phrase is somewhat nebulous in most of our minds. When we do think about academic rigor, we tend to think in terms of extensive and/or weighty assignments that “really make the students work.” Some will equate the phrase with a harsh grading of those “weighty assignments,” or any assignments for that matter. Others will also include a classroom environment which is suitably “serious” and “no-nonsense.”
None of these, however, address the case for academic rigor. Without understanding the philosophy behind the call for academic rigor, it can quickly devolve to the concepts mentioned above. Foundational to academic rigor is the consideration of the spoken and unspoken objectives/outcomes for the course. The spoken (or listed) student outcomes for the course are included in the module. These outcomes spell out what the student should know by the end of the course. They are course specific and the accomplishment of these outcomes is the understood reason for the course in the curriculum.
The unspoken objectives/outcomes for the course aren’t listed in the module, but are part of the overall objectives for those in the Adult Studies program, i.e. graduates should be able to:
- Apply learning experiences to professional and other situations
- Be able to articulate a Christian worldview and its implication for their home, work, and society.
- Demonstrate habits of clear, constructive, critical thought,
- Demonstrate a command of standard oral and written English.
- Evidence a lifestyle of moral and spiritual integrity
- Compete in the job market for positions in keeping with their major course of study
- Incorporate ongoing learning strategies toward the fulfillment of their life goals.
Achieving both sets of objectives, spoken (outcomes listed in the module) and unspoken (objectives for the Adult Studies Program) is the instructional goal. Appropriate academic rigor is that which will accomplish this goal.
This will include appropriate assignments that are focused toward the spoken objectives, but managed by faculty within the scope of the unspoken. For instance, we fail when we grade a paper without also taking into account the writing quality (point 4 above) or whether or not it reflects “clear, constructive, critical thought” (point 3 above), etc. This applies not only to grading but to the conversations, lectures, and activities within the classroom.
Our role as teacher places us in a precarious position. In God’s eyes we carry extra responsibility for our students’ learning. For me, grading has always been the more challenging aspect of the instructional process. The temptation is to only give a cursory look at the papers to make sure the major content points have been hit. I confess to you, THAT IS WRONG AND LAZY THINKING. We owe our students and ourselves better than that. Each submission should be read and marked so that it contributes to learning as much as assessment. Each submission should be considered both for the spoken and unspoken objectives, and the grade given fairly reflects the work the student has done. Giving a good grade when the work is only average, or less, is an insult to the student and speaks poorly of our own integrity and the value we place on the role we have accepted.
I ask you to reflect on the phrase academic rigor. “Like” or make a comment in response to this post. More importantly, please consider these things when you are focusing upon academic rigor in your courses.
We are working on a re-design for the Faculty Resources tab of our site and in the process the webinars, which have been listed there, have all been moved to YouTube for easier access. As I was compiling these links I reviewed some of the webinars and was reminded of the wealth of information these contain. I’m posting that information below and encourage you to look over the list and review a couple yourself – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Webinar of the Faculty’s Role in Student Retention – see the calendar link on this page to register.
APA and Grading Writing Across the Curriculum. Presenter: Dr. Everett Wade https://youtu.be/HFeLIpg2lUk
Bring Life to Your Classroom. Presenter: Dr. Ed Garrett https://youtu.be/urKi7DGVGQM
Christian Worldview: Practical Applications for the Classroom. Presenter: Dr. Paul Criss https://youtu.be/jFm9nNoFoXc
Effective Use of Library Resources. Presenter: Dr. Kim Priesmeyer https://youtu.be/CxpBGF8AHAs
Introducing Critical Thinking into the Classroom. Presenter: Rosemary Foncree https://youtu.be/HotogEC0PEc
Plagiarism: Helping Your Students Avoid It. Presenter: Dr. Kim Priesmeyer https://youtu.be/jFmhBggVdzw
Student Engagement Strategy: Experimentation. Presenter: Dr. Thomas Randolph https://youtu.be/vvOAQl2Q_48
Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Foster Critical Thinking. Presenters: Dr. Jerald Meadows & Elizabeth Juneau https://youtu.be/Qdt7Mu5sGno
Using Canvas to Facilitate Team Projects. Presenter: Dr. Rick Upchurch https://youtu.be/RWuMnPtAvZA
Millennials in the Classroom. Presenter: Emma Morris https://youtu.be/0kgNsVN3SDs
Canvas Updates 2017. Presenter: Joe Villarreal https://youtu.be/0wWkVfKNNbA
Andragogy: Adult Learning Theory Applied. Presenter: Dr. Rick Upchurch https://youtu.be/KnDc3zfpvrs
Accessing Case Studies from Belhaven Library. Presenter: Charles Gaudin https://youtu.be/3k_X6RQ5jvM
A mentor of mine once shared with me that most students graduating from college expect to be able to write well enough not to be embarrassed when submitting reports to their boss. His point was that a student’s expectation of earning a college degree included this ability IN ADDITION to the content knowledge of the major being studied.
I’ve thought about that many times over the years since I first heard that. I’ve talked with students and have become convinced that what my mentor said still holds true. The very nature of graduating with a college degree SHOULD include the ability to write at a professional level. Sadly, I also know that even as students hold this expectation, they will do almost anything in their power to avoid learning this important skill. It is one of those mysterious paradoxes which surround us.
This reminds me of what I learned about sermon preparation; that we start with the audience’s felt needs and then work toward their real need. Students’ felt need is to get through each course with as little work as possible. Their real need is the ability to write and to embrace the subject content. As Instructors, the one cannot be neglected at the expense of the other. Whenever we default on holding students to a high expectation in writing we fail them at a deeper level which can potentially sidetrack their career and derail their dreams.
I know it is challenging and time-consuming to do so, but I cannot urge you strongly enough not to neglect your responsibility to your students to do what they may not want but desperately need; hold them to a high standard in writing. By doing so you serve the student now AND facilitate their future.
By Dr. Everett Wade,
English Faculty, Belhaven-Memphis
Class discussions do not always come easily, especially when they focus on readings from course material. Stimulating conversation is often difficult, and students are often reluctant to engage. At other times, students are so eager to speak that the conversation is shallow and drifts off topic. Even lively discussions may lack the underlying critical thinking that is necessary for a profitable evaluation of the reading. In order to motivate discussion while avoiding these pitfalls, I use a three-step procedure of summary, analysis, and assessment. This process helps students to discuss texts in a manner that encourages critical thinking.
Critical thinking is generally defined as “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Too often, however, class discussions reverse this process, as teachers begin by asking students what they think of the reading (their judgment) and then try to work back to objective analysis and evaluation. During my time teaching, I have certainly been tempted to begin class discussions with questions that require a student to make an overall judgment on the text. The problem with this approach is that students generally haven’t had time to digest the reading material for that day. To give the proper structure to the discussion, I begin by writing three column headings on the board: summary, analysis, and assessment.
We begin with summary. How well we are able to summarize is a good barometer for how well we have comprehended a text in the first place. Furthermore, the mere act of restating the main ideas of the text often results in insights and discovery. As we summarize the reading, I let the students do the talking while I take notes on the board. It can be helpful to ask the students to provide citations for key points in the summary, e.g., “Where did the author claim that—can you give me the page number?” or “Can you read me the sentence where the author makes that claim?”
After summary, we move on to analysis—the detailed examination of the elements and structure of the text. Although the attribution is dubious, Aristotle is often quoted as having said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Regardless of this statement’s source, its sentiment is valuable. I stress to students that when we analyze, we are holding the text and its ideas at arm’s length: we table our emotions, responses, and judgments. We ask questions regarding the reading’s context—to whom was it written, and during what time period? We also discuss the nature of the work: is it merely informative, or is it persuasive? If it is argumentative, can we find a thesis statement? How well do the author’s reasons support his or her claim? And what kind of evidence does the author provide? The answers to such questions provide a basis for the next step in our discussion: assessment.
Having grounded our discussion in summary and analysis, we then move on to assessment—making a final judgment about the text. At this point, students may express their views more freely. What is their emotional reaction to the reading? Do they agree or disagree with the author? Discussing such observations is more profitable at this point for several reasons. For one, we have already grounded the main points of the reading, thus reducing the risk of mischaracterizing the author’s ideas. Furthermore, because we have analyzed the article, students can frame their emotional responses more critically. The process of summary and analysis enables the students not only to evaluate the reading itself, but also their reactions to it. We can judge whether certain gut reactions were warranted, or whether they break down under closer observation. Finally, students can use the summary and analysis during the first parts of the session to develop an overall judgment of the reading, thus developing their own thesis that could be used for writing a response or as a springboard for a longer research essay.
Although this three-step procedure may need to be adjusted for each course’s unique context, it provides a basic structure that ensures more substance and depth for classroom discussions. By engaging in this process, students can avoid a shallow exchange of ill-informed opinions, and instead think critically, engaging in objective analysis and evaluation of an issue before forming a judgment.
by Dr. Warren Matthews, Mrs. Kim Priesmeyer, Dr. Ray Smith, & Dr. John Song
Four of Belhaven’s full-time faculty came together to share their ideas on how to increase student engagement in the classroom. Their ideas are bulleted below but the real value will come when you take the time to watch this WEBINAR. Each one brings new insights to the subject, applying their ideas both to online and on-site courses. If you are like me you will be taking notes practically from the first word. This was a great webinar with some take-away for everyone. It will also be available in the Faculty Resources area of this Blog, under Webinars
John Song, Full-time Bible Faculty, Atlanta
“My personal contributions consisted of some basic but hopefully helpful principles. The three principles were: (1) relationships, (2) relevance, and (3) reflection.”
Kim Priesmeyer, Full-time English Faculty, Houston
- Send out a reminder announcement sent out each week through Canvas regarding what’s due next class meeting.
- Spend a few minutes each night with each student giving feedback on writing (require that students bring some writing to class to review before a paper is due)
- List nightly objectives/agenda on the whiteboard with approx time to spend (ex: peer review with first draft, 30 mins)
- Show APA videos from Resources during class so we’re all on the same page about APA
Warren Matthews, Full-time Business Faculty, Houston
- Effective feedback is very important, not only in grading but also in class discussion
- Socratic questioning is important to add value in the classroom.
- In an online class, be visible on a regular basis in the classroom
- Share our professional experience and insights. Give examples from real world situations that are relevant to the course.
- Refer to current events as appropriate to apply the theory of the classroom to the real world.
- Inspire students by recognizing excellence in discussions and assignments.
Ray Smith, Full-time Business Faculty, Chattanooga
- Use of Wall Street Journal
- Current movie clips representing text topics
- CWV – use of entire books or topics that follow the full course
- Technology or mobile devices – turn them into assets rather than distractions
- Use small groups (2 or 3) to respond to questions instead of instructor merely quoting text or giving opinion
After the webinar was over, I received this addition from Nick Walters, Adjunct Instructor
Dr. Upchurch – Thank you for setting up these monthly webinars. Even though many of us have the spiritual gift of teaching, it doesn’t mean we have cornered the market on how to do it. These webinars have been very helpful.
by Dr. Kotina Hall, Dean – Belhaven, Atlanta
Effective communication is a buzz word that remains the topic of discussion in every business and learning sector as the concern for writing proficiency continues to plague society. The command for effective writing should be still be held in the highest regard. Professional dialogue and academia have discussed in great detail how the absence of “good writing” lessens the opportunity for the demonstration of clearly-organized thought, earnest critical thinking development, and strong problem-solving. Regardless of the subject matter, understanding how to articulate clearly and concisely is necessary for high academia and career advancement. As such, we must act urgently in our resolve.
While tuition reimbursement is an attractive academic magnet, the return for excellent writing extends well into its possessor’s career and civic engagement as well. “The National Commission on Writing estimates that the nation’s top companies spend more than $3.1 billion a year on remedial training. The NCW estimates that states spend $221 million on writing training each year to bring employees up to level” (teachthought, 2012).
What variables have led to the decline in effective writing? Is it because we have become comfortable speaking into devices that we disregard misspelled words or proper punctuation, all because we want to communicate expeditiously? “Have we allowed the advancement of technology to compel us to shorthand?” Perhaps we accept human mediocrity, giving way to allowing machines to do the work which we previously took pride in completing. Technology will continue to advance, so what are we left to do?
It is proposed that we take our concerns by the reigns and do what we do best – elevate through instruction. Have we forsaken the beauty and fluidity of words properly and intentionally positioned on a page? Surely we have not. But if one has never explored such beauty, then one cannot imagine the power of penning such work. Resolution begins with two words: offer assistance. It is a disservice to students when we know their writing is not acceptable, but yet we push them along. Constructive dissent must rear her head. The problem will not correct itself. Good writing is the culmination of repeated “good” practice.
This task will not be a simple one. It will require instruction to be consistent, rigid, and accompanied by high expectations to yield greatness. We must ready ourselves! Our change will create uneasiness and reveal accusations that we are harnessing a fossilized culture. Such expressions must strive to make our instruction even greater. We must be diligent to show that “good writing” fosters dedication, strong work ethics and moral aptitude. Balance must exist, too. Even so, while writing is necessary, we must be ever so careful to make it appealing and fun.
History has shown that the legacy of “good writing” never dies. “Good writing” shapes learning and invites critical thinking, leaving room for transformation. So when do we begin? The time is now. We model by offering our assistance. In doing so, our immediacy will solidify and re-establish writing as the ultimate model of erudition.
I know some of you are using Google documents for collaboration purposes with your students and I thought you would find this article from Educational Technology Interesting. I particularly like the first feature which allows for easy inclusion of citations in the documents.
Check out the article: 3 New Google Drive Features Teachers Should Know About
By Kim Priesmeyer
Full Time Faculty, Belhaven Houston
As an instructor who assigns a lot of writing, I’m always looking for ways to engage students in peer review. However, just telling students to “peer review each other’s papers” can be unproductive, or even worse, dull. Typically, students don’t know what to do with those papers, and comments can be uninspiring.
One way to bring energy and effectiveness to the process is something called Round Robin Peer Review (also available on the Faculty Resources tab under “Other Resources). It’s pretty easy for any instructor to use, and it can be modified for any assignment depending on the requirements. It keeps students and papers moving, and it gives peer reviewers a specific focus. Here are the basics:
- Pass out the peer review form and have each student write his name at the top where it says “writer’s name.”
- Tell students to pass their paper and their form to the right. They should now be holding someone else’s paper and form.
- Inform students that they will be given 10 mins. to critique just the first category on the peer review form. Set a timer.
- When the timer goes off, students will pass the paper and form to the right. The next peer reviewer will critique only the second category for 10 mins. And so on…
Ways to modify for your course:
- Change the categories to peer review
- Set different time limits for each session
- Provide critique expectations (for example, I might require a three-sentence critique minimum)
Ways to coach students before the process begins:
- Model the process with a couple of volunteers
- Provide examples of “critique” comments that are specific and useful
- Tell students it’s OK for the peer reviewer and writer to communicate during the process
- Prepare students for constructive criticism: it’s not about complimenting each other; it’s about improved writing
- Tell students they’re not required to make suggested changes, but they must at least consider them
- Give students permission to write on each other’s papers; peer review isn’t always neat and tidy
Give it a try and let me know your thoughts. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org