In Fall 2015, I contacted former students I had worked with during my three years teaching composition at The City College of New York. I asked them to write brief testimonials about their experiences in my classes. In particular, I prompted them to discuss 1) their feelings about writing courses before my class, 2) what made my classes unique, and 3) what they gained from their time in the class.
These testimonials provide a useful counter-point to my Statement of Teaching Philosophy. I am honored to see that my students recognized my motivations in designing the course, and that they internalized many of the lessons I hoped they would.
The testimonials I collected came from students across the majors, though because I taught more engineering-focused courses than anything else, their perspectives are a bit over-represented. Indeed, even in my general-major courses, engineers represented the majority.
The testimonials are largely un-edited. I have omitted small sections for clarity, but I have otherwise not altered my former students’ words. I added bold face to draw attention to key words from the student reflections.
My Teaching Through Student’s Eyes
Many students used their testimonials to identify specific aspects of my teaching practice. While these testimonials contain aspects of personal reflection, I include them here because they help name the practices that both I and my students agree are hallmarks of my teaching: individualized attention, holistic assessment, digital collaboration, and student-directed inquiry.
Steven, an English major, describes the daily class structure as well as the central role of individual mentorship in my courses:
Andrew Lucchesi’s Writing for Engineers classes were some of the most formative of my college career. Andrew brought great enthusiasm and energy to every class, ensuring that every student had the opportunity to participate and speak his/her mind. One of the best aspects of class was how Andrew structured the lessons, dividing the class-time into sections so that we could reach our “aims for the day.” This was a wonderful tool because it prevented the conversation from ever getting too far off topic. It also was a relief to know that if Andrew said we would cover a topic that day, we always had time to cover it without a doubt.
Among the many professors I’ve had since Andrew (his being the first writing instructor I’ve had in college), Andrew was beyond the most involved and concerned with professor/student interaction. Twice a semester, students in Andrew’s class were asked to come in for a brief, twenty-minute one-on-one session in which students could ask questions or give comments about the course and discuss their works and assignments from the class. Taking Andrew’s class as a Freshman at CCNY, I had never been to a professor’s office hours before, but it was a great first experience. Andrew gave very specific, constructive feedback on my writing assignments, and it was always a relief afterwards knowing that I could adjust any of my writing that I had concerns about with the comments he suggested to me in our meetings. Andrew pushed each student to take advantage of these meetings, and I remember being so amazed with how much he devoted himself to seeing each student, despite his being enrolled as a graduate student at the time. His dedication to his job and his passion, which he visibly brought to every class session, rivaled or surpassed those of any of my full-time professors, and it was clear that he was only able to keep up with such a busy schedule because he had a distinct calling to teaching. In fact, Andrew was an inspiration for me to reevaluate my major and overall direction.
During my first semester in Writing for Engineers with Andrew (I took a second class with him because the first was so enjoyable), the class was given an assignment to write short piece based off of a short-story by campus [physics] professor Michio Kaku. The assignment was fairly open-ended, and we were asked to write two pages of original fiction that was set in the near future, like Kaku’s piece. Several pages and a few hours later, I looked upon one of my first short stories. I had a better experience writing this mini-narrative than I did while completing homework for Chemistry or engineering classes, and I discussed it in detail with Andrew during one of our meetings. Andrew, as an English student, encouraged me to pursue my writing even if I was determined to be an engineer one day. I admired Andrew’s interest in his own research goals, and I realized from observing him in class—doing what he loved—that I was meant to change majors so I too could do what excited me as a student. I continued writing as an engineering major, and one semester later I made the transition to English with concentrations in Creative Writing and Literature, where I’ve had far greater success as a student.
Nelsyda, a Mechanical Engineering major, describes how the use of grading contracts and multi-stage revisions allowed her to grow her writing projects across the full semester:
Andrew Lucchesi was my English instructor during my first two semesters for two different classes at the City College of New York. These classes were Freshman Composition for Engineers (ENGL11000) and Writing for Engineers (ENGL21007). Each class felt very different from other classes in the sense that your grade was determined based on your own growth as a writer.
As per the syllabi for both courses, all students started out with a grade of B+ and worked their way up to their desired grade through the assignments that Andrew assigned. This made every assignment about tracking one’s own progress rather than handing in assignments and receiving a final grade for each assignment. Because of this style of teaching, Andrew’s final assignment involved revising old pieces that was done during the semester and working to make it better.
For example, the final portfolio of our work for ENGL21007 included a revision of the midterm assignment, which was to analyze a discourse community, write about how the discourse community functions as a whole, and identify if the scholars that we looked in class at would classify the chosen discourse community as a discourse community. For that assignment, I wrote about the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). When I completed my midterm assignment, I realized that I did not have enough information to successfully define ASCE as a whole. For the final portfolio, I chose to revise the midterm by being more specific in my criteria. Instead of analyzing all of ASCE, I chose to repurpose my thesis and focus my attention on the City College of New York student chapter and its affiliated clubs (i.e. the Concrete Canoe Club and Engineers Without Borders). I had a better overall piece as a result of this change. In all my years in college, I have never taken any other classes that allowed me to revise a piece done in class to this extent.
Both classes were like this. Andrew would guide you by giving you small tasks that help you work towards the completion of an assignment and if you were not satisfied you were given opportunities to revisit that assignment. This made his class enjoyable and less stressful given the more technical classes that we would have to take as engineering students. Also, despite my guaranteed B+, I found that I worked just as hard as I would in any engineering class because putting in time for this class never inhibited my ability to put time into my technical classes. It was a rewarding experience that did not feel like I was grasping at straws to earn a grade that would reflect the effort that I put into this class.
Christopher, a Biology major, describes the way the course wiki website promotes classroom community:
I was a student in Andrew Lucchesi’s Honors Freshman English (ENGL 11000) and Writing for Engineers (ENGL21007) classes during the Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 semesters, respectively. One of the key features of Andrew’s classes that I would like to comment on is the strong focus that was placed on group-centered learning.
The class itself was centered around an online class wikidot page where we publicly posted and displayed our writing for the class. One of the most utilized features of the wiki page was the blog. The blog was the space in which we posted our writing responses to the specific writing prompts of the class. This in itself presented an interesting dynamic. What I noticed was that the original intentions of the individual writers were usually to elaborate upon a topic that was relatively specific to them.
However, unlike most English classes in which students submit papers never to be seen by anyone else, posting to the blog turned every written document into public knowledge so that other members of the class could learn from their posts and also offer them constructive feedback through the comment system of the wiki. This conversion from private to public knowledge was one of the key factors in promoting the sense of teamwork and community in the class.
Another interesting component of the wiki was the reflective annotated bibliography. In this section of the wiki, students summarized and reflected upon the readings that we had done in class. When students wrote these entries, not only were they intending to enhance their own understanding of the documents, but they were also formatting their writing in a way that could be easily understood by their peers, as their audience was the rest of the class. It was through this kind of public display of knowledge and the idea of writing in order to enhance each other’s understanding that the class really began to take on the feel of a community striving to learn something from one another rather than a bunch of people each trying to just get a high grade with little regard for the rest of the class.
In addition, several of the major projects in the course were group projects that had to be completed in teams. This required the students to practice effective communication methods and think collectively, both of which will be necessary in the working world. There were also peer review sessions for almost every major assignment in which students were able to provide feedback on each other’s work. Not only did this help the students whose writing was being reviewed, but it also helped the students who were reviewing the writing in that they were able to learn from the writing of their peers.
As you can see, the ways in which this class deviated from more traditional English classes changed the classroom dynamic from a collection of individual, solitary efforts to a more or less unified group effort.
Priya, a Childhood Education major, discusses my approach to student-centered teaching and how it fits with her ideas of critical pedagogy:
I was in my sophomore year when I enrolled in the Writing for Humanities course taught by Andrew Lucchesi. As an aspiring teacher, I had researched and observed educators to figure out how I could create a student-centered classroom focused on critical pedagogy, but it was really through participating in this class that I learned that such a classroom is very much possible. In my freshman year, I had taken many general education courses that merely skimmed the surface of what it meant to be a writer and learner. This class demanded that I view writing as purposeful and an active process, driven by the writers desires to articulate the personal. I had never had a class where I was invited to write with my voice, to contribute my perspective to academic discourse, or to critique others writing as if I had authority in the classroom space. Through simply asking us to create online blogs and to comment on each other’s writings, I gained confidence in working with my peers, knowing that they were my equals in our intimate community of learners.
Although the whole course of the semester proved to be immeasurably invaluable, it was through working on the final research paper that I realized the power of researching, learning, and writing. In previous writing classes, I had been given “choices” in terms of writing topics, although in reality I was in fact given specific options from which I had to choose from, and my personal interests were irrelevant. Now, I feel that writing, even academic writing, is such a deeply personal task, and so students need to be allowed to make real decisions in terms of their writing. When planning my research paper, I was allowed to choose the topic that most interested me and I was allowed to be passionate in my writing, to be angry, raw, and to channel the fury into my words. I learned that my voice did not have to die for my argument to be more “objective” and “academic.” I learned that students thrive when they are given agency while researching, writing, and presenting their scholarship. Even as a senior, I know that Writing for the Humanities drastically altered the way that I think about writing, scholarship, power, and the classroom. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Personal Reflections: Growth and Lessons Learned
Many students submitted testimonials that attest to the personal significance of our work together in my classes. While these testimonials don’t focus on the details of my teaching practice, they focus on how the experience of working in my classes influenced their lives as writers, thinkers, and students.
Lawrence, an Environmental Engineering major, reflects on my mixed-major English 11000 Freshman Composition course:
Before getting into college, I had a poor experience with English and writing teachers in high school. I’ve always been a huge reader, and similarly have a growing passion to write. Before taking Andrew’s class my passion to write was a private thing and something that I shared with only a couple of close friends. After taking the course I felt much more comfortable in my ability to produce a well thought out work, as well as go back for revisions, which was always a weakness of mine.
Andrew was honestly one of the best English professors I’ve ever had, especially in composition. He inspired us to write and graded us on our ability to improve, which is the fairest way of grading a student. By taking his course I improved in my ability to communicate ideas clearly and succinctly, as well as my ability to critique my own work. This has been so important in my life as a student and aspiring scientist, as well just being a person.
Overall, I would love to take some more composition courses with Andrew, and think that my time at CCNY was improved by having him as as a professor.
Zahin, a Biomedical Engineering major, reflects on another section of my mixed-major English 11000 course:
I took Andrew’s English 110 class in Fall 2013. It was my first semester of college and Andrew’s class really helped shake some of the fears I had about the college transition. It was a very welcoming and collaborative environment. During our group discussions, not only did we discuss assignments pertaining to English, we discussed worldwide topics that mattered to us, such as the use of GMOs and the events happening in Syria at the time.
I really enjoyed his teaching style as well as the assignments he gave us. He taught in a way that made the topics interesting to students and kept us actively engaged the entire time. Many of the English classes I’ve taken were a bit boring and the assignments always seemed tedious and time consuming. This was never the case with Andrew’s class.
My first experience writing blog posts to share my ideas was for Andrew’s class and I really enjoyed it. This was also my first time using wikidot and I remember how proud I felt when I learned how to change the format of my page for one of the assignments, as it was something I had never done before. My favorite assignment to do was the [Literacy] Timeline Assignment because I was able to really think about myself and events in my life that lead to changes in my development. I wish I could have taken more classes like Andrew’s!
Patrick, a Biomedical Engineering major, reflects on my Honors English 11000 Freshman Composition for Engineers course:
I think the greatest quality about Andrew Lucchesi as a teacher is that he genuinely cares about his students. My most vivid memories with him were at his office hours. I took one other writing course at CCNY, Writing for Engineers, but what made Andrew’s class different was that it felt very tailored for each individual student. He met with all of his students individually multiple times in the semester, and he tried to learn about all of your interests and the best way to pull great writing out of all of us. We the students had a lot of freedom and flexibility with the assignments, and we got to choose what we were interested in and what we wanted to write about. The class was constructed so that the final products were not all that mattered, but the thought process behind the projects were valued as well. Each assignment was coupled with a series of drafts and reflections to help us think about the writing process, and as a result, the final products felt very personal and fleshed out. This was especially valuable in a freshman writing class, as there were just so many rampant emotions of excitement and apprehension from starting college, and it’s fun to read and look back on the projects to see how we felt during some very decisive times in our lives. Andrew helped make freshmen writing classes how they should be: personal and enjoyable.
Jenny, an Education major, reflects on my English 21001 Writing for the Humanities course:
The class I took with Professor Lucchesi was ENG 21001 in SPRING 2014. The class was an intensive writing course where we used technology to help us with our research in writing about factors in present day society. The most memorable aspect about the class was the way Professor Lucchesi was thoughtful to the students and helped us develop strong writing skills. I admire Professor Lucchesi because he never stressed us out with writing assignments yet helped us to be disciplined in our writing habits and improve on them. He had a great connection with the class and was always very considerate of how he did not want us to be overwhelmed with writing. He made it enjoyable and was willing to help with anything we needed guidance on.
During the class, I learned free writing. He gave us have 5 minutes to ourselves and just write whatever what was on our mind. It helped us clear our mind yet at the same time get every single idea out of our mind before we forgot. It is better than brainstorming and also a relaxing way to just let our minds freely think than be crammed in a certain topic. I still use free writing to this day and always produce a well-written essay.
Professor Lucchesi is knowledgeable, helpful, considerate, reliable and relatable. He understood us as students and always made sure to be available for us. He would set up one-on-one meetings to help us where we are in the class and give thoughtful feedbacks. I truly believe professors having a relationship with students individually is a great way for students to grow academically and personally. Though it is difficult to remember large amount of students and know them individually, Professor Lucchesi did not compromise and went out of his way to make an effort. I wish I could take more classes with him or have more professors like him.
Christina, a Mechanical Engineering major, reflects on my Honors English 11000 Freshman Composition for Engineers and English 21007 Writing for Engineers courses:
Andrew has been one of the most influential professors I have had in my undergraduate years. Throughout my freshman year at CCNY, I took two of his classes: Freshmen Composition and Writing for Engineers. I remember starting college very unsure about my writing abilities, and desperately in need of an instructor like him to teach me the way. At the time, I strongly disliked writing and his classes came at such a pivotal time in my life, to get me back on the right track for my college years and future career. I am truly grateful for these two classes, as I am not sure where my writing would be without these experiences.
The most crucial and important things I remember from his class were his level of support, encouragement, innovative class format and great feedback. From the very first day of school, I got the sense that he truly cared about his students, and he was there for us to learn and develop professionally. I really enjoyed that he was different from any other professor I had and his assignments were very unique. I liked how much of the course was integrated through an online platform, which made it easy to both keep track of my progress and network with other students. I also appreciated that he made time to meet each student one-on-one, and track our individual progress. He made the class feel less like a burden and more like a fun and encouraging experience in which we developed scholastically. As our class with him neared the end, I began to truly appreciate writing and learned how important it would be for my future. After my first semester in Freshman Composition, I knew I definitely wanted to take another class with him. He was one of the best professors I have had at CCNY, and I am thankful for the things I have learned in his classes as they will be life-long tools for my future.
I am grateful to all my former students who took the time to write these testimonials.