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Showing posts from September, 2011

Five Minutes or Forty to Life

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The students turned in their first portfolio papers last night in the senior capstone. This is the assignment in which they analyze their college education for significance and meaning. They were to have organized all of their courses into categories (core, major, electives) and cross-referenced them on a grid listing various learning methods: lecture, seminar, discussion, journaling, lab/experiment, group project, etc. They also had to select the most significant courses and write a brief narrative about them. Lastly, they had to analyze the grid and narratives for a pattern.

There's a little exercise I like to do before they hand in the paper.  I show them two brief videos (shown above).  In one, the comedian Don Novello does a routine called the Five Minute University.  It's a funny bit.  For $20 bucks he can teach you in five minutes about all you will remember ten years after college. 

The other video is a news segment about inmates in a maximum security prison studying tr…

Back on the Wheel

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I hate grading and I think most of my colleagues do as well. Grading is the place where your idealism about teaching meets the reality of the job.   Moreover, to commit yourself to grading well (i.e., fair, regular, thorough, helpful and consistent grading) is to make a whole hell of a lot of work for yourself.  And much of it is, frankly, tedious. 

I have heard all about the shortcuts of grading rubrics and check sheets (I even use them), but nothing beats some personalized response.  The students wrote something for me to read and I should let them know I actually did read it. 

I am sitting here in my office.  It's the second week of classes and already I have 60 odd papers to grade.  The next three months will be a non-stop hamster wheel ride of due dates, papers, revisions, new due dates, papers, revisions...   It won't stop spinning until December.  

Just now, to put off grading for a few more minutes, I did a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation.  By the second week in…

Just in from Siberia

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Sometimes it's the small things you like about teaching.  I started a night course last Monday evening at the local Guard base.  Went through all the first night routine: course goals, grading standards, policies, pet peeves, due dates.  The room they assigned me is cavernous.  It must be twenty-five feet wide by sixty-feet deep.  You could hard whip a Frisbee to the back row.  

Okay, so the first night a guy walks in and makes a beeline for the seat farthest from me.  No surprise.  That's what some students do.  The dimensions of the room, of course, make his action seem a bit pointed, but I don't say anything. 

Then, Wednesday night, we start discussing The Apology.  I distribute four broad questions on the dialog and have the students do twenty-five minutes of in-class writing.  Afterwards, they break into four groups to discuss what they have written.  I make sure that the guy out on the Siberian rim of the classroom has to relocate to a group that's placed righ…

New Wineskins, Same-old Rotgut

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For the past ten years I have taught the senior capstone either twice a week in 80-minute sessions or at nights with a leisurely two and a half hours in which to fit all of my familiar gimmicks.  This semester, however, and for reasons too complicated to go into, I am teaching a single section in the three times a week 50 minute version.

Talk about messing with a man's timing!  Senior capstone is a course I could teach backward, upside down or in Pig Latin, and without missing a beat.  But simply repackage it into smaller boxes and I'm a stumble-bum.  I have no feel for how long anything will take.  Worse, I feel like I am constantly rushing.

In fact, everything about this new semester seems disorienting.  I had to change offices over the summer.  Before I was so tucked away in an empty corner of the college that colleagues rarely dropped by and my students needed a topographical map to find me.  Now I'm on a well-traveled hallway and find that all manner of people stop to c…