Especially in first year composition courses, faculty often work diligently to create assignments that are relevant to students. We want to engage them in the process so that they not only learn something, but (gasp!) enjoy doing it. I’ve had some luck with this. While every student might not start watching commercials more critically because of my Ad Analysis assignment or start volunteering for a non-profit because they researched it in my class or start a blog because they loved their website assignment so much, some do. And I consider that a victory, for sure.
However, what I really want students to get (and I think this is really the heart of FYC) is how to apply what they are learning in my class to their other classes and to life. And if I spoon feed them assignments that are exciting and that they naturally want to do, what happens when they have to write a paper about something they have no interest in? And, in an institution like YC where we have a mix of traditional and returning students, how do I guess which assignment prompt is going to pique the interest of every student? I can’t…and I would argue that I shouldn’t.
Something I learned to do as an undergrad is to take every assignment and make it into something meaningful to me, and that has become my goal for my students. When I give students the Ad Analysis assignment, they can choose any ad they find. And that’s fine. But I encourage them to find an ad that means something to them. Even if it’s simply that they like it! When they choose a non-profit, I ask them to start with a problem that they see in the world that is important to them. Not every student takes the responsibility to take that extra step, but the ones who do end up with a more meaningful paper–and a more meaningful connection to the content and the course.
So…how do I make content meaningful? I try to teach students to make their own meaning. Hopefully, when they leave my class, they will continue looking for the connection to a course or an assignment that will make it come alive for them.