Archive for March, 2013

Brief Update on Blog Assignment + Changes

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

I am officially on spring break, though of course still working. Before I left for a trip out of town, I finished grading the blog assignments from my English 320 Business and Professional Writing students. Overall, I was pleased with the work they did. To review, I’ll note the strong aspects of this assignment and what I plan to improve for when I teach it again.

The Good
I was impressed with some of the blogs. So far, this has been some of the strongest writing I have seen all semester. In some ways, I probably should not be surprised. Many of these students are very passionate and knowledgeable about their chosen disciplines and so they will often bring up these seemingly obscure facts about their fields. They will note the overlooked aspects of what their field does. They will get really into discussing why their field is relevant to society as a whole. They will do great jobs with the “so what” portion of the assignment.

I was also surprised by how well many of them created ethical arguments in their fields. While not all did a great job at analyzing each ethical argument, they all chose one and made fairly good arguments towards that ethical issue. I was very happy with these as a whole.

To be Improved
As always, analysis suffered. I received a lot of summary about articles they were to analyze. Also, some analyses of articles sounded more like reviews of articles. This is a problem others who have taught this assignment have had as well. As of now, and mainly because of time, I will not give any solutions for this, but do not think I do not have any solutions in mind.

I am going to change Blog #1, where they describe their field to an outside audience. I noticed here I had two instances of blatant plagiarism. Now, I understand online we see a TON of plagiarism. Students are incredibly familiar (as am I) with Wikipedia and often Wikipedia articles are plagiarized version of other websites that are often plagiarized versions of other sources. so this all becomes a link from one plagiarized article to another. People have asked how do we talk to students about this? The only answer I have is that we need to explicitly state, OK, I know this happens online, but we are in the context of school and academic discourse right now where such behavior is not acceptable. Please rewrite.

But back to changes to Blog #1. Because of this problem, I have decided to revise it slightly and ask students to link back to influences that directed them to their fields of study. In other words, what led them to this chosen discipline? What influences worked together to get them to choose this major?

I may ask more than that, but that is what I have in mind right now. For example, I started off my college career as a History and Political Science major. I’ve got a great memory, so History was not difficult for me and I really like reading about the past. But later I learned it wasn’t for me because 1. I could never picture myself teaching it, though arguably every now and then my history background does show up in my skills as a teacher. How could it not? and 2. I really couldn’t imagine myself as a history scholar. It was hard. I was a creative writer, and still am, at the time and I really enjoyed writing. I enjoyed writing anything and I was, and still am to a degree, highly prolific as a writer. It was this, and some push and shove from a Composition instructor and a roommate that caused me to change my major to English.

And now here I am.

So I would really love to read about how they got to their major along with their descriptions of what that major does for society. I think by adding that piece, while I am sure I will still see plagiarism, I would have people think more deeply about what led them to their present fields.

Perhaps that “answer” is a bit too brief, and too simplistic, and in some ways I think this is true. But it is a start, you all. It is a start. And some days that is the most and best we can ask for.

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Monday, March 11th, 2013

A recent article about teachers as being the targets of bullying from students.

Schools of Thought

By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN

(CNN) Several years ago, Brendesha Tynes was taken aback when she received an e-mail from one of her former students.

The note directed her to a Facebook event for an all-night bar crawl an event with which Tynes, an assistant professor at the time, had nothing to do. But it featured an offensive image and listed Tynes as the host; another former student had set it up.

As an educator and researcher, Tynes had spent years looking into cyberbullying. Now, she was a victim.

Tynes said she was prepared to tackle the eye rolls and sharp tongues that can come with molding young minds, but being publicly humiliated by a student wasn’t in her lesson plan.

Reports from teachers say her case isn’t an anomaly. A 2011 study, “Understanding and Preventing Violence Directed Against Teachers,” reported 80% of about 3,000 K-12 teachers surveyed…

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8 talks about learning from failure

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Today I had a few students come to conferences talking about their “struggles” in learning how to do new things. And frankly, I was happy hearing this. For one, it shows that they are working hard at what they are doing. If you don’t struggle, what do you learn? If things come easy to you, what do you learn from that? I don’t think you would learn much. And even downright failure, which I know some of these students have felt at one time or another during this semester, is a learning opportunity. In that spirit, here are 8 TED talks about learning from failure. I think good lessons are inherent within each one.

TED Blog

Allan SavoryAllan Savory isn’t afraid to own up to the “greatest blunder” of his life. In his incredible talk from TED2013, Savory shares his life’s work managing grasslands in Africa, weaving a gripping tale out of what seems like an unlikely topic. [ted_talkteaser id=1683] In the 1950s, Savory helped create large national parks in Africa. But as people left this land to make way for animal reserves, Savory and his team noticed the land deteriorating and quickly turning into desert. After careful analysis, they determined that the problem was an over-abundance of elephants. And so in a politically heated move, they shot 40,000 elephants in order to save the grasslands.

Only, it didn’t work. Even with all these elephants killed, the grassland deterioration only got worse. In a powerful moment in the talk, Savory expresses his dismay.

“That was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life,” he said. “I will…

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Students and bullying

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Today I led a meeting for fellow English 358 instructors at my university regarding our classes, where we should go from here, and so forth. Since I am a person who likes to make plans, and who desperately wishes it was possible to create a solid ten-year plan that would without a doubt become reality, I don’t mind meetings or committee work. I mostly dig it and I always learn a lot from it.

At the end of the meeting today, bullying behavior from students was brought up. As teachers, we deal with bullying students probably more than is reasonable. One individual at our meeting today suggested that she thinks bullying has gotten worse between teachers and students, just as how it has gotten worse between students themselves. In fact, it is hard to find a news day that doesn’t mention bullying.

You may be asking what types of bullying behaviors we, as teachers, have received from students. I think there is a lot of answers to this, but the one that is most prominent centers on students bullying teachers for better grades. Here are some things I have encountered as a teacher from students who want better grades without any actual extra effort, or show other bullying behaviors:

  • Passive Aggressive emails about how they uploaded the assignment correctly, mistyped the email address, or did some other error that isn’t really any fault of theirs, even though it is, and so they should not get a grade decrease for a late assignment. 
  • Students who use whatever authority they can think of against you in efforts for a better grade or to make up for absences.
  • Students who tell you sob stories or other information in order to excuse them from class. If they get away with this once, it usually gets to be unreasonable, I have learned.
  • Students who will come to your office hours continually in hopes you will eventually “give in” and give them a better grade.
  • Students who turn in medical excuses that are not from the recent semester in hopes you will raise their grade on an assignment or in a class.
  • Students who turn in a revision, but don’t do all the required work for it, and expect a higher grade. When the higher grade does not appear, then they do whatever they can to “get back” at you. This can include poor SROI scores (yes, we sometimes can tell, but grades have already been posted), unreasonable complaints online toward the teacher, and passive aggressive behavior inside and outside of class.

I know I used second person in that list, but I am sure other teachers who read this can relate. Plus, I want you, as the reader, to try to understand a bit more where we, as teachers, are coming from. For example, in a simple google search, I could find some  information about “students who bully teachers.” I could, however, find a lot more information regarding “teachers as bullies.” 

This quick and simple google search tells me we, as teachers, need to work on creating a better discourse around dealing with students who bully for better grades, higher performance assessments, and more lenient deadlines in our classes. During the meeting for fellow instructors today, we decided having a “brown bag seminar” may be a good way to discuss strategies for dealing with bullying behaviors from students. Some strategies I already use include the following:

  • Requiring a memo for a revised assignments that details the revisions made, why those revisions were made, along with a previous grade the student received for the assignment. I also ask my students include the original assignment with the rubric and comments I left. 
  • Use policies from my syllabus, such as behavioral policies and other course expectations, as ways to rhetorically approach and combat these behaviors. I’ve noticed students are less likely to argue with syllabus policies that are in print and in front of them. Sometimes it actually helps if you make them read it to you.
  • I do my best to keep written documentation of EVERYTHING. This includes rubrics, attendance sign in sheets, passive aggressive emails I receive from students. The whole works. I keep these records for at least one academic year, just in case a student does come back to complain about a grade the next semester.

Even with this, I have not completely solved the problem. I doubt I ever will. In fact, it seems that parents today are more or less raising a generation of negotiators, according to this article documenting letters to the Tooth Fairy. While that article may seem cute and funny, I think there is a ring of truth to it. In fact, I think teachers like me are already dealing with this kind of negotiating behavior. I won’t argue knowing how to negotiate is bad, but there is a time and place for it. Negotiating over grades, issues of attendance, a lack of engagement in class, and other poor student behavior is not appropriate nor does it look promising for an individual who is soon to enter the professional workplace.