Monday, May 14, 2007

Thoughts on Grading and Other Stuff

Back when I was a grad student, I was in a group conversation in which one of us complained about grading. There was a professor there who offered advice that we shouldn't give assignments that we don't want to read. In fact, it's good advice as far as it goes. Unfortunately, I can't much think of any assignment that I don't hate after reading 20+ iterations, much less 30+.

In one of my classes, I thougth I did a much better job of mixing up assignments, so students chose which text to write on for two assignments, with some limitations. It helps me tons to only have five papers on text X, and know that there will be five more on text Y. Unfortunately, most students do the very last choice, so I end up with 20+ on that text. Still, it was a good plan, just not good enough!

I think I'm back to having a mid-life crisis. It's not the first time, either. Last time, I chose to jump out of an airplane. This time, I've ordered clipless bike pedals for the new bike I've ordered. I'm pretty much guaranteed to fall any number of times. I'm trying to reassure myself that falling is okay, but I had an eye problem once, a detached retina, and was warned to give up my otherwise promising boxing career (well, I'd never lost a bout, but that happens when you've never boxed or even been in a fist fight). They scared the beejebus out of me about doing anything that might bump or move my head quickly.

Seriously, do you know that you can totally repress all need to cough or sneeze for two months? I did, even though I got a cold. That's why when I see movies where someone really scared sneezes, I don't buy it. (But since then, I've wondered if they weren't just trying to scare me figuring it would make me minimally cautious? I think I was way more terrified than the situation warranted, but I'll never know for sure.)

Sometimes, I have all the common sense of a stereotypical 14 year old boy; if it looks scary, I'm willing to try. I'm thinking of trying to do a "century," which is a bike ride of 100 miles. Um, I need to get my rear in gear if I'm going to do that because while I may have the common sense of a stereotypical 14 year old boy, I don't have the testosterone or restorative powers.

If I put a sign up in the backyard that says "prairie restoration project," do you think my neighbors will notice that I don't mown the lawn? I actually did mow over the weekend, and in the past week or two since I'd been out back, my two little pine trees have gone nuts growing. They've put on about 6 inches of new growth. Amazing!


  1. Are the clipless pedals the ones with the little slots into which you stick the cleats on the bottom of biking shoes? I think that those are designed to break free if you wrench your foot sideways--or did I dream that?

  2. I fell a few times when I first got clipless pedals, but it wasn't so bad -- you aren't moving very fast when you fall, at least. That makes it more embarrassing -- I tended to fall at busy intersections -- but it didn't seem that dangerous. You just kind of float slowly to the ground. Maybe head toward the grass if you can't get your shoe out?

    And yay for the century! Centuries are so much fun -- I really hope you do one. You feel such a sense of accomplishment afterward. People will look at you in disbelief when you tell them you've ridden your bicycle 100 miles.

  3. One thing I do to mix up writing assignments in upper-level classes is I have students do presentations (each student is assigned one of the texts we're doing) and they're allowed to write their final research paper on what they presented on (obviously in a deeper and different way, though). This helps to encourage them not to all write on the very last things we read in there.

    In lower-level lit classes, I either offer two options for assignment sequences (with different deadlines, one recommended for majors) or I make the writing part of the assignment sequence very structured but offer choice as to text (this I do in intro to lit and I LOVE it). Another option is something my friend does, where she has students sign up for what they will do a critical essay on in week 3 of the semester, and the deadlines are staggered based on the text that the student chooses. I'm intrigued by this idea, but I've never tried it.

    That said, I do assign things I don't want to read in comp. Why? Because they need to learn how to do things like summarize, to write comparatively, to do an annotated bibliography, etc. The fact that reading these things makes me want to die I don't think is a mark against me here. Ultimately, they need to learn these basics, and so that means they need to be assigned the basics. Thus, I think the advice of only assigning what you want to read only goes so far :)

  4. The clipless pedals get easier, B. I promise. I don't want to jinx myself by saying that I've only fallen the one time, but ...

    A century, huh? I was thinking the same thing on my ride on Saturday. Do you want to be my on-line century buddy?

    Not quite a mid-life crisis here, but I had the strangest experience at a rock concert the other night (see blog) -- It left me feeling old (or at least out of touch ... apparently 'kids' listen to live rock differently from when I was a sprout ... though thankfully black eyeliner and leather jackets still work!) and perhaps a century is just the thing!

  5. You can do a century! If you're biking 15 mph, you can build up to it pretty quickly, I'd wager. I started biking in preparation for an AIDS ride. I hadn't biked since I was a kid tooling around the neighborhood, but before long I managed a couple of 60-mile group rides. Then one day I did a 95-mile ride (in a group, again). And, well, a century was just around the corner. Having a group helped immensely; even though I was technically training, I never actually felt like I was "building up to" anything--I was just going on bike rides with these people who were friendly, and sometimes the rides took all damn day. And then I'd get home, and think, hey! That was 100 miles. It was fun. Plus, you need to eat like crazy when you bike that far, and I like to eat.

  6. Undine, That sounds right. I've only seen them in the store, and not used them myself yet.

    Dorothy W, Thanks for the encouragement!

    Dr. Crazy, Oh, good ideas! Yeah, I give assignments in comp that drive me nuts, too, because I think the pain on my part is worth it from the help it gives them.

    Amanda, Okay, but I have NO clue how to begin preparing for a century. And I'm guessing you'll quickly outstrip me riding-wise, but since that's less embarrassing virtually, I'll deal with that!

    jb, Thanks for encouraging me! Do you know about preparing, or did you just ride more each time?

  7. Hey B! I'll quiz my downstairs neighbours at some point this weekend -- They're competitive cyclists so they'll probably be able to give us a good idea of the weekly mileage we should be covering/time frame, etc.

    I think we're probably more equally matched fitness-wise than you think. Two semesters of teaching, combined with dissertation work has meant that the past 9 months have not been banner training months for me. Also, I've been coaching this spring, and have yet to get on the water for rowing (Thursday will be my first practice, I think). I'm not competing with any seriousness this summer because of a research trip to England, so I've been training lazy. The century should help kick things up a notch. And besides, it's all about support and encouragement, right?

    Oh, also, endurance/strength from another sport never transfers well. At the moment, my body knows how to do one very specific thing well -- to row -- I've found that cycling is a whole other ball game!