Friday, December 31, 2010

The Deanling and I Disconnected

I didn't mean to sound totally unsympathetic to the deanling yesterday. S/he's a fine person, though a little rigid. But we're working from different assumptions.

English departments, at least mine, are a bit weird. I have friends in other departments, and they teach the same three courses over and over. Maybe they're the theory in underwater basketweaving person, so each semester they teach one of the intro underwater basketweaving GEs, an intro theory course, and an advanced theory course. And the next semester, they basically teach the same courses. Some folks may teach one of two courses at the upper level, so they switch off semester to semester.

In contrast, here's what my schedule was supposed to look like this year (before I got a partial reassignment):

Comp (5 cr)
Intro to Theory (3 cr)
Seminar in Early Brit Lit (Other) (3 cr)

Gateway to English major (5 cr)
Intro to Poetry (3)
Chaucer (3)

And last year:

Comp (5)
Intro to Drama (3)
Seminar in Early Brit Lit (Death) (3)

Comp (5)
Shakespeare (3)
Chaucer (3)

(The basic pattern is a 5 cr writing course, a lower level course, and an upper level course.)

We have four people who can (and like to) teach Shakespeare, 3-4 who can (and like to) teach poetry, 2 who can teach drama. (Not counting adjuncts, who sometimes fill in on the drama). Currently, I'm the only person who wants to teach Chaucer (which is just so sad.)

So, in most departments, that introductory level course (for me, poetry, drama, Shakespeare) is going to be taught over and over again by the same person, so if you attach some special thing to it for doing something, then the same person just does it again and again. Imagine, for example, that someone who taught the Shakespeare class always focused on gender and family. If there were a gender and family requirement, it might be reasonable to make the class carry special credit.

But, if we have four people who teach the class, and gender and family isn't always everyone's focus, then it doesn't make sense to try to get that on the books. It still makes sense that it should count for a literature GE, though.

I think that's part of the basic disconnect between the deanling and me. S/he's a smart, good person, but from a department where one person teaches basically the same set of courses from hiring to retirement, updating to keep up, of course, but the title is unlikely to change. No one else teaches those courses, except if there's a sabbatical or illness, so it's basically the same.

In contrast, we have three people who teach these lit of different culture courses, depending on who's doing what (one is a deanling, one has been on sabbatical, one is heading into a special position). They aren't all taught every term, but our major requirements are written so that one student might take a senior seminar in one area and a sophomore level course in another, and a different student might do the reverse.

This issue is also causing us problems with our new GE system, which is supposed to be built around themes. The idea is that a group of students will take a group of courses all about one theme (love and family, say) in different areas of study, and they'll be able to put together connections with unicorns and rainbows. (I sound cynical, but I don't actually hate the idea; I just think we're not implementing very well).

It's easy to say, if you're the theory of basketweaving person, that hey, the intro basketweaving theory fits the "complex patterns" theme! And I teach it all the time, so it always will. I'll add this one bit so it fits better, and voila! And it won't hurt the students who aren't in the theme group.

It's harder if you're one of four Shakespeare people, and trying to fit a year ahead into a theme when you may or may not be going to teach Shakespeare in a given semester anyway. And if you do, you won't be teaching it the next time because it's someone else's. And besides, who really wants to always teach Shakespeare "love and family"? Not I. (This is not to say that we don't discuss family issues in respect to specific plays, but that it's not the theme of the course.)

Here's an added issue. People who teach the same course over and over are eager to do something different. People who teach five preps a year, one of which is likely to be new or a second go (my seminar), might have less energy for creating a special new course. I think that's a problem.

And finally, we keep hearing that we English department folks should teach our comp course so that it fits whatever theme someone else wants. Seriously, teach a biology themed comp course! Teach a geology themed comp course! I would be quite happy to teach a lit themed comp course, but they seem to think that's what we do in comp all the time anyway. (And that's a different argument.) All of the themes so far are very "it's new, it's now!" based; so it's hard to think how those are going to work well for those of us who like really dead writers, artists, or peoples.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Thought We Covered That?

I'm doing some curricular work over break. It's leftover from the semester, from a committee I'm on. The idea is that my department thinks two of our courses should give different culture credit towards a university requirement. Now, most of our students have no problem getting their foreign culture credit (though introductory foreign language classes don't carry these credits, which seems totally stupid to me!). But some do.

Anyway, we have four courses:
a 100 level intro to lit from different cultures
a 200 survey of lit from different cultures
a 300 topics in lit from different cultures
and a 400 seminar in lit from different cultures

(except the names are slightly different)

Two of these courses already carry the credit designation. Two don't. Why not? No one seems to know, but in our department, we agree that it makes sense that the others should, too.

Last semester, I filled out some paperwork to get that to happen. And the deanling in charge of passing the paperwork before it goes to the college committee (which I'm on, too, alas) said, no, that's not enough.

Part of the problem is that we don't title our courses: Literature of the Indian sub-continent in the 20th century. Sometimes the course looks like that, but we use umbrella designations so that different colleagues can teach some of them. These courses, for example, can be taught by one of three people in our department, each of whom focuses primarily on a very different geographic area. That makes a lot of sense in our field. It doesn't make sense to folks over in the fort much, though. And doesn't fit easily with some of the stuff they come up with, stuff that often assumes the same person will teach the same course every semester or every year from hiring to retirement.

I came up with the brilliant idea of asking to see the paperwork from one of the courses that does carry the designation, so that I can see how this one should be filled out. And yes, what I put is almost exactly the same. So I chatted with the deanling a bit.

And the dean gave me this bit: "[A different culture] course addresses most, but not necessarily all, of the following aspects of one or more foreign countries or regions: cultural, social, linguistic, historical, political, religious, intellectual, philosophical."

Seriously, how many anthropology courses do you think cover all of those, and those are pretty much the epitome of a course on different cultures, right? How about the art history courses? Think they talk a lot about linguistic and political stuff?

But the dean insists that we have to guarantee that the course "covers" most of those aspects of one or more foreign cultures, and it has to do it for the recent past. (Apparently the pre-columbian arts of the Americas course fits somehow? So does World History to 1500?)

I think this is one of those changing goal post things. The deanling has in mind that certain things pertaining to his/her field make the most sense, but isn't going back to change stuff that made it in under the previous deanling. (Yet?)

The deanling insists that "coverage" is key.

Wait, yes, that's right, "coverage."

Back when I was just starting to train in a program that provided MA students with a certificate in composition teaching, we talked a bit about "coverage." In that program, at least, "coverage" was not seen in positive terms. The problem with coverage, I was taught, is that it's not enough to say you've "covered" something in class unless you're actually taking time to teach it. Instead, you need to focus in on what you want students to learn, and teach it; that means focusing on depth more than breadth for most things.

For example, one can cover 30+ Shakespeare texts in a semester. You simply lecture on them and have students read mostly excerpts (or pretend to yourself that they're reading all 30 texts). And students will have "covered" all 30 texts. Or, you can teach 8-12 texts and have students get something deeper and fuller out of them. They won't be able to say a single sentence, in all likelihood, about Troilus and Cressida, but they'll probably be able to say a couple paragraphs about one of the texts they've actually read.

Of course, as with most educational ideas, coverage becomes pretty silly when taken to extremes, but there's a point at which having students read broadly is really helpful, and there's a point at which studying a single text for a while is deeply rewarding.

The idea of "coverage" is more complicated in fields where one bit of knowledge or skill builds on another. You can't skip fractions and expect to understand algebra or calculus. Of course, you can't just "cover" fractions, either. Students have to understand them fairly well in order to succeed at the other math subjects.

My point is, though, that (in my experience) teachers of my generation rarely use "coverage" without a fair bit of verbal dancing. Thus, I was taken a bit aback when the deanling tossed it off so easily and uncomplicatedly. Just make sure that you cover "most, but not necessarily all, of the following aspects of one or more foreign countries or regions: cultural, social, linguistic, historical, political, religious, intellectual, philosophical." And that the course is contemporary.

I can do that, of course. And a course in literature will, so some level, address most of these issues, depending on the text, more or less explicitly. (Students might not realize they're getting philosophy reading Shakespeare, or might think that when we discuss masculinities we're discussing politics, but we are!)

Does anyone else feel like all those things above run together more or less? Isn't political stuff also historical, intellectual, and philosophical? And aren't social and cultural stuffs also religious and linguistic?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Composition Composites

You know what I'd find really handy, and I bet other folks would too?

A short monthly summary of one or two of the best articles in composition studies with a link to the original articles. I struggle with keeping up, not only in early modern stuff (and Shakespeare's an industry on its own), but keeping up with composition in addition is beyond me.

I'm not unwilling to learn. I recognize that my training in composition studies is some 20 years ago now, and that things are changing in the field, and that I should learn about the most important findings.

Are there newer, better techniques for brainstorming? I want to know.

Better ways to help students in responding to papers? I really want to know.

I wonder if there's a market out there? I mean, could I quit my job and spend my days reading journals, do summaries and a link, and somehow make a living at it without going crazy? (The last part would be as difficult as the making a living part, I bet, since there'd be minimal human contact, and I'm a fairly social person.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

House Tour

So, the not -ginger-bread houses.* Here's one end showing the chimney. The popular candies this year were M&Ms. I don't remember us using those when we were kids, but now they seem good. We couldn't find any candy canes when we went to look, though my brother found some cute peeps snowmen.

This is the other side. I really should have frosted the end of the roof and stuck some stuff on there to make it look less cardboardy, eh? I did like the twisty pathway. This is where I put the peep snowman, which hides one of the little green "plants." However, you can see the very authentic looking tree in the window :)

And here's a side view of the flower garden and bunting along the roof. As you can tell, I don't much go in for realism here.

And here's the final shot with the snowman in the front.

*Edited to add: My Nana used to make us cardboard gingerbread houses to decorate every Christmas. So, this isn't my idea at all. I don't know where she got the idea, but it worked really well for us kids!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Passive Something or Other

When I was a kid, we used to make little houses out of cardboard and decorate them as gingerbread houses. It's a LOT easier to build a cardboard house (trust me on this) and you get to spend more time decorating and less time trying to get gingerbread to stay where you want it.

So, I voiced the idea the other day.

We found some cardboard boxes and decided last night that we'd use them for the basic houses, adding roofs and bases from other cardboard.

This morning we got a start. And I use "we" in a generous sense, because while I instigated it all, my Mom either took over the heavy lifting of getting the houses made or took over the fun of getting the houses made. And I went off and checked email and stuff, because I've figured out in life that I get frustrated when my Mom takes over, and just move away. And I knew that would happen, and I'm okay with it in this case. So I'm passively hanging out, waiting for the houses to be built. And then I'll get to play at decorating.

And my fiendish plot to make a mess with frosting and candies will come to fruition!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stuff I Don't Talk to Family About

I'm prepping for next term by reading a book of poetry I ordered for the poetry class. I've also ordered an anthology, but I've never taught a book of poetry before all at once. Here goes.

Wouldn't you laugh if I said I were teaching A Priest to the Temple? That would go over well, no doubt. Not.

I'm actually teaching a colleague's book; I'd thought about teaching a friend's book, but I chose the other because my colleague will come talk to my students about his poetry. But I don't have any clue how to teach a book of poetry.

Were I to say this to my family, my Mom would make the all too familiar circly finger near the ear sign. Everyone else would want to run away. I don't come from a poetic sort of family. Maybe there are no poetic sorts of family? Do some families read poetry together? Even kids' rhymes? Or is that some fantasy I have of a never-really-happened Victorian childhood?

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out some pattern, some theme, something to hold my teaching of the text together. If anyone has suggestions about how they approach teaching a book of poetry as a book, I'd love to hear.

I'm thinking of assigning some Billy Collins early on, probably this as a starting point for the second day: "Introduction to Poetry"

The book will come later in the semester, pretty near the end.

Tell me what you do to help studnets "get" poetry, especially a book, please!

Reading Hunger Games

I borrowed my niece's copy and read it yesterday. It's a disturbing book, maybe more disturbing to an adult than to a kid? I hardly slept last night, partly because of the book.

Anyway, it's an amazingly quick read. Compared to what I usually read, wow, quick.

I'm intrigued by some of the plot points: the protagonist is a teen girl, and already thinking about how she doesn't want to have kids. But there's no sense of how one might have sex and not get pregnant. There's some sense of her not being ready for a sexual relationship, but being on the verge of being ready.

The book also plays a bit with compulsory heterosexuality as compulsory, but the protagonist sees it as compulsory and resists somewhat.

I can't decide if I want to read the next book in the series. I have to admit I was disappointed at where it ended, but I really want a sense that there's a beginning of change.

Going Crazy


X: I really like this cat toy.

Me: Yes, it's cool.

X: I really like it.

Hours later:

X: I really like this cat toy.

Me: Yes, it's cool.

X: I really like it.

Rinse and repeat with a small selection of other topics. It's like being in a rerun of Seinfeld, except the repetition isn't quick and witty.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


/auc wtb fbss

No, not really.

I'm heading out shortly; I've packed mostly, but I have a couple more presents to wrap.

And, of course, earlier today I got an email from a student in a panic because s/he had (according to the email) gotten an F in a course because s/he turned a final paper in on time but to the wrong faculty box. And now the student is in a panic because s/he has gotten an email response from the faculty member indicating that the faculty member is not checking emails regularly until the new term.

Basically, the student wants a do-over. S/he wants the faculty member to accept the paper, grade it, and change the course grade accordingly.

And that's not unreasonable if the story checks out. But, it's also not unreasonable for the faculty member to refuse to accept the paper and grade it after having done all the work for the semester already.

So why did I get the panicked email? I'm not quite sure. There's nothing I can do except email the student to say that it makes perfect sense to me that the faculty member isn't checking email and that the student should patiently wait until next term to contact the faculty member.

I'm guessing the student is mostly in a panic stage and wants to be reassured that it will be okay and s/he can have his do-over. But I can't do that, of course. Nor would I if I had the power. But I did send an email.

And then I set my auto-out-of-office response.

Have safe travels if you're traveling; keep warm if you're in cold country.

Hold pulls. AFK. BBS.

Monday, December 20, 2010


One of my friends is leaving for a new job. I'm happy for my friend because it will be a much better fit. But I'm unhappy for me because I'll miss my friend and my friend's partner.

We got together with some other folks the other day. My friend seemed sort of grumpy, as if everyone were supposed to ask how the job search is going. But, of course, being polite, we weren't about to ask, so my friend just announced it. Some, I think, knew ahead. Some didn't.

My friend and the partner were talking about how much better things are in the other state, especially in terms of higher education.

So I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself this morning. Many of my friends have gone to visit family, and the few of us who are around now are busy either with grading (which is what I should be finishing right now) or with family preparations. But I want to be entertained. (And not grade, though I should be doing that.)

The same thing seems to be happening with bloggers; lots of people are too busy to post much. (Guilty.)

Entertain me, people!

My car's in the shop for the morning getting rear brakes, a new battery, new tires, and getting the heater blower checked, and (I hope) getting the CD player put back sans the CD that was stuck in there. So I can't even run errands and pretend I'm doing something useful.

Gah, grading.

Edited to add: I finished my grading and turned in the grades. Now for some chores and wrapping presents! YAY!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I can understand the confusion some people have between Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart. First, they usually get called by nicknames, and second, their lives overlapped a fair bit.

I can also understand confusions people have between the Hundred Years War and the Thirty Years War. Both lasted a long time, and they're both a long time ago.

I can't get my head around my student's confusing the two World Wars of the past century. Now, I could probably understand if this were a sophisticated argument about how the wars and such of the 19th century provided impetus for the Great War, and that WWII was an inevitable result of the resolution of the Great War and so on. But no, this student just conflates them and puts them both in 1918 with Hitler at the head of SS troops and such.

The same student confuses Modernism (as an intellectual and social movement/practice) and modern (as in what's happening now), which I totally understand, but since I've tried to explain that Modernism is a pretty specific movement, and it just hasn't gotten through, I'm finding frustrating. No doubt my own deep sense of the difficulty of really understanding Modernism has gotten in the way.

What are your students' most confusing confusions?


I'm so buried in grading that it's dismal. (I wanted to give back all the research papers today, but I've given up, alas. I'll still have the weekend to finish them and the other stuff, but I'm frustrated at my procrastination so far.)

I took my car in for an oil change yesterday and learned that it also needs: new tires, a new battery, new rear brakes (and maybe rotors), and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, I'm lying about the last thing. I like this shop, and I don't think they're trying to rip me off. I also have savings just for this sort of thing (and house issues, etc), so it's not that I'm hurting financially. But all of a sudden, I'm nervous about driving my car until things are fixed and I wasn't at all before. I have the fix it all appointment on Monday. Oh, and they had to pull the CD/radio thing because a CD from the library got stuck in there and they sent it out to the CD repair place to get fixed.

I haven't heard back from the doctor's clinic about the blood test. I'm uncertain when to call back. Is a day and a half later too early? Is it unreasonable to think that I should have heard already? My stupid test isn't an emergency or anything, and I'm sure they have way better things to think about. I'm really unknowledgable at how to manage this sort of thing.

In good news: we're up into the teens today, temperature-wise. Thank dog. I really want to do something other than grade or procrastinate like a goof.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Both Sides of Bureaucracy

I'm disappointed in myself today. I had a meeting with a student. It's part of my medium cheesiness that I meet with students, and this was part of that role.

Anyway, this student raised a question, and I answered it by suggesting he go to talk to the chair of another department because a specific requirement is associated with that department. And the student reraised the question, and I said the same.

The student raised a question about something else, and I suggested that he go to talk to a student services office, because they handle that issue. And the student reraised the question, and I said the same.

The student was getting frustrated. On one level, yes, it's a pain to work through the bureaucracy of the university. But on another level, when you're dealing with a large institution, you should know that most folks on the ground really don't have much power over other areas of the institution.

I don't think I did a great job.

I was able to offer the student some help with two problems, but rather than having me do the petition there, he wanted to take it home to fill out. And I let him. But now I regret that, because I'm pretty sure he'll miss filling it out in a way that will get through the bureaucracy and someone else will have to redo it. And that will be frustrating.

The student had met earlier with some other people, and now I'm wondering why they didn't meet with the student about the problems I can't help with. Did the student not ask them? Or did the student not get the answer he wanted and want me to give a different answer?

I need to figure out how to handle this sort of problem more effectively. I really felt like a faceless bureaucrat, and I don't think I should. I really am trying to be helpful to the student, but it sure didn't feel like I actually was, or that the student felt I was.

And I have to agree with the student: we don't have that many courses open for next semester now. Most are full. It's late in the game to be signing up for courses and with budget cuts, we're running fewer courses since we've had faculty retirements with no replacements. We simply have no warm bodies who can teach Subject X right now.

We're also not super friendly for people who have strict work schedules. If you have to take a course in the late afternoon because of work, then that might be difficult, especially if it's a course that's offered in one section a semester. On the other hand, if you can take it late in the afternoon for your work, the student I talked to earlier who works afternoons can't take it. There's no way I can figure to serve every student schedule with our size program and in person classes. (I know some folks will suggest that we go on-line. I will so want to quit if we do. I don't know if I'll have the courage to quit, though.)

On the other side of the bureaucracy thing:

Last summer, I was supposed to get a fasting blood test to test for blood sugar level and lipids. And I actually did that.

The triglycerides were high, but other than that, everything was pretty good. I got a letter that told me as much. The letter went on to say that I should cut down on carbs, specifying "pop," a word I find ridiculous in the context of beverages. Seriously. "Pop." Gah. (It's a dialect thing; it just sounds wrong.) The letter also said I should try to exercise. (Yes, obviously a template letter. Certain results pop out a certain letter [there! That's how "pop" is supposed to be used!], and it doesn't matter if your record says that you say that you exercise, because it's assumed that I'm lying about that anyway. It's also automatically assumed that I'm lying about how much I drink and my risk of pregnancy.)

The letter also said that I should get another test in 3-6 months, and that I should call the lab to make an appointment. So it's a form letter. I don't know if it really matters if I get the test. I have a feeling that no matter what the results are, I'll get another letter saying that I have to get it retested in a couple more months, because once you're caught up in the testing thing, you're caught up and you HAVE TO HAVE THE TEST OR YOU'LL DIE, or get scary letters implying as much.

So, it's six months, almost. I've been thinking about calling. I fret a lot about medical stuffs. I called the lab, and while I was on hold waiting, I felt like I wanted to throw up. Ugh. But the lab said that no, I couldn't make an appointment. I needed to call the doctor and get her to do something by way of an order, and then I wouldn't need to make an appointment anyway.

So then I called the clinic office, and waited on hold, wanting to throw up again. I did finally get through, and talked to a person who promised to talk to a nurse who will do something else and check this or that and then call me to let me know I should go get the test. I didn't get the call this afternoon, but we'll see. Maybe tomorrow.

Yep, I feel pretty much bureaucratized.

Monday, December 13, 2010

That Was Quick

I talked to my Mom yesterday, and she mentioned that the memorial service for my Aunt who died recently isn't going to be until mid-January. Several of my cousins will be there, cousins I haven't seen for 20 or so years. So I thought, hey, I could fly out there between terms, spend a week, go to the service, see family, and defrost a bit.

Usually, I'm a slow planner. It can take me months to figure out the most basic trip. But I just thought, yes, go. So I just bought my plane tickets.

I get sort of anxious buying big stuff (such as plane tickets) online. I shouldn't, but I do. So far, though, so good.

We already have one day planned, a trip to see some trees. And probably another day planned to see a slough. It will probably be beautiful. I have to decide whether I should bring my big camera lens in case of birds. Maybe just a pair of binoculars, and the regular lens for family shots?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Love my Neighbors

The neighbors across the way lent me their snowblower this morning. Even with the snowblower, it took almost an hour to clear my drive.

Now: For the first time, I'm seriously thinking about buying a snowblower. It was AMAZING!

My back was tired from digging yesterday, and it would have been really unhappy with the amount of digging I'd have had to do to clear this. I'm so happy not to have to dig all of it.

I don't know how people who live where it snows several feet at a time all the time do it. I'm guessing a snowblower is even more important there?

Can I say how very happy I am not to be part of the Donner Party? And how happy I am to have plentiful food in the house!

No telling when the city plows will come here. I've heard that they've been over some of the city twice (the storm lasted pretty much all day yesterday, so they went through and went through to keep more important roads somewhat clear). Hopefully they'll get here today sometime.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kids These Days

It's that time of the semester when everyone's tempers are a little short. Students are turning in papers late, perhaps, and have spent less time than we might like doing their research and writing. Sometimes folks don't show up at all, and it can be hard to believe that they're really sick or that there's really an emergency in the family. And the demands of the administrators are relentless.

One of the administrative demands I'm handling in my role as medium sized cheese is nominating students for some special mention. The special mention thing starts with a minimum GPA, and then adds in stuff like community service, research, departmental activities, and so on.

We had 48 students who met the GPA part, and then I've had to do some searching around to figure out which few within that group we'd nominate. I started by asking my colleagues to look at the list and give me some feedback.

I got plenty, even at this busy time of the year.

And these students are impressive. We've got students who are being nominated for their research work, for leading this or that student group, for participating in some community activity.

Then I asked my colleagues for more information about the students who were specifically nominated, and that's when I heard the glowing reports about sparkling student intellect, hard working classroom mentors, collaborative projects.

I've been writing up a statement of support for each of the students we're nominating. It's hard to pack so much in without sounding utterly silly.

I tell ya, kids these days.

I wish I'd been half the student some of these students are!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Morning Radio

I was listening to NPR this morning, and they had a little thing on about how some (and I emphasize some) military chaplains are resisting the repeal of DADT. One of the chaplains complained that he shouldn't have to "choose between his religion and his job."

Well, yes, you do have to choose. Unlike the gay and lesbian military personnel you are currently supposed to serve, you get to choose. Having that choice is a privilege.

If you can't serve the people the military needs you to serve, then choose not to enlist or re-enlist.

Advice for Wannabe Majors

When students want to declare a major or minor in my field, they talk to me. That's part of my big cheesiness job these days. I see a couple students during a slow week, and more than that during a busy one. Some of them email me first, some just show up.

Here's some advice I'd like to offer to students coming to see me about the program. I think it's probably good advice for students going to see professors in general.

1. Shower.
2. Introduce yourself. Really. I don't know who you are just because you've emailed me and are standing in my doorway.
3. Don't loom. If I turn to do something at the computer and you stand up to look, okay. But don't stay standing over me. Sit down.
4. Answer questions. When I ask what you're taking this semester, I am not inspired to confidence by a blank look. It's the last week of classes, do you really not know what you're taking?
5. At least pretend that you're interested in the program you're declaring. Don't tell me that you don't really want to do it but that you can't do what you want to do.
6. If I suggest that you see a support office because you've told me you can't do what you want to do, nod politely. You don't have to go, but you might want to consider it. If you nod politely, I won't push. Making excuses about this or that doesn't really add anything. I'm suggesting something I think will help, but I'm not your mommy, and I'm not going to nag you. Nor am I going to worry much beyond the end of our conversation.

7. I'm adding one: don't call professors you haven't even met yet "Jones" instead of Professor or Dr. or Ms/Mr Jones. Not to me, anyway. (I refer to other faculty as Professor so and so to students because it matters to some of my colleagues.)

In conclusion, most of our students do shower enough, but the ones that don't really get my attention and not in a good way. Most of our students also have fine social skills and know which classes they're taking. Again, the ones that don't stand out.

Monday, December 06, 2010


I just spent the evening with five other people. Three of them had connections to a specific city, and to specific sports teams in that city. I was not one of those three.

I was bored stiff.

Is there anything more boring than people going on about specific sports events they went to that mean nothing to me? If there is, I don't want to sit through it.

I don't want to hear about the sports event you went to when you cheered such and so, or the other event you went to when you had good seats, or any of it.

I don't know if it's just that I'm totally out of step or if it's just one of those things where three of us pretty much didn't say anything.

Okay, and if there's anything that gets close to the boredom of sports I don't care about, it's TV I don't care about.

And the next step down in boredom level is someone extolling the wonders of their elite graduate institution.

And now I have insomnia; I think it's because the food was heavy and is sitting on my stomach in bad ways.

I'm THAT Teacher :(

You know how when you were an undergrad, you maybe had a teacher who seemed to lose things? I'm that teacher. I found a pile of about 5 things to grade that I thought I'd already graded and handed back (but indeed, I hadn't). I'd even added up that part of the grade for each student (so that I have it handy and can just enter it in the ol' Excel gradebook).

Gah, how embarrasing. But good for the students!

I had two students in one class not hand in an assignment, so I wrote each a note to make sure that I hadn't missed recording it. I'm not sore that they didn't do it, but worried that I somehow missed it. Apparently, no, they didn't do it. So that's not my fault, at least!

Grading piles:

Peer editing
Final set of short papers

Abstracts and bibliographies
Some presentations
Peer editing
Final research papers
Short reflection papers.

Most of those haven't come in yet, but I have plenty to keep me busy. In an ideal world, I have everything else graded when the research papers come in on Wednesday, and then have made significant progress on them by Friday, when the final short papers come in. And then I hope to have those graded by the day of the final, when I'll get in the final short reflection papers.

It's time to get grading!

Not So Self-Evident?

I have a colleague who begins complaints by saying, "I'm not complaining, but..." and then goes on with the complaint.

I know someone who claims to be really good at keeping secrets, and then tries to deomonstrate this by telling me whatever private information someone has recently told him/her. This person wonders why I don't share my private information.

I wonder what I totally don't see myself contradicting myself about?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Winter Woman

I've become much better at winter in the past several years. Today was the first skiing day, and it was fun. I felt a bit better on the skis than I think I remember feeling the first day last year. And it was great to get outside and play!

Friday, December 03, 2010

End of the Semester Grading Count Down

I just finished grading the research papers I got last Wednesday. So nine days. Not a speed record, but reasonable for research papers.

This class has one more set of papers, a set of journals, and a set or responses.

Let the counting down begin!

(The other class I should catch up on nicely this weekend. And then it's final grading time!)

There's also much other busyness about campus and my department this next week or so. I was expecting the advising side I do to slow down, but I had a lot of students come in to change majors/minors yesterday.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Go Geek!

You may remember that a while back I complained that I had difficulty getting time with someone from our tech for teaching crew to help me with a Qualitrics thing.

Today was the day. My geek was splendid, and very, very patient. I did my little survey thing, and it is done, and I've sent it out. Yay!

The thing is, it's complicated enough that I'll need help again next time, but I'll be further along before I need the help.

Thank you, geek!

The Frustration Quiz

I don't teach much grammar type stuff in my writing courses because it's been shown not to actually contribute to helping students write better. But I do, when a group of students shows a pattern of a specific grammar or punctuation problem, do a short session on how to do that grammar or punctuation correctly. And so it was yesterday.

I made up a handout with an explanation and examples. We went over stuff, and then students wrote some sentences of their own. We read some of those aloud and talked about them.

Today, I gave an open notes quiz on the grammar and punctuation things, thinking that it would be a tiny boost for some students. The quiz asked them to write a couple sentences using the grammar/punctuation things. It was open notes.

About half the students did fine. One wrote down the sentence she'd written as her example yesterday (and read aloud), because it's an open note quiz and it was right there, and she knew it was right.

But about half the students just bombed.

I know this is a grammar thing that students didn't know before the class (because it's not generally taught in high school). So, the ones who did well learned (or copied from their notes from) yesterday. And the ones who didn't do well?

1) I wasted our time yesterday and didn't do a good job.
2) Couldn't copy from the examples on the handout, even.
3) ??

You know, when people worry about students being incredibly creative in their cheating attempts, I wonder who those students are. Because on an OPEN NOTE quiz where students could use what they'd written yesterday or the very handout, half my students bombed. They couldn't manage to use the notes or handouts they were allowed, nay, encouraged to use to do well on the quiz. How would they manage to write the answers on the inside of their ball caps or in super secret text messages?

Sometimes, my mind boggles.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is It Working?

How do you tell if students have learned what you want them to learn in a composition or writing class? Or, what do you have students do for a final?

The way a lot of people try to do it is by giving students some readings and then having them write an in-class final. That way they demonstrate that they can handle outside sources in creating an argument.

But it doesn't test if students are able to use pre-writing and process strategies. Indeed, the in-class writing part, especially if students haven't had the questions ahead of time, probably discourages students from doing the sorts of pre-writing stuff I want them to learn.

Also, if you're going to ask students to write an essay in response to some reading(s), you either have to take time in class to discuss the reading(s) or they'd better be simple enough that students with marginal reading skills can put something together in response. And that seems generally to mean it's something about pop culture or some irritating current events thing. And I don't much care to read 20-30 in-class essays about either.

So what do you do?

At one time, I had students writing short responses to questions such as:

1) Describe freewriting. When is it most useful?
2) Imagine you were asked to write an essay about freewriting. Make a bubble map for that essay.

And so forth. I think it sort of tested whether students had learned what freewriting is, but it was dreadfully awful to read. And by "dreadfully awful," I mean worse than pop culture and current events essays.

And the thing is, knowing what freewriting is is really the first step in what I really want students to learn, which is that they have several strategies for approaching writing situations, and that those strategies are useful, and they should use them. But how do you test that? Or, do you even need to test it?*

I tried something new this week. My writing students have one final short essay for the course; I handed out the assignment as usual. And then we looked at each of the options, and I asked them to make a list of pre-writing strategies they might use to approach each of the questions. We put the list on the board, and then did some of the pre-writing strategies for each of the questions as a warm up.

Today, I had the students pick the question they thought they'd want to write to, and then put them in groups. In their group, they needed to make a more complete list of the things they might do to work on their paper.

Next time, we'll put these lists on the board and they'll use the lists they and their peers have created to work on their essays, and then do some thinking about how the strategies work for them. Seeing the lists on the board will give me a good sense if the groups have learned the different strategies and appropriate ways to use them. (It won't test those in any way, nor will it tell me if a specific student has learned. But the boards are only so large and time is limited.) (It also isn't numerical, which means the gurus over in the fort who want to measure my teaching by numbers wouldn't like it.)

Here's a question: I teach freewriting, listing, bubble-mapping (which goes by other names, too, but you get the idea) as ways to start writing. I don't teach outlining per se, though as part of bubble-mapping, I number sections and draw arrows and such to get a sense of the flow.

What other pre-writing strategies do you teach in your comp/writing courses?

How do you know if students are learning what you want them to learn?

*This is sort of like the time management problem: most high school students can tell you what they "should" do for time management. But convincing them to actually do those things is more difficult. And convincing them to use those strategies independently when faced with a task or problem is a whole 'nother world. You can "know" what to do, but deeply knowing means you also practice those things.

(And alas, I don't always.)