During the Spring 2013 semester, instructor Brinn Strange contacted the Think Center in hopes of helping her English Composition classes find a “safe, inviting space” to peer workshop their argument essays.  Her first step was to meet with the Think Center staff to discuss the defined outcomes and planned activities of the class meeting.  This enabled us to set up the environment and approach the process in ways that deliberately support the instructional objectives.  When students arrived, we encouraged them to  face each other, utilize tools around the room, and move freely as needed to work through the assignments.  After that initial class, Brinn brought more classes over and returned a number of times.  Her account of what transpired when she held classes in the Think Center follows.     
 

Utilizing the Think Center for MORE Effective Composition Instruction

As an instructor for the English Department’s recently launched Expanded Composition program, I have the privilege of working with the same cohort for two consecutive semesters as students develop confidence in their writing and new strategies for transitioning from high school into college writing expectations.

 

The benefits of a two-semester course are many: increased comfort in sharing writing amongst peers, more lively classroom discussion, and additional time for students to utilize on-campus resources such as office hours and the Writing Center (just to name a few). However, halfway through our second semester, I noticed a certain level of complacency settingEnglish Composition class led by Brinn Strange in as students grew (perhaps too) accustomed to the daily routine.

 

While trying to brainstorm an inventive way to shake things up, a colleague reminded me of a resource I learned about during New Faculty Orientation—the Student Think Center. I quickly emailed Bonnie Cooper to learn more about this space and what it had to offer. Bonnie and Toni happily met with me to go over the variety of resources this space has to offer, such as—posters, white boards, and swivel chairs, oh my! Inspired by the vibrant space, I went to work creating unique lesson plans. Then, I scheduled an appointment, which turned into several appointments, to use the Student Think Center’s innovative space.

 

Here are just a few of the benefits—most unintentional—that resulted from my class’s experience in the Student Think Center:

 

- More active listening: The Think Center’s dynamic furniture allows students to move! Unlike the static arrangement of a typical classroom, with heavy, often immobile desks and stationary chairs, the Think Center’s décor enables and encourages students to turn and face the person who is speaking, regardless of where that person is located.

 

English Composition class in the Think Center

- More stimulating group brainstorming: Students were able to cluster in small groups around circular tables topped with butcher paper. Armed with colorful markers, post-it notes, and their own spirited imaginations—students were able to generate new ideas and build upon the ideas of others, culminating in a more extensive and comprehensive list than I’ve witnessed in a more traditional classroom setting. Then, we compiled students’ ideas together on a big white board—making their ideas visible and accessible for use in class discussion.

 

- More thoughtful reflection: When it came time for students to reflect on their previous writing assignment, to decompress about their successes and struggles—students were able to relax back into a comfortable chair, move and turn in whichever direction they found most conducive, and consider their writing experience in a calm, low-stakes environment.

 

- More engaged peer work shopping: Before turning in an essay, I typically allocate class time for students to workshop each other’s papers. Students read their papers aloud and provide their peers with substantive feedback using a handout to guide their input. Ideally, this process would be more discussion-based; however, it has been my experience that students often lack the confidence to provide their peers with verbal constructive criticism. This was not the case in the Think Center. Students put their handouts aside, scooted their chairs closer, and—without any prompting from me—began articulating their honest reactions. I noticed an increase in eye contact between students and, rather than just completing a handout and leaving, students were more invested in their peer’s writing, which resulted in fruitful discussions that benefited both the writer and the reviewer.

 

As the semester progresses, I am eager to continue working alongside the Think Center’s tremendous staff. Rather than standing at the front of the room each morning, I look forward to weaving around circular tables and zigzagging amongst moveable chairs as the classroom becomes less teacher-cEnglish Composition class in the Think Center entered and, instead, students claim more ownership for what takes place during class.

 

While the Student Think Center cannot accommodate all classes all the time, periodically incorporating this space into your semester can enhance and enliven your lessons. Undoubtedly, utilizing the Student Think Center allows both the students and the instructor to get MORE out of class!

 

Brinn Strange
USM English Instructor

 

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The Student Think Center is an initiative of the Learning Enhancement Center at The University of Southern Mississippi funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Strengthening Institutions Program [Title III Part A] for $1,954,151 over a five year period.

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