Thursday, October 08, 2015


I'm pretty much conferencing all day today with writing students.  I set the appointments at 20 minutes each, but I still can't see them all today, so I saw some yesterday and will see some tomorrow.

The conferences range from the student who comes in and says "I don't know why I'm here" to the student who comes in and says "Here's what I'm thinking of writing for this paper." 

I read somewhere that if you meet Queen Elizabeth, you should relax because she's so good at meeting people that she'll sort of help you chat.  (I can't remember where I read that, and have no idea if it's true.  But I also can't imagine what I'd have to say to Queen Elizabeth, or pretty much any celebrity, though I'd be very willing to try to say something worth responding to if I ever met Sherman Alexie!)

At any rate, I try to guide the students to something useful even if they don't quite understand.

I've been having pretty busy office hours in general this week, and I have to say, the quality of conversation with someone who comes in to ask about some, say, literature we've been reading is orders of magnitude more fun than with someone who hasn't been to class and so doesn't know what the assignment is.  I had a lovely conversation with a student who asked if poets just find themselves writing sonnets, for example.  That's a great question, and it came after some questions about how sonnets work, and had something to do with what we've been reading in class. 

On the other hand, I had a student basically ask if I shouldn't make my lecture notes available.  She was unbelieving when I said that my lecture notes wouldn't do her much good because I know the works we've been discussing so well that I put a few words on a piece of paper, some page number/line number type information so I can find passages quickly, and that's it.  She's missed class a bit, and hadn't gotten notes from another student, despite my suggestion (at our previous meeting) that she do so.  (The extra depressing thing is that I have students in all my courses exchange emails and such with several other people in class so that they can do so, and when I have them do it, I explicitly tell them that's why we're doing it.)

So far, I've seen nine students for these conferences (plus a few from other courses), and I'm pretty pleased.  I'd say seven of the nine were prepared and give me confidence.  The other two, I think, are way more ready to write this paper than they were before we met, so I count that as success.


  1. I actually write out notes for many of my classes and post them on a blog (which I cleverly call drdelagar teaches literature).

    This is just a bucket load of extra work for me; but it's something I started doing a few years ago, on a trial basis, with one class, to see if it would help with students who were terrible at learning from lectures (from learning aurally, if you see what I mean). It turned out to help bunches. So I did it with another class, and then another, and another.

    It's got a huge upfront cost, in that each time I teach a class for a first time, I have to write up every lecture. And I'm not gonna lie, that's just hours of work.

    But the second and third time I teach a class, I only have to revise to add new material / new research. It's not nearly as much work. Students (good students) like it a lot.

    Terrible students don't bother to read the notes. But we can't do much with terrible students.

    Here's the link if you want to have a look:

    (Links, actually -- one goes to the lit class, the other to my general teaching blog)

  2. Wow, Delagar, talk about going above and beyond!

    I tend to do about 3 minutes of talking between asking students to think about something in a group or write or draw, and then discuss as a class, and so on. So my notes often look like "2.1.18-36, draw imagery." Would your class notes say that, or would you try to record the discussion of the drawings?

  3. I generally start a class by letting the students ask questions about what we've read. Answering the questions takes up about half the class -- especially since my answers usually lead to side discussions -- and then AFTER that I have a short reading quiz.

    Then I use the quiz to arrow in on some points (a mini-lecture) I want to make about the text. Then (if there's time!) a kind of free-for-all discussion about the text.

    Posting the notes also frees me from feeling like I have to "cover" material. I don't have to explain as much, because I can just point students to the notes. "This is a Romantic text," I can say. "See your class notes for exactly what that means, but for the purposes of today's discussion, here's why we care."

    If I *did* use drawings, sure, I'd put them in the class notes. I do use a lot of YouTube material and art and cartoons and such in the notes. I don't use drawings because I'm not gifted that way. :)

  4. You've seen my drawings! I have students draw, sometimes, because that helps them visualize the imagery (especially of very evocative verse: "at my back I always hear / Time's winged chariot hurrying near" works really well if they draw it!)

  5. I'm just terrible at visual work -- at translating ideas into visual images, and at looking at a visual image and understanding what it means. This makes my kid (the visual artist) nuts, as you can image.

    I think I might have some sort of actual defect -- like the one that's related to not being able to recognize faces? (I do have a real problem recognizing people by their faces. I can recognize them by voice and hairstyle, by name and writing style, and by clothing -- but faces and bodies? I literally couldn't pick my own brothers out of a group of their friends when they were little.)

    Anyway! tl;dr drawings don't always make a lot of sense to me. It's why I like XKCD so much. The joke doesn't depend on the drawing. And it's why I like reading so much. NO FACES.

    It took me forever to understand Plato's Cave. My philosophy professor kept drawing it on the board. I was like HOW IS THAT SUPPOSED TO HELP ME.

    But I put cartoons of it in my notes. I know it helps most people!

  6. Yep! It's definitely one of those things that's more effective for some people than others.

    Thanks for your responses. I really appreciate learning from you.