Archive for December 16, 2008

“You Want to Read Good Student Essays, Don’t You?”

I recall a conversation last spring semester I had with a teacher when I was NOT teaching reading and writing classes.  I had observed from the outside what the Kazakh teachers were doing in their classrooms by showing their students how to access information in the library computer lab.  Prior to this I had given several workshops to the teachers on how to use the electronic research databases from our great library.  I showed them the luxury of having Ebscohost, Pro-Quest and J-Stor on their campus and that the students would be able to use keywords to access information of interest to them.  I believe in a student-centered approach that if you can ignite the students’ interest in whatever they are looking up, they won’t see it as an onerous task but one of benefit to them.  

The first week of class this fall semester, I wanted to find out about what my own students’ grandparents or great grandparents had gone through in their years of growing up. When I taught freshman composition in the U.S. I had my students interview their grandparents and write down the hardships they endured, such as surviving the Great Depression.  NOTHING compares in solving those past difficulties to what the Kazakh people encountered, the Americans had it much easier.  But it is all in one’s perspective and I greatly respect what the Kazakhs have gone through in the last 100 years. I had one Kazakh student whose grandmother as an 18 year old bride was sent to ALZHIR as a wife of the Enemy of the People.  She survived ten years of grueling, manual labor.  A third of the population of women did not survive the cold hardships in the Astana area back during the years of repression.


The conversation I had with one teacher last semester went something like this:

Teacher-centered: Poor me, I have so many students and so many papers to grade.

Student-centered: You want to have good essays to read, don’t you?  Are you making sure your students are finding good material in the electronic databases to write about?

Teacher-centered: I don’t know how I’m going to survive this semester with all the papers I have to look at, I’m swamped.

Student-centered: Have the students picked good topics that they are engaged in?  Do they have enough sources to get them thinking about the topic and its issues from different angles?  You want to have good essays to read, don’t you?

Teacher-centered:  You keep saying having good essays to read, why do you say that?

Student-centered: Because if you want to enjoy your work as a teacher, you have to make sure that the students enjoy what they are doing.  If the student just does the essay because he is supposed to do it a certain way according to your guidelines which makes it easier for YOU to grade, he will see it as drudge work.  However, if he finds out the joy of discovering information that is out there in the journal articles, then you may have a budding researcher. But at the very least you have a student who doesn’t pay attention to how much time he is spending on his paper. Part of the skills learned in Process Writing is that the thesis statement might go in a different direction from what was initially supposed OR the outline might have to remain fluid due to what the student finds and reads.  Writing should be a joy and not a painful experience.  Your job as a teacher can be a joy too!!!

I had one student whose great grandfather was the famous Kazakh named Abay and another student whose grandfather was a mathematician and he survived 15 years in a Siberian gulag.  I believe my students enjoyed their final portfolio experience. The following is just a sampling of what my hard working students wrote for their final problem/solution portfolio project.

“Second World War, Social Organization”

“Overcoming Famine and Starvation with pure honor and hope during WWII”

“Life during the Collectivization and Repression 1920s-1930s”

“Role of Patriotism during the Great Patriotic War”

“Economic and Job Opportunity Problems during Soviet Union Period”

“Soviet Education: Abay Kunanbayev and Kazakh Enlightenment”

“The Gulag and its Victims in the Soviet penal system”

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