Community, Reflection, and Passion

All, Teaching, Writing

I usually wrap up every semester by requiring my students to reflect on the class, their work, and what they learned. This semester I included a letter with the reflection prompt. Below is the prompt for my professional writing students.

Dear Professional Writing Students,

As we near the end of our journey together I want to take a moment to think about how far we have come and how proud I am of the work you have done. Most of you came to this class with little or no background in professional writing. In fact, as a mixture of education students and English majors with a smattering of other fields sprinkled among us for seasoning, most of you were not even sure of the definition of professional writing as your writing experience had been driven by literary analysis, composition, and creative writing classes.

Now you know how to format and write memos, proposals, and reports. You have learned professional writing tools ranging from infographics to white papers. You have learned how to brand yourself and build a professional learning network as well as how to conduct a usability test. These are huge accomplishments and even more so when you consider our starting point. However, for me, the greatest points of pride are not these accomplishments, but rather three simple ideas: community, reflection, and passion.

I am so proud of the wonderful community you built. It brings tears to my eyes when I watch you cheer each other on and coach your classmates through prickly challenges. Together we learned so much more and together you accomplished so much more than you would have without this support.

I have loved following your development as a professional writer through your self-assessment journals and I can only hope that the experience has taught you the value of pausing to reflect on what you have learned as well as examine the obstacles you have encountered on this journey. Developing as a writer is a lifelong process and this self-examination is key.

However, my favorite part of our experience is watching you develop your passions into something tangible that does more than satisfy your personal goals and a class assignment. Watching you study your intended audience and users to better understand their needs so you can tailor your work to find the sweet spot where your passion meets their needs is pure magic. I find it incredibly satisfying as a teacher and I hope you find this experience more useful and rewarding than a disposable assignment.

Of course, our semester was not perfect. There were hiccups along the way and I thank you for helping me find the mistakes I made when creating and updating documents as well as the course shell. But there was one large issue that has troubled me and I know has troubled you. This course feels like a lot of work. We are very busy and constantly moving forward with new coursework and assignments. All semester I have wondered if I need to cut out a unit, but which unit could we remove: Networking, Proposals, Infographics, White Papers, Usability? Networking feels the most disposable, but I usually get the sense that this useful (essential?) material isn’t covered anywhere else and I think it is a useful foundation for planning your projects. Infographics is a possibility, but so many students really enjoy this unit and it is useful on so many levels (both for this class and beyond). The same is true of White Papers and Usability.

If I could change one thing about our semester it would be to find a better balance between coaching and grading. Assessment is important, but by the time I put a grade on an assignment the opportunity (or probability) of learning has usually passed. However, I have no more time to give and that is why I’m contemplating cutting back on an assignment so I can have more time to respond earlier in the process while assignments are being planning and developed.

What was your proudest accomplishment this semester? What were the most important lessons? What was your biggest struggle? What would you suggest I change for next semester?

What do you hope your students will take away from your classroom? What do you ask them to reflect on at the end of a class? Do you ask your students to share their insights on future class design? 

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