Archive for January, 2011

Writing in what?

Monday, January 31st, 2011

My students are working on peer review today and my first class just completed it. This class is probably the most like 120 students I have. (My 2pm class is much more theoretical and frankly better writers on average, though I do hate saying that one class is ‘better” that another. 2pm just has had way more experience as writers than 12pm.) I noticed this the first time when they commented on how “nervous” they were about taking a writing class. They talked about how many of them have never done much “academic writing” and the writing they have done are small assignments that are comparable to summaries. (They are pretty adept at summarizing material through writing.) But they are quite afraid of larger writing assignments that ask for analysis, evaluation, and at times even reflection. I have them do a lot of “reflective” writing at the start of class or at the end (like today after peer review) and I think they are getting more comfortable at that. They also had a reflective writing portion for an upcoming assignment where they reflected on genres they will someday be writing in their field.

Still, it saddens/disturbs/sometimes infuriates me how writing is left up to English professors. Granted, it makes sure many of us have jobs in our field since more students than ever are attending college and needing writing instruction. But how can one English professor solve all the writing woes of 22 students in a period of 16 weeks? Answer is, of course, that one professor can’t solve all the writing woes, but that professor can help them learn what those problems and errors in language are and help them strategize ways to improve those faults in writing. One of these ways is through peer review, as well as through student-instructor conferences, classroom lectures/activities on good writing, and commenting on papers.

But the students also have to be involved and dedicated to this process as well and I’m finding that difficult in working with a certain group of majors. I talked to a colleague about this unnamed group of majors, and he said the same thing–they were the most difficult group for him to teach. Not because they were poor students (they are actually good workers in class) or because they didn’t want to learn (they all take good notes in class, which is fun for me to see), but because they just seem so scared of writing.

I am hoping the reflections they write in class (I make them write daily), the response essays they write (four during this semester), the description and reflection of each genre, and the other more challenging writing assignments they are doing this semester will help them at least feel more comfortable with writing and improve their writing abilities. Most of them are decent writers–the biggest fault so far has been in their syntax and I actually have recently found a great activity for helping them understand correct syntax. (I did see one example today where the writing was just vague all around in terms of a response essay, but I am considering this an isolated incident.) But my main point of all of this is that we need more inclusion of WAC and WID in the university system and we also need a university community that is committed to the goals set forth in WAC/WID. I would be more than happy to be a writing tutor in a classroom devoted to writing in a particular discipline in exchange for one course release a semester, for example. (Or perhaps without it, but I think in regards to time management, that might get tough. This semester has doubled the workload of last, which really wasn’t a shock to me.) But I think we need to think about WAC and WID a little more seriously, or at least get the word out more and educate faculty outside of English on these matters because I don’t see this being done to the degree that it should be. Though I realize WAC/WID attention isn’t the only solution to this problem, I know it could serve as a start.

Yes, there is so much work to be done.

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Research!

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I finally know where all my research is going and I feel truly, truly excited about this. That dissertation precept isn’t that far out of reach and this idea makes me so happy that I could cry.

What is it? Here are a couple of hints: http://www.amazon.com/MODERN-WEIRD-TALE-Critique-Fiction/dp/078640986X/ref=pd_luc_sbs_00_02_t_lh

and

http://www.amazon.com/American-Supernatural-Tales-Penguin-Classics/dp/0143105043

STEM and the humanities

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Quick Post:

Since Obama has declared that more attention and better work will be done in regards to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), one wonders what will happen to a world that does not place equal weight on rhetoric, ethics, and the humanities in general. In such a world, I imagine people would do things simply to do them, to get them done, with little thought or reason behind them. How would people view humanity in such a world?

It is a scary thought and one I’ve been pondering for the last couple days.

Then I thought maybe we are already in such a world, or in the very beginnings of it. Frightening and isolating.

Do I sense a dissertation topic?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

In trying to further understand the hybridity between teaching writing and teaching literature and how the two can help each other out (in more ways than what is just obvious), I received this book in the mail yesterday:

http://www.heinemann.com/products/0363.aspx

When Writing Teachers Teach Literature, a collection of scholarly essays on writing pedagogy and literature pedagogy and how these two can be brought together by Art Young and Toby Fulwiler. (FYI: You can get a cheaper version by using bookfinder.com.) I haven’t done much more than glance through the content list, but it looks beneficial for me, particularly at the end when the essays discuss how we can bring these two fields together and strengthen our teaching.

For years, literature teachers who teach writing have always said that “reading good writing helps bring about good writing.” I think this is a very true argument, but a. I don’t think it is argued or implemented as well as it could be and b. there is just more to this story. With post-process, ideas in posthumanism, new media, and other technologies, writing is becoming an advanced, if not transforming, art form. Literature (in terms of reading it, understanding it, evaluating and analyzing it), I think, can help writing in this sense. For example, if we can deconstruct a work of literature, we can better deconstruct writing to evaluate its process and form and even create new genres and break the rules of existing ones. (Once you know the rules, you an break them, without too much alteration of the meaning.) Though literature is essentially static, and perhaps that is why it is not valued so much today, it can still help us to better understand ethical principles, human principles, and writing and its processes. (I bolded this because I think I am onto something here and I don’t want to forget it. 😉 )

Around here, people feel that integrating knowledge and ideas is not happening as well as it could be happening in student writing. While yes, I think this is true, I also think we understand how to integrate knowledge and ideas far too well so when we look at student writing that does it, we have a tendency to mark it lower than it should be during assessment and in our own grading. But I also think integrating ideas and knowledge in writing can be improved by having students read literature, look at popular forms of art (music to name one), do creative assignments, and overall use creative thinking in the classroom and in their approach to assignments (as well as in our approach to assignments–but that is a different argument, somewhat). Either way, I may be sniffing out a dissertation topic in this. I don’t know. I did tell Dr. Sassi that I imagine this paper/project I am working on in her class as a “literature review” so that I can start to get a feel for what is already out there.

There is a lot happening out here in academia. I promise.

But I’m excited to start to read this book.

Post on Problem solving for/in the humanities

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

http://www.alex-reid.net/2011/01/building-a-platform-for-humanistic-problem-solving.html

An open door here that we all should start to walk through.

A good way to introduce how genre is culturally constructed

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Yesterday’s lesson plan for my 358 English class revolved around the idea of how genre is culturally constructed. For my own notes (and for those of you who are interested) here is my lesson plan.

First, start out by discussing the following:

Genre: Ask students what genres they know (make sure you mention they can discuss genres in music and movies.)  From this, ask them what signifies to them a particular genre out of those mentioned. In other words, what are the parts that the genre is composed of. Discuss their answers and elaborate when necessary for a few minutes. (Yes, this sounds like a recipe, but it works.)

Give them the following information in mini-lecture format: According to the composition scholar, Carolyn Miller, Genre is defined as “repeated meaningful action.” In other words, genre is dependent upon the following

1. The culture that produced the genre

2. The conventions of that genre as appropriated by the culture and

3. The action or activity the genre introduces or creates.

(Feel free to give examples of the three things above. For example, I used the genre of memo and its role in larger corporations and technology.)

After mini lecture, show the following videos of the song summertime. (I don’t have the link to Janis Joplin’s version, but I played that after the Sam Cooke version for the 2pm class and it went very well.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWFJLUBwpSY&feature=related

sam cooke version of summer time (1957)

sublime Doin’ Time (present day)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gc2o0tT6j0

As them the following after each video: What genre of music is it? How do you know? (and give specific evidence for how you know this).

For subsequent videos, talk about how the lyrics and perhaps meaning of the song has changed because of society and culture. Make sure to write what they say on the board and feel free to diagram any interesting things you noticed and they noticed.

Overall, I feel students learned how genre changes because of the culture and society through this exercise. Good luck if you choose to use it. For me, it went well.

 

 

How Jessica spends her Saturdays

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

I was planning to go out last night (Friday night), but didn’t. Probably an all right change of plans because I was exhausted from the week. (I slept a total of 11 hours and went to bed at nine because I honestly could not read anymore.)

So how did I spend my Saturday? (You probably aren’t asking this, but I’m telling you):

Fun

  • I went shopping and purchased three new skirts in hopes that the weather warms up soon
  • I drank a lot of tea. In fact, the only binge drinking I have been doing since this semester started is binge drinking tea.
  • I made very lutheranized coffee. (maybe not fun, but whatever.)
  • I wasted time watching Hulu

School/productivity

  • Graded the first assignments for my students and posted the grades to Blackboard and my excel gradebook spreadsheet
  • Wrote lesson plans for this upcoming week (I only had to do some minor edits on Monday and Wednesday and write all of Friday’s. By the way, teaching my 2pm class on Friday is like pulling teeth, as my mother would say. No one, of course, wants to talk. I, of course, am boring. Teaching on a Friday afternoon is always a test of will.)
  • Wrote a sample response to Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience in the act of writing with my students
  • Started re-reading Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (note these are not in order and the idea I wanted to respond to came in the early part of the work. Plus, I’ve read this before. Don’t judge. You know you do it too if you teach.)
  • Started reading for English 759. I totally love reading for History of Writing Instruction. I love history. I love writing. I love instruction. It can’t get much better. We even got to draw pictures on the first day (and of course it had a purpose).

What I didn’t do that I probably could have done:

  • Cleaned something (beside my dirty dishes. By the way, my room is already very clean. I’m very organized and a neat freak.)
  • Started by reading for English 659. (I love the class, but I hate reading that textbook even though I understand why we need to read the textbook. It is best left for reference, honestly. But I will start this tomorrow.)
  • Watched Netflix.
  • Read for pleasure (I usually do this before bed.)

What I do know:

This weekend is going to go by way too fast. Goodbye, Saturday. Soon to be hello, Sunday. (and hopefully hello warmer weather.)

The humanistic approach

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

When there is a lack or absence of funding for higher education, it concerns me. I know I’ve discussed my distaste for lawmakers in the classroom here, but only when it comes to how one should approach teaching, now how one should approach funding a university system and why that should be done.

The legislature in Minnesota has recently revoked six billion in funds to Minnesota institutions of higher education. This has caused a crisis for MN universities, many of which were already faced with budget cuts and financial worries.

I see a problem with a society that refuses to look toward and fund the future and remains focused entirely on the present and the wallets of those who seem important at the time. When I look at my students in the classroom, I don’t see people who don’t care about their own education. I see people who are scared the skills and talents they possess won’t be valued or encouraged by the supposed “real world.” I see people who are invested in their learning—financially, intellectually and at times emotionally—and do want to learn, despite the discussion that no one cares about learning anymore and only want a college degree.

For example, my students this semester in their recent assignments showed how much they care about their majors by using them as lenses to understand the concept of freedom. A student in my class had commented on how she could tell who majored in what just by their answers. I found this statement to be incredibly hopeful, one that spoke toward their actual learning.

A society and culture that no longer places real value in the humanities and arts in education is not only saddening to me, but also exhibits a dangerous level of thinking. We need the scientists, economists, politicians, engineers, computer scientists, and pharmacists, but we also need people who do these jobs to absolutely believe in the concepts of humanism and can apply creative thinking, a sense of humanity, and critical thinking to their jobs and lives. A society that does not value the humanities and arts also does not completely value the human nature and creativity within themselves.

The argument for the humanities/arts and for higher education is not only a logical one, it is also creative, explorative, humanistic, futuristic, and technological one. As technology continues to grow, we will continue to need people to think creatively and humanely. Practicality and technology alone only gets you so far. You need more than that for a society to run on even intellectual grounding.

Don’t let one bad apple spoil them all

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

The first assignment was due today and it went really well. I had each student introduce their definition of freedom (I had them do a simple google search and then asked them to respond to that definition they found and either alter it or expand on it in some way, or even critique the definition). Though many students chose a similar sounding definition, their interpretations varied greatly and the discussion that I organized for the time after everyone presented went very well. Most students responded very positively to the assignment, so this is definitely something I will do again.

Still, I had two students not turn in an assignment. The first excuse was “I wasn’t here on Friday.” The second excuse was much more dramatic and would be what I would term a “human interest story.” I won’t go into specifics, but I am certain he was lying. My response to his emailed human interest story was simply stating that he can email the assignment, and should, as soon as possible. He will still receive a deduction in grade for not being in class (after all, presenting the definition was part of the assignment), but he should at least make some effort to turn it in, at the very least, which he didn’t try very hard to do.

So it goes, as Vonnegut would say.

Just remember if you teach, don’t focus on the one person who tries to make your teaching life miserable. Focus on all the exceptional students who gave wonderful responses and participated in an amazing discussion today.

Lawmakers need to stay out of classroom

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I understand that politicians exist to help in maintaining what is a good about a nation or state and improving what needs to be made better. But when it comes to education, I feel they need to stay out of the classroom.

Take for example what is going on in Miami-Dade county in Florida. Students were “automatically registered” for e-learning labs because of a new amendment in FL aimed at reducing class sizes. Now, I think reducing class size is a good idea. As a teacher, reduced class size means I can give individual attention to each student without too much stress or constraints on my time. After all, one person can only do so much on a given day. But having people outside of the school enforce these rules is a bit ridiculous, not to mention counter productive. Lawmakers are not the ones in the classroom, teachers are. I think decisions like these need to be made at the individual public school level, with the work and support of teachers, administration, parents and students. You can read more of what I am talking about here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/education/18classrooms.html?_r=1&hpw

A similar problem consists in lawmakers deciding to have a certain percentage (I forget exactly what percentage) of degree programs completely online by 2015. When I first heard about this, my argument was “we as teachers and administrators can’t be ready by then” and I still partially feel this way. But I also think that the view many students hold toward online learning is incorrect. Here are some common myths I have heard about online education:

  1. Online learning is “easier.”
  2. Online learning can always be done at a student’s own pace
  3. Online learning is more convenient.

If I had to pick the top three myths, these would be it. There are probably others you may be thinking of, if you have encountered these as an online instructor or just overheard comments about online learning and teaching, but these three are always the ones I find repeated.

First, online learning is not easier. Oftentimes, the instructor is seen only as a “facilitator” of information, and this is particularly true for the for-profit “educators.” Further, a student is expected to be self-motivated enough to get the work done on time without too much aid from the instructor. Because you do not meet in a brick and mortar classroom on a regular basis, you don’t receive that regular interaction from the teacher nor is it always easy to find a place to receive extra help. Online tutoring and online writing facilities, at this moment, can only take you so far. I know more advanced online tutoring exists, but many of these are not yet connected to public or private schools or universities. Not all communities have Sylvan and other learning centers.Sometimes we are not yet ready to meet the demand required nor always have the full understanding of the technology to keep it running as efficiently as it could be.

Secondly, online learning does not mean you always get to work at your own pace. Yes, I have completed “courses” where I could work at my own pace, but there were always deadlines for assignments and modules to be completed. And I do realize you are able to work on your homework whenever it is convenient for you, but you can also do that in the traditional university setting, for the most part.

Third, online learning is not necessarily more convenient, an idea also discussed above. For instance, you don’t have the option (in all cases) of listening to a lecture. Instead, you are to learn that material on your own, in whatever fashion is given or in whatever way you find necessary or best for you at that time. Sure, many online schools do offer “online chat sessions” and recorded lectures, but this is not always done. As a student and as a teacher, we also need to realize there is only so much we can do online to facilitate (I am using that word again) learning. And online, group work is one of the most difficult elements of teaching to organize. Some students don’t show up, others are unengaged in it, and most students don’t see online group work to be very helpful to them as learners because group work has not yet found a way to work well online. Teachers in the traditional classroom even have problems with group work, so the problems of group work online are even more insurmountable.

I know this discussion of the problems has been quick, but I feel I have covered the “biggies” I have encountered as an online educator. There are other problems out there and problems and solutions will continue as we further think about and refine the concept of online education, or e-learning. I hope we are ready to take on this task as completely as we need to.