NCSU ENGLISH DEPARTMENT: OBSERVATION REPORT
Teacher Observed: Hannah Mayfield
Class Observed: English 101
Date of Visit: October 17, 2016
Observer: Matt Porter
DESCRIPTION OF CLASS SESSION
As class begins, the day's agenda is displayed on the projector screen. Ms. Mayfield greets students and then passes around an attendance sheet for students to sign. As students sign in, she mentions the previous week's student conferences and reminds those who missed that they need to reschedule. Then, she announces that "improv is officially back" and asks students to gather in a circle at the front of the classroom for "Blind Association Circle." Students form a circle, with Ms. Mayfield in the center, and play a word association game. One student says a word and then another student responds. After all students have a turn, the game begins again, with Ms. Mayfield reminding students to "focus on the voice of the student before you." When the second round is complete, she asks students to play the game again, but this time with their eyes closed. Once students finish the third round, Ms. Mayfield thanks them for participating and asks them to return to their seats. Next, she asks students to freewrite, an activity she calls "Write into the Day." Students get out their daybooks, quickly scan the prompt, and begin writing. They write for approximately three minutes.
Next, Ms. Mayfield directs students to prepare for a peer review activity, and as students pull up the rough drafts they submitted to Moodle over the weekend, she recounts their work on the project thus far. She asks them to select a specific portion of their drafts to solicit feedback about and write a short note to the reviewer describing their concerns. In case students are unsure what to ask about, Ms. Mayfield offers several examples, including "Do I clearly introduce the problem or issue in my area of inquiry?" and "Am I building credibility with my reader?" Students spend approximately four minutes writing their notes before Ms. Mayfield announces that is is "time to shift our writer hat to our reader hat." She asks students to move one seat to the right and take their daybooks with them. As students switch seats and settle in, she explains that they should read the entire draft and pay attention to the highlighted portion as well as the author's comment or question. Displayed on the projector screen are additional instructions: students should thank the writer for sharing their work, write from their perspective as readers, and focus primarily on higher order concerns. She also points out that students can make notes in their daybooks pertaining to the feedback they will give so that they can be sure to mention these ideas to the authors. Students get to work quickly. Once they complete their reviews - in approximately ten minutes - Ms. Mayfield directs them to return to their seats, review the feedback they have received, and talk with the reviewers about the feedback. As students discuss their drafts and/or feedback, Ms. Mayfield visits each table, answering questions and offering advice. When she notices that one group has stopped talking, she returns to their table to push them to continue their discussion.
After several minutes, Ms. Mayfield reconvenes the class so that students can reflect on their drafts, the feedback they received, additional concerns, etc. As students offer their questions or comments, Ms. Mayfield affirms their idea, paraphrases their question or concern, and then either answers the question or elaborates on the concern. For example, when a student remarks that he has reviewed his draft so many times that he can no longer determine whether it makes sense, Ms. Mayfield acknowledges that this is a common concern and points out that this is why peer review is so valuable. Another student pointed out that the author of the paper she reviewed was worried that the paper was "disconnected," but she felt that everything fit together well. Ms. Mayfield points out that this sort of reassurance is very helpful for writers. She also asks students if any of their classmates went beyond the question and offered other ideas or advice, and when one student describes the extra help she received with transitions, Ms. Mayfield thanks the reviewer for the extra effort. Then, with the discussion drawing to a close, Ms. Mayfield reminds students that they will be working on citations tomorrow and asks them to be sure to bring all their resources to class. She dismisses class, asking them to email her if they have any questions.
DESCRIPTION OF PAPERS
I reviewed materials related to an assignment asking students to conduct a rhetorical analysis of a cultural artifact. Through Ms. Mayfield's course Moodle page, I was able to review fifteen rough drafts (each of which included a personal reflection, previous drafts, process notes, reviewer's comments, and the rough draft) and eighteen of Ms. Mayfield's responses. (Two students submitted drafts by email, so these papers were therefore not uploaded to Moodle. A third submitted no draft.)
Ms. Mayfield offered students approximately three types of feedback: a response letter, a grade, and a rubric. The response letter, approximately one page, single-spaced, was personalized for each student. In the opening paragraph, Ms. Mayfield responds to the student's personal reflection, offering sympathy/empathy (as necessary) as well as general advice about writing. In the subsequent paragraphs, the focus becomes more specific as she uses a combination of praise and constructive criticism to comment on the draft's focus, argument, rhetorical features, etc. The advice ranges from how to craft more effective concluding paragraphs to how to improve the analysis, with many students advised to devote greater attention to presenting and analyzing key details.
Each draft also received a letter grade. There were 10 As, 6 Bs, 1 C, and 1 D. All papers received roughly the same amount of feedback, regardless of the grade.
The final element of the feedback was a rubric, which was presented as a grid assessing the student's performance in three areas (process, rhetorical knowledge, and knowledge of conventions) across four categories (exemplary, proficient, average, and insufficient). The grid contained twelve cells, each describing a level of proficiency in one of the three areas, and Ms. Mayfield highlighted the cell that indicated how well the student performed in each area. In addition, the rubric includes a note explaining how the marks in the rubric figure into the paper's grade.
ASSESSMENT AND SUGGESTIONS
Ms. Mayfield has designed a dynamic, student-centered class that functions much like a writer's workshop. Students are encouraged to think of themselves as writers, and they work as writers trying to assist colleagues in the preparation of a draft. From the first moments of class, Ms. Mayfield pushes students to pay attention to each other, to listen to what the others are trying to say. This is most evident in the final stage of the improv - the Blind Association Circle - when students cannot see their peers and must therefore focus their energies on listening before they respond. Not only does this serve as a way to reconvene the class after the weekend, it prepares them for the coming peer review exercise, an exercise that works best when students are attuned to what their peers are trying to say. And Ms. Mayfield's approach to peer review pushes this one step further. Instead of a formal peer review exercise with questions designed by the instructor, she asks students to write a short note to their reviewer describing their own concerns about their drafts. This means that reviewers are not solely focused on the draft but must also keep the author in mind as they respond. In addition, she further exemplifies this approach in the way that she responds to students' questions. She indicates that she has listened carefully - and validates the students' concerns - by paraphrasing the student's comment before she replies. Only after affirming what the student said does she attempt to answer the question or respond to the concern. In short, this was a well-designed, well-taught class that students responded well to.
Ms. Mayfield continues to devote considerable attention to her students in her comments on their drafts. All students, regardless of the quality of their drafts, received a lengthy, personalized response. In addition to providing excellent advice to students about how to improve their drafts, Ms. Mayfield's response also focused on the concerns (or hopes, in some cases) that students described in their reflection paragraphs. Student should recognize that their instructor is not just going through the motions but is instead deeply committed to helping them to become better writers. As helpful as this feedback is, however, it could be even better with the addition of marginal commentary on the drafts. This would permit Ms. Mayfield to focus students' attention on specific passages that can be improved during revision. This would mean that a student receiving advice about development, for example, in the terminal commentary could be shown which points or examples could benefit from being described and explained in greater detail. And, it would allow Ms. Mayfield to improve her otherwise great feedback by employing a mode commonly used by instructors in our program.