4th-hour innovation


JCM 218 Writing and Information Gathering; JCM 225 Reporting and Newswriting; JCM 425 Advanced Reporting


Janna Quitney Anderson
Director of Internet Projects for the School of Communications

2850 Campus Box
E-mail: andersj@elon.edu
Phone #: (336) 278-5733
Office: Alamance Building 204-C

Student Profile:   

This use of the fourth hour can be effectively implemented with students with varied levels of writing experience. Expectations and deadlines must be tailored to the ability of the group.


Students enrolled in my sections of JCM 218, JCM 225 and JCM 425 regularly spend a good chunk of their time outside of the classroom, gathering information and conducting interviews, then writing about these experiences. I tell them right up front that they are going to be spending a number of hours outside of class on specific assignments.

In order to gather information for their writing, these students have: staked out the polling places on election days; covered the 9/11 remembrances and similar Elon campus events; met with Town of Elon and Elon University officials. These writing students are also always assigned to attend and write about the press conferences and speeches of visiting guests such as Ralph Nader, George Bush, Benazir Bhutto, Lech Walesa, Jane Goodall and many others.

Students in these courses also meet with the editors of The Pendulum and regularly write one or two articles per semester that are submitted to the editors for possible use. Students in the JCM 225 and 425 courses also meet with the editors of the local newspaper, the Burlington Times-News and complete assignments for them that are later published.

These students are also each assigned to go to at least one civic meeting and come back with a print-style, broadcast-style or online-style news report, including interviews with meeting participants. They generally cover the Burlington City Commission, Guilford County Commission, Greensboro City Commission, Alamance-Burlington School Board or the Elon Board of Aldermen.


The work you do in advance prepares you for success with the fourth hour.

The key to encouraging students to excel in the time they spend outside the classroom is to plot your strategy long before the first class of the semester. It is vital to do preliminary research in order to select the types of out-of-class opportunities from which students will benefit. This research and planning should be accomplished by no later than the week before the semester begins.

It is of great benefit to plan activities that take the students off campus and into the community if you can find a way to do it. One technique is to identify a key leader in the Burlington area who might be a resource or a willing participant in offering your students outside experience. Meet with that person and involve her or him in the planning of your fourth-hour activities. Students enjoy contact with professionals; it builds yet another positive element into the fourth hour.

Once you have identified and outlined the activities your students should accomplish, you must build the fourth-hour expectations into your syllabus; make them a vital part of the course from the very first day. You must tell students in great detail during the first week of classes about the times you expect them to do outside activities, so they can get them on their schedules and build them into their lives. You give them as much detail as possible about the upcoming outside assignments, so they buy into your plan. You explain up front about the value of these extra experiences, and they become a highlight of the course for you and your students. It is vital to tie key grades for the course to this fourth-hour work. It is also vital to lay out a clear grading rubric that students can access and understand.

The continual reinforcement of fourth-hour expectations and goals and built-in progress checks are both key to keeping the students on track as they do their out-of-class work. Establish a graduated schedule of interim due dates between initiation and completion of each fourth-hour task. Let students know in advance (verbally and in writing in the syllabus) that they are expected to report to you periodically throughout the semester on specific dates about what they plan to do, when they plan to do it, how their writing is progressing, etc. These interim assignments will allow you to coach your students through the process and keep them on task.

Another good tactic is to assign the students to share these progress reports with others in the class in large- or small-group settings. They can discuss interviewing strategies, research paths, writing techniques and/or editing in these groups on the due dates. In the process of helping others, they help themselves.


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The site above includes photos and information about some fourth-hour speakers who have met with writing students in School of Communications courses. It also includes: information for students who want to get more experiences outside the classroom; links to some of the top sites for media writers; and, under the heading "Journalism Workshop," two key handouts used by students in my writing courses.