Teacher to Teacher: Conversations on Student Writing

Shortly after publishing part one and part two of our series on first year composition students and their transition into college, we presented our initial findings at the annual convention of the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE). Dozens of secondary and post-secondary educators attended our session, eager to preview our Open Educational Resource (OER), The Spyglass, an untethered space for prospective and new composition students and those who teach them.

We were hopeful that the audience would be receptive to our ideas but also harbored the fear that what we perceived as a “sneak peek” at college writing would instead be stating the obvious to a roomful of highly experienced and engaged educators. It became apparent that attendees were interested in hearing what we had to say, building conversations around the ideas we had raised, and telling us more about what they’d like to see as we continue to curate and develop materials for our OER.

One of the most heartening discoveries from the session was our shared aspiration for students, whom we collectively saw on a continuum from high school, to college, to the larger world. Offering our reflections on the students we serve at CSUCI and the challenges they face in transitioning to college led to thought-provoking conversations on expectations in college and how secondary educators prepare their students to meet them. It became clear that we were all committed to understanding where our students come from and where they are heading. 

It may not be surprising that a roomful of educators who had devoted significant time and money to attending a multi-day teaching conference would be so invested in student learning and success; nonetheless, it was a welcome balm to encounter such warmth towards real students in all their complexity and potential.

We are indebted to our current CSUCI composition students, who spoke openly in the video interviews we previewed to this audience about their previous fears about college and hopes for the future. Students approached their responses with sincerity and humor in a way that spoke to us as their instructors but that we were not sure would connect to a broader audience. It was reassuring to see that the authenticity of these students helped secondary educators imagine their own students in college. As one local high school teacher shared with us, “Your students look like our students.”

We received much encouraging feedback about The Spyglass and the resources provided for both educators and students. We had enriching conversations around supporting first generation college students and managing the increasing anxiety we all seem to be facing in our classes. It was fascinating to explore the college experiences of our attendees and how those contrasted with those of the current generation. At the same time, we learned a great deal about how high school today compares to our own experiences and those of our colleagues. 

We also heard what people would like to see in our OER, including sample college composition prompts (of which we have plenty to share) and more information about campus life in general. At the same time, we became aware of a program at CSU Bakersfield that preps area high school students for college and are eager to look into that. We came away from the session proud of what we do at CSUCI and inspired to keep learning from other schools and improving. We all have a wealth of information to share with one another when a space is created for us to ask, listen, and learn.

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