Whose Outcomes Are They, Anyway? A Teaching Story

This is just a little story about learning outcomes.


I teach college writing. As of today, at the end of week one, I have seen my Fall 2017 Writing 1310 students twice. On the first day, I did what I usually do, asking them to spend the last 10-20 minutes introducing themselves in writing. Please tell me who you are as a writer. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What kind of writing experience do you have? What is your usual process for writing? Write a paragraph or two below. 

 
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This semester, I added an activity to this writer’s introduction. I had gone over the syllabus and pointed out the course learning outcomes, but I wanted them to examine those outcomes and actually think about them. I hoped to trigger a kind of metacognition, an awareness of the big picture that would enhance their learning throughout the semester. The goals for WRIT 1310 are listed below. These are skills you are meant to master by the end of the course. On a scale from 1 to 10, how much mastery of each skill do you have at this point, as we begin the course? 

The results were a little surprising, as many students indicated that they already had good mastery of most of the skills. As I read over their work, however, I wondered how well they understood the course learning outcomes. I had developed the outcomes in collaboration with my colleagues who teach writing at my institution. I found myself feeling somewhat disappointed in the lack of audience awareness in the outcomes, realizing that I had not practiced what I preached about being mindful of all readers. The outcomes used words like “rhetorical” and “discernment,” and referred to pieces of writing as “texts,” which to students may sound like things composed on smartphones.  

So on the second day of class, I asked my students how “user-friendly” they had found the outcomes. I explained that course learning outcomes are written for multiple audiences—not just students, but also deans, curriculum committees, other institutions, and accrediting agencies. I confessed that my colleagues and I had not done a very good job of keeping students in mind. We had gotten caught up in the academic exercise of writing for other academics. We had stated that we would teach students to “construct texts” and “analyze rhetorical situations.” I displayed the outcomes, discussed each one, and took the students' suggestions for putting them into more user-friendly terms. Here are some of the results of our collaboration: 


  • "Construct texts using diverse readings as sources of ideas and content" became "Write things using different readings as sources of ideas and content." 


  • "Analyze rhetorical situations when planning, drafting, revising, and editing texts for diverse audiences, purposes, and genres" became "Analyze writing assignments when planning, drafting, revising, and editing papers for a variety of readers, purposes, and types of writing." 


  • "Apply appropriate writing processes to produce texts for a variety of rhetorical situations" became "Apply appropriate writing processes to write papers for a variety of writing assignments." 

The next step will be getting together with my colleagues to revise these outcomes. There are nine of them, which is too many, and they don't all work for students, who should be our primary audience. We should imagine them looking over our shoulders as we write learning outcomes. All of those other people--professors, deans, committee members, and accreditors--should stand behind our students.

How to Write a Memoir in Just Seven Wrenching Steps

I wrote a memoir called "How to Write a Memoir in Just Seven Wrenching Steps." The publishing world needs to come to its senses and bring it to a memoir-hungry reading public.

Here is one of my favorite illustrations, "The Wrestler in the Kitchen" (which represents an analogy from the second chapter, "Step Two: Come to Grips with Your Childhood").


Interviews with Angus

Interviews may be found here, here, and here.

On Deck: A Novel Called Oily

Angus Woodward's follow-up to Americanisation: Lessons in American Culture and Language is Oily, a comical, unconventional novel about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Someone should publish it right away. Here's how it begins:

Oily
TERMS OF USE
BY CLICKING “I AGREE” BELOW, YOU ACCEPT THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT REGARDING THE USE, RE-USE, ABUSE, AND NON-USE OF THIS PRODUCT (“PRODUCT”) HENCEFORTH AND FOREVER, REGARDLESS OF NATURAL DISASTER; CHANGES TO INTERNATIONAL, FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL ORDINANCES; SPILLS OF TOXIC AND NON-TOXIC SUBSTANCES; THE END OF LITERATURE AS A VIABLE ART FORM; AND ANY OTHER FORESEEN OR UNFORESEEN EVENT OR PHENOMENON COVERED OR NOT COVERED BY ALL EXPRESS OR IMPLICIT WARRANTIES.
I. ACCEPTANCE OF TERMS
Oily: A Novel (“Oily”) welcomes you. Oily provides you with the services described below and herein according to the terms of this agreement, which may be updated from time to time without notice to you. By accessing and using Oily’s services, you accept and agree to be bound by the terms and provisions of the TOU. In addition, when discussing the content of Oily with others (including but not limited to friends, acquaintances, co-workers, family members, and healthcare professionals), you agree to abide by certain articles of the agreement and to represent the contents of Oily with an acceptable degree of accuracy, fairness, and perspicacity, even if you do not know the meaning of “perspicacity.”

II. DESCRIPTION OF SERVICES
Oily provides users with an account of fictional events experienced and/or carried out by fictional characters. Any resemblance, factual or perceived, between past, present, or future persons or events is strictly coincidental or the result of author clairvoyance, for which the creator of Oily shall not be held responsible by any person, place, or thing. You understand that certain resemblances between characters and events within this product and persons and events in the real world (“reality”) are inevitable and by no means evidence of fraud, slander, or malice of any kind. As an example, consider the fact that Oily begins with a character named Warren, a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana (“NOLA”) unlocking the side door of a small house and pushing into the house “with such energy that the door didn’t stick and creak the way it always did on steamy spring days.” The fictional character Warren (“Warren”) subsequently shouts “Penny,” at the same time “betting that she is awake by now,” then further shouting, “You’ve got to see this.” The product further states that by the time Warren gets to the bedroom, Penny is raising herself up off the pillow, wincing a bit as she moves. “What’s wrong?” she asks, the sand in her voice telling Warren that she had still been asleep. Warren subsequently makes an effort to slow himself down, taking a deep breath as he sits on the end of the bed, facing her. “I found this thing. This weird thing,” he tells her, and she says, “Okay,” both of them knowing (after a decade of marriage) that “okay” in this context means okay that’s not the first time you’ve said “I found this thing” or its equivalent in the past year or so, ever since I got sick and you started taking almost daily walks along the canal at the edge of our neighborhood. I was sort of interested in the feathers and the desiccated crab shell, but I was repulsed by the long orange nutria teeth you pulled from a rotting skull. As your loving wife, I will listen with an open mind, even though I’m not feeling particularly good this morning and for once I was sleeping past eight, because if I did feel good I would be interested and I would be out there with you ogling birds and watching fish jump. So let’s take a minute and look at whatever it is, and then move on to my morning meds and some strong ginger tea. Whereupon Warren nods, slowed further by the weight of Penny’s “Okay.” The edges of his hair are sweaty. “I sat down in the grass by this one little willow that grows right by the water. I stop there a lot. Sometimes I see garfish hanging out in the shadows of the willow, and it’s just a fairly peaceful spot,” he begins, and Penny says, “Uh-huh,” meaning Just show me whatever you found and let’s move on. Warren grimaces apologetically (and Penny accepts his apology with a blink) and begins to describe a sound he heard, “kind of like the sound of a jet passing overhead, except quiet and only lasting a sec. Anyway, then I looked down and found this.” He holds out his hand. A matte black object lies across his palm. Penny shrugs. “Looks like a fat pen or something. Could you maybe--.”
“Feel it,” Warren says.
“Is it clean?”
“It was just lying in the grass next to me, after I heard that sound.” He extends his hand further, and Penny obliges, probably figuring doing so might get her closer to morning meds and ginger tea. The object feels warm and exceedingly smooth. Unlike a pen, it is seamless, pointless, and clipless. Its ends are blunt, one with a little nib. A faint textured circle covers the nibless end.
“Is it plastic or metal?” she asks.
“I can’t tell,” Warren says. “At first I thought it might be some kind of stylus, maybe from the latest video game or whatever. For about a minute I thought it came off a tree.”
“It looks exactly like an acorn.”
“Exactly! Like a long, black acorn with no cap.”
“Wow,” Penny says, and hands the object back to Warren. She does her best to smile, glancing at the grove of medicine bottles on the bedside table, her eyebrows raised helpfully.
Warren stands, pushing the black acorn into his jeans pocket. He starts opening bottles, shaking out pills, and lining them up beside Penny’s water glass. Two round white ones, a lavender one, a pink one, and an oblong white one. Penny hands him the near-empty glass, like always. He nods and stands up straight but hesitates before heading to the kitchen to refill the glass and start the ginger tea. Penny looks up at him and tilts her head. “One more thing,” he says quietly.
“What?”
“The acorn thing? I saw it fly.”

Penny cocks her head, widens her eyes. “Warren?” she calls, but he is already halfway to the kitchen.

Americanisation


Angus has written a comic novel called Americanisation: Lessons in American Culture and Language, which is the madcap story of Biti Namoeteri’s efforts to come to grips with American culture. He arrives in the US to study “spiritual geography” at a large university, but gets caught up in a series of compelling distractions: television, multi-level marketing, romance, and personal injury lawsuits. he Oxford American hailed Americanisation as “a hilariously crafted postmodern novel wedged into the template of a social-studies textbook for immigrants.” Michael Martone called it 'a hilarious simulacrum, a map more detailed than the thing it is meant to represent,' and added, 'It is drop-dead, deadpan funny.” Livingston Press published Americanisation in 2011. It may be ordered from any bookstore or from Amazon.com (available for Kindle). Read an excerpt below. For more info, click here.
Excerpt
Chapter One: The American Airport
Before you start
By the end of this chapter, you will be able to complete your arrival process to any large American city. Vocabulary activities will help you to navigate the American airport, including baggage claim, a typical airport restaurant, interactions with security personnel, and ground transportations. The chapter ends with guidance and vocabulary for the first moments in your new American apartment.

Vocabulary 1: Airport Terminology
Arrival: A complex process as gradual as the ripening of pears.

Jetway: A carpeted hallway on wheels, which attaches itself to the aircraft moments after docking at the gate. Do not expect to emerge into the American climate and descend to American concrete as a long-armed American woman drapes a chain of flowers about your neck and plants a damp kiss upon your lips before guiding you inside, helpfully answering your questions about the so-called “baggage claim area,” then grasping your hand and skipping ahead to the terminal where she might guide you through the entire airport to point out shops and lounges and new furniture until you find yourselves in a deserted tavern, exchanging whispers over a dim candle which you’ll sweep aside for the first of many long, passionate kisses. Instead, you will merely walk from the chilly, carpeted interior of the aircraft to the chilly, carpeted interior of the arrival lounge via the chilly, carpeted interior of the jetway.

Mens: Although it is not in any dictionary, “mens” is widely used as a label for men’s restrooms.

Touchless: Be warned that American airport toilets, “urinals,” faucets, and paper-towel dispensers no longer require travelers to push buttons, turn handles, or move levers. Unseen personnel monitoring hidden cameras operate these devices for you.

Baggage Claim Area: When departing your home country, you will have been given a small certificate displaying a code which may be matched to the code on a small certificate attached to your valise. Upon arrival, follow signs to the Baggage Claim Area. It is a large vestibule containing a long row of mechanisms that carry baggage in a continuous loop until travelers collect it. The area is staffed by men in uniform; do not mistake these men for military personnel, despite American involvement in overseas combat, which is continual. Most of these baggage men are too old for combat in any case.

Cafeteria: A type of American restaurant in which customers choose food from glass cabinets while propelling plastic trays along waist-high metal runners. Most cafeterias offer a startling array of foods, including hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, noodles, fried meats, stews, casseroles, cooked vegetables, salads, and rich chocolate desserts. Most American airports contain many restaurants, including at least one cafeteria.

Security: American airports operate in a state of heightened awareness, whatever the state of warfare abroad. Just as the baggage men are not to be mistaken for soldiers, security personnel are not to be mistaken for injured veterans. Many Americans, including security personnel, wear dark glasses when indoors, and it easy to mistake a man with a large dog, a uniform, and dark glasses for a blind veteran of the current overseas conflict. In fact, such a man is on alert, and his dog is trained to defend him and pursue wrong-doers. Do not make the mistake of offering money to such personnel.


Dialogue 1: Retrieving your baggage.
A traveler by the name of Biti Namoeteri approaches a military man who has just assisted a young woman with a large yellow purse.

Biti Namoeteri: Excuse me.
Military man: Need a cart, sir?
Biti: A cart? I have this certificate.
Military man: Let’s see here. You’re on fifteen.
Biti: I am “on fifteen….” Thank you.

Vocabulary 2: Cafeteria
Jell-o®: A mildly sweet, colorful gelatin substance popular in hospitals and schools.

Special: A featured dish or combination of dishes, often offered at a reduced price. Customers must be sure to follow strict rules for specials.

Salad: A dish of cold, raw vegetables, usually featuring lettuce or spinach.

Soda (also called pop): Any of variously colored bubbly syrups served over ice.

Dialogue 2a: The airport cafeteria: server
Biti Namoeteri collects a tray and some silverware, then approaches a middle-aged woman in a hairnet.

Woman behind counter: Argh argh argh, sir.
Biti Namoeteri: Eh…somewhat weary from my travels, but otherwise fine. And how are you today?
Woman: Just fine, sir. Argh argh argh, sir.
Biti: Yes of course. Forgive my ignorance. My goal is to purchase your Red Island Express.
Woman: One meat, two vegetables. Argh argh argh, sir.
Biti: Yes, of course. I will try this brown substance, that green substance, and those items that appear to be very small carrots.

Dialogue 2: The airport cafeteria: cashier
Biti Namoeteri reaches the end of the cafeteria counter and encounters a cashier with a gold nose ring.

Biti Namoeteri: I hope you might pardon me. I operated under the impression that your Red Island Express would cost six dollars and forty-nine cents. This bill totals eight dollars and nineteen cents.
Cashier: You got two salads.
Biti: I do? But…perhaps you might count them again…?
Cashier: Two salads, no dessert. The Express has one salad and one dessert.
Biti: Exactly. Here is my salad, and here is my dessert.
Cashier: That’s a salad.
Biti: This?
Cashier: Yeah, and that other one.
Biti: This? Are these colorful gelatinous blocks savory, then?
Cashier: Jell-o® is a salad. That’s why it’s down there. The desserts are right there by the drinks.
Biti: Very well. Here is a twenty-dollars bill.
Cashier: You pay after. Go trade your Jell-o® for some pie if you want.
Other customer: Can you ring me up while he--
Biti: That will not be necessary.

Activity:
Label the following brief passages F for Fantasy or R for Realism.
1. Biti Namoeteri had trouble pinpointing the moment of his arrival in this country. _____
2. Friendly, wholesome men and women approach travelers in American airports, offering lodging and guidance then confidentially showing a satchel full of currency. Within hours, the hapless traveler finds himself sitting on an unknown street corner with a satchel full of shredded newspaper, all of his own money gone for good. _____
3. Great streams of Americans of all ages, shapes and sizes flow past a traveler at an American airport, ignoring one another and the aforementioned traveler. _____
4. A traveler who thinks of creating a chain of cafeterias directly in the paths of arriving travelers will soon become fabulously wealthy, allowing him to buy a villa in the hills with a pool for his lovely wife and a driver to escort them through the city. _____
5. America is a land of great possibility and adventure where everyone is very nice. _____

Down at the End of the River


Down at the End of the River, a collection of short stories set in south Louisiana, was published in 2008 by Margaret Media, Inc. To order, visit www.margaretmedia.com or Amazon.com. Stories in the collection have appeared in Xavier Review, Talking River Review, Louisiana Literature, Habersham Review, Pennsylvania English, and Dominion Review.

Advance praise for Down at the End of the River:

"Angus Woodward’s fertile, off-center imagination captures the soul of southern Louisiana much the way a 500-pound gator might chomp down on a kayak, except Woodward’s free-wheeling stories are fun, funny, and no one really gets hurt. Down at the End of the River is a humid, hilarious debut collection not to be missed. Laissez les bons temps rouler!"
--Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire

"Angus Woodward has an uncanny ability to slip inside the hearts and minds of characters as they step off the worn paths of their lives. Each lively, funny, heartfelt story in Down at the End of the River is a quirky delight."
--Brent Spencer, author of Are We Not Men?

"Angus Woodward’s imaginative prose lures readers into the unlit corners of the human psyche. His characters leap off the page, his plots are taut and atmospheric, and his outcomes are deliciously unpredictable. These stories grip and don’t let go.

"Career criminals who reform, Vietnamese refugees working through intense pain, kids next door discovering exactly how complex the heart can be—Angus Woodward’s collection has it all, and more. As subtle as they are powerful, these stories probe the human condition with penetrating insight and no apologies.

"Down at the End of the River, with its memorable characters and unpredictable plots, reminds us why storytelling is important. Beautifully crafted, intensely atmospheric, and emotionally fearless, Woodward delivers a wild literary ride along the modern Mississippi."
--Julie Mars, author of Anybody Any Minute

Here is an excerpt from the title story, courtesy of Margaret Media and Xavier Review:

Down at the End of the River
One day I guess I decided it was foolish for a man my age to keep pestering people and I just stopped what I had been doing for practically forty years or something, not that I ever counted that carefully. No more breaking, no more entering. I vowed to toss the coke-machine keys in the river the next time I was down in the Quarter. I couldn't bring myself to give away all of the guns, but planned to call some of my old assistants and ask if they wanted some, saving out a shotgun, three revolvers, and my thirty-ought six just for security and holidays.
So what do I do now? I wondered, and gave the old TV a try. Nothing but a bunch of yahoos beeping and tussling on all those newfangled talk shows. I cracked the blinds to get a look at what other people were doing. The street was quiet and shady like always, but instead of thinking it was the boringest place on earth, I saw how peaceful and homey it was. Why would I want to run off to Fat City strip joints or out to the truck stop casinos when I could do what my neighbors did on evenings like this? None of them were doing it just then, but often with the men home from work for the evening and two hours of daylight to go, people would find excuses to get out into their little yards, maybe to poison some fire ants or prune their azaleas, of which mine were halfway covering the windows. Doo-dad would be out soon with his glass of whiskey or can of beer, just sitting on the front step calling out smart comments to those who walked by. Because he was old like me, everyone thought his remarks were cute, but I knew better.

A Flash of Fiction

The kind and illustrious folks at Fiction Southeast have come to their senses and published Bad Oil Storm. Reading it will only take four minutes of your time.