I teach General Education composition classes to first year undergraduate students, which can make my job challenging before students even step into my class. Students often think that taking required courses is something they “have to get through” in order to take classes related to their major. However, practices learned in general education classes can set the tone for successful learning beyond the classroom. Although, telling that to students does not automatically win them over; they have to discover it for themselves. The practice that changed the student experience in my own composition classes was the frequent use of reflection to help students think through everything we did.
To get started, we developed our own customized literacy narratives. The semester began by focusing on students and their personal experiences with reading and writing. One of the first questions I ask them is, “What is the last book you read?” This is a hard question because students want to list a required reading book that they may or may not have completed in high school to make a good impression. But if they want to make progress throughout the semester, they have to take an honest look at themselves and their own experiences with reading and writing—this way they can value the journey they will take in their first college composition course.
Once students realize the purpose of this initial reflection is to set a benchmark for them to reflect on and grow from, they tend to include some very honest entries. Often, identifying with a negative experience in the past can keep a student from enjoying a class. Tara, a student, shared, “When it came to writing growing up, I remember struggling to keep up. I would write those graded writing prompts that every student had to write and remember recieving [sic] a lower score than my friends and lying to them when they would ask what score I got because I was embarassed [sic] that I couldnt [sic] write as well as them.” She is bringing an honest experience to class, which makes this required class one she may not be eager to take.
Additionally, my enthusiasm for reading is not always shared by my students on the first day of class. Alexis very clearly shared her feelings in her writing, “Besides reading in school, I was never a big reader in my free time. It was one of those things that you would have to get forced to do. I hated it more than the dentist. My mom always tried to take me to the library, but I always came out with nothing.” This is what Alexis thought as I introduced a novel the class would be reading during the semester.