Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Helping Students "Construct" Their Constructive Action Documents

Approximately two weeks before the end of every semester at Metropolitan College, I see the same long gray lines begin to form. No, these students are not waiting at Student Services counters to re-enroll. These students are merely trying to survive their current semester. 

A "CA Plague" has suddenly descended upon many of them and has afflicted them, as in Biblical land of Egypt. Lambs before the slaughter, like a rows of blanched vegetables ready to be sliced and diced by the Grim CA Professor/Reaper, their drawn faces made colorless by fatigue, their weary bodies made to sit motionless for hours at a time, worried, panicked, they huddle closely together behind MCNY home pages, desperately asking: "What Is A Plan of Action?" "How Many Critical Incidents Do I Need?" "Where Does My Abstract Go?"  "What Goes Into My Table of Content?" What Is A Needs Analysis?" or, most plaintively, "Is My Setting Analysis The Same As My Situation Analysis?"

I have been privileged to teach at Metropolitan College since 2003, and I have seen this phenomenon too often.  It became too painful for me to watch.  I decided to take some constructive action of my own, to alleviate the unnecessary suffering.  My simple remedy: have my students format their CA documents as blank shells first, and then populate each section, one week at a time (their Abstracts, last of all). 

What was also helpful in this process?  With permission, I distributed an example of a beautifully crafted and thoughtful CA from one of their predecessors, who had graduated with honors. My students saw the Gestalt at work: how the whole became greater than the sum of all the parts, and understood the value of the Constructive Action process at firsthand.  Armed with a model to go on, they developed confidence that they, too, could master high-stakes writing.

The result: the melee of desperation and confusion became an elegant ballet.  Once freed from the tyranny of simultaneously formatting AND writing their documents, students were able to focus upon uncovering real needs, and developing real solutions.  Immediately, my students took real ownership of their CA's, and made them living documents.  The documents they created reflected their real interests and the emergent in curriculum, rather than some practiced form or their 'going through "the motions," ' for another semester.

I wanted to share my experiences with my colleagues.  Might this procedure work for you?  I welcome your feedback.


  1. This is most excellent, Richard. I believe other faculty members do this, too. Perhaps an online collection of "beautifully crafted CAs" to serve as inspiration/guidance? Then we as faculty could use similar resources, allowing for some consistency between class sessions, as well as providing a resource that students can access anytime and anywhere.

  2. Hi,

    I hate to rain on your parade here, but some of those beautifully crafted CA's turn up as plagiarized by students. I have had several plagiarized CA's and even weekly journals/logs.

    At the end of each semester I require the students to submit their entire CA as one document and all their logs as another document into turnitin. They know this from the beginning of the semester and they will not receive a CA or field grade until this is done. Throughout the semester, they also submit individual chapters for my review into turnitin.

    In my moodle shell I include detailed directions for completing each chapter of the CA and spend an entire class session (about 4-5 weeks before the end of the semester) going over how to prepare their final document.

    Questions about confidentiality arise when sharing CA's with students. Many of my students write very personal information within their CA's or their logs about their learning, feelings and experiences in completing their projects. They believe that only the teacher will read their CA and in my class, since the logs are online, only their peers will see their logs (which are appended in my CA's). There is a confidentiality statement in my syllabi and on the moodle shell. I believe that you need the permission of the student to share, distribute or publish in any form their CA's.