Too Nice

For a class I am teaching for the first time this semester, I think I have tried to be too nice. The students are pushing and pushing and I finally had to step back and say, “No. You can’t do that.”

I assigned two books. The total cost for those books is $14 plus tax. This is not an onerous sum, but I offered students the option to come read one book (fairly short and an easy read) in my office during office hours.

This is the week the other book is due. Several people asked for other books to read instead of those on the syllabus.

“I have this one I need to read.”
“I own one I haven’t had time to read.”
“I can’t afford to buy this book.”

During class, I said, “Okay, you can read that book you have.” I also said, “Go to this source for free books.”

However, after class I realized that one person already cheated on last week’s homework, which was to watch a movie they’d never seen. Instead he watched his favorite movie. (He’s the second quote up there.)

I also remembered, as I was getting frustrated about that, that the point of this class was to look at overt presentations of a topic in the texts. I have no idea whether their books are overt, but I know not all the free books are.

So I just sent a note saying, you can read the books on the list or you can read this free book. If you want to read anything else at all, you must send an email about it–even though I may have given approval during class.

Hopefully people will just go with the books I’ve approved.

Spring Classes

Despite the fact that we are working a year in advance, we still don’t know till fairly late in the day what classes make.

Right now (and this is still subject to change), I have the
Old English readings course
one business and professional writing course
a second-semester first-year writing course.

We are assuming (at this point) that I will receive the CAS course reduction award. If I do, then those three courses will be my only classes. If I do not, then I will probably teach two freshman classes.

I am hoping to get the CAS course reduction award.

I need to work on the OE readings course and finish up what readings should go in the book. Really, really need to do that.

The course only has 5 people in it, but it is a required for graduation course, so they should offer it. My fingers are crossed that they will. I have been looking forward to it so much.

If the worst happens and I don’t get the CAS reduction and the OE course is disallowed, I will probably end up with 3 freshman courses and a B&P. That would be okay in one way, but in another way it would really give me a heavy load –as compared to the incredibly light load I am looking at right now.

Of course, before yesterday, my schedule was:
1 OE readings course
2 B&P classes.

So every day is a new beginning…

Grading Papers

I can honestly say that I don’t love grading papers, but I don’t think most people do. However, when I was reviewing the papers to see what students might think of their improvement over the class period, I don’t think they will see it. Many people did the best on the first essay (which I let them write over) and did not do as well on the in-class essay (which I would expect). But then they didn’t do as well over the next major paper either, because I did not allow rewrites.

That means that, if they are simply examining the trend, students are going to see:
highest grade, lower grade, even lower grade. I don’t think they are going to think that they learned much from that.

How can I talk to them about the fact that:
1. first paper was re-written for an average of the two grades, so is not indicative of first attempt?
2. second paper was in-class? This is a forced writing assignment with a single chance.
3. third paper was not re-written?
and make them see what they can/have learned from those situations?

I am not sure.

And I’m depressed about both that I don’t know and that the students will not see that their work may have improved over time. The assignments have gotten harder each time, as well. The essay I just handed back or am still grading (depending on which class you were in) is the hardest one we will do all semester. So I expect the papers they are working on now will have much higher grades. However, they won’t get these back until the final, which means they will not be able to use them in their discussion.

I guess the other option is to have them able to re-write the last paper and to choose to write the final over the revisions and what they learned from those.

That might work. But I haven’t finished grading them and they would barely have time to revise.

The final option (it’s a pun, I guess) is to have them read a big pack of paper and make guesses on possible topics from the packet and then answer the question from that for the final. I don’t really have time for that because of the schedule I have assigned. I didn’t know that most folks spend the last two weeks doing the readings and discussing possible final exam questions.

Could I tweak the final exam question? Could I give them a reading or a lecture or something on best ways to study (from StudyHacks or research) and have them apply what they have learned across their classes to the final?

How would I write that?

Reiterative practice (with or without feedback) is the most successful study tool in a student’s repertoire to help a student learn and master material, according to research. How have the classes you took this semester encouraged or discouraged the use of reiterative practice and in what ways might you, as the final arbiter of how you study, realistically improve your study habits?

This would give them multiple paragraphs. Simple version:
1. intro- reiterative practice definition and thesis
2. discouraged classes
3. encouraged classes
4. realistically improve next semester
5. conclusion

More elaborate version:
1. intro
2. class 1 – encouraged
3. class 2 – encouraged
4. class 3 – discouraged
5. class 4 – discouraged
6. class 5 – discouraged
6. realistic implementation 1
7. realistic implementation 2
8. realistic implementation 3
7. conclusion

Variation of more elaborate version:
1. intro
2. class 1 – encouraged
3. class 1 – discouraged
4. class 2 – encouraged
5. class 2 – discouraged
6. class 3 – encouraged
7. class 3 – discouraged
8. realistic implementation 1
9. realistic implementation 2
10. conclusion

Students could bring in a print out of their grades for different classes, assuming they are all on Blackboard.
They could write on those print outs notes about the assignments.
Simply having the grades would let them see which courses gave the most feedback. (And there mine would probably surpass them all.)

What would I gain from this revision?
1. The students would see where they might have learned more in my class than they thought.
2. The students would be critically analyzing both their classes and their study habits for those. (Maybe. But otherwise it would be teacher evaluation. Need to work on that.)
3. Students could have a take-away of a means of improving their grades in other classes.

What would I lose from this revision?
1. I would not be following the final everyone else gave. Thus, I am out of line and fit is jeopardized.
2. I might be seen as encouraging criticism of their other teachers. See fit again.

Okay, so how could I revise this and still have my students look at this class positively?

Revised topic: Reiterative practice (with or without feedback) is the most successful study tool in a student’s repertoire to help a student learn and master material, according to research. How has this class encouraged or discouraged reiterative practice and in what ways might you, as the final arbiter of how you study, realistically improve your study habits for English 112 next semester and/or all of your classes?

Simple version:
1. intro – reiterative, thesis
2. this class encouraged
3. this class discouraged
4. do X next semester
5. conclusion

More elaborate:
1. intro
2. this class encouraged: daily work
3. this class discouraged: daily work
4. this class encouraged: essay assignments
5. this class discouraged: essay assignments
6. do X next semester
7. Not do Y next semester
8. conclusion

1. intro
2. daily work- encouraged
3. daily work- discouraged
4. discussion grades- encouraged
5. discussion grades- discouraged
6. essay assignments- encouraged
7. essay assignments- discouraged
8. do X in English
9. do X in other
10. not do Y in English
11. not do Y in other
12. conclusion

That still might lead them to teacher evaluation, but less than the other, I think.

So, daily work encouraged: lots of it, related to writing
daily work discouraged: lots of it, hard to see relationship sometimes
discussion grades: encouraged, related to the conceptual elements throughout
discussion grades: discouraged, ?
essay assignments: encouraged, prewriting, rewriting, peer review
essay assignments: discouraged, in-class essay, rewriting not feasible for all assignments

Maybe I could revise it this way, which I think is closer to what the Director of Comp was thinking:
Reiterative practice (with or without feedback) is the most successful study tool in a student’s repertoire to help a student learn and master material, according to research. How has this class encouraged or discouraged reiterative practice related to the Conceptual Age elements? Where do you think you most appropriately used the Conceptual Age elements and where might you have added them in, with the benefit of hindsight?

For major papers: We used the Conceptual Age elements in the visual rhetoric paper (design, play, narrative), the def/illustration paper (narrative, empathy, symphony), the digital presentation (design, play, narrative, symphony, innovation), the evaluation paper (design, symphony, narrative, meaning), and the proposing a solution paper (design, play, innovation, meaning, symphony, empathy, narrative).

For discussion: Six-word autobiography posts required design, play, narrative, and meaning. Comments could have elicited empathy. Lecture attendance/notes/essay required analysis of conceptual elements.

Okay, I feel a little bit better.

But it does mean I want the students to revise the essay that I haven’t turned back yet. When can I assign that? Not Nov. 29, since they have the present essay. I guess Dec. 5 as a due date. Final essay due then AND the revision. Not good for my grading stack, but I could turn the revision back on Dec. 7 and they could use it for the final.

Then I have the problem of… I have too many As in my classes. 31 out of 47 students are making As. They have done TONS of work.

Maybe I should have them critique their final grade to date. If they have an A, how have they earned that? Or whatever grade? Attendance, homework, daily grades, major essays, revisions when offered… All of those are ways they could argue they did or did not earn the grade they have.

Got to think about that. But first I need to grade the next essay for those students who need them back… Well, I guess since they aren’t going to be due till Dec. 5 I don’t have to, but really I don’t need them hanging over my head. If I can finish one class today and one tomorrow, that would be good.

Relief… Satisfaction.

I had a chapter turned in this summer for a book which was turned down wholesale. I thought I had gotten it just right, but I missed the audience (1 of the 3), and so the time was potentially wasted. This caused me a bit of depression and frustration, since I did spend a lot of time on the work and it was very important to me.

So when I had another chapter due, I hemmed and hawed and didn’t get around to it. Then I realized it wasn’t due in two weeks, like I thought, but two days… So it ended up being late. However, they were very gracious about it being late and said I could take till when I thought it was due (the 15th) to finish.

I emailed it to the editors last night. I also sent a note saying, “Did I do this right? Was it supposed to be like this? Did you want something else? If this is not what you needed, let me know.”

Both the editors have already written back (less than 12 hours after I sent it) and said it is overall wonderful and that I did far more than they expected. Now, there still may be minor changes, and I hope that will be as painless as the answers to the questions indicated, but, WHOO HOO!

I am going to have a chapter in a major academic press.

Of course, it’s not in my field at all. It’s in my undergraduate major and my father’s hobby area (and part of one of mine- holiday history), but not in my field. I don’t care, though! I have a chapter in a major academic press. Or I will come Dec. 2012.

If you know the name of the book, it’s already out on Amazon in the UK.


It will also count towards tenure, which is very cool.

Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.

Obstetrics and Teaching

While the post is actually about teaching, the information about the Apgar Scale, its creator and the impetus for its creation, was fascinating.

As the student of a pre-Apgar professor whose child was left to die, while the parents were dazed at the doctor’s words and emotionally unable to attempt to intervene, a professor who spoke of that as a defining moment still twenty years later with a student he was not particularly close to… This touched a chord in my heart that is still twanging.

I was insufficiently English-nerdy as a mother.

Poetry, the First Milk has a mother who quoted poetry to her children all their lives.

When at age 4 my daughter Anna became increasingly anxious at bedtime, I tried coaxing her to sleep with the most melodious poems I knew.

“Come live with me and be my love,” I began as I sat on her bed in a triangle of hallway light, rubbing her back. “And we will all the pleasures prove, / That valleys, groves, hills and fields, / Woods, or steepy mountain yields.” She breathed a little more slowly, as did I.

Go read it all. It is amazing.

Romans Making Pottery in Britain

I am teaching a humanities class this year and next and this story caught my attention.

How the Romans Made Pottery in Britain

“What we’ve learned from the suite of replication events on campus is that the firing technologies evolved to fit the materials,” Chatfield said.

The effort also helps trace the influence and intermingling of cultures, “such as European and indigenous encounters in Peru or the Romans entering Iron Age Britain,” she said.

While making the kiln was a lot more work and used a lot more fuel (wood, rather than the alpaca dung used in the Incan project), temperatures could be controlled more efficiently because the closed kiln was protected from the wind.

With this type of kiln, craft production could be organized more effectively and could also be supervised by one person – the fire won’t rage out of control, endangering the community, and people don’t have to rush in to revive a flagging fire that jeopardizes an even baking. The Romans were efficient, if not artistic.

May also be relevant for Dielli.

Work Direction

I have a full-time job this year. I love my school, my department, and my students. The work is not egregious. The administration is supportive. I am incredibly blessed in what I am doing.

However, as I prepared my request for classes for next semester, I realized that my teaching preferences will have to change. Most English folks are lit people and teaching two comps (or three) is a chore for them.

For me it is more the other way around. I am a comp person and teaching the lits is something so that I’m not teaching four or five of the same courses.

There are only five comp courses: two developmental, two freshman, and one technical writing. That’s it. I don’t really want to teach the lowest developmental. I could do the freshman but I don’t want to do all comps at the freshman level, at least not this next year.

So, instead of teaching two freshman, two sophomore, and two senior level writing classes, I will be teaching two developmental, a Brit lit, and a humanities class. Or perhaps two developmental, a fiction, and a humanities class.

I think the humanities class will be good for me. I think the fiction will be fun as well. And we know I like Brit lit….

So why is this schedule suddenly weighing so heavy on my heart? Because I realized that I won’t ever be teaching writing as my focus again. I will perhaps be able to teach online tech writing occasionally, but most of the time I will be teaching two writing and two lit courses. It’s not undoable, and in fact I am grateful for the opportunity to teach fewer classes in one place. It’s just that I will miss writing.

There’s a lecturer position open on the true other side of town (not the middle) that if it had been offered just a month earlier, I would have been thrilled to apply for. However, it didn’t open up until I withdrew from being an adjunct two weeks before school started because I had a full-time job and I didn’t think I could do that course as well. (I dropped that school two weeks before the fall semester started. I wouldn’t look at me for a full-time job under those circumstances.) The commute would be horrific, but the teaching would have been … in line with what I expected to be doing when I was working on my PhD.

My job is a wonderful one. Even if it isn’t what I was expecting to be doing, it is still a good experience. And I can learn and do new things. I’m glad for that. I can do that. So I am going to keep moving and looking for ways that my life can be a good one, while it is very different from what I expected.

It is possible that I will have an administrative position at my school next year. If I do, it will be a half-time job and I will be writing for it. So I guess it is possible that I am going to be teaching writing and doing work that involves writing instead of what I have listed. That might be interesting. It would be different for sure.

I like to learn and doing that work would help me to see a new aspect of the school.

God, please help me to be smart about what I do and how I do it. Help me to know what it is I should be doing and do it to the best of my ability. Please help me to get it together and get stuff done.

Also, please help me with the publication stuff. Help me get it done and make some progress there.

Conference Politics

I forgot how uncomfortable the presentation of Republicans and half the nation as anti-intellectuals who were evil becomes when you are at a conference.

The speakers assume that everyone is a strongly left liberal. They use “we” and “our” in response to hate of Gingrich and Palin. All about how stupid the people are who believe these things, also including the mainstream media (what are they reading?), it is very frustrating.

It really frustrates me when I am trying to listen to something that has nothing to do with politics.

Sour Grapes

One of the schools I used to adjunct for just put up two full-time positions, with four descriptions. Two of them match me perfectly. But after their bizarre changes in management, I am not sure I would want to return there. Also, though I qualify, I think this is one of those times they would probably not want someone they know.

And, really, I have a job that, while it doesn’t pay great, doesn’t leave me wondering when the ax will fall from managment, even with a one-year “we can fire you any time we have an exigency at all” contract. Unlike the other school which decides willy nilly to change their faculty and lets most of them go. They went from having eight faculty to having two and hiring the provost’s best friend. They let the other six go.

Now they are finding they can’t staff a full English department with those numbers of faculty, even when their 35% tuition hikes have run off a significant portion (1/3) of their students.

They pay well for adjuncts, though. Too bad they don’t have something they need me to teach. Tuesday-Thursday afternoon would give me something to do.

Education for the Poor

Joanne Jacobs says:

We know how to teach black kids – and other disadvantaged students — but we don’t do it, writes John McWhorter in The Root.

Starting in 1968, a huge federal study called Project Follow Through compared different methods of teaching at-risk K-3 children: Direct Instruction (DI), a scripted phonics program using repetition and student participation, worked much better than anything else for all students, but especially low-income black students. DI has continued to work where ever it’s been used, McWhorter writes.

But DI defies the conventional wisdom of education schools, which “keep alive the canard that teaching poor kids to read is an elusive, complex affair requiring a peculiarly intense form of superhuman dedication and an ineffable brand of personal connection with young people,” McWhorter writes. “In a better America, schools that do not use DI to teach kids from poor households should be seen as vaguely criminal. People should point them out as they drive by them, like crack houses.”

Cheating Students

I am never particularly happy about cheating students, but this paragraph from a “shadow scholar, a ghostwriter” of college (undergrad and graduate) work really frustrates me:

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America’s moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

from a Chronicle of Higher Ed article on paying for original papers

Chemistry Books to Read with M

Dr. Joe Schwarcz has written a number of books that are a lot of fun-
The Genie in the Bottle
That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles
Science, Sense, and Nonsense,
and many others.

I’ve used all three in my classes with good success. I’ve also used Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks but some students don’t like the way the footnotes are done in the book and state that it makes it difficult to read (I love the book!).

from the Chronicle of Higher Ed forum

How My Colleagues Think of Christians

In the eyes of some, August fits stereotypical images such as the comic-strip character Zippy the Pinhead. Yet likening my son, and other people who have microcephalic heads, to Zippy is about as relevant as likening African-Americans to blackface caricatures. In the eyes of others, August resembles Terri Schiavo, who, for the secular-educated, triggers the fearful response of “better off dead than disabled.” Many such well-meaning people would like to put an end to August’s suffering, but they do not stop to consider whether he actually is suffering. At times he is uncomfortable, yes, but the only real pain here seems to be the pain of those who cannot bear the thought that people like August exist. For many of those folks, someone with August’s caliber of cognitive and physical disability raises the question of where humanity leaves off and animality begins. But that animal-human divide is spurious, a faulty either-or.

And then there are the Christians, who see in August a child of God. Given the educated alternative I just sketched out, that response seems a relief. Here in the South, they come up and say “God bless!,” to which, depending on the occasion and the person, I sometimes respond, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Do you see what he said? Christians are the opposite of educated.

It’s clear, but generally unstated.

from A Life Beyond Reason

Shaming Teachers Into Good Behavior

Right on the Left Coast talks of the LA Times “identifying good and bad teachers by name.”


RotLC says that if shaming the teachers gets them to make changes, it’s all to the good.

Yes. It is.

But maybe the reason they are looking at making changes is because this is the first time anyone has told them that their students are not doing as well in their classes as other students are doing in other classes.

I didn’t see that the teachers who were called out in a negative way were trying to shift blame. That’s good. I also saw that they were looking for ways to be better. That’s good.

Maybe they just didn’t know there was a problem.

Been there myself.

Not as Good as I Thought

I received my averages for classes for the last three years, as compared to the full-time faculty and the other adjuncts. It is not quite accurate because I have been teaching a new version of the course that whole time and yet the advisors kept letting students who did not belong in.

Despite that caveat, it is still depressing.

I have a lower success rate by 22% than the ft faculty. I have a +.8 GPA in my classes though. How does that work?