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Showing posts from May, 2015

About the only thing I learned in grad school

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I took a seminar on the English Romantic poets during my first semester in grad school, one taught by a snappily-dressed but rather intimidating professor who often snorted at student responses and seemed somewhat irked by the job of teaching itself.  He knew his stuff, but he had little time for students.  It took about two class periods for him to dragoon the class into a silence that only the most cocksure (or foolhardy) would ever dream to disturb with a comment or question.

It was only later that a more experienced grad student took me aside and put me wise that this professor was in a bitter, long-running feud with the rest of the department.  He had gone to Penn or Brown or one of the Ivies and now here he was tenured and trapped at some cow college in the Midwest. 

But, like I said, he really knew his stuff, which is all it ever it takes for me to stay interested.  It's never mattered to me whether my professors were good teachers or even if I agreed with their critical sta…

Pedagogical Gewgaws

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Some profs have a teaching philosophy that they've developed and refined over the years.  And some--like me--just have a collection of shtick and teaching tchotchkes that seem to work.  Why?  Who knows?  They just do.

So, for posterity, here are two little gimmicks that I used this past semester:

Good Night, Tweet Prince:  When my students read Shakespeare they struggle with the most basic things like keeping straight who's who and what's actually happening in the story.  They also need help with how to cite the text by act, scene and line numbers (the little dears keep citing the page numbers!).  So this spring while we were reading Lear I assigned pairs of students a single character and had them Tweet eight status updates from the character over the course of the play.  Each update had to summarize what the character was thinking or feeling and cite the act, scene and line numbers on which the summary was based.  In-class I had the pairs share their updates with each ot…

Contra Montage

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You know the scene. It's familiar enough to have become a cinematic cliché.  The screw-up has to dig deep down to pass the big test or master some difficult skill. So the voice-track drops out, the music swells and hours of study or practice turns into 60 seconds depicting the Karate Kid learning Kung Fu, or sorority girl Elle Wood mastering the arcana of complex legal theory.  In Groundhog's Day Bill Murray manages to pick-up French and jazz piano in under a minute of screen time.  

Whenever I see a "learning montage" in a film, I think: Wow, my job is just too boring for film.  The acquisition of knowledge may be needed for the plot, but actually showing someone learning would only impede the action.  And this is pretty much how most of my students think about education.  They know it's necessary, but it's only a prelude to getting to the good parts of their life story.

Just once I would like someone to make a film that showed the real process of learning…

If nature be thus cautious to preserve...

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I didn't catch a satisfying amount of fish on my end-of-the semester trip this year.  Couldn't get my head in the right place for some reason.  Took eight dumb hatchery trout out of a stocked stream on the first day and then struggled for the rest of the week.  It wasn't until my final few hours on the water that I began to feel in tune with what I was doing.

I spent  the better part of last Thursday morning at French Creek, a catch and release stream restricted to artificial lures.  Nothing was rising so I ended up drifting an assortment of nymphs past some snotty trout.  By 9:00 am, the weather began to cooperate and the sun went behind some thin clouds--just enough to make the day seem a bit more promising.  Even so, only one over-anxious nine-inch Brown came out to play.

When the fishing is bad you have to find your solace elsewhere.  I watched a bald eagle tending its young in a huge nest, saw some wild turkeys and even came face to face with a mink, who stared trucu…