I’m Finished Playing Favorites in the Classroom

by Laura Yeager

In a previous essay entitled “The Academic Circle of Life & Excellent Usage of Commas,” I wrote about my time in graduate school at Iowa State, where I studied writing on a full fellowship. At this university, I knew what it was like to be thought of as one of the best (most advanced) writers in the program.

I also went to another graduate school, The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, and we were all aware of who the writing stars were–the students who got the graduate teaching gigs and won the fellowships and awards. These were the favorites. I was not a star at this school, but they did let me graduate.

As I got out of grad school and began my teaching career, I followed the traditional way of holding up “the best” writers’ work in my classes as models for the other students.  In fact, I did this for years.

But this semester, I decided to try something new and different. I’m through with playing favorites.

I put myself in my students’ shoes. I imagined how it would be if my teacher constantly featured the work of a few students in the classroom, constantly held them up as “the best writers in the class.”  I decided that I wouldn’t like this, and I decided that this semester, I wouldn’t highlight the work of a small circle of “brilliant” student writers.

In short, instead of just having a few students read their essays, I decided to feature all the students’ essays.  Time-wise, it was not possible to have all the students read their essays aloud, but it was possible to pick out the best paragraphs or sections in their pieces and have them read these. I looked for the places in the essays where their voices were the strongest.

This is how I did it:  Everyone’s work was featured for one reason or another.  The assignment in question was a movie review, a diagnostic essay.  Some of the students wrote excellent summaries of the movies; some had very good analyses of the elements of movies such as the cinematography, the musical score or the theme; and others had good treatments of counterarguments to their overall theses. One student simply had turned a phrase beautifully.

My students were all smiles.  There was a real feeling of community in the classroom. Their voices were heard, and I had a little praise for all of them. It wasn’t insincere praise, either.  All of the students really did shine in at least one section of their papers.

Of course, it’s good to get beyond snippets of essays, and my students do when they workshop one of their complete essays in class. At the beginning of the semester, students sign up for their workshops; I have 20 students and ten workshop days—two student essays on each day.  Students pick among five of their essays to share with the class: personal narrative essay, exemplification essay, causal analysis essay, persuasive essay on a favorite musician or musical group, and persuasive essay on a controversial school policy.

Empowering students in a writing class (in all classes) is, of course, important. Students have to know what they’re doing well. They have to gain confidence. Today, a student may be a B- writer, but tomorrow, s/he may write the a fabulous essay. Isn’t that the point of teaching?

So I’m finished building a hierarchy of writers in my classes. We’re all in this together, and we can all learn something from each other. One of the skills I want to teach in my writing classes is how to deal with diversity, how to handle the “other.”

In today’s climate, as the “other”  is being squeezed out, I want to feature everyone.

Each student will have his or her fifteen minutes of attention.

They deserve it.

Anything else is just artificial.

Short URL:

Leave a Reply

Keep in Touch With AdjunctNation

Graphic Graphic Graphic



Recently Commented

  • AdjunctNation Editorial Team: @Jeffr thanks for pointing out the distinction.
  • Jeffr: Note that adjunct faculty are considered to be on a “term” basis and receives no protection except...
  • Scott: I believe Sami is correct in that this no reasonable assurance language will allow adjuncts continuing access...
  • Nancy West-Diangelo: It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to listen critically. If the point of the work we...
  • Freddi-Jo Bruschke: An excellent description of this editorial.