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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chip, chip, chip

I'm in the office today, between and after "instant scoring" sessions of placement essay reading. (Students are applying and testing at the last minute, so they wait to get their test scores while we read, so they can register immediately. Ironically, one of the topics is whether the student believes in the validity of the cliche "haste makes waste.") One nice moment in this morning's reading session: a student wrote about how he wants to major in environmental science, his love of nature and the outdoors, and all the exciting career possibilities that he sees arising from that major. It was a decent essay--he got placed into 101--so I found him in the hall and made a pitch for my 101: might as well have at least one student who is there because the subject matter is appealing to him. (I could advertise my sections as theme based, but there are reasons why I don't. Among those reasons is that, unfortunately, given issues of timing in terms of when we get our schedules versus when courses are available for enrollment, it isn't possible for me to note the theme on the description for my sections--unless I also restrict enrollment, and I don't want to do that, for reasons I won't get into here.) Anyway, only one of my sections still has seats available (though students may still get disenrolled for non-payment of tuition, so the rosters aren't cast in stone just yet), but I'm hoping this student will make the effort to get himself into that section. We'll see.

I had a good time between placement sessions working on my 101 syllabi--not the assignment schedule just yet (that will be a complication for another day) but reworking the course description, some of the rules and regs, putting in the info about the new style guide, that sort of thing. Looking through the style guide, I realized that it does not contain info that was in the old one, something I will miss having handy: a little how-to about setting up a document on one's computer. That in turn made me think that it might be worth spending a class in a computer lab so students can learn all that stuff hands-on. Some won't need it, but a surprising number do. (For this generation, the generalization is that they are incredibly tech savvy when it comes to entertainment and social networking but completely clue-free when it comes to applications such as word processing or spreadsheets--you know, the stuff they might actually have to use in their academic, not to mention professional, lives.) I've contacted our tech guru about scheduling a period for each section in the lab: idea in the process of becoming a reality.

I also am working (still) on about a million ideas I've had over the past year about how to help students approach writing, trying to translate those into assignments, or adjustments to assignments. I feel a little like the students right now: I know what my assignment is (construct this semester's syllabus and accompanying assignments), but there are a lot of questions I need to answer before I can start doing it....

And I'm gradually chipping away at the short story volume, making determinations about which stories to assign. Another realization: some of the stories I most want to teach are not included (especially now that Ed shared some Lorrie Moore stories with me when we were on our travels: I absolutely must include something of hers, and I don't think she's in the anthology I chose). I will certainly be handing some stories out in photocopied form, or seeing if I can find online links to them so the students can download them on their own. And I begin to feel it may, after all, be easier to teach the course thematically instead of chronologically. (Doing so will also help the students think about theme, which is always difficult.)

But thinking about that class, as the start of the semester approaches and I see the enrollment holding steady at a full section, I am uneasily aware that a fair number of the students are likely to have signed up because of the words "short story"--emphasis on "short," which they no doubt think means "under five pages and easy." Hmmmm. Well, it will be interesting to see how early the attrition sets in, and how severe it becomes. But again, as with 101, I still have more questions than I do answers about how I'm ultimately going to put all this together.

I've got a little more time here to noodle around with stuff before I feed myself and head to dance class. Since I have some momentum going, I'll take advantage: it's rare for me to feel momentum without accompanying anxiety (or downright panic), so in the interest of taking better care of my adrenal glands, I'll get back to the noodling.

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