The Secret Ingredient For Teaching Success

All, Teaching Tips

Yesterday was a good day. My plan for my classes was minimal — just two topics for students to engage while working in small groups. First we would talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly status of their argument papers which are due next week and then we would discuss ideas for the games students will design for our final unit. I talked very briefly to the class before each discussion topic commenced and then I moved around the room troubleshooting and asking or answering questions. This is the sort of day that reminds me why I am a teacher and makes me question whether I could happily do anything else, because I love reaping what I have sown.

I love that our class community is so strong that students dive right into their work and there is a lot of energy around the conversations about their argument papers, but as I moved around the room dipping in and out of group conversations I noted that there were a number of students struggling with their arguments. Checking my mental tally I began to reconsider my schedule for the final weeks of class. Can I, should I, reconsider the due date to give us more time to work on those issues? But as I continued to circulate I encountered breakthroughs. One student’s group helped him connect his argument with its inspirational text while another helped her shape a counterclaim and yet another student’s struggle with her argument structure subsumed a neighboring group while working through her challenge. I witnessed panic, frustration, and tears transform into excitement, anticipation, and confidence in the space of one 75-minute class and that is why I teach. It is not just the relationships, although those certainly matter in many ways, but it is also the rhetorical work that we have done together that set the foundation for the work I witnessed in my class. Thanks to our collaborative work on assessment (both designing the standards for each deliverable as well as our grading reports and conferences) my students have a clear understanding of the goals of our work and the tools to talk through problems together. Together we have gamed the system by digging deeply into text.

It was the second half of class that reminded me of the other important work we are doing in this class by expanding our understanding and definition of text using games. After I reminded them of where we have been (first exploring what we can learn from games and then breaking down a specific game and its lessons), we focused on where we are going. My challenge for ny students is to create a game (either from scratch or hacking an existing game) that connects with the theme of their argument paper, play or observe the game being played, and then write a reflective piece that encompasses the journey we have taken this semester exploring arguments and games. This has always been the plan and students have been reminded of the plan throughout the semester, but there was still a fair amount of consternation and outright panic when they realized the actual assignment was imminent. Then, as they began to discuss options and ideas, the magic kicked in again. The community rose to the challenge and excitement and anticipation levels increased. I can’t lie. There is still a lot of anxiety, but as students were reminded of the work they had done and they remembered to trust our process there was a visible shift in their confidence levels. We had built a community and developed a process for creating rhetorical deliverables that they knew worked for them and that made all the difference in the world.

Am I successful teacher? If you judge me only by written products then you might not think so. I am sure that the argument papers turned in next week will include a mixed bag of amazing essays, good essays with some flaws, and other essays containing various flashes of brilliance and ineptitude. But my job is not to deliver a perfect essay or a perfect student capable of delivering a perfect essay. My job is to help my students become better rhetoricians in order to help them on their journey to become better writers and yesterday’s class proved to me that I can mark that down as a success — and what makes it even more exciting is that our journey is not yet over.

How do you measure your teaching success? What would you like to know about my secret ingredient?

Artwork by Maxpixel

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