From an occasional drawing assignment to the review of a familiar children’s book, one thing is certain about the lesson plans in Deborah Morris’ English Composition classes: They often defy convention.
Her creative activities and calculated approach to instruction are meant to address some of the common subject-matter anxieties among her language arts students.
“Some don’t see any relevance for writing in their future careers and others had bad experiences in earlier schooling and still others just don’t think they are good writers,” says Morris, an adjunct faculty member at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast for the past seven years.
To encourage new ways of learning, Morris occasionally makes assignments such as a storyboard illustration for a particular writing project rather than drafting a standard outline, or she may request a visual representation of pre-writing ideas instead of initiating lists or paragraphs.
“Drawing uses a different part of the brain and forces a different kind of thinking through or processing of their ideas,” Morris explains. “It also happens to be a fun change of pace. You should see the looks on some of their faces when I explain that they’ll be drawing for part of a project—in a writing class!”
Morris also incorporates select children’s books as a means to anchor important themes in her mini-lectures and classroom activities.
“Children’s books tend to be a ‘safe’ or comfortable reference point for students; most students remember the books from earlier times in their lives, the books are easy to read and understand, and students—no matter what age—still enjoy having a story read to them,” Morris says. “And since children’s books are so unexpected in the college classroom, the students tend to remember the concepts and activities I have connected to the books.”
As Morris’ students demonstrate greater skill proficiencies in her English Composition and World Literature I classes, she uses these strides as building blocks for greater literacy objectives and the development of critical thinking skills.
“I want to help my students become critical thinkers who can effectively impact the society around them,” she says. “To do so, they must become strong consumers of texts as well as strong producers of texts, though. This critical literacy is especially important within our increasingly digital world where contexts are often complex and increasingly interconnected.”
Among her best teaching practices, Morris says she aims to inspire her students to embrace the challenges involved in their learning of the required material and to do their best work in the process.
“I am passionate about teaching writing because I know the power of literacy—especially with regard to language and how we use our words—and I recognize the importance of critical thinking within writing,” Morris says. “Equipping students with the power of this literacy can literally change their lives forever.”