Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Week into Summer

Or just over. 

I'm working my way through the Herman and Bucholz and Key history texts, trying to decide which to order for my class.  They're both good reads, for me at least.  But what I'd have my class read in B&K would be about 200 pages, and in Herman about 100 pages.  And that may be enough to help me make my decision because they'll be reading a lot of other texts.

I'm trying to figure out a way to have my seniors do presentations again, but this time more effectively.  I'd love to hear suggestions.  I've had great luck with end of the semester projects in my Chaucer class, but not so much with the senior class doing presentations as the semester goes along.

One thing I think about is how miserably bad most of the presentations were in my seminars while I was a grad student.  But I would like to give my students more responsibility for their learning and more experience leading. 

Here's what I'm thinking of trying:  put students in groups, and have each group lead two shorter discussions, one on a play text, and one on another sort of text.  For the play text, I'm thinking of asking each group to come up with one passage they really want to discuss.  And for the other, one issue they really want to discuss.  Is that enough? 

I'd love to hear ideas or see assignments you've had success with, please.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Help! Good General History of Early Modern England?

I'm teaching a senior seminar on early modern English lit, and I think my students would find it incredibly useful to have a good history book.

I'm a drama person, so a focus as narrow as 1570-1642 would be fine.  A bit broader would be fine, too.  I'm thinking of something along the lines of Wrightson's English Society or Sommerville's Politics and Ideology.  Both of those are a bit old now, and I'm sure there's something better out there to introduce my students to the period in England.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I'm participating in a campus project on student engagement which starts with reading a few chapters from Barkley's book on, yes, student engagement.  I started reading yesterday.

In the introduction, Barkley talks about being a deanling and then going back to teaching and finding that her students were apathetic and what she'd done well in the past (lecture) just didn't work.  I'm not disputing that.

What I want to ask, though, is: are your students apathetic?

I ask because I wouldn't use that word to describe my students at all.  It's not like they necessarily love whatever I'm teaching at a given moment, but they aren't apathetic in the sense of not feeling or caring. 

If I have a conversation with any student, an advisee, a student in a class, a student checking through my groceries, any student, they reveal pretty quickly that there are things they care a lot about.

When I read my first year students' research essays, they reveal that there are things they care a lot about. 

I don't necessarily care about the same things, of course, but that doesn't make them apathetic.  And it doesn't make the things they care about unimportant or useless.

(Of course, I'd like some of them to care more about writing well, or Shakespeare, or whatever, and that's why I'm working on the program.)

We're supposed to read a few chapters and then go in with some prepared questions, and I'm thinking I'll ask one about student apathy.

What about you?  Are your students apathetic?

(Coincidentally, from what I can figure, Barkley was teaching in a community college not far from where, at about the same time, I was enrolled at a community college.  I wasn't apathetic, but I really don't have a sense of the other students in the classes at all.  We didn't do group stuff and they were all night classes with students who were probably working full time, and we weren't very social as I recall.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let the Summer Begin!

I turned in my final grades today.

I sent off the checks for the insulation and roof.

I paid other bills.

And now I'm ready for the summer to begin.

Yesterday, I took my rear wheel to the bike shop and decided to get a new tire as well as a new tube, since the old tire was showing some wear and had flatted the new tube I put in.  And then after I put the bike back in the car, I was sweeping the front tire to get rid of junk, and noticed a hole.  So I took it back in, and after consultation decided that another new tire is in order.  I need to go take the wheel in today to get the tire (they had an order in for Gatorskin tires, which is what I'd had put on the rear).  So, baby gets new shoes!  And for the first time in a while, my tires will match.  AND, Gatorskins have this red sidewall thing, so my bike will look racy even though I don't ride racily at all.

The handyman came to look at the disposal, did a turn on the bottom thing with a hex wrench, which fixed it, and then showed me how to do it just in case.  YAY!

I have a couple of short projects for today, and summer is on!

Next up: prep for a meeting on Thursday.  Deal with the roof shingle class action suit thing and hope I get some money back.  Put in some more plants.  Dinner at the drive in with friends.

I think my blood pressure has dropped 10 points already.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Feeling Lucky

My kitchen disposal died yesterday, alas.  It's like the house is sort of falling apart around me.  At least it's not the walls or somthing!

The bitey bugs, these nasty little gnatty flies that bite like demons, are especially nasty this spring.  I planted some pots yesterday (artichokes and flowers) and again this morning (flowers and stonecrop), and was driven inside after less than an hour.   (Both days I had put bug juice on, and I started by a little after 6am, so it wasn't like the heat of the day or anything.)

I needed something more to do, so a bit after 7am, I went for a bike ride.  I went out a road I've driven once or twice a long while ago (there's a dog kennel out there that my dog stayed at a couple times), but I've never riden out.  It was going great, a bit hilly, but good.  I'd turned back, and on a hill, my back tire punctured. 

I went a bit onto the lawn next to a drive (to get further from the road), and was changing it, but having problems because the new tube wasn't seeming right.  I ran my fingers along the inside and outside, but couldn't find anything sharp anywhere.  I mentioned the bitey bugs before, yes, well, they were out in force.  Then, happily, a very nice, sainted woman pulling a horse trailer with a big pickup stopped and asked if I needed help.  She gave me a ride back to my car, and we had a pleasant chat about spring, the loveliness of the morning, and such.

I hope she has the BEST day possible, because she made mine quite a bit better.  (I would have called a friend to get a ride rather than walk back 6 miles, because I'm that lazy.)  Once I got home, I finished changing the tube, and found out that it wasn't holding air.  I think I must have missed something sharp.

And then we had a downpour, so I was even happier for the ride back to my car.  (It wouldn't have been horrible to ride through, but would have been nasty to walk drenched after.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

One More Stack

That's all!

My bike took me for a lovely ride this morning before my meeting.  It was just great.  But slow.  Oh well.

The meeting went well. 

And now I have one more stack to grade, grades to enter into the spread sheet, and then grades to enter into the campus system.  And then I'm done for the semester.

And what I want to do right now?  I want to go buy some annuals for my yard and plant them.  And I want the yard to be weeded without me having to do it.  (Not likely, but if I weed and then plant the areas I'm thinking of, that will be a good start.)

I have a ton of stuff to do this summer, so I need to keep focused well.

First up:
Grade stack of finals
Enter grades
Submit grades
Read a couple chapters and do my homework for a meeting next week
Read some stuff about composition and come back and tell you what I've learned (that should actually be good!)
Work on a paper
Work on another paper
Prep classes for fall enough to order books

I was in a meeting yesterday for the writing class; we're doing a new program, and it's still in the initial stages.  Those of us interested in participating will do some professional development this summer and then teach the course in a somewhat specified way.  Part of the specification has to do with having a theme.  Most people teach themes that have something to do with their interests.  So, someone who loves to cook might do a theme on food.  Someone who likes pop music could do pop music, and so on.  I was going to do race in Shakespeare, specifically Othello.  But the responses I got from my colleagues were, to say the least, negative.

They thought it would be too limited and boring.  Shakespeare, limited?  boring? 

The thing is, I don't really find most current popular cultural stuff compelling and fun.  I can deal with sexist crap in the 16th century, but I don't like living with it, so I don't engage it when I don't have to.  Yes, that may mean I'm a coward. 

And I don't feel like much of an expert on anything but early modern literature, because I've invested a lot of time and money to develop that expertise.  And I already have a secondary expertise in teaching writing, which I've also put a lot into.  So suggesting that I need to be an expert in something else that will seem relevant to every 18 year old out there frustrates me.  And seriously, if I were supposed to take a themed course on "food" or whatever as an 18 year old, I would have been frustrated.  (I would have been especially frustrated by the food one, I think, because food is such a gender-normed issue, and I really, really resented being shoved into the tiny box of "you need to cook for your family because you have to have kids and blah blah" that I got as a kid.  I'm not saying my colleague does that, except that there's a whole lot of gender norming around.)

So, anyway, one of my colleagues said in passing at the meeting where everyone was frownng about Shakespeare that I should do biking.  And I thought a bit about it, and I am planning to do biking.  (Then another colleague said that if I get someone who doesn't like biking or is disabled, it could be bad.  But that's pretty much true of any theme, isn't it?)

So, anyway, biking.  The idea is to give students a theme and then show them different sorts of rhetorical stuff coming at the theme differently.  With biking, I'm thinking we can think about high end biking a tiny bit, maybe to think about women's biking, or epo, or such.  And we can think about biking in communities for commuting, in Europe, programs like they have in London for bike-share stuff.  And we can think about biking for fitness.  And we can think about biking as a way to make education available in some African countries.  And we can think about materials and bikes, and design.  And we can think about mountain biking and impacts on land usage.  I think there's a lot there, and I DO like biking, and I don't worry about feeling like an expert because, hey, bikes!  Fun!

And maybe I can encourage my students to look at and even use some of the rental bikes on campus.

My bike took me for a ride this morning, and my bike thinks biking is a great idea.  Fortunately, my bike is very supportive.  I smiled a lot on the ride this morning, and that means I won.

Now, on to look at flowers and grading!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Victory Lap

I just finished grading and recording the third of five major piles I need to do before the end of finals.  And I finished this one over a half an hour before I need to go hand them back!

We should get to take a victory lap around the department with our hands raised and everyone else cheering when we finish a pile.  Think of the ends of bike races, when the stage winner raises his or her hands as s/he crosses the line.  We should be able to do that.

And then we're on to the next stage or the next pile.

I've got a class to meet with shortly, and will get a small stack from them, and then a meeting this afternoon, and another meeting tomorrow, and then it's all down to the grading.  At the end, or maybe even before, if the weekend weather is good, I'll take a bit of a lap around my yard and pull some weeds.  Maybe I'll get on my bike again and go for a nice, easy ride.  There will be celebration involved, though it will probably be a bit more sedate than my students' celebrations.

Still and all, a fair number from one class should be graduating soon, and I hope they'll feel that walking across the stage is a sort of victory lap.

Happy end of the semester!

Head Meet Wall

Here's what one student has to say in a final essay:

"Many view [Hamlet] as a dramatic character."

The student means well, but it isn't going well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Death in the Age of the Internet

Someone I knew only on-line has died.

We met in EQ.  I joined a new (to me) guild after my previous guild broke up when the folks who started it up decided to leave the game.  I was in a place where I wanted to play, wanted to raid casually, wanted that community, but really didn't want the drama that had been part of my former guild.

I'd gotten to know a few people from different guilds, and the one I joined had good people, but of course, it wasn't my familiar guild.  (yet.  It got to be.)

S was one of the guild officers, and a tank, a really solid tank and a better person.  He wasn't flashy, but he was thoughtful and smart and decent.  He fit well in the guild because thoughtful, smart, and decent would characterize most of the people there pretty well. 

I saw a posting on effbee about S being ill, but didn't know what was up until I sent a message to D, a mutual friend, and found out that he was really, really ill.  And then he died.  And now I'm mourning someone I think of as S, when his real name wasn't S at all, someone I've never actually met but knew in this one limited way.

In EQ, death is a pretty frequent thing for avatars.  That's especially true of folks who raid, though probably truer for folks who raid more intensely than we did.  Nonetheless, the game has built in ways to deal with death; you can just loot your corpse and lose experience, or get a cleric to rez (resurrect) you and get some amount of your lost experience back.  (If you lose your corpse, then you lose everything you had on it, but that probably hasn't been an issue for a long, long time.) 

Death is so frequent in EQ, especially on raids, that I remember lots of corpse art after wipe outs; the monks who were dragging corpses would arrange them just so, in lines or patterns, and then take a screen shot before everyone got rezzed in.

But that's not how things work off line.  S will not get a rez, will not loot his corpse, will not wait for the mana folks to start buffing so we can get back to raiding.

Today, there are postings on S's effbee page; I put one up, but it feels weird to do so.  I vaguely recall reading at some point that the company would store the pages of people who died if someone requested it, so that the pages would be available, but given how fleeting things are in the digital age, I don't think that's going to be quite the same as a newspaper record or grave marker.

Good bye, S.  I miss knowing you are in the world being kind, and thoughtful, and decent.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Crash and Burn

Sometimes, you write an assignment and think it's pretty good.  You do prep work in class, and you think it went well.

And then the assignment comes in, and you despair.  That's where I am now.

Here's the asignment:
Research Question and Project - We'll work on developing research questions together. You'll write a research question and turn it in (yes, typed). Then, once I've approved your question, you'll use the MLA bibliography to find one essay that answers your question to some extent. You'll get a copy of that essay (make a hardcopy). Read the essay carefully, and write a one page summary/response to the essay. The first part of your summary/response should summarize the essay (identifying the thesis statement). The second part of your response should explain how the essay answers your research question.

Make sure to cite your essay. When you turn in the assignment, staple your summary/response to the front of the essay. Make sure to highlight the thesis statement (which may well be more than one sentence) on the original essay.

We'll practice for this assignment with the Traub essay, so you should have a good sense of how to do the assignment and what's expected.
We worked with an essay by Valerie Traub, and talked about how to find the thesis, summarize it, and what sorts of evidence it uses and assumptions it makes.

We worked throughout the earlier part of the semester on writing research questions, and I read and gave feedback on their final question.
But I surely didn't do something right, because so far a fair number of these papers aren't doing what I was hoping for at all.  Some people chose bits of books rather than essays.  Some chose book reviews; I'm guessing they didn't recognize them as book reviews.  Some didn't really summarize.
I either need to revise and rework the assignment extensively or drop it.  I like the idea of the assignment, though.  I want students to read a work of criticism or historical research carefully for what it is, rather than to quote mine in an attempt to find something that "agrees" with their own argument.  But boy howdy, this assignment did not do the trick very well.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bardiac Gets a New Roof

I've blogged a little recently about getting a new roof.  And now it's getting done.  They started on Tuesday, and I think (hope!) they'll finish up tomorrow.  (They can't work on it when it's going to rain and storm, so that adds time.)

Here's a before picture from the side of the garage.  You can see that the color is sort of browny-gray, and the shingles have this specific look, and they're not in good shape.

And here's the same area, from a different angle.  You'll notice that it's a different color and a really different shingle pattern.

At this point, it would really help if you said that the new color is a great choice, because I don't have a lot of confidence in my choices about such things.


I'm having extended office hours today, and it's been hopping.  I've lost count of how many students have come in, but I'm probably onto my toes, or nearly.

A few have come in for specific help, some for reassurance, and one who's lost.  The lost student started later than zie might have on the assignment, and it shows.

I was hoping to get some grading done, but there have been too many students in and out.  I did read two grad student pieces, and sent each an email response. 

And now to some serious grading.  I have just over another hour of office hour scheduled, but I think it's slowing down.  There's a short break right now, anyway.

Is your semester an uphill finish, a group sprint, or a sprint from the breakaway?

(And yes, the Giro was streaming in my office quietly, which caused nearly every student to ask if I understood the Italian commentary.  I don't get much, but I get names and the occasional important words.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


I was having lunch and a conversation with a couple of colleagues in out lunch room this afternoon, when a student stopped in and asked if someone had office hours.  He explained that he needed to have someone proofread his portfolio right away before he sent it off, and the writing center didn't have an open slot, so he needed one of us to do it.  None of us jumped up to offer to proofread, but we did suggest that he talk to the professor he'd written it for.  That, it seemed, wasn't possible.  None of us recognized the name he said, so it wasn't someone any of us knew.

And off he went.

I later heard that he walked into another prof's office and put the portfolio on her desk, expecting her to proofread it.  She declined.

I hope he doesn't get to fill out a satisfaction assessment form, because we'll all fail on the "doing everything we can to help all NWU students succeed" part.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Grading Desperation

I'm grading papers, and they're desperate sometimes, and I'm desperate, too.

I need to remind myself that when students are writing to learn, their writing shows it.  It's painful for both of us, I'm sure.

If you don't teach writing (or music), you might think that once someone has learned to write a basic sentence, s/he will always be able to produce a basic sentence.  But that's not how it works.  If a student is grappling with really difficult concepts or learning new material, and trying to write about the new stuff at the same time, basic sentence writing sort of goes to hell. 

You can take a perfectly able, wonderful, great student writer, and send them to grad school where they'll study Derrida, and while they're figuring out how to write about Derrida, their writing will go to hell.  It's not Derrida's fault, nor the students, that's just how writing is.

If I give my students a short writing assignment to tell me about their family or something, they'll all write pretty much in good sentences.  The sentences will work as sentences.  But ask them to learn about something really new and difficult and write about it, and most students will have trouble, and their sentences will demonstrate the trouble.

In an ideal world, the students would take that horrid draft and go to the writing center, come to my office hours, or just get really good help peer editing, and that would help them fix the sentence level problems.  But, since the students are still (at this level) learning about whatever the topic is, they find revision incredibly difficult.  The ones who visited my office a lot with this paper turned out really solid work, unsurprisingly.

But it's also really important to remember that writing about something you're learning is a great way to solidify the learning (just as trying to teach someone about something helps you learn it), so we can't just ask students to write only about stuff that's comfortable.

Still, reading and grading these makes me really want some cookies.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Happy Monday!

XKCD is especially brilliant this morning!

I put out an orange half on Sunday morning, replacing the mangled and very rained on one before, and was rewarded in about half an hour by seeing my first oriole (Baltimore, male) of the season.  I saw the same or another male oriole in the afternoon, and both were going after the orange with vigor!

I sent off an abstract to MMLA, and was rewarded by having it accepted with alacrity.  I'm guessing they haven't had many submissions to this specific subgroup?  Anyway, those who will be at MMLA in November, let's do a bloggy meet up!

Tomorrow, the roofers and insulation folks come to work on my house.

And it's the last week of classes, so finishing up time.  And grading time.  Then more grading time.  So much grading time!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Feeling the Failure

In writing classes, I spend a lot of time talking about and having students practice a couple pre-writing strategies.  We do these in class, because I think they're important and I'm pretty sure that students won't actually spend the time to do them on their own unless they've been convinced by doing them already that they're worth doing.

Today, we discussed strategies for preparing for and writing essay exams.  You might think in the context of a writing class where students have discussed and used pre-writing strategies a lot that students would mention something about using pre-writing strategies to help prepare for and write essay exams.  You would be wrong, at least based on the limited evidence of my class.  I'm feeling the failure.

On one level, of course, I could try to argue that college students have a really difficult time using what they've learned in once class in other contexts.  It's really difficult to do, and students tend not to do it easily or well.

But I'm still feeling the failure.  So, yes, I tried to convince them that actually using the strategies we've been practicing all semester might be useful. 

And I'm really feeling the failure.

Maybe freewriting really isn't useful to most students.

Or maybe they don't take what they learn in one situation and apply it in other situations.

I want to run away and join a circus (where my snow shoveling skills may well apply in other situations).

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Summer Plans

We're a few short weeks away from the end of the semester now, and things are heating up.  I'm working on an abstract to submit to the Midwest MLA.  This one's an abstract on a US author, so I'm a little out of my league about it.  But I think the basic idea is good.

Yesterday, I had another guy out to do an energy evaluation of the house prior to all the work of roofing and adding insulation.  I had to have another guy because the insulation company says that the only way to apply for a rebate is to have someone through this specific program out.  They didn't charge me, but I'm sure it's in the total somehow.

This guy, he irritated me.  He was one of those pat the shoulder of the idiot woman types.  And he kept suggesting more and more work.  I'm on edge anyway, since I've dipped pretty substantially into savings to have this work done.  (I know that's what the savings are for, that's why I've been saving, but it's a substrantial dip.  On the other hand, it's so cool that I can sell mutual fund shares via the internet and have the money show up in my bank account.)

Between the house and the paycuts around here, I'm applying for several project things on campus over the summer based on meeting my interests and getting some extra money.

So far I have one confirmed, have applied for another, and am in the process of applying for a third thing.  It's going to be busy!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Administratively, we're bouncing from one problem to the next around here, while things in the classroom are moving inexorably* towards finals week.

There's an administrative person I like.  There, I said it.  We've been known to have a cup of coffee on occasion, before he moved up into the headier reaches.  There were hints of history before my time, but he's a smart, witty, nominally feminist person.

And now I hear he's been having an affair with someone who reports to him.  And that someone?  Yeah, I like her, too, what little I know of her.  We're a tiny community.

What I heard is just that, something I heard.  I don't have real knowledge of it, don't have occular proof, as it were.  But it does fit with the history.

So I'm disappointed.  I'm not the biggest defender of marriage.  Heck, I think we should do away with the governmental privileges associated with marriage.**  But, and I know you're all thinking how naive and stupid I am, I think that if you are married and don't specifically have an open marriage, you should avoid having sex with other people.  There, I've said it.  Keep your pants zipped unless you're with your partner.   Now, I don't precisely know the details of said administrator's marriage arrangements, but I know his partner, and yes, I'm assuming it's not an open marriage.  But maybe I'm wrong.

It reminds me, though, of how much energy and effort get wasted because people can't keep their pants zipped, and how often I'm disappointed by powerful (in a given context) men who can't keep their pants zipped.  Clinton's presidency would have been a different thing if he'd kept his pants zipped, wouldn't it?

I also realize that I've lost much respect for the male administrator, but not as much for the female partner.  In my old fashioned way, I think people with more power have more responsibility.  Somewhere I read recently (Tenured Radical, now that I look, in her review of some books about JFK) about the fine line betwen sexual consent and sexual harassment; that gets at the responsibility, I think.

In other disappointing news, I started teaching The Tempest on Friday, and started by putting up some headlines about it being banned in Arizona, and asking students what's so dangerous about this play that it's banned in Arizona.  It was a good start to the class, but damned, Arizona, banning ethnic studies is utterly inane.  Banning Shakespeare, though?  The good news is that banning Shakespeare is likely to make people who wouldn't question banning ethnic studies question that ban.  The bad news is that it takes banning Shakespeare to make some people question a ban on ethnic studies.  That's called "cultural capital," folks.  And it sucks that ethnic studies doesn't have as much cultural capital as that dead white guy.  I love Shakespeare in all sorts of ways, but learning about people, all sorts of people from all sorts of places is actually more important in the big picture.  Go take an ethnic studies class!

*I originally spelled this "inexhoribly," not as some witty thing, but because my spelling is positively medieval.

**Though I don't think we're going to do that, and if we're not, I think two consenting adults blah blah. But yeah, I resent that married folks around here get up to another 9k in untaxed benefits. And oh so many non-financial benefits.