200-Level Diversity in American Life (Writing- Intensive)

EXPLORING DIVERSITY IN AMERICAN LIFE

"I like writing to be an everyday occurrence in the class, getting the students' reactions and having them ask questions. The more they write, the easier time they'll have brainstorming and freewriting. There are many techniques I try in class, not all successful, though some work better than others. I think writing clarifies and complements what the students do in class and helps them to reach beyond the class."--Anita Hodges

"I think [the instructor's] purpose for the class is twofold: one, to help us improve our writing skills by just getting us to write more; two, to get us to be more open-minded and think about an idea from the other person's perspective. That's the purpose for looking at all the minorities and analyzing the positive as well as the negative aspects." --Student

COURSE GOALS

Students examine the creation of a multicultural and multiracial society through an analysis of the ways ethnicity, gender, race, age, and other factors affect American life. Social processes such as stereotyping, prejudice, racism, group identity, and contemporary issues are explored by looking at the Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants, women, the elderly, and gays. Students also analyze the variety and diversity of life in Hawai‘i through four ethnic groups (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Hawai‘ian). The emphasis in the course is to discover and appreciate the positive aspects of every culture and group.

WRITING ACTIVITIES

1. BOOK ANALYSIS

"I really enjoyed the class because it helped me realize how different and how difficult things really are for so many people. Writing about it helped, too. It's one thing to think about an idea and another thing to think and re-think the ideas. In this WI class, I really wrote on many topics in-depth, considering the ideas from mental, emotional, social, economic, political, religious points of view." --Student
Each student is required to write an analysis/critique of two books assigned during the semester. To prepare for the first book analysis, all students read the same novel (selected by the instructor), discuss the novel in small and large groups, then write their own book analysis. Students may select any other novel from the required reading list to write their second book analysis. They are expected to examine each text carefully, formulate ideas about how the parts of the book are interrelated, and explain the significance of those relationships.

The book analysis must include bibliographical information about the author and speculations
about how the author's background might influence the author's point of view. Students must also include references to contemporary reviews of the texts and explain their personal analysis of the book. The instructor provides in the book analysis assignment sheet a variety of sources of bibliographical information, book reviews, and reference numbers to help students locate the texts in the library, and guide questions to focus the book review. In addition to the assignment sheet, the instructor provides a sample of a student's book review which they read and discuss in class.

The second book review may be submitted on or before the due date. However, students are expected to meet on their own time to receive peer feedback prior to the submission of the review (see Related Activties below). After the instructor has provided written feedback, students may revise the second review for a higher grade. Both book reviews are 10% of the course grade.

PURPOSE: For many students in the course, researching and writing the book review is a new experience. The book review is an effective method for teaching students to move beyond the information shared in class lectures or discussion. When students read about an individual's experiences with social, cultural issues such as racism, prejudice, ethnicity, gender, and age, they become more aware of the positive and negative aspects of diversity. Students must incorporate information about the author, analyze reviews written by other critics, formulate their own reaction to the book, and provide convincing support from the book. Students also learn how to search and locate reference materials in the library.

"I thought the book reviews were the best assignments because I hadn't done book reviews where I had to actually look at other people's book reviews that I was reading and comment on whether or not I agree with the critic and then use that kind of stuff to support my answers. It made me think a lot more about what I thought about the book. It was a lot of work for only 10% of the grade! But doing book reviews helped me write other papers that required support like the mid-term."--Student

2. JOURNAL WRITING

The journal is used to introduce a topic in class, summarize the main points of a session, or react personally to a subject. For example, to help students focus on the topic of the elderly, the instructor asks: "What are you going to be doing when you're 65?" Many students freewrite about the elderly using their own grandparents as models. Because the topic is personalized, students discover what they already know about the topic and can contribute this information to the class.

Based on the developing discussion, the instructor has a better idea of specific issues related to the elderly which may require another lecture, discussion, or supplemental reading. In another session on sexuality issues, the instructor asks students to write a letter to Harvey Milk (gay activist), reacting to a video they have just viewed about him. Students are also asked to write periodically in their journals for homework, reacting to class content or posing questions.

"The practice with writing--writing quantity--like journals and stuff helped me think better. I didn't take an English class this semester so the writing kept my English skills in shape. Writing critically helps sharpen skills and thinking." --Student
The journals are collected once a month. Since the class meets twice weekly, half the class journals are collected the first session and returned the second session. The remaining journals are collected the following week. The instructor skims through the entries and responds to questions. The journals are given a checkmark if all entries are completed, a check/plus for journals with exemplary, novel, or extensive responses, or a check/minus for journals with missing entries.

PURPOSE: Journal writing is an essential tool for learning in the course. Students freewrite to the instructor's prompts (focused freewrites) primarily for themselves. Students like the journals because the writing initiates and fosters critical thinking, provides material for discussion, notes for the mid-term, final exam, and book analyses. The daily writing becomes a vehicle and extension for thinking and provides helpful practice for writing. Because the journal entries are freewritten, students claim that this kind of uncensored writing liberates them from the constraints of grammatical correctness and helps them develop fluency.

"She makes us do journals. She asks hard questions and sometimes we have to answer them in class and sometimes at home. For example, before we got into a discussion on Indians, she asked us: When you hear the word 'Indian,' what do you think of? People in class wrote "cowboys," "bad guys," then she and other students would make me see it another way. . . When I write my ideas down, I'll explain how I feel. But when we discuss it, I hear other sides of the issue. I'm reminded about my own narrow-mindedness. . . I also knew that whatever we wrote she wouldn't hold against us . . . she's very open-minded." --Student

3. GROUP PROJECT WRITE-UP

The culminating activity is the study of social processes (such as stereotyping and prejudice), group identity, and contemporary issues related to ethnic groups in Hawai‘i (Japanese, Hawai‘ian, Chinese, Filipino). Students select an ethnic group and meet on their own time to determine the specific issues for individual research. Oral presentations, the length of a class session, are scheduled for the latter part of the semester. Students are encouraged to be innovative and may use audio-visual equipment, 'hands-on' activities, or create dramatic skits.

Following the oral presentation, each student prepares a 2-3 page paper, a bibliography, and duplicates supplementary material such as maps, charts, graphs, articles. The group folders, which are submitted to the instructor for evaluation, become part of a growing library of reference materials kept in the instructor's office. Students who enroll in future courses may consult the folders for bibliographic references and other materials. The oral presentation and individual write-ups are worth 75% of the group project; 25% of the grade accounts for the group's overall oral presentation.

"The most interesting assignment is the paper I'm working on based on the group oral presentation. It's different from other assignments. The topic is general. In our group we broke up the topic (the Chinese) into different categories. These were topics we covered in class up till now, like stereotypes and discrimination. So everything comes together to do this final project--to cover what we've learned. I'm finding out things I never really bothered to think about." --Student
PURPOSE: The group project encourages students to work collaboratively on a subject by deciding together on the purpose, topics, and format for the oral presentation. The main goal of the oral presentation and the individual write-up is to synthesize research and to provide a positive perspective of the ethnic group. The writing is also an aid for other students who will be conducting their own research on ethnic groups. The overall course goal of exploring the diversity of American life is achieved by having students look at the ethnic groups to which many of them belong.

4. MID-TERM AND FINAL EXAM

The mid-term, a take-home exam, consists of several comprehensive essay questions. Students select two of the questions and write their essays, usually 3-4 pages for each question. For example, students must explain why African-Americans have a more difficult time assimilating into American culture than any other ethnic group. Students must provide cohesive arguments by incorporating into their essays references to the assigned readings, discussions, and videos. The instructor encourages students to discuss the mid-term questions with their peers, however, students must write and submit their own essays in a week.

The final exam, comprised of similar comprehensive essay questions, is taken on the last day of class. The instructor provides a study guide of five questions and encourages students to meet in study groups. On the exam day, the instructor selects three of the five questions from which students select two questions. The mid-term and final exam are each worth 25% of the course grade.

PURPOSE: Through the synthesis and analysis of information gathered from a variety of sources--readings from the text, book analyses, discussion, lecture, and videos, students demonstrate their understanding of the social factors and issues affecting a multicultural society. In preparation for the mid-term, the advantages of collaboration are underscored by the instructor's encouragement for small group discussions.

By writing the take-home exam, students see the value of the writing process--thinking through ideas carefully and in collaboration with others, drafting, revising, and editing their essays. The final exam, on the other hand, provides students with the experience of writing on demand. However, the daily practice of journal writing (see #2 Journal Writing below) throughout the course serves to prepare students for the rigors of in-class exam writing. Finally, essay writing demonstrates to students that learning, like writing, is a process.

"A lot of things we did in class helped me to write the mid-term and final. Group discussions were really helpful. Everybody threw in what they thought in the hat and that was good because it gave me different perspectives. Like when we did women as a minority group, I agreed with them [student is male] but I also felt that men are discriminated against. I had to take the discussion with a grain of salt. Journals was low-pressure writing, spitting out ideas. I like that because it helps me compose papers. If I get stuck I just write like a journal entry and put in all the things I want in my paper. The final was good, too--write under pressure and improve your thinking under pressure." --Student

RELATED WRITING ACTIVITIES

1.PEER/INSTRUCTOR REVIEW ON WRITING

On the day the first book analysis is due, students meet in pairs to exchange their book reviews, read their papers to one another, and provide oral and written feedback. Essentially, students tell one another what they perceive is the main idea in the book review, explain what works well in the paper, or ask questions to clarify ideas. The format is flexible; writers may ask for specific feedback such as responding to particular paragraphs, references, or grammatical problems.

After receiving peer feedback, students may revise their reviews and submit the revised assignment to the instructor. The instructor reads the assignment, writes comments addressing the need for clarification, documentation, expansion, or grammatical correction, and assigns a grade. Students may revise their papers for a better grade.

PURPOSE: The discussion on student writing is collaborative--students receive feedback from their peers and the instructor. Students then choose to accept, modify, or reject the feedback. Most importantly, students learn that revision is re-thinking and that writing is re-writing. The rewards for revision are not only better grades but also clearer, better-articulated ideas. Students discover that good writing can be better achieved with the help of their peers as well as the instructor.

2. GROUP DISCUSSION

Discussion, along with writing, occurs daily and throughout much of the class period. After journal freewrites, students volunteer their responses in large group discussions while the instructor intersperses discussion with short lecture segments. When book reviews are due for a specific book, students meet in small groups to discuss questions provided by the instructor. Although all questions should be discussed during the allotted time, the instructor assigns to each group a specific discussion question.

The group designates a speaker from the group whose responsibility is to summarize the main ideas for the entire class. Students who have written a book review for the book under discussion also initiate discussion by reading the review to their respective group. Group discussion usually follows after students have first recorded their immediate reactions to video presentations or to the oral presentations on ethnic groups. Class participation (in addition to participation in journal writing and class attendance) is 15% of the course grade.

PURPOSE: Frequent opportunities for small and large group discussion stimulate individual participation. Likewise, frequent opportunities for thinking about what to contribute to discussion and what is learned after discussion occurs through the use of journal writing. The consistent practice of talking and writing enhances learning; students' active participation in their own learning makes learning fun.

3. COMMUNITY EVENTS

The instructor informs students of community events they may attend for extra credit, such as presentations at the Bishop Museum (e.g. "Strengthening Diversity"), cultural events, guest lectures on campus (e.g. Belle Hooks on feminism and on being politically correct). To earn points, students are required to write a brief summary incorporating critical analysis of the event.

PURPOSE: Since the focus of the class is learning about cultural diversity in American life, often the most effective learning experiences are provided by community groups. Exposure to these events provides students with new experiences, often about their own ethnic group. In the analytical writing that follows, students reflect on the event's social, political implications in the context of the course and how the event has affected the student personally.

"She kept us informed about things to attend outside of class. I did a lot of things I normally wouldn't see, even by myself! I really liked that exposure to what was going on in the community. I think now I'm more willing to go to these events--alone, too, and not for extra credit anymore!" --Student

4. STUDENT/INSTRUCTOR CONFERENCES

After students have completed the book reviews and have their papers evaluated and returned to them, they are required to meet with the instructor to discuss the writing. Students are strongly encouraged to meet with the instructor before they rewrite the book analyses rather than after a rewrite of the review. The conference is open-ended; students may raise any questions about the instructor's comments, discuss content, ask for additional references, etc.

PURPOSE: Although many students find an instructor's written feedback helpful, some comments are unclear. In the personal conference sessions outside of class time, students can negotiate the meaning intended in the review and learn about ways to communicate their ideas more effectively. The instructor provides guidance for difficulty with the organization of a review, logical development, references to published reviews, grammatical and spelling errors. The conferences also develop a positive relationship between the student and instructor.

Anita Hodges comments on her class (excerpts from an interview): We're in a multicultural society, especially in Hawai‘i. So my objective is to expose students to different cultures and also to different stereotypes, racism, prejudice, discrimination. I try to do this in a very positive way showing the strengths of every culture, but also to make it fun. If you don't get them to class, you'll never be able to teach them. If they enjoy the class, they'll enjoy coming to class, and they'll participate. I learn as much from them as they learn from me -- so it's a give-and-take situation. And fun -- hopefully fun.

We use revision in the classroom. They can rewrite the book analysis. The idea is for peers to review it, then when they're finished and have revised, then I can review it and give suggestions. Peer editing should be positive. What are good things about the writing? Using Peter Elbow's techniques and being a little more casual about it, not quite as structured. Once I give suggestions they can revise the review again. So writing is re-writing. You just can't write the review on a one-time basis. A lot of students think they can do it the night before, so that's the advantage to rewriting. I encourage them to do peer reviews on the other books on their own.

When I read student papers, I make little notes for students who are having problems with grammatical errors, spelling errors. Sometimes I'll write "elaborate," "you shift ideas here," "run-on." But most often comments praise what they've done well or I tell them they're just not getting their ideas across. For example, I wrote to one student: "Your review was very nicely researched with a good variety of sources, the literary criticism as well as magazines. However, if I were you, I would be less comfortable discussing Wright's literary style. Even you mentioned that his writing style is rather 'primitive.' High literacy it isn't!" To another student I suggested that the review would have been better to stick with one theme and to follow it throughout the paper. I encourage students who need it to attend the writing clinics over in Kuykendall. The students do use spell-checkers but they haven't gotten into the grammar-checkers yet. I think the whole process of feedback is still one-on-one. I've been trying to, when I grade their papers, write in different colors other than red. I pick only significant problems like recurrences of incomplete sentences, run-ons, lack of citation, organization. I'll suggest that they should work on one or two problems in the rewrite or in the next review.

I don't think there's one assignment in this class that really works well with all students. Some like journals and write volumes--I have a couple of students writing on the bus. Some just write four sentences--very tight. The oral projects do seem to work well, maybe because it's not all writing. They have to meet with me, select their own interests, and once they do that I talk with each person and find out what each is doing. Many of the oral presentations include the use of AV equipment or videos. I've even had students produce their own videos. Lots of food--they love the food. Then they get reactions from the class.
Some students like the book review --they don't mind reading the book and reacting to the book. Others hate it because they don't like library work. But I want them to go beyond all that. I want them to see how other people think about the books. . . I know another instructor who required students to write a review on every book, and I thought I'd rather have them do two good reviews and get into detail than just to run off "I like this book and everyone should read it." They are also happy with the mid-term as a take-home exam. They like that versus the final, but I explain to them that the final is the only time that I see them creating a paper, an essay, in class.

I let them do extra credit. It's optional and outside of the classroom. The reaction paper they write up proves they've been to the event. I get lots of interesting comments. One student took her parents to the one on "Strengthening Diversity" at the Bishop Museum. The parents were so happy that she dragged them there! They're Japanese and they thought it was neat that they could relate to the presentation so much more than their daughter could. That was an interesting reaction paper because she was reacting to her parents' reactions rather than to the session itself.

I usually revise the course; I don't think it's ever the same twice. I learn from them; they suggest things. I've changed my exams because of their feedback. I've changed writing assignments, books, my grading system. The course is actually their course. As far as writing I'm doing a lot more journal work this semester because I found out that they like journals and the writing got them motivated. I wish I had more time for writing.

I really liked the WI workshop for the instructors. I had already taught a WI class, so all the information wasn't new, but it set off a light bulb and reminded me of things I could use in my classes--like a refresher course. It was actually by doing what we ask our students to do--writing by doing the writing.