JSU students learning more than composition in some English classes
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Oct 18, 2013 | 4421 views |  0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
English professor Teresa Reed, right, talks to student Brandon Phillips as student Savan Patel looks on in their class that uses service projects as a basis for teaching the subject. (Anniston Star photo by Bill WIlson)
English professor Teresa Reed, right, talks to student Brandon Phillips as student Savan Patel looks on in their class that uses service projects as a basis for teaching the subject. (Anniston Star photo by Bill WIlson)
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JACKSONVILLE — Freshmen in Teresa Reed’s honors English composition course at Jacksonville State University are learning about a lot more than grammar and writing styles this fall.

Through a teaching approach known as project-based learning, they are also learning how how to think on their feet and work together in the community. Reed asked her students to design a project to help military men and women and she’s building course work around their plans.

“It’s certainly becoming more of a trend in higher education,” Reed said this week.

Students in two of her freshman honors English composition classes divided into four groups and wrote project proposals to present to the class. Then the students narrowed the options, and both classes picked their own projects.

One class decided to organize and host a “Call of Duty” video game competition to raise money for wounded veterans. Another class decided to hold a fundraising and goods drive to make care packages for active-duty service men and women.

“We saw injured veterans, what they were doing in our society, in our community and we had to come up with an idea to help them,” said Alec Young of Oxford. “We’re just trying to make some kind of difference.”

From the start of the semester, all of the students’ course work has been built around their projects. They are graded on the composition of their written presentations, blogs and essays, all of which pertain to their particular projects.

But along the way students have honed their Internet search skills, practiced working together to accomplish tasks and gotten real-world experience, they said, while working on the projects.

Students said they had mixed feelings about project-based learning at the beginning of the semester. But halfway through the semester they’re warming up to the approach, which they described as fun and engaging.

In addition, students are learning more about some difficult issues that face the nation’s veterans and current members of the military. One student rattled off statistics that highlight the effect post-traumatic stress disorder is having on veterans. Another listed items that members of the military commonly lack in the field, such as toothbrushes and toilet paper.

“We are basically training ourselves, which is my favorite thing about this,” said Haley Pendleton of Rome, Ga. “It’s discussion-based. We talk about things.”

Reed said that in addition to writing, communication and research skills, students also are improving critical-thinking skills through project-based learning.

The approach is already common in local public schools, and Reed said it’s becoming more common at JSU. This is the first time she’s tried the approach in an honors English class.

“It’s an experiment, to be honest with you,” Reed said. “I wanted to see how it works.”

She likes what she sees so far, but is waiting until the end of the semester to measure the approach’s effectiveness. Reed said she is “documenting everything closely” to determine whether it will be successful. At the end of the semester, she said, she will question students to see what they’ve learned and whether their attitudes about writing have changed.

“I’m not completely decided, but I’m pretty optimistic about it,” Reed said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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