To create a learning environment responsive to students’ needs, each of my classes starts with a discussion of the power dynamics implicit in a syllabus, the ratio of students to teachers, and the intention of a classroom. Students perform a quick, informal genre analysis of other syllabi and work to fit their needs and expectations into the generic norms required for such an official document. Then, discussion ensues in which we reach consensus on which policies apply in our class—up to and including our grading policy.
In the same spirit of student-generated syllabus policies, students’ participation scores always come from peer evaluation. This approach emphasizes that 1) students, not the teacher, benefit from participation, 2) participation should work to support the learning of everyone in class, and 3) discussions require engagement. Evaluating participation has its challenges, but we find ways to allow meaningful, honest feedback and prioritize learning.
Whereas other courses might have knowledge-based assessments appropriate for multiple-choice tests, writing classes require real-world situations to practice analytical and creative skills. In every class I teach, I make sure students all gain experience creating hyperlinks within their documents. This may sound simplistic, but I cannot overstate the conceptual power of the hyperlink combined with publicly accessible documents. That highly transferrable skill also forms the foundation of the end-of-semester portfolio assignment in each of my classes.
Because writing classes focus on skills, they can apply to the world outside the classroom as it exists in the moment. This characteristic affords writing classes a degree of responsiveness that makes them more relevant and engaging. Assignments asking students to respond to the world around them encourages engagement and allow student interests to be the driving force for their work.
Then, by creating work that exists on the open Web (professional-development example | work-in-progress undergraduate example), students have a real audience in mind and practice real-world writing for audiences beyond their teacher or peers.