“Everyone is an Author”

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Every year, I teach at least two sections of Expanded Composition, and for the last three years, we’ve used the textbook, Everyone is an Author. The book is not perfect, but in many ways it aligns with our course goals and learning outcomes, especially for Expanded Composition. This course is designed to support students who score 19 and below on the ACT by providing them with a full year to meet the learning outcomes for ENG 101. Our department’s research shows that the students enrolled in Expanded Composition often outperform their peers in 101 and in the research-focused 102 course. The Expanded course allows students more time for each project and, because the classes are a little smaller, more one-on-one time with the instructor. Therefore, the students tend to be more prepared for future coursework. Every year, after the course ends, I reflect on what my students and I have achieved, and I set new goals for myself for the next year. It’s a time that is important for me as an educator: to decompress and to refresh. And this year, now that the semester has ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to teach Expanded Composition, how I can do my job more effectively, and what it means to be an author.

Expanded Composition is one of the most  rewarding classes to teach, but it’s also the most challenging. Because I most often teach college freshmen, I don’t always get the opportunity to work longterm with students (though many thankfully drop by to update me on their adventures). But, in Expanded Composition I work with the same students for a full year. I get to know them and can provide much more specific writing feedback because I become familiar with their writing voices, their strengths, and their challenges. It’s rewarding to see the transformation in some of their writing and critical thinking skills over the year. I have the unique opportunity also to see their emotional and social growth. They come in as excited/scared freshmen who have no idea how to navigate college. And they become stronger, more confident adults who (in most cases) learn from their mistakes and move on from them.

However, the students in my classes are often unprepared for college, have few academic writing skills, and very little confidence in their abilities when they arrive. They have been bullied in many cases by circumstances, by life, and by our education system. The fact that they are required to take this course instead of enrolling in the traditional 101 class with the rest of their peers is something we have to confront and discuss early on if we hope to move past it. A number of students have made comments like this the first week of class:

“I’m too dumb for 101. That’s why I’m in this class”

“I can’t write. That’s why they put me in here.”

“I’m not good at English.”

“I don’t like English.”

Then, there are others who don’t understand why they are in the class and are angry about it (and rightly so). They may say things like this:

“I graduated high school with honors. I don’t know why I’m in this class.”

“I shouldn’t be here. I took AP English in high school.”

“It’s only because I’m not good at taking tests.”

Expanded Composition students often enter the class with negative feelings, sometimes directed at me or at the university, but mostly directed at themselves. And, in part, my job (especially the first few weeks) is to attempt to combat those feelings. I begin by addressing and acknowledging their anger and frustration. They need to vent, and I want my classroom to be a safe space to do so. But, then, I give them the research. I let them know the benefits of the course–and why I think the majority of college freshmen could benefit from the course. I can’t say that it always works and that attitudes change. But, it breaks the ice when we talk about the elephant in the room. It, hopefully, also allows students to see me, not as another person who is going to bully them and count off points for every misplaced comma, but as someone who genuinely believes that all students can succeed in college if they are motivated and determined. I spend a lot of time in these classes encouraging students, celebrating their successes (even if they think they are minor), and letting them know that I see them (even when they don’t want me to see them).

But, what it all comes down to, for me at least, is that I want every one of my students to leave the class feeling more confident and trusting that they have something meaningful to contribute to the world around them. That they have the ability to create and to participate in conversations. That being an author doesn’t mean having the answers or writing a perfect sentence. It means having the courage, as Margaret Atwood once said, to put “a word after a word after a word.” That’s the power. I’m not sure I accomplished all of my goals last year in the classroom. The good news is that I have some time to rest and recuperate this summer. And then, a whole new year to get it right.

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One thought on ““Everyone is an Author”

  1. I only WISH I’d had a Professor like this at ANY point of my education. Would that I lived closer, I’d take that class in a heartbeat! We NEED true EDUCATORS like this young woman! We need scores more!
    J.

    Like

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