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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Progress made...

I think I have a schedule of assignments for the 101 classes that will work. I think. I'm feeling surges of anxiety about it all, largely because I know I'll have to do a fair amount to have assignments to go with the readings, much of which I'll be creating from scratch. I'm working on a plan to have students generate their own review sheets for assignments out of the handbook (that way I don't have to do it--and as "active learning" praxis, it allows the students to focus on what they want to get out of the material, and to "own" it more, as well as helping undo the old high-school "my job is regurgitation" paradigm of learning). I haven't read the pages of the handbook as carefully as I'd like--and I have a no-doubt unrealistic hope that I will manage to go back and reread the pages more carefully, annotating and getting more familiar with the specifics--but at least I know what is covered and why I think it will help the students. So, whew.

I also spent a fair amount of time going through the textbook again (A Forest of Voices--which needs a new edition, as a lot of the readings are getting pretty dated), trying to decide if I could make relatively easy substitutions for some of the readings I'm frankly getting a little tired of. Found one wonderful replacement to assign for the first batch of readings, heading into their first paper (very happy, even excited, about it), another new one that I hope will get some of them worked up (Terry Tempest Williams's "Clan of the One-Breasted Women," about the cancers in her family caused by open-air testing of atomic bombs)--and I am resurrecting a few I haven't taught in a while (which may show me why I haven't taught them in a while). The triple objective was 1) to have stuff that will provoke thought and potentially feed into writing assignments, 2) to shake things up a little for me, so I don't die of the sameness of it all, and 3) to ensure that I have a nice, round number of assignments, which makes the final grade calculations easier.

I look at my own enthusiasm at this stage with a certain cynical slant, however: I know damned well that this carefully constructed schedule will not work in practice as well as it works on paper. Never does. Can't--as it can't account for the vagaries of what happens in the classroom, with the specific bodies (literally and metaphorically) of the students.

I also went through the schedule for the short-story class, and I did find ways to assign more mini-papers. I just think they're a good idea, as a way for students to test-drive their ideas--and as a low-stakes way to find out about my draconian grading. I've found room for six of them: that way I can eliminate the lowest grade and still have a number that works for the grade percentage (which I have yet to figure out, but one thing at a time). I just got the collected short stories of Lorrie Moore, which is wonderful, exciting--but ye gods, it's more to read, and I'm already feeling somewhat frantic about the reading.

But the alarm is about to go off to remind me that I have to go to campus to do placement reading. I'll be on campus tomorrow, doing more of this sort of thing. It will feel good when this is at least nailed down well enough to start with--knowing that everything is subject to change.

Breathing. Breathing is important.

And there's the alarm.....

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