Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bird Feeder

This isn't the best picture because the light was getting low when I finished digging out the driveway (thanks to my wonderful neighbor for his help!) and went inside and looked out the back window to see this. The darkish blotches are feathers, I think body/warming feathers, and they're not actually that small.

There weren't any mammal footprints around, but you can see there's a small disturbance on the right. (The shadowy area on the left is where I tossed out some seed this morning so the juncoes and other birds who feed more on the ground could get some despite the snow.)

It looks like it's a bird feeder in more than one way, eh?

You Have to Wonder

There's a student in one of my classes who's been to class I think three times all semester (we're now in week six or seven). Zie hasn't turned in much work, and what zie has turned in has been very poor.

Today, we got snow, a good bit of it, but not enough to close our campus. And today, for the first time, zie sent me an email saying that zie regretted that zie would be missing class today, and could I email information about what we are doing in class.

So I did. But it just makes me wonder why all of a sudden zie thinks I won't have noticed all the missing work.

And then I followed up with an email suggesting zie drop the class because it's pretty much mathematically impossible for hir to pass the class at this point.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


So, this refers to a text, but isn't quite right. I guess that makes it all the more difficult, eh? Bonus for anyone who knows not only the play but what's wrong with this picture (exclusive of the art, because, well, just because).

Monday, February 27, 2012


I sort of lost my temper in class today. It's not like I yelled, but I told a student to quit talking a second time, because she kept chattering, and not about what we were discussing, and while another student was trying to speak on topic.

I get so tired of that sort of rude behavior.

But I'm going to pay for it on my evaluations, I bet.

Goals, Outcomes, and Excellence Without Money*

There's a variety of curricular stuff going on here at NWU, much of it aimed at trying to improve our dismal 4 year graduation rates and much of it aimed at trying to reduce our costs because the state is again reducing it's support for public education and also not allowing us to raise tuition. Both of these factors are important, and have been for a number of years, and a lot of people here have been working on trying to figure out how to educate students more quickly and more cheaply.

So, there's been a lot of brainstorming for several years in all sorts of places, and folks have come up with some pretty good solutions. And now one of the big shots has put a stop to the process and put it in the hands of the new assessment guru to bring things into line with goals and outcomes (seriously, I've never heard those words distinguished in a meaningful way, but all the assessment people insist that they're separate and distinct).

Here's what I'd like to see actually on the goals/outcomes lines, right at the top:

Reduce costs.
Reduce average time to degree.
Increase four year graduation rates.

I want them up there because those are the things driving the curriculum right now and I think we should be honest about that.

*I first encountered the "Excellence without Money" thing at Roxie's World. Credit where credit is due, so long as it doesn't require any actual money!

ps. Even though this sounds backwards, the brainstorming has always started from a "what do we want students to learn" point, even if the new assessment guru wasn't in the room.

Friday, February 24, 2012

You Might Think...

You might think that being late with my SAA paper this past week would make me a bit more patient about students being late with stuff, but you would be wrong.

I don't know what it is, maybe I'm tired after a rough week, but I'm not feeling patient. I try not to let it show, of course.

I really need this weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I am that...

You know, that one, the student who needs an extension, the person who procrastinates, the prof who doesn't get something done on time.

I finally did get it done, and though I missed the real deadline, I turned it in before the extension deadline, with a strong thank you to the organizers. (The it is my SAA seminar paper, and it's done, and just under the word limit, if you don't count footnotes.*)

It feels SO good to have that part done. That's good. It's bad that it feels so good that I don't want to turn my attention to the many other things I need to get done now (especially, need I say, some grading).

Committee time soon. Bleargh.

* And thanks to Flavia, I didn't add a note whining about how hard it was to cut it down. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I'm so ready for spring that it hurts. And it's probably a good two months away at best, and three at worst.

Dear Proserpina,

Come on up early!

Yours, Bardiac

***Edited to add: I'm not alone! The crocuses and daffodils are peeking above the soil in my yard! (I realize they'll soon be covered with snow. Still!)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Petty Irritations

I'm grading along in a pile of journals, and I grade Steve Student's journal for the day. And then right behind it, in the middle of the pile, is Steve Student's journal from the previous week. (These are journal assignments where the students have to turn in 10, but they have 15 opportunities over the course of the semester.)

I've already turned back the previous week's journals (before this week's were turned in).

Does Steve Student really think I won't notice? Does he think I'll think I lost his journal assignment before?

I'm guessing this strategy has worked for Steve before, because every year, some student (or more than one) does this sort of thing, putting an assignment due previously into a current stack. And they wouldn't be doing it in college if they didn't think it would work.

Of course, if I were horribly behind on grading and had all the stuff in the same pile, it might work. But I'm not and I don't.

The thing is, I have to give some response, right? That is, I guess, I feel like I have to be ready to prove to a complaining student that I didn't accept the journal because it's late, and I can demonstrate it's lateness, and I need to be able to do that with no context because when the student complains, I won't have the rest of the pile surrounding the paper and such.

I usually put something along the lines of "this journal is late (and was in the middle of a pile of journals all dated this week), and I don't accept late journals."

I'm not just being petty in not accepting these late. One of the points of the assignment is that it helps students prepare for that day's discussion. It's a starting point, and not something the student should write after having listened to other peoples' ideas. (There are other assignments for responding to discussion and such.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Our enrollment cap for our first year writing course is 28. Sometimes the powers that be add another for 29, but you get the idea. It's a big class, way bigger than any of our professional organizations sees as a "best practice."

The numbers are a problem in big, obvious ways. But they're also a problem in little ways. My problem today is with focus.

I collected some journals and quizzes from the class today. The journals are frequent short writing assignments (most don't write a full page) to which I respond mostly with short, positive comments in the margins and a quick 1-10 grade. (At least the short, positive comments are my goal.) All sorts of writing research suggests that short writing assignments that someone responds to are a good practice in all sorts of classes, and especially in writing classes. I'm convinced by the research, so I use them in my classes.

I can do 12 of these in short order, well-focused and not too frustrated. And if I saw that I had only a few more to grade, I'd power through the last four or five easily enough. But when I look and see that I have more to grade than I've graded, I find it difficult to keep my focus. And that means that I stop grading and write a whiny blog post or something instead of powering through.

Okay, now I have to get back to that last part of the stack. And then the quizzes.

Bonus: Almost all the students are now actually citing their source in the journal! YAY! (Yes, I care. Citing sources should be habit for assignments in college.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Privileged Problem

I just turned back a set of papers that were fairly typical first year writing class papers. Overall, they were dismal in the way that such papers tend to be, but since students have an opportunity to revise them for a different grade, it's not horrific.

But I hate turning back papers. I find it stressful.

The students flip to the grade, and then they tend to look down, and I know they feel bad, and I don't want them to feel bad. I want them to write really good papers.

I know they've tried hard, but there's a point where trying hard doesn't always lead to stunning success. I can try as hard as I want, practice with massive diligence, and still, I won't succeed in the NBA. Or on the Tour. (And then, of course, there are degrees of "trying hard." I may ride really hard for an hour, but that doesn't compare to spending six or more hours on a bike just about every day of the week. Similarly, what counts as hard work for one student may not for another.) And I'm not grading effort.


We're talking curricular stuff in lit again, and I'm trying to think about how we can organize our lit major.

At this point, we're organized in terms of time/geography, mostly, with a nod to some other areas. So, for example, we require students to take an early Brit, late Brit, early Am, late Am, Am ethnic, World, and Women's lit. We allow students to double count a women's lit course. (So, for example, a course on American Indian Women writers could count for women's lit and Am ethnic lit. Or it could count for an earlier OR later Am lit and women's lit. But it can't count for both Am and Am ethnic lit for one student.) (These are in addition to some core courses in theory, linguistics, and text studies.)

There are difficulties, and some folks think we need to change.

I'm looking for other ways to think about organizing an English lit major. The core has to be something that the department as a whole agrees with, but we can rethink our lit part. And I need your help. Can you point me to interesting ways to organize an English lit major, please?

ps. We have other English majors, and they organize their stuff as they think best. We work with a common core for our students, and students can take courses in other areas somewhat.

Here are a couple I've looked at:




(I've just glanced around, and these are some that seem not to be basically time/geography based.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Quick Note from the Grading Pile

My writing students have been working on an essay about the liberal arts in response to some readings we've worked through together.

More than one students' insight has to do with how the school should make them aware of the liberal arts aspect of their education and how our school is totally failing at this.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ethics and Manners Questions

We aren't in an area where we have a bunch of highly qualified people willing to adjunct. But we'd like to have well-qualified adjuncts who do a good job (and the majority of our adjuncts fit here). And we're sure they're out there, but we're not sure they'd want to move here for an unstable adjuncting job or even that they have any way of knowing that we have adjunct positions available.

Let's imagine we have 1 TT job. We interview six folks, any one of whom would be wonderful, but we're only allowed to hire ONE person, so we do the best job we can to hire the person who seems best. And maybe we have two adjuncting positions, too. They don't pay as much, and there's minimal job security (though most adjuncts in my department do get benefits and full time jobs most semesters; we don't fire good adjuncts on a whim, either).

What are the ethics of sending the other five folks (or a couple of them) a letter (after the polite phone call to let them know the bad news) saying that we've got some adjunct positions, and we'd love to have them apply.

I know it would feel beyond crappy to get one of those letters, like, you don't want to hire me to TT, but you want me to work cheaply as an adjunct?

But would even that feeling be better than not knowing about a possible job opportunity?

If there were such a situation, what sorts of other factors would make moving here better for adjuncts? For example, all our adjuncts have offices, though they share offices. Most of our adjuncts have benefits (because they've got full-time or near full-time equivalent work). I'm not saying we do a great job treating our adjuncts well, but what factors are most important that we can manage? I can't manage my colleague's sometimes rude behavior, or the fact that the state pays adjuncts worse than it pays faculty, and that it doesn't pay faculty especially well. Mostly our adjuncts will teach writing and intro level department courses, too, and that's not something we can easily change.

Travel funds, but very limited (for all of us)
Professional development opportunities

What other factors are most important? Is it worth sending out such a letter?

Friday, February 10, 2012

That, in Aleppo Once

I'm going to confess something really embarrasing. Try not to think too poorly of me for it.

I first read Othello at about the age of 27, and I didn't have any idea where Aleppo, or Rhodes, or Cypress really were. I had the vaguest of vague ideas that they were somewhere in the middle east, but they may have been Lothlorien for all I could place them on a map or say anything about them that didn't involve Othello.

Only after I taught a seminar on the Other in early modern drama and started to read historical stuff about the Ottoman empire and such did I sort of realize what a fascinating and complex area the middle east and Mediterranean are. But they're still nothing like as real or vivid in my imagination as England (not even the whole of the UK, because I know little about Ireland, and only a bit more about Scotland and Wales), South America (specifically Ecuador), and Japan.

But still, when I heard this morning on the radio about the explosions in Aleppo, my mind went first to Othello. It shouldn't, but it did.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


I've been conferencing with a number of my writing students this past week. On Tuesday afternoon, I talked with a student about a draft of a paper due Wednesday. The paper was all over the place, trying to do two or three arguments, and not really doing any.

But we talked, and the student really wanted to make one argument, so we drew out a rough outline and I suggested the student put away the draft and begin completely again. And she was politely resistant, but I assured her that would be best. And we talked about an extension until Friday to turn in the essay, and that was that.

Today she came to my office hours to talk about her new draft, and it was such a smart, well-written draft. I had one substantial suggestion about how she talked about an example doing two things, though it only did one thing. And right away, she saw that using a second example to show the second thing separately would work, and she had a good example. So we made a note (because making a note means it's easier to remember when you get down to the writing part).

It was great. She'd totally left the other draft behind, and talked about how hard it was to do that, but how it had been the right thing. And while she was worried that this draft wouldn't actually be good, she was also hopeful that it was, because she felt good about it (but was, in that very understandable way, not confident).

So now she's learned something important about drafting and redrafting. And with good reason, she's enthusiastic about the result she just got.

She made my day. It was a good day, but now it's way better than good.

It's great when students take some suggestion, do the hard work, and really put together a fine draft.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Deflating the Day

I dislike grade quibbles. No, I should say, I really dislike grade quibbles. By quibbles, I mean the sort of grade questions that aren't about substance, but are about one or two points on an assignment that's a small part of things.

I especially hate when a student tells me that another student got a better grade for writing the same thing. I have a feeling that they haven't written exactly the same thing (or one of them might have plagiarized). But the student doesn't see it, and I don't have both pieces of paper in front of me.

I also hate the question about why a student "lost" a point, or why I took a point away. From my point of view, the paper earns points or a grade, starting with an F for a blank piece of paper, and hopefully moving up from there. But from the point of view of the student who asks about losing a point, s/he started with a perfect paper and I, yes, I, took away points. Or they got lost somewhere. And both of those are about me being bad.

And I really hate the students who see their point quibbles as a sort of lawyering.

The thing is, the quibbles I'm talking about are a difference of maybe 2 points out of a hundred possible on an assignment or group of small assignments that are 10% of the total grade. So we're talking about .2 on the final grade.

Now, of course, it's vital that I as the teacher treat all students fairly, but it's also true that I as a human being get a bad taste in my mouth from this sort of quibbling.

I would much rather have a student talk to me about how to do better on assignments, especially if they come talk to me before the assignment is due (which I encourage). I like to talk to students, and I'll do my best to help them write a good assignment.

But the quibbling. I think it's that quibbling about that one or two point difference feels to me like the student thinks I'm totally random in grading and not to be trusted at all. Yes, I realize that sometimes students feel that way, but it's exhausting and demoralizing, especially when it comes along with hearing the governor and politicians go on about how horrible we faculty folks are and how overpaid.

A Not Quite Random Encounter

I went shoe shopping yesterday. I wasn't thrilled about it, but my physical therapist suggested I get running shoes that limit pronation and such because he's stumped. He doesn't know what's happening, but this might help.

He keeps asking me if the doctor has ordered any bone scan sort of stuff, and from the questions, I get the sense that he thinks she should have. But she's the one with the MD. And the two alternatives she gave me were to try physical therapy or try a podiatrist, and she recommended the physical therapy.

Anyway, I thought I'd give the more structured shoes a try, and hope for the best. And if they don't help, then I have to decide if it's worth pursuing further, since it's not a disabling pain or anything.

At the store, I talked to the running salesperson about what he suggested, and she started showing me the super structured shoes and the medium structured shoes. (Quite a difference from my five fingers, which I love, and have tried to emulate in other shoes. Oops.) The super structured ones were a bit uncomfortable. And the three pairs of medium ones were all pretty darned comfortable. And priced pretty closely.

So I was doing the thing where you put a different sort of shoe on each foot and try them and walk around and compare.

Meanwhile, another woman was sitting nearby, trying on walking shoes. And while our salespeople had gone off to find other samples or something, we chatted. She started it by saying something about my running and her walking. And I responded by saying as long as we were both playing outside, we won because getting out makes all the difference, and I said something about biking. She said she'd never much liked biking even as a kid. And I asked her if she'd tried a recumbent bike, because they're way cool.

She said that she was 87 and not going to take up biking now. To be clear, she said this in a totally friendly, amused, happy way.

And I was FLOORED. I'd figured her for maybe somewhere between 60 and 65. She walked with a spark, and she held herself with animation, and I just NEVER would have guessed her for 20+ years older. And I told her so.

And then we went back to talking about how great it is to get outside and exercise.

I think she's living proof that there's something good in it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Meeting Madness

Quick question first: is anyone else having an issue with blogger where you'll hit publish, and it will say it's published, and then you hit view blog and what you thought was published wasn't? So you do it again, and it's still not? And then a couple of tries later, it is?

I'm on this committee I hate. I hate it because it's basically a rubber stamp committee. We're supposed to review stuff, but any time we dare to really question something, the deanling in charge gets defensive and cranky.

Recently, for example, we were reviewing a change for the NWU catalog.

There was the change, and then a short note at the bottom explaining the logic behind the change, and that logic had to do with making the information clearer.


Faculty #1: I think it's confusing, it sounds like X, but it's supposed to be Y.

Faculty #2: No, I think it's actually supposed to be X.

Faculty #3: Really? Because I thought Y.

Faculty #1: The note says it's Y. But in the catalog, that note won't be there, so they should change it to clarify.

Deanling: It's not confusing to the people who need the information.

Faculty #1: I think the fact that three faculty members express confusion demonstrates that it's confusing, and I don't think students will be better readers of this information.

Deanling: It's not confusing.

What I wanted to say, but did not: Either listen when we say something needs clarification, or we can just give you the rubber stamp and go back to our offices where we can actually do meaningful work.

Endnote: the deanling did finally agree to suggest to the writer that it wasn't quite clear, and to pass along the committee's recommendation for making it clearer. Basically, I have a feeling this means that the deanling will say that the faculty were fussing about this but that zie doesn't think it's worth changing.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


It's hard to catch how magical hoarfrost looks in a picture. Or at least I haven't really figured it out. It's partly, I think, the way that human eyes see the big picture, and the light, and also smaller parts, while I can't seem to capture all that with a photo. Nonetheless, here's a taste of the magic in my yard when it got light this morning!

Friday, February 03, 2012

XKCD For The Win!

XKCD is often brilliant and funny, but today's is really good.

You should go there and read bunches! (And be sure to scroll over the image to read a comment; the comments add a lot!)

But in the meantime:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Grading Thoughts

No matter how good writing is (say, essays, or journals), there's a point where reading them is just work. I'm at that point with one of the assignments I'm grading. The first few were good to read. The next few tolerable. And now I'm to the part where they're just work to grade.

In writing a journal assignment, one of the writing students said zie was in the class because zie had to be. Seriously, I know how that feels. I'm in the class because my paycheck depends on it. Every day, I'm in the class because my paycheck depends on it. And I try to make it a really good class and a good learning experience because I think that's my ethical responsibility and also because doing poorly would make me less happy. But it's not like I come to work and teach comp just for the sheer pleasure.

I went to bed at about 8:30 last night, and I feel so much better today. Sleep is a wonderful thing!