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how do you help students develop more confidence in their writing skills?

From day one and throughout the semester, I take the “anyone can do it” position. one of my first lectures, especially at engwr 101 and below, is about how writing is not just a natural talent, but rather a skill that anyone can develop through practice and hard work. this gives many students who have long believed they can’t write and thus hate writing a sliver of hope that maybe class won’t be so painful. what they discover is that it is a difficult challenge if taken seriously, but most of my students tell me at the end of semesters after taking my classes that they learned more in my class than in most others. These testimonials are passed down from student to student, giving many students the confidence they need to succeed.

Throughout the semester, many students have moments of panic; this usually comes around mid-term time. many students come to my office, which I encourage them to do. this is part of building the confidence they will need during college. they need to connect with their teachers, and when they do, they often grow in new ways. they are taking the initiative to help themselves, and they are the ones who take responsibility for the outcome of their goals. many students go through their tests on their own, and while many find their way, there are also many who sink into isolation. As a result, I encourage students to talk to me during office hours. In my writing development classes, I actually schedule one-on-one conferences with each student so I have the opportunity to connect with each student individually and give them feedback based on their individual performance. these meetings also allow me to help guide students so they can move in the direction of progress for the rest of the semester.

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One option I give my students in all of my classes is the opportunity to review any essay for a better grade. this also gives students the confidence that they didn’t have to get it right the first time, and in case they didn’t figure it out on the first try, they have some recourse. this often makes a difference in their grade and ultimately makes them feel like they made these decisions for themselves, which in turn gives them a greater sense of self.

what advice would you give to a new college student?

A new college student has a daunting transition to make, and there are several things a new college student can do to ease that transition. First, at the college level, it would be wise for the new student to attend college orientation to learn about college resources and programs for which she might qualify. most students are unaware of all they can do to improve their experience and results. therefore in my class i am informative in my syllabus by listing the contact information for the reading and writing center, dsps, eops etc in case the students have not learned about these outlets in another context. Fortunately, since I mainly teach basic skills classes, I have been working closely with the counselors, who have been visiting the class to further guide and direct the students, talking about survival skills and other things.

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On a personal level, I encourage new students to view college as life-changing and allow the experience to give them new insights and perspectives on their lives and the lives of others. this requires some commitment to independence and being an individual, as this is your life, not your parents’. They’re not kids anymore, and since most of the incoming freshmen are around 18, this advice is significant because they’re reclaiming their lives as their own. For returning students who are new to campus, the personal transition is very different, as these students are divided in many directions. A good schedule is necessary for all students, but especially returning students who have families, work full-time, and are trying to get a college education. Set aside time for your studies every day, but don’t forget to have time just for yourself. balance is key for everyone.

what is your favorite part of your job?

There are two things that make teaching a career that you could not replace with any other. First, I love being in the classroom, facilitating student ideas in group discussions, answering questions and clarifying ideas, and building connections between students from different backgrounds. I see the classroom as a mini-version of society: people from different backgrounds with diverse experiences sitting together and having to co-exist and find a way. Although it is not always a happy ending, something positive can come out of this situation, as it forces each individual to stop and listen.

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The second thing I love about teaching goes hand in hand with the first: seeing student growth. Although most students learn something and change in some way by the end of a semester, significant transformation is rare. but every once in a while I work with a student whose transformation is profound, and this is one of the most rewarding experiences as a teacher.

what was your proudest moment working with students?

I have had many proud moments as a teacher and what they all have in common is a cohesion in the classroom between me and the students. we all exchange ideas, expand our ideas as individuals and as a group, learn from each other, get challenged in new ways, genuinely, sincerely consider new ideas, and in the end, come away with a feeling of satisfaction. and energy this is what many teachers call the “aha moment”. but I would like to extend that to the whole group because when our students have that experience, in a way we do too. That’s what makes me proud to be a teacher. There aren’t many professions that instill that kind of growth and understanding, and I’m proud to be in a profession that sometimes makes a difference.

additional information:

  • zora neale hurston forum 2002- first place award
  • sally cassanova predoctoral fellow 2003-2004
  • department of english award for article on 18th century letters< /li
  • 2004 Graduate Dean’s List Honorable Mention

lisa sapra has her aa from orange coast college and b.a. and ma from csu, long beach.

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