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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.


Hi! And you are...?

My readership has suddenly blossomed, which is a lovely development--but I don't know who is reading the blog, how you found it, and why you find it interesting. I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the "comment" box at the end of any particular post to let me know what brought you to this page--and what keeps you coming back for more (if you do).

Not you, Barry. You already told me--and thanks!






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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Change of plan

I decided not to go in to campus today, opting to work on the online Nature in Lit instead of on photocopies for my classes. Part of the decision was sheer laziness, but part of it was the sense that I will feel better, psychologically, if I at least dip my toes back into the online course, get a sense for what I have and haven't done, and what I want to do. I will say, there is a truly daunting amount of work to be done, and not just scut work either, but real thinking. If it were just cut-and-paste organizing, that would be challenging enough (making sure all the right links are in the right places and so on), but I actually have to write out some ideas I want students to consider as they read, provide the kind of guidance that would normally arise out of my responses to whatever they bring in to class. I did a little of that kind of written guidance for the SF class this fall (and god, do I ever hope it works), but this is a bit more complex--because the students in the Nature in Lit class will be reading something new/different almost every week (instead of an entire book taking up several weeks of class time). So--leaving out the first and final weeks, when no reading will take place--that means 13 written "lectures." I have to decide what I'm going to have them read first; then I have to figure out what I want them to notice in particular as they read, or what background I think will help them, or (usually) some combination of the two.

I also feel compelled to provide images for each week's reading, something to lighten up what is otherwise very text heavy (and daunting for students who aren't used to doing a lot of reading). And--in terms of the overwhelming aspect of text itself--I am compelled to keep my "lectures" as brief as possible while providing at least the big landmarks (as it were). Searching for images is actually pretty fun; the challenge is getting any kind of reasonable information about the images to provide as photo credit. I can always say where I found the image, but sometimes the place where I found it doesn't bother to mention where the poster found it. For instance, I found a very nice print of the streets of Philadelphia in the 18th century--and no clue about the artist, when it was made, what collection owns it: nada. I'm trying to set a good example for my students by always giving credit for the stuff I find elsewhere (something I do not do, I have to admit, when I'm on Facebook--or even in this blog). It's all too easy even for me to fall into the "it's on the web so it's public property" thing.

No wonder students struggle with understanding plagiarism these days: they're used to treating everything on the web as belonging to any and everyone. Makes me realize I need to spend more time talking with them about why we can't get away with that sort of common use in academic settings. The main point is to get them to understand that it's important for them to actually do something with their own brains: to originate material, not rely on someone else's brain to do all the work. I think that may be a more challenging concept than it seems to someone on my side of trenches.

Be that as it may. I realize that I have run out of gas for more work on anything today. I did change the syllabi for this fall's classes--again (adding the technological requirements for what word processing software will work for them--and letting them know they can't do all their work on their phones but actually have to use a computer every now and then)--but my mental channels have all silted up for the moment, so I'm going to call a halt to the proceedings for today. I don't know if I'll get any work done tomorrow, or when I'll next be productive in terms of my actual job. (I will certainly be productive in other areas of my life, including enjoyment.) But whenever I'm back at it, you'll be sure to know.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Progress is made...

Well, Cathy and I got as far as we could with the adjunct schedules. There are two classes we don't have staffed; we're waiting to hear back from an adjunct on one of them, and the other is newly created, so at the moment it doesn't have enough students in it to run, though chances are very good that it will. We think we have an if/then contingency place if it does run. We also did as much as we could to protect full-time schedules, but there are a couple that leave us praying for a sudden surge in enrollment: whatever if/then scenarios we have planned will be complicated to implement, and that's putting it very mildly. But we can't really do more until we see what happens to enrollment over the weekend. It really is frustrating that we have to pull the trigger so soon, when we know--absolutely know--that students will be scrambling for classes right up through the first week in September, and if we close sections that are running light now, those students won't have any place to go.

The other problem is room: actual, physical space in which to hold the classes. As soon as we cancel something, the room disappears--unless we have something else to immediately slot into the space. Well, "disappears" as in another department in equally desperate circumstances grabs it. It is the Oklahoma land rush out there.

And I did start printing and organizing files for my classes. The only handout I can think of that I haven't yet worked on at all is the final essay for the SF class, but I'm going to let that dangle for a little while. I'm pretty sure I have everything else worked out. (Whether I'll still like it when it comes time to use it is a different question.) Also, after printing the same thing about 40 times and then being unsure which was the most up-to-date version, I decided that I would start adding a footer to that kind of document, so I can see at a glance which version is the most recent. I probably should add such footers to everything. Not only will it help me be certain that I am using the latest version, it will let me see when something has been languishing without reconsideration or fine-tuning for a long while and probably could use to be revisited.

I'm going through my usual thing of feeling somewhat baffled by the fact that I'm not running around like my hair is on fire. It seems like I should have to be getting ready to dash off to go somewhere, do something, but nope. There certainly is plenty of work I could be doing (getting some licks in on that online Nature in Lit, for instance), but I'm going to call a halt to work-type proceedings today. I'm still getting my body used to the early to rise (if not early to bed) routine, and since I had a spell of serious insomnia last week, I'm still a bit behind on the whole "rested and ready" part. I will, therefore, pick stuff up off the floor, then make sure I have all my toys and head home.

Strictly speaking, I don't have to come in tomorrow--but I probably will, to start making photocopies of handouts if nothing else. Of course, I still don't know how many handouts to make for the SF class or for the late-day 101, but the other 101 is full to capacity (ka-boom, like that, from yesterday to today), so I know I need at least 27 copies of all the handouts just for that one section. I can always make more copies as my classes grow, I suppose--or just wait until next week to make the copies for the other 101 and the SF class. The more I think about things, the more fluttery and anxious I get, so I'm going to try to retain a Zen-like calm and head for home--tomorrow being another day, as we all know all too well.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Back in the office...

Cathy and I didn't make a hell of a lot of headway today; there are a lot of FT schedules that are still pretty shaky, even though we shored up a few. The frustration is that we're under heavy pressure to cancel classes--but we absolutely know that students will be registering during the week after contracts are signed and before most classes begin, so we really have to keep sections open for that eventuality. The other frustration Cathy is dealing with (not my headache, thank god) is that we don't have rooms for our classes. The administration in their infinite wisdom shuttered one of the buildings in which a lot of our classes used to be held--and moved classes and a whole department out of another building (which is now being leased to another entity)--but they didn't bother to make sure they actually, truly would have space for every class. "Oh, there's plenty of room," they said. Hah. Not only do we have classes scheduled in different buildings on different meeting days (Mondays here, Wednesdays on the other side of campus), a lot of our classes have no room at all in which to meet. We're down to bathrooms and broom closets--unless they recognize that the High Muckdy-Mucks will have to give up some of their precious space to accommodate students and classes and give us rooms in the administrative buildings.

So, yes: once again, we are a living example of a cluster-fuck.

I also realized that one of the reasons we're struggling with enrollment isn't actually that enrollment is down: it's that caps on courses have been raised, slowly, stealthily, over the past years, so comp courses that used to be capped at 24 are now capped at 27; classes that were 26 are 28; classes that were 28 are 31. That is unless the class is scheduled in a room that the Fire Marshal has said can only hold a smaller number--or, in the case of at least one of the specialty programs, because the program coordinator has decided that his classes will be capped at 16. (I don't know how he's getting away with that, but so far, he is.) I'm glad that the Creative Writing program is able to keep their courses a manageable size; and our remedial and accelerated courses have reasonable caps, which so far Cathy has been able to battle to keep where they are. But I added it up: if all the 101s that are now full were reduced to 24 students in each section, there would be 158 students needing classes. I'm pretty sure that's more than enough students to make sure every section we have open would fill, and it might even be enough that we'd need to open a few more sections.

But, under the current circumstances, Cathy and I simply tossed all the work we did in May on adjunct schedules. There are virtually zero courses to distribute, and a zillion people looking for work. It's going to be dreadful--especially if we do have to give some of the courses that are currently unassigned to FT faculty. I put together a little spread sheet of classes that are below the threshold (the magic number is 12, I understand--though that seems to change from semester to semester); we need to make sure we have something to give any FT faculty who lose a course--and we need to make sure we don't assign courses that won't run to senior adjuncts. The fun just doesn't quit.

But Cathy and I called a halt to the work pretty early. I've been upstairs at my own desk since about 3:30 this afternoon (it's after 5 now), and I've been trying to make sure I have everything that is currently ready uploaded to the SF Blackboard page and printed out, ready to copy. I need to do the same with 101. (Speaking of enrollment, by the way, one of my sections of 101 has exploded, enrollment-wise. The other section is still holding at 10; there are 11 in the SF class.) I think my life will be made much easier if I can spend some time tomorrow working on the color-coded (and much reduced) syllabi I use for my own planning, so I know what handouts I need when. Then I can carefully go through folders and make sure I have the most up-to-date versions ready to roll.

And at some point, I'll start making the photocopies. There's no way in hell I can get the copies done by Printing and Publications at this late date--at least not anything I need for the first four weeks or so. But I feel very disorganized and bewildered by all the paper and folders and files and shit everywhere, so I hope to have a few days in which I can simply slowly, carefully, methodically check things over and check them off.

That, however, is a worry for another day. Today, I'm going to wrap things up here and head off to physical therapy. If I work at home tomorrow (and I hope I will, after my little dermatological procedure), I'll post. If not, I'll post on Wednesday. The routine is beginning to reassert itself, which is a curate's egg: it's bad, but I assure you, parts of it are excellent.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Maybe I'm finished... partly, sort of

I think--and I hesitate to say this--but I do think that I have everything done for the 101s. I made further changes to the schedule, of course. My dear colleagues on P&B let me know that what I had as the last day of class is actually a "make-up" day, in case campus is closed enough days that we need to make up a day. It's very confusing, as the next day is actually the last day of classes, so that last week we have classes Monday, classes Tuesday, no classes Wednesday, classes Thursday....

Weird, but it did make that change to the assignments very easy, as I had that slated as a "conferences in my office" day anyway. But I also remembered (after stumbling across the uploads on Blackboard) that I'd decided I wanted to provide a few extra credit readings (and associated discussion boards) for the second essay--which meant not only changing the schedule of assignments but also changing the grade calculation sheet (which I changed about seven times today even apart from that particular adjustment). Still, it wasn't terribly difficult to accomplish--and fortunately, because of the way the pagination fell, the additions only affected two pages out of the 22 (or however many it is; you can look it up in yesterday's post).

I actually spent a lot more of the day working on Blackboard, making sure all the materials are there, are current, will be available when I want them to be (and not before), that all the links line up and connect... and I finally was able to copy it all from the section I've been working on into the other section, which I carefully emptied of all content earlier in the summer so I wouldn't inadvertently load things 45 time (which I've done in the past, despite the warnings provided by the Distance Ed mentors about how easy it is for that to happen).

The only thing I haven't done regarding the 101s is to reexamine my grading rubrics, possibly reworking the rubric for the editing step in the process. But I've been nailed to the computer all day--I was not smart enough to set up the timer to get me out of my chair at least once an hour--and I'm just about frozen in place. So I'm not going to do any other work today, and I'm going to try to minimize the noodling around I'm bound to do as soon as I finish this post.

I don't know whether I'll have time to work tomorrow, but I'm guessing not. I have a dentist's appointment, then I head into the City for my rescheduled fiddle lesson (as my instructor is leaving town on Saturday and will be gone for about a week), possibly a tango class after fiddle. Friday may be the usual string of events--or may include another dental appointment. But because of the rescheduled fiddle lesson, there's a chance I'll have time to work on Saturday. I don't think I'll go to the City just for tango; I'll probably do yoga class and then toddle on home--or maybe yoga, life maintenance, home. There is still some significant work I need to do for the SF class, and although I could possibly leave it for later, I'd rather get it done before classes start, so I don't have to think about it any more. And then there's the ever dangling online Nature in Lit, which will continue to dangle for god knows how long.

When I'm on campus next week, I'll do a lot of printing and copying. I still don't know how many copies of anything to make: the enrollment in both the SF and the relatively empty section of 101 has improved slightly but not enough to make me completely sanguine that both classes will run. Well, Cathy and I will deal with the FT schedules that are in much more obvious peril first; then we'll deal with folks like me--at which point we'll be setting up if/then scenarios: if Prof. P's T section of 101 runs, give the "no instructor" G section to Adjunct X; if it doesn't run, give Prof. P the G section and find something else for Adjunct X, if possible. That sort of thing. We try not to let any of those scenarios have more than three dominoes in them, or it gets impossible to track (and that's why we ended up giving someone a three-class schedule in the spring. You'd think the faculty member in question would have noticed and said something, but she didn't until it was too late to fix, so she had to teach a summer class without pay to make up for it. But I digress.)

I have piles of paper all around my little computer desk, printouts and notes to myself--and I have no clue any more what's still current and what's old and useless (or potentially confusing). My inclination is to throw it all into the recycling bin and believe that at some point I will remember anything I really do need to do--or that if I don't remember something that was on one of the lists and was left undone, that it doesn't really need to be done in any event.

I'm starting to confuse myself. I'm packing it in for today. I'll be back posting, well, whenever, I reckon. Whenever I have something to report....

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Oops, a little distraction there...

I'd meant to be finished with everything (including fiddle practice) by now, but I got side-tracked. I was checking several things online, including work emails, and there was a lovely P.S. from a colleague, praising the whole group of us who run the major functions of the department (Cathy, Bob--soon to be replaced by Paul, Brian--who heads Placement--and the summer Placement coordinator Johanna), and in a sort of "aw, shucks" response, I was moved to quote the Pogo cartoon strip character Bun Rab, who is awfully proud of his job carrying the hose...


That pretty well sums up my job. Notice that Bun Rab doesn't actually put out the fire; he just wants everyone to notice that he does, in fact, carry the hose. Bun Rab, c'est moi.

Despite the distraction, however, and the fact that I didn't get started until much later than I'd hoped, I managed to make genuine forward progress. Part of why I was so easily distracted by the urge to find the particular book of Pogo cartoons in my lovely collection (thanks, Sam Sandoe) is I had started to bog down in the organizational streams of making sure I have all the bits and orts for each step of the process from first handouts to final, that they're all up to date, have a minimum of howling errors, and are saved as PDFs, for easier access by my students online. But I think I'm in pretty good shape with the 101s now. Having that assignment schedule finally nailed down makes everything else infinitely easier.

However, I did discover that there is a boo-boo in the official academic calendar. Tuesday/Thursday classes meet 30 times, as they should, but Monday/Wednesday classes meet 31 times. (I didn't look to find out if classes that "break the grid" meet the requisite number of times because I'm not teaching any of those, so I don't really care.) Of course, it's possible I misread the calendar, but I checked it four times, and I swear I'm not missing a "Wednesday is a Tuesday" or a "Classes will not meet" thing. I see some of that going on with evening classes, but not day. I've mentioned it to P&B, but if I have to tear those schedules apart again...

Well, that's a worry for another time.

I also feel a slight lessening of pressure and panic because the friend I was going to go to the beach with tomorrow ended up having to work--so I have the day with no other commitments in which I can grind away, making (please heaven) further progress. Maybe I can even really have the classes for fall completely nailed down (except, of course, for the changes I will make on the fly, which always happen) and can then turn my attention to the online Nature in Lit. I also realized that the entire week after contract signing, classes won't have started yet, so I'll have all that time to work as well. The schedule is weird because Sept. 1 is a Friday, so that's when the semester starts--but because classes start that week, adjunct contracts are officially due the week before. Of course, we'll still be changing contracts all the way through that week, but I don't think I'll have to be on quite the same high alert as I'll need to be next week and the following.

But it's now well after 8 p.m., and if I'm going to get a decent night's sleep tonight, I can't keep noodling around on the computer--or practice fiddle. I feel a trifle guilty about that, but maybe I'll manage to practice twice tomorrow, or put in one much longer practice.

For now, I'm wrapping up the work day and putting a big bow on it. And I'll continue to carry the hose.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Progress again ... I think

I think--I hope--I have the syllabus for the 101s finally worked out and finalized. Yesterday I reconfigured when the assignments fall, which was made easier by the realization that I really didn't want to use one of the readings I'd assigned for the first essay. Ditching that made it more feasible to tighten up the first few weeks--and after that, getting the essays to fall on Wednesdays and having room for conference weeks turned out to be remarkably easy. I printed the revised thing out last night, and first thing today, I went through it, fixing mistakes, adding a few readings (too good to pass up), clarifying things (well, clearer to me; I have no idea how students will feel about it).

The result is 22 pages long. Holy fucking god. But it includes everything possible to defend me against grade grievance--which, viewed from a more positive light, means it includes everything students could possibly want or need to know about what is expected of them. (By way of contrast, the SF syllabus is 16 pages long--but I don't have to deal with discussion boards or other assignment wrinkles with that class.)

Twenty-two pages. I wonder how many students will flee the class just getting that syllabus.

I'm now going through the assignment schedule, one day at a time, to make sure I have the handouts needed and that I'm happy with them the way I have them. It did take me a while today to do the math on the points for various assignments. Since I ditched the "preliminary" essay assignment I did last time I taught the class (opting for conferences instead), I had to spread out 300 points across everything else--and I didn't want the essays to count for quite so much of the total. But I think the points values are appropriate for each assignment, which is the main thing: low stakes versus high stakes--and recognizing, for instance, that the students won't put as much time/energy into the editing step as they probably should, so that won't be worth as many points as last time.

As I gradually get all this under control, I hope my sleep improves. I had another bout of insomnia last night, though it was not as fierce as the night before. I'm calling a halt to the work relatively early this evening largely because my mental abilities are rapidly shutting down (hitting those walls), but also because 1. I want to wind down earlier than I have been, in hopes of a better night of sleep, and 2. I want to put in some time on the fiddle. My lesson is being moved up to Thursday, so I need to get in as much practice as possible before then.

Which is what I'm about to do, actually: practice some music. I hope I can get a good amount of work done both before and after my doctor's appointment tomorrow. I should have scheduled it for later in the day (or earlier), instead of at 1, but ah well. Tomorrow will take care of itself. The only thing I need to do now is get off the computer, move all my stacks of paper so I can get into my closet and into my bed (when it's time), and embark upon my evening--tomorrow being another day, and all that.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

I'll regret this in the morning

I had an awful night of sleep last night, for reasons that are completely mysterious. When I finally did fall truly asleep, I ended up sleeping very late--and since then, I've been unable to get my ass in gear to do any work of any kind whatsoever. I did check enrollment numbers, which have improved ever so slightly (and interestingly, the student whom I've called "Rose in Bloom" had signed up for SF initially--one of the first people to register--but now is not in the class any more). That's a good sign, though I'm still prepared for the possibility that I may end up tearing my schedule up in order to teach a section of 101 that's sure to run. I'll know more next week, when Cathy and I start on adjunct scheduling.

So, I've been doing everything except work today--and suddenly, now that the feasible window for work is getting very small indeed, I realize how little time I have before classes start, and how much time I still need to get everything ready for the 101s in particular. Cue wave of panic.

Given the situation, I'm posting in advance of working, as a way to rev my engines, as it were. I know that even doing a tiny bit of work--specifically, resolving the problem of how/when to schedule the essay assignments for the 101s, even if I do nothing else (and even if I change my mind another five times about what makes sense as a resolution) will help calm the panic.

I'll post tomorrow, I expect, and I expect that tomorrow I'll post as usual after the work is done, instead of before. But it interests me that sometimes it takes a modicum of panic to push me through a blue mood and into productivity. Today would be one of those days.

Off I go to reconceptualize...

Friday, August 4, 2017

Oh, argh

I have conflicting desires for what I want to do with the 101s, and it's making scheduling around the essays ridiculously complicated.

I realized that, in constructing the assignment schedule, I needed to start from when the various essay steps would be due, then fit in everything else around that. I've scrapped the preliminary essay step that I did last time I taught 101; I liked it, as it let students test-drive ideas before they got too far into their essays--but I just can't figure out how to squeeze that step in (not with time to read the essays, respond, and get them back to students) and still do conferences. And in fact, I'm not entirely sure I can do conferences, unless I really tighten up on the reading schedule--but I'm afraid students will implode if I do that. (They may implode anyway.) At the moment, I only have one class day that I can devote to conferences for each essay--if I still have them work on editing in class. I suppose I could have them do that editing step on their own. In fact, the more I think about that, the more I think it might be better to give them a clear assignment for what's required in the editing stage and let them work on that part on their own while I focus on revision--which is always a much harder concept. Or I could skip a formal editing step, though I like making sure they understand it as an important step but a separate one from revision.

Oh, Christ, it's just all such a hairball in my mind right now, I don't know how to get it sorted out. I really do want to do conferencing with them, and I want to do it for all three essays. And to do that, I need time to read and respond to essays. Doing my evaluation and commenting online does streamline the process for me, as I can get essays to students more easily (though it doesn't save any time, really, as the impulse to comment at length is too hard for me to resist). But I need to think very carefully about how to schedule the turn-around time so I don't completely lose my mind. And I think I need more time. At the moment, the schedule has me collecting essays on Mondays and starting conferences on Wednesdays--and that's just a really, really, really bad idea. I need to give myself the five days over the weekend to grade stuff. So, I have to either ditch readings, load up on what's due in any particular day, or ... something.

So, I keep moving things around--and of course, along the way, I'm making adjustments to other assignment sheets to try to make them fit with the new procedures--and the chains of things I have to keep track of get longer and longer.

I do realize that all of this is self-imposed, of course. I do all this changing of how I teach because I want to feel good about what I'm doing, to apply what I think I've learned from successes (and failures) past, so there's a better chance of students doing better work. In other words, I put myself through a lot of stress and anxiety formulating processes and procedures in order to attempt to reduce stress about the quality of the work I receive, as the frustration of reading absolute, unmitigated crap seems more painful, in the long run, than the frustration of what I'm doing right now (revamping, trying to make all the pieces still fit in the frame).

I didn't get in a lot of hours of work today, which wasn't hugely surprising. I hope that allowing things to simmer on the back burner until Sunday will lead to some clarity--or at least a potentially good idea or two. I didn't work at all yesterday (prior to my doctor's appointment, I was doing what my father called "fiddle-farting"--which has nothing to do with the horrible noises I make when I practice violin--and after the appointment, it was late enough that I didn't dare embark on more work). The one thing I did was go to the post office--and of course, since on Wednesday I had broken down and bought the damned handbook, it was delivered to the P.O. Box yesterday. (And I owe the post office a minor apology: it seems as if, this time at least, the slow delivery wasn't because they misplaced the thing but because it wasn't shipped until much later than I expected.) Still, I now have a copy of the book for here and one for the office (though it really isn't substantially different from the old one, there are some small page number adjustments).

And now it's time for me to pack my little bags and head off for my regularly scheduled Friday personal enrichment activities. I won't be checking in tomorrow but should be back posting on Sunday, good Lord willin' and all like that.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Please help satisfy my curiosity

My readership has suddenly increased this year--and has reached new highs over the summer. I still only have a few official followers (which is fine; I know, among other things, that becoming a follower requires a Google account of some kind)--but apart from those five faithful readers, and a few others I know about (colleagues and friends), I don't know who is reading my blog or why.

So, if you're not someone I know--or if you are someone I know but you haven't let me know you read the blog--I'd love it if you'd leave a quick comment telling me what brought you to the blog and why you're interested. If you also would like to say a little something about whether you read regularly or just stumbled across it once and check in on occasion, that would be interesting, too. Please use the "Comment" function below. And thanks for reading!

Shifting gears--and hitting the wall

The good news is that I finally have the correct version of the handbook, so I can work on the 101 syllabus using the correct page numbers and adding review of the Sentence Guides. What I like about the Sentence Guides is that they're not nuts and bolts of GSP (grammar, spelling, punctuation) but rather examples and tips for constructing sentences to present an argument and use sources appropriately. It's astonishing how basic it has to be for students--somehow I learned this stuff by osmosis, and I have no idea how--but examples include "Presenting what is known or assumed," "Presenting others' views," "Presenting your own views: agreement and extension," and so on. There are "fill in the blank" type examples, so students can see what academic language looks and sounds like. Conceptually, I like it a lot. It remains to be seen whether students can glean from the material what I hope they can.

I got the handbook, by the way, by going to the bookstore on campus and buying a copy. (The rank incompetence of my post office strikes again.) I actually bought two copies: one I donated to the library, so I know for certain that it will be on reserve for students when the semester starts. But as I was walking around campus, I suddenly realized a few small changes I wanted to make to the SF syllabus, as well as to incorporate into the 101 syllabus. One had to do with letting students know that I am not instantly available when they email me. (They're so used to the instant reply of texts--or emails, received on their phones--that it takes a lot of repeating before they understand that, if they contact me immediately before class, I probably won't get the message until after class, and sometimes long after class.) The other had to do with point value for the handbook review assignments. They're very low stakes, but I also want them to have enough points attached that students do them. I changed the points from 10 to 15 for each review--but that meant changing the syllabus, changing the assignment handout, and changing the grade calculation sheet, as well as uploading all the changes to Blackboard. (Seems like I made other changes as well: it feels like I re-uploaded the syllabus three times....)

Thinking about the schedule also made me think about what to do with the SF students the second day of class. There may be new students (through add/drop, or simply students who weren't there the first day), and I don't want anything substantive to be due--I'm going to ease them into the work of the semester a tiny bit more gradually than usual--but I need to do something on that day that will make sense for the students who were in the first class. I thought about showing a YouTube video about the value of SF (and found one that isn't bad), or showing a short SF movie (I didn't get far in the search, being very disappointed with what I first found). Neither option is floating my boat at the moment, so I'll have to keep thinking.

The idea of showing something in class also triggered an "Oh, right, and I need to..." thought: I need to put in the request to have the computer and projector up and running for every session of 101. I won't use that tech every session, but it helps to have it there for spur-of-the-moment demonstrations.

So, the chain of things to tend to keeps getting longer, and what I've actually accomplished feels correspondingly less significant. But I do know I'm making something akin to progress. And since I got about five hours of sleep last night (and not very good sleep at that), I can feel my mind shutting down all higher functions. I have about enough left in me to write an email or two; then I will decidedly be stick-a-fork-in-me done. My work day tomorrow will be interrupted by an afternoon doctor's appointment, and then I'll have the usual limited time on Friday, no time Saturday--and here we go 'round the prickly pear. All of that, however, is the future, which does not exist. Now, I'm closing up the intellectual shop for the day (and hoping for better sleep and a more productive day tomorrow).

Monday, July 31, 2017

The search for clarity

OK, so here's what I know.

My syllabi are overwhelming. Not only are they incredibly long and incredibly detailed, they contain complete (and detailed) schedules of assignments, which can be confusing--especially when multiple things are due on the same day.

Trying to figure out just the visuals--the design on the page--of the assignment schedule for the 101s is turning out to be daunting (and, yes, it makes the syllabus even longer).

Students need more hand-holding than I like to admit. I really do need to give them some thematic material to look for in the SF class, for each of the readings.

I have a hard time setting out thematic ideas in any simple way. I have a hard time even figuring out good questions to pose in order to lead the students in their search for evidence (and meaning) in the texts.

I should reread the books I've assigned. All of them, though the Atwoods and (of course) the Le Guin I've read countless times and know pretty damned well. But still: I should reread--and probably before the semester starts.

I can feel the online Nature in Lit breathing down my neck. Even though it won't be offered until spring, I know (and keep saying in this blog) how important it is to have as much in place as possible before fall starts, or I'll really be fucked come January 2018.

The 101s are way, way, way more complicated than the SF class. Not only are there lots of smaller readings and the multiple steps of essay writing and revision (which, side note, I still haven't begun to re-evaluate), but I have to reconstruct a lot of the online materials (discussion boards, Turnitin assignments)--and just keeping track of what's been done and what still needs doing is challenging.

I am hitting walls much more quickly than I like--largely, as I mentioned yesterday, because I'm not just fiddling with changing dates or making similar small changes to existing handouts; I'm doing the big conceptual work.

Even figuring out the visuals turns out to be a matter of conceptualizing--and trying to think like a student: what can be missed, or misunderstood, and what can be done to prevent the typical student from missing important information (like what has to be turned in on any given date)?

It is too early to obsess over enrollment numbers (though it's still weird to see that the early classes are generally full and the mid- to late-day classes are pretty empty). Yes, there is a full section of 101 at the G hour that is currently unassigned--but my T hour section may yet get enough students in it to run, so I don't have to reconstruct my schedule. Yet.

So, with all those givens, I find myself in desperate need of at least a break (though a "break" threatens to turn into "no more work for today," especially given the hour)--but also frantic and anxious, wanting to feel like I have a lot more clarity on all levels and yet knowing that there are times when stepping back and letting things simmer unattended for a while is the right thing to do.

On the "good news" front, I did catch a moderately embarrassing error in the SF syllabus, and a colleague alerted us all to an error in the boilerplate, so I made both those changes, uploaded the corrected syllabus, and printed new copies of the fixed pages. I also some work done on the 101s. Some is better than none. And I heard from the bookstore manager, and the special edition of the style guide is available, so if it's still not in the post office, I can swing past campus on the way to the beach tomorrow to pick up a copy (or two).

That said, I am going to at least take a break now. (We'll see if I get back to work after the "break.") I'm going to go to the Post Office (file under "hope springs eternal") and to pick up some good, fluffy beach reading that has come in to the town library via inter-library loan. If I don't get back to work after those little errands (and a few others in the life-maintenance department), I know everything will be bubbling in the back of my brain while I'm on the beach tomorrow. (And how's that for alliterative?)

Tomorrow is August 1. Jings, crivens, and help me Bob. (And thank you to Kate Atkinson for handing along that now antiquated Scottish expletive. See? Summer fluff reading can actually come in useful.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Revisions of revisions of revisions

So, I did yet more reworking of the SF syllabus and the first essay assignment today, but I finally have them in good enough shape that I've printed them out and uploaded them to Blackboard. I didn't change the assignment schedule again (thank God), but I reworked a lot of the rules and regulations on both handouts. So, there's that.

Thinking about what I want to focus on tomorrow, there are two options. One is that I can create my copy of the syllabus, which simplifies what I need to remember to collect on each day--and reminds me what handouts I need to have ready to distribute by specific dates. I don't usually do that until I've finished everything else, but I need to look very carefully at what handouts I'm going to need--for the SF and the 101s--and make sure I have the most pressing ones ready to go. (I also need to contact Printing and Publications to find out whether I've missed my chance to have them do the copying I'll need for the first day of classes. We're supposed to send out "big" jobs to them, which is only feasible if one has the job ready to be copied in time--and knows how many copies to get, which I don't yet.)

The other option is to rethink the second and third essay assignments for SF. In the past, I haven't had any research requirement--and the official "Goals and Outcomes" are open enough to interpretation that I don't really have to have one. But I spent some time today finding sources on the first four books, so I could do what I've done in the past: provide critical material for essay 2, then make the students find it on their own for essay 3. It's good practice for the students, and this semester, there is the advantage of all my materials on Left Hand of Darkness, so students can use all the work I've already done to locate sources and don't have to just flounder around on the databases.

I'm still thinking about that. There are two main advantages to dropping the research requirement (even with all the help from me): one, it helps reduce the students' urge to plagiarize, and two, it gives them one less hurdle to get over. Of course, I can also make the use of critical material "recommended but not required"--and only about two students, if that, will use it, even if I provide it (but especially if I don't).

Well, hmmm. Thinking, thinking.

I'm also trying to figure out what to do about that wretched handbook for the 101s. I'm beginning to suspect that the Post Office has done their usual excellent job of fucking things up and put the delivery slip in someone else's box--which I know has happened before (and once, the person who got the delivery slip even picked up the package addressed to me--and never tried to rectify the mistake, so I never got my package). Either that or the publishers sent it by burro. I think I'm going to find out if the campus bookstore has it in stock and just buy a damned copy. If the one the publisher sent shows up, perfect: I'll have two. If not, I'll buy another later (so I have one at the office and one at home). In fact, I may buy two later, so I can donate one to the Library, in order to ensure that one is on reserve for the students who can't buy the book (or can't buy it on time).

Which reminds me: I never heard back from the circulations manager of the Library about putting another book on reserve for my classes. I need to give him a nudge soon--or contact one of my "friends" in the Library to ask for a little help.

See? Nothing is easy. Even the simplest thing turns into massive complication once it's in my hands....

I just took a look through the folder for the last time I taught SF, and apart from whatever work I need to do on the essay assignments (which could be extensive, especially for the final essay--though that will be based on when I taught the novel in 102), there really isn't a whole lot more that I need to futz with for this fall. Most of the handouts are generic, and for many of them, I already have quite a few copies already in hand. So I may have to turn my attention to the 101s, even without knowing the assignment schedule, and at least start working out my own sense of the process from preliminary version to final version of essays (conferences or no? how much can we do in class? how long do I need to mark things? that sort of conceptualizing). Cue the anxiety waves....

But tomorrow is tomorrow. I'm finished with work-work today (though I  may do some life-maintenance work). Tomorrow: we'll see, but I hope it's a productive day. Tuesday: no work, because I'll be on the beach with a friend. (It is still summer, dammit, even though I feel the semester rushing my direction.) And so on and so forth. If I work, you'll hear about it. And thanks for checking in.

Friday, July 28, 2017

7,000 revisions...

If my students would revise their essays even a quarter as much as I revise all the fucking handouts, their essays would be infinitely better. I have gone through the syllabus I don't know how many times, and I still am finding things I need to add/change/clarify. That includes having reworked the timing for the second essay and the readings several times over. I still may be rushing them through The Left Hand of Darkness--or creating a collision between their reading the beginning of the novel and writing their second essays (both of which are going to happen over the Thanksgiving break)--but I think there's at least a marginally better chance that they'll be able to handle the reading of the two Atwood novels and still have time to get through Left Hand.

Maybe. The one problem I've created for myself is that I won't have much time in which to grade their second essays and get them back to them in time for revisions--but I can also bump the revision deadline later if I have to--and I may do that before I even consider the assignment schedule "final." Of course, the schedule is never "final" until after the semester is finished: there is always the possibility that I may shift things around--or that an act of God may throw everything into a cocked hat--but at least I have a solid framework in place from which I can deviate as needed. Without that framework in place before the term starts, I'd be lost by the second week of classes: I'd completely lose track of what we've done, what I want to do, and how much time there is. (And that's even apart from the whole "I don't know how long anything takes" problem.)

I also reworked several handouts that I thought I'd already sufficiently reworked--but as I made changes to the syllabus, I kept thinking, "Oh, I should make sure that piece of information is also on this handout" or "Oh, I think I can cover that information this way, not that way" or ... well, whatever occurs to me in the moment as a great idea. (Often, on further reflection, I realize the "great ideas" were actually duds, but such is life in general, I reckon.)

One question in my mind at the moment is whether it makes sense to take any work on the train to the City with me tomorrow: will I actually be able to concentrate and get anything done? Or am I better off really taking the day off, allowing things to simmer in the background for a while, and then dive in again on Sunday? My hunch is the latter, but we'll see how I feel on the morrow.

Speaking of amending plans on the day: I didn't quite get up with the alarm, but I didn't sleep as late as has been the case recently. Knowing the alarm was going to go off, I was waking up checking the time starting at about 6:30 a.m. (and yes, it did occur to me--briefly--that I could go ahead and get up at that point, but then my "it's summer, dammit!" brain kicked in, and I rolled over and dozed some more). I'm actually surprised I did as much as I did, given how little time I've had to work today.

And now I have to pick stacks of stuff up off the floor so the house cleaner has a clear field to vacuum and pack up my pack for my Friday afternoon rituals, including a riding lesson, the first in a over a month. That'll make for some interesting muscle responses if I make it to yoga class tomorrow...

Well, onward and awkward, as my buddy Jane and I used to say. I get to be a student for the next about 36 hours, which will make a nice shift in the brain focus.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Super-fast post

I have to leave the house in just a few minutes to meet a colleague for dinner and a movie (OMG, and actual social life!), but I wanted to record the progress I made today--and despite sleeping unduly late, and therefore getting a late start on the day, I did make progress.

I think I have the syllabus for SF pretty well nailed down. I am concerned that I am rushing them through the two Atwood novels--and I may talk to the head of the bookstore about ditching one of them (which would also mean deciding which one--but students have managed in the past, and I'm giving them a fair amount of time for The Left Hand of Darkness, which is good.... As I say, my struggle is never deciding what to assign; it's deciding what not to assign.

But at least there is some structure to the assignment schedule, and I think I have all the required bits and orts included. I have to spend some time going over it with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, as I am sure to have made howling errors (because, well, I always do), but I'll leave that for another day.

I also got the math figured out for how many points to give to each assignment: yay for that. And I have at least some of the preliminary handouts done.

I did not, however, get to the post office to check for the handbook for the 101s. I'll have to try to swing past tomorrow on my way out for my routine Friday thingies and hope like hell it's there, even though I won't be able to work with it until Sunday at the earliest.

The fact that I'm so happy about such small progress (in the grand scheme of things) is an indication of just how desperate I am to see any movement in the correct direction. I even got a few things up on Blackboard and otherwise have begun to get all that ready and organized.

And now I must dash. I hope I have time for another quickie post tomorrow, depending on how much work I try to squeeze in. It hurts me to do it, but I've even set an alarm for tomorrow morning (an alarm! during the summer! What is the world coming to?). I need to get myself onto an earlier schedule so I can get more done in a day.

Off I go--to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Apropos, I think, with the SF class coming up...


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

That whole "I'll be working and posting more regularly" thing...

Turns out, I not only got caught up in life maintenance, I also got caught in a strong emotional undertow, to my surprise, and had to scrabble my way out of the doldrums and back into work mode. Life maintenance sucked up more of today than I anticipated (and I don't know why I didn't anticipate it, as everything always takes longer than I expect, so I should just expect things to take longer than I expect...). I was able to do a little self-justification about the delay as I needed to get to the post office to see if the long-awaited, correct edition of the handbook for the 101s had arrived. As to why it took me until Wednesday to do that, see "undertow; doldrums" above--but also, in the midst of life maintenance yesterday, I did meet with my distance ed mentor (at long last), which took some time. More on that later.

Meanwhile, I finally got to the post office today, and the handbook still hasn't arrived.

However, in coming out of the doldrums, I also came to a "duh" moment: there's no reason why I can't be working on getting everything set for the SF class while I wait (and wait, and wait) for that handbook. So, when I finally did commence work today, that's what I did. And I'm glad I did, as--of course--it's going to be a little more complicated and involved than I remembered, as I'd cheerfully forgotten that I'm changing a few assignments and need to review some of the work I've already done, to make sure everything dovetails.

I'd  also blissfully forgotten that--thanks to our accreditation review--we have to include more boiler-plate BS in our syllabi. I stumbled across an email from colleague Mary, who is doing heroic work in getting us all the stuff we need, and found 99% of the information I needed. All I'm missing are the specific "goals and outcomes" for the SF course; everything else is now in place. Or at least it's in the syllabus somewhere: I'm not sure exactly where to put what pieces in some cases. Does it make sense to put the information about the Writing Center next to the information about getting accommodations for disabilities, or should it go elsewhere? And if elsewhere, where? Since I now have to include the catalog description and prerequisites for each course, should I do that right under the specifics I have for my office hours and so on, or just before (or after) the Goals and Objectives, or....

And of course, all of this futzing around assumes that the students will actually read, review, pay attention to, absorb anything that's on the syllabus. On a spectrum of unacceptably incomplete to overwhelming with information, my syllabi already were off the charts on the overwhelming end. Now, even more so.

And the "simple" solution to that is to, well, simplify the information on my syllabi (maybe turn them over to Paul and let him take his verbal machete to them, cutting out all my usual claptrap). My mind just has a very hard time with verbal simplicity (witness, I suppose, the length and verbosity of these blog posts).

In any event, I didn't get a lot done today, but it feels great to have gotten even something done. And it turns out that the meeting with the distance ed mentor was not only productive but calming: recording grades for discussion boards online turns out to be easy. And if I want to use Turnitin's technology to comment on and provide grades for essay steps, those grades can be synced with Blackboard's grading system too. I don't know whether I want to experiment with that with the 101s this semester or not. It's certainly not necessary--at least not to do the commenting through Turnitin--but it will be helpful, I think, to test-drive before I have to go fully online with the Nature in Lit in the spring.

(I interrupted myself in the middle of that paragraph to figure out if I can record essay grades on Blackboard without a Turnitin link--as for the preliminary essays in the 101 classes, which don't need a plagiarism check. It is, but students have to upload something to an assignment for me to provide a grade. So, I just added that little wrinkle to the syllabus for the 101s--and I have to do a lot more futzing around with the Blackboard stuff for the 101s and for SF. C'est la guerre.)

In any event, I do hope I actually spend most of tomorrow working--though I have plans to see a movie with a colleague at some point, and I don't know if she wants to include dinner/drinks (or where we're meeting, or when). Friday, I'll work as much as I can before I dash off to my usual Friday things. And so it will go, falling (stumbling) into some kind of work rhythm here, avoiding further undertow...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Turning up the metaphoric heat (to match the temperatures outside)

Today is my second day home from vacation. I spent all of yesterday and a chunk of today doing life maintenance (which needed a lot of doing--and still needs more--given my long absence), but today I did manage to get to some work. I mostly was scanning documents for the 101s, essays I hope to use in place of (or in addition to) things I used two years ago, but I also checked enrollment numbers (which have not moved at all for my courses). That's discouraging; so is the amount of just tracking through that needs to be done: making sure each part of every assignment is available on Blackboard for the 101s and making sure all handouts and essay assignments and Turnitin links are there for all three classes (assuming they run).

One frustration: I dropped by campus yesterday, enthusiastically looking for the special edition of the handbook that I ordered for the 101s so I could start working on the schedule--and the shipping department of the publisher had sent me the regular edition. Argh. I don't mind having an extra copy of the regular edition, mind you, but I really, truly need that special edition. Without that, I can't really put together the assignment schedule, and without the assignment schedule, I don't know how many points to give to various assignments, as I don't know how many there will be.

I repeat: argh. But oh well.

But I really do want to get churning hot on that work. I'm getting increasingly anxious about the lack of progress and the brevity of time remaining before classes start. And tomorrow is a day when I'll be a student all day: if all goes as planned, I'll be in yoga class, tango class, and fiddle lesson, from about 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m. That puts me home about 7--unless I opt to have dinner in the City--but in any event, I know I will get nothing done on my semester prep tomorrow. Yikes and likewise zoiks.

Right now, however, I have to close up shop and leave the house so my cleaning lady can come in and make things relatively presentable (though the cat sitter obviously vacuumed between the last time the cleaner came and when I got home, as the rugs were remarkably free of cat hair). Not quite sure what I'm going to do with myself, but whatever it is, it will involve going out in the 95 degree heat of this afternoon. Quite a shock to the system after being in the Pacific Northwest for ten days. I'm not sure I can crank up the heat on the work to really match that level, but it's a worthy aim.

Now: computer off, printer covered, and more perhaps on Sunday. The posts are going to be relatively frequent from now until December at least (in case you were jonesing for my maunderings). More soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A little work, a big wall

I actually did some work today. It's not the first day during my travels when I've spent a bit of time crunching through work, but it may be one of the best in terms of actual forward momentum--even if there was precious little of that (and every chance that I may decide to reinvent various wheels for the umpteenth time).

I had really hoped to make some progress on the schedule of assignments for the 101s, but I realized I can't do that until I have the handbook in front of me. Remember, this is a special edition of the handbook, including a section on sentence skills that I've not used before, so I need to work through the handbook assignments very carefully, not only checking the page numbers to be sure I'm assigning what I want when I think it will be most valuable but also including more assignments (or lengthier ones, or different references for the "mechanics review" stage). I just won't know until I am actually looking at the book.

On that front, however, I realize that my patience wears out pretty quickly. I know how important the information is for the students, but going over it myself is fucking tedious. Slog, slog, trudge, trudge. Yet it must be done--and quadruple checked, so I know for sure I really am assigning the pages that will be most valuable and am as sure as I can be that I'm not assigning certain pages multiple times (an error I have discovered on many an assignment schedule in the past).

And I have done zero work on the SF class--or the online Nature in Lit. When I get home, after a day of allowing my brain to catch up with my body, I'm going to have to dive in and push fucking hard to get everything done, copied, and ready to go without last-minute panic.

Speaking of last-minute panic: I took a look at the enrollment patterns today, and they're just weird. I don't know if students are signing up for all the early classes because they don't understand that they can scroll down to find more options (or are too lazy to scroll down for more options) or whether suddenly, in the last two years, we have a campus full of early birds and a significant reduction of late risers. The early sections are almost entirely full, across the board. The midday to late afternoon sections--including sections that used to fill to overflowing almost as soon as registration opened--are damned near empty (except for the sections taught by certain professors who are either justifiably beloved or who have reputations for giving everyone good grades, nothing below a B). In any event, it's weird as hell, and very worrisome. However, the last two semesters we had late enrollment surges, so I'm going to try to refrain from panic just yet.

And it seems word has gone out that when the SF course is taught my yours truly, it's a horrible experience: the same nine enrolled students are hanging out in that class, and no one else has decided to join the fun. Well, fuck. Again, I try to refrain from panic.

As for now, I'm just about cooked. I was trying to get folders on the computer organized, so I could find what's where, and even that seemed unduly daunting, which tells me it's time to pack it in for today--and maybe for the next few days. We'll see how things go. Which is always the case, I suppose. But I'm not entirely sure I'll even think about it tomorrow.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Anxiety attack #8,743 (in the last week or so)

I will fully confess that if I don't have a "legitimate" reason to be anxious, I'll certainly manufacture something--I think I'm addicted to the adrenaline jolts--and I also fully confess that there are times when I have no clue whether the reason for the anxiety is even close to "legitimate."

For instance, I do know that many of the things I'm worrying about taking care of before I leave town are extremely minor little blips and absolutely nothing to worry about one way or another--but I feel little jolts of anxiety about them anyway. And I do know that I tend to get anxious about work stuff that somehow, magically, always ends up being OK, usually without a great deal of sweat and heavy lifting on my part.

Nevertheless, the fact that Cathy and I spent from about 11 a.m. until about 5:45 working on fall adjunct schedules--and that we still have a number of unassigned sections with no adjuncts available to give them to--is causing me some anxiety. (Cathy and I also looked at each other with slightly wild eyes when she reminded us that she's "hidden" 36 sections, in order to chase students into the ones that are visible--and as we tried to imagine what today would have been like if we'd had to try to staff those additional sections, in addition to what we failed to assign.)

I know I will leave that anxiety behind me when I leave town, but it will be here, waiting for me--larger, hairier, and with bigger teeth--when I return. But after all the maneuvering she and I did today, we both felt pretty incapable of making any further progress--even if we'd had a larger pool of adjuncts available for courses.

So, what will happen is, on my return in July, I'll sit down and start looking at courses that are under-enrolled, courses we can consolidate, or cancel--or for which we must find a qualified instructor. Cathy will be out of town, but she'll be looking at enrollment numbers too, and we'll certainly be in touch electronically. We'll have a slightly better sense of what the realities are in terms of which classes will fill and which will not by then, though of course that target keeps moving all the way through the beginning of classes.

Then there's the anxiety over the fact that, since I spent so much time working with Cathy today, I didn't get any of my own work done--and although I have a bit of time in which I could work, it isn't really enough to get going. In fact, it's just enough that I can look at the various printouts and files I have and think, "I have no idea where I left off, what I have, or what's going on anywhere." Which is, naturally, cause for further anxiety.

Whatever.

I have put one file folder of recent printouts and scribblings in one of the bags I will take home with me; I will pack the folder and its contents and schlep it along with me. Whether I do anything with it is an open question, but at least I'll have it with me. And at some point, in July or early August, I will have to try to get the files on both home computer and laptop to line up so I have the same versions of the same things organized in the same ways on both devices. I'm sure there are much easier ways to ensure that that is the case, but I find that every USB drive I use responds slightly differently when I copy stuff from one place to the next--and none of them seem to have a setting that allows me to say, "copy only the most recent files onto this computer from this USB--and if you find a newer version of something on the computer, copy the other direction, from the computer to the USB." My less technologically challenged friends and relations almost certainly know some speedy and magical way to accomplish exactly that--but I don't know what it is, and without having one of them here in the office with me and with my laptop and with the USB drive, all at once, I don't quite know how I'll learn anything other than the rather convoluted methods I currently use.

I did, however, just remember that--when I post articles for the 101s on Blackboard--uploading a PDF is not the only option: I can also create a web link to the "persistent link" on the Library's database for an article. Duh. So, sometimes, I have a little tech know-how--and simply forget it for a while.

(And that makes me realize I never heard back from my online course construction mentor on my question about setting up online grading. Well, I'm sure once I'm back in town, I'll have a moment when I think, "Oh, right: I want to know how to do that; let me get in touch with Adam." So I don't need to leave myself a note--or experience any anxiety over it.)

All that said, however, it is now time for me to toddle off to physical therapy--and thence on to the domino chain of trip preparations stuff. (And yep, right on cue: anxiety jolt.)

Ah, it's all good. Whatever. Hakuna matata. (I can't believe I just quoted The Lion King....)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Virtually endless...

My social engagement for today got canceled, so I have been able to get some work done--but I realize that no matter how much time I allow myself for work, I will manage to find a way to create more work than I have time to complete. I worked pretty consistently today (in fact, I really need to get up and move), but I still didn't make much headway. Still, each little bit helps at least some.

I decided I wanted to use at least some different readings for the first essay and probably the second for the 101s, so finding what I wanted took some research (which is always, as I say to my students, time consuming, repetitive, circular, and frustrating). I think I found things that will work, but that means also reconstructing the assignment schedule--assigning more per class, in order to have time to get everything covered. (I'm suddenly rethinking that a little: the days when they have to bring in something they found using their own research can be days when they also have to read something I provided; that way everyone has one thing in common to discuss as well as something new and different.) I also now need to reconstruct the essay assignment a bit--I think it will be better, actually, as I have a clearer focus for them, which will help--but I haven't gotten there yet. I just started working through the assignment schedule and realized that either I have to ditch the idea of conferencing with the 101s (which would be a shame in terms of what they learn, though certainly easier on me--if I allow myself enough time to mark essays to return to them), or I have to seriously tear the schedule apart and reconstruct. I also realized that I want to get essays from them on Wednesdays, not Mondays, as that buys me a few extra days for grading, which will help--but again, it requires a reassembly of the order of assignments.

Which means I have to do some serious, careful thinking about how the timing will work out and what is an appropriate amount of time to spend on each bit.

I could probably keep going--I don't feel I've hit a mental or physical wall yet--but the house cleaner is about to arrive, and I need to clear out before she gets here so she can clean without my being under foot (and so I can do whatever I need or want to do without the distraction of her being around and wanting to chat).

Much as I would love to pretend that there's a chance I could get more work done once she's finished cleaning, I know damned well that once I'm back in the house, my mental acumen will be on super-power-saver mode: very few functions running.

I realize, too, that I won't be working at all the next three days. Tomorrow, I leave the house at about 11:30 and won't be back until after 7; Saturday I leave the house about 10:45 and won't be back until after 7; Sunday I'll meet with the cat sitter, then meet with my friend to go play for the rest of the day. So I won't be posting again until Monday--unless something very unlikely occurs. And after Monday, I'll be getting ready to leave town, or will be on my travels. I know the vast majority of my readers are "newness" junkies: if I'm not providing something new on a regular basis, they'll disappear--so my readership will drop off sharply over the next month. But for those of you who enjoy the blog enough to keep up with it whenever it's active, I'll probably be back to pretty regular posting after July 20. So, please tune in on Monday, and then please mark your calendars to tune back in around that date in July; I may post occasionally from my travels (on days when I spend some time working, which I will do, no doubt), but once I'm back home, the pace will be picking up significantly. Let's hope enrollment does the same. Six in one 101, four in the other, and still holding at nine for SF. Cathy "hid" 36 sections; it will be interesting to note how many (if any) of those hidden sections we end up revealing--and filling. Things are tough all over.

But it's a glorious day out there, and it's early enough that I can take a lovely walk, which is precisely what I intend to do next.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sidetracks and SNAFUs

I did a slap-dash job looking at that final piece of student work--and did a little massaging of the points in order to give the student the A she truly deserved for the course (had she been in a better situation and more able to tend to her studies). The proper forms have been submitted and she has been notified.

I do notice, however, that both students whose D+ grades I raised to C's have yet to thank me in any way. Qu'elle surprise.

Mostly I was working on scheduling--and we uncovered several unexpected problems with the courses that were officially on the books, problems that needed to be solved before we could proceed with the scheduling. Then there were the usual problems of really good faculty only being available when we have no courses available, and really crappy faculty being available for everything under the sun (and we have to give them something unless we have established a pretty long--and reasonable--chain of evidence for why we shouldn't).

Long story short: I didn't get any of my own work done today--and Cathy and I didn't get as far with scheduling as we'd hoped. Unless Cathy changes her mind over the weekend, I'll be back in on Monday to help her out.

And there is a possibility that my planned day of socializing tomorrow may get canceled; my friend may be called in to work. I will be disappointed; she and I haven't had a good long day together in a long time, and it would have been fun--but on the other hand, it would mean a day I wasn't expecting to have in which to churn through some work.

Assuming I don't succumb to the siren call of the sofa again.

Now, however, I have to dash off to PT. I'm in the office and am having the Pavlovian response of being ready to work work work--but nope: I have PT, so off I go. Maybe more tomorrow. Maybe not. We'll see.

Monday, June 19, 2017

No work today

I realized as I was putting my breakfast together that I was getting such a late start, it didn't really make sense to go to campus today. Turns out, Cathy isn't quite ready to do that preliminary work on schedules anyway, so no harm, no foul there. But even as I sit here at the computer, with a pile of folders beside me waiting to be attended to, I realize I am not going to work today. I could; I should. But I'm not going to. I'm going to read until I have to go to PT, and then I'll head into the city for my dance workshop, and that will be the day. (I already did my fiddle practice, though I probably should have practiced for longer.) No work tomorrow, either: it's a day with a friend. So, if all goes as planned, I'll be back to working--and posting to the blog--on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fiddling while time burns...

I am not quite yet in panic mode about how little I'm accomplishing each day--nor about how long I'm spending on what little I'm accomplishing--but I can feel the pressure beginning to mount a little, primarily in the form of anxiety jolts when I contemplate getting on a plane in ten days. I know that it is likely I'll get a little work done in the second half of my trip, as Ed and I are good at parallel working (and we enjoy it), but I'm not sure how things will go while I'm with my family in Montana.

Most of today was spent working on the instructions for reading notes, both for the SF class and for the 101s. For the latter, I needed to explain annotation in some detail, as they are required to annotate the articles they read as well as providing expanded notes. They hate that process, considering it a huge and useless time-suck--until it comes time to write their second essay, when they start to realize that it really does make essay writing easier if they've done that preliminary gathering of potential evidence and ideas about the evidence.

The primary change I made to the thing about reading notes for the SF class (apart from changing the font, which I mentioned yesterday) was to actually annotate the passage from Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea that I use as an example for how to write notes. In an earlier draft, I'd scanned a couple of pages from something else that I annotated--really annotated, for my own purposes--but since I was pretending to be a student in how I wrote up sample notes, I though it might help for me to pretend to be a student in annotating. It was just one page--and I guarantee that a lot of the students are going to freak out: "Do we have to do that much???" But I'll assure them that they will find the balance: some pages will be heavily annotated, others not so much. The main thing I want them to get, however, is the connection from annotation--which simply identifies the details one wants to focus on--to notes, which are a form of prewriting essay points, to essay writing.

Actually, what I want them to get is a) that attention to detail is crucial and b) that there is a process from reading to writing that requires some thought, some analysis and synthesis. If I ever find the "magic bullet" assignment for that, I'll write it into a book and retire a zillionaire.

It's still very early today, and I'm sorry I've already hit the wall, but I've completely lots the ability to focus even on organizing what I need to do, never mind actually doing any of it. Retreat is decidedly the better part of progress today, counter-intuitive though that is. If I try to force myself on ahead, I'll only make things worse. Giving up for today may (please God) give me a little more reserve to draw on tomorrow. I do have to go to campus tomorrow to work briefly with Cathy on adjunct scheduling stuff; at least I hope it's brief, so I can then go up to my office to work a while on my own stuff before heading off to physical therapy and then my dance workshop.

Speaking of the dance workshop, I'm very aware of the different kinds of frustration I feel as a student of three different things: west-coast swing, tango, fiddle. I'm finding the WCS workshop frustrating because it feels too slow and too simplistic: I keep thinking, "I've got this part already; I know this. I want something more, something else." The counter to that frustration is to remind myself that even the parts that I think I have already, I can still improve upon significantly, and since I decided to go ahead with an elementary level workshop, it's up to me to use it to my own best advantage. Tango is quite the opposite. I feel like the advanced beginner class is just the right level: I am challenged, but I am capable of keeping up--and I got a compliment from the teacher yesterday: in addition to a verbal compliment, she also wanted to use me as the demonstration model, as it were, because she knew I could show the other students what she wanted them to see. That's damned good for the ego, even though I know I still need to "marinate" in the basics for a long, long while. (That's an analogy used by one of the other instructors at that same tango school, and I love it.) Fiddle is very frustrating in some ways, as I'm struggling with baby, basic stuff I should have learned 18 months ago--but I'm just so thrilled to be learning it that I don't mind. My new instructor is not at all effusive with praise--which I appreciate greatly, since I figure praise from her actually means something, and I didn't feel that way with my other instructor, who would praise me when I knew what I was doing was shitty. I'm sure she intended to be encouraging, but it's possible to be encouraging and still insist on things being done right. (Eventually I hope to get to the point at which I stop comparing the new instructor to the previous one, but I have more resentments about that former instructor than I realized, and I need to work them out, apparently.)

I was going to say I feel better about my progress as a student than I do about my progress as a teacher--at least in terms of my current task of trying to improve assignments--but I do think the assignments are better, more clear. They're still about ten times longer than they ought to be, but I'm considering how I can make sure that students actually read them and think about what they say. Including a response to the information about reading notes as part of the beginning of semester self-evaluation is a good place to start, probably--but I need to think about timing of assignments, what I can expect by when.

Oh, and did I mention that the academic calendar for fall is finally available? It isn't available in all the places where it should be, but at least I know what days are being adjusted for the Jewish holidays, and it's really not bad at all: one day off, and one Tuesday is a Thursday, which doesn't affect my class in the least, so, whew. I can start constructing syllabi whenever I want. Which will be ... um, eventually. Enrollment numbers are still very low, but it's also early days yet. Still, it seems word has gone out that taking SF from me isn't as much fun as it "should" be ... but I still think the class will fill well enough to run. I'm actually more worried about the 101s, and there isn't a damned thing to be done about them.

And right now, there isn't really a damned thing to be done about anything else, since I am effectively intellectually incapable of more review and revision of handouts. So, my faithful readers, until tomorrow, I remain sincerely yours...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Workus interruptus

Today was one of those days when I opted to stop working in order to do some life maintenance, hoping to get back to work once I got home. I didn't really expect it would happen, and in fact, it did not. I got home, practiced violin (more on that in a minute), and now? Too late to start anything. It's that whole "I'm like a semi" analogy: it takes me a long time to gear up to top speed, and it takes me even longer to gear back down again. Starting to gear up at 7:40 p.m.? No time to get really working before I'd have to start gearing down again, so...

I did a little work, though, which is better than no work--and I was working on the 101s. What I realized is that even the handouts that don't really need to be reworked, I'm changing in various small ways, in that perpetual quest for the perfect assignment, or the perfect way of conveying what is expected from any assignment.

I've made a few notes to myself about what I need to revisit yet again, once other decisions have been made, and I've made notes about what I want to address next--which won't happen until Sunday--and I'm rethinking some things I did or thought I wanted to do.

And I've realized I truly dislike sans serif fonts. I tried using Arial or something similar on the (repeatedly reworked) handout about reading notes for my lit electives. On the computer screen, I don't mind it terribly, but printed out? I just hate it. However, I'm running a small experiment: I'm going to try a font other than Times New Roman: something with serifs but with slightly more expanded, rounded letters (Bookman, perhaps, or something similar). It may make the handouts look slightly less dense. One hopes.

Shifting gears to my experience as a student, rather than a professor: today was the kind of practice I should try to remember to tell my students about. I missed two days of practice but wanted to be sure to get some time in today, prior to my lesson tomorrow. And today's practice was just about the crappiest of the week. I had two responses: one, making notes about what I want to review with my instructor. Two, recognizing that today's crap practice doesn't mean I won't do well in lesson tomorrow: that was just today.

But the take-away from that for my students is this: if what you write on one day feels crappy and awful, that's only a problem if you don't give yourself time to keep working on it. If you give yourself time to keep working--the way I'll keep on practicing "Boil Them Cabbage Down" for some time in various ways (faster tempo, with double stops or without)--then you'll hit the moment when suddenly things fall together: Ah! There it is!

That's the biggest hurdle I have to get over with students. They honestly, sincerely believe that the first thing they write is the best they can do, and I absolutely know that is not the case. So one of the little adjustments I've made to assignment sheets today is to give each one a header on the first page, quoting Epictetus (or at least one of the possible translations of what he said): "It is impossible to learn what one thinks one already knows." I don't know if they'll get it, but they'll see it, over and over, on assignment sheets. (I may or may not also include my own statement: Professors don't give grades; students earn them. That's struck some chords in the past--generally good ones.) But the point of the Epictetus quotation is to remind them that they have to let go of what they think they know in order to learn anything further.

I keep thinking about the student from many semesters ago who wrote in her self-evaluation that she learned a lot--but contradicted herself by pointing out that she really already knew all there was to know about writing. If you've been following the blog for a long while, you may remember my bitching about her--and my long debate over whether I should write a letter to her (since she never collected the final essay she said she wanted me to mark for her). I ultimately did write her the letter, stating that we both needed to acknowledge that she didn't learn anything--precisely because she didn't believe she had anything further to learn. The letter wasn't as snarky as I felt, but I didn't pull any punches. I've often wondered what became of her, how she did after that semester. (She failed my class, incidentally, largely because she didn't turn in about 80% of the work.)

I almost want to start the semester by asking my students, in all sincerity, whether they truly, in their deepest hearts, believe I have anything to teach them that a) they don't already know and b) they will find valuable. But even apart from whether I really want their honest answers, I don't think they know enough about themselves to begin to answer the question.

All this should lead me to feeling disheartened, as it reminds me--uncomfortably--of just how much resistance and ignorance (and frequently truculence) I will face in the fall. But oddly I find it is, at least at this particular moment, somewhat inspiring, because it helps me consider how I might reach them. That's a psychological approach that I find endlessly fascinating...

But now, just all of a sudden, I am without any further energy to think about this at all tonight. There will be no post tomorrow; it's a day of me being a student (if all goes as planned: yoga, tango, fiddle), so my teaching self will take a break. I may, however, return to the fray on Sunday. It would be good to get more done...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Two things, maximum three

That seems to be how I feel these summer days, as I may have mentioned before. (I tend to forget what I've said when and where, as I am turning into my father and tell the same stories, relate the same realizations, over and over.) I can do two things in a day. Sometimes, if I'm super ambitious, I can do three. So, today's two things were go to physical therapy (for my shoulder this time, since my back is better) and install a new router at home. I will do a third--practice violin--but I already feel like a petulant pre-teen, whining about having to do anything at all. (Stand up; sit down; anything.)

So, despite my desire to get some semester prep done today, it's not going to happen. Probably not tomorrow, either.

But I did install the new router. Complaining about having to do it was exhausting (actually installing it was super easy).

That's all I've got for today.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Less than spectacular productivity...

I got to the office much later than I planned--in fact, I barely got here in time to talk to Cathy before she had to leave, and that conversation turned out to be more complex than I anticipated. She was more hesitant to waive the comp requirements for the student I spoke to yesterday, but she'll meet with the student on Monday to read a sample of her writing--and she said that even if we waive the comp requirements, she'd want the student to take a literature elective as one of her humanities requirements. I actually don't think the student needs any humanities courses: I think they're covered by the courses she can transfer back from Oberlin. But the student was fine with that as a compromise--so now I'm just hoping that when Cathy sees this young woman's writing, she agrees that waiving the comp requirements makes good sense.

We also had a talk about fall scheduling. Unlike Bruce, Cathy doesn't want to do much work on it now, as she wants to "hide" a bunch of sections to try to get other sections to fill, and we don't want to assign "hidden" sections until there are enough students to fill those, too. Interesting difference in leadership styles: Bruce was more reactive (do the assigning, then "level" sections or cancel and reboot); Cathy is more proactive (fill sections first, then gradually open more as we see what we actually need). This does mean that the two weeks starting August 14 are likely to be pretty frantic--all the more reason for me to get as much semester prep done as possible before I leave town in two weeks--but I think Cathy's methods may ultimately work better, as we'll have fewer domino chains of consequences from canceling sections.

And this is a perfect moment for the mantra "we'll see." It will all be, um, let's say interesting.

I read both of the essays from the students fulfilling incompletes. The one I was worried about still had a little in it that I'm pretty sure came from somewhere other than the student's brain, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt (and Turnitin didn't raise any flags about it); she just squeaked out a B. I'm waiting for one last bit from the other student; she was supposed to drop it by today (which is part of why I came in), but turns out she couldn't make it. I told her to drop it off before Monday. I already calculated her grade, actually, so I don't really need the assignment: with or without it, her grade calculates as a B+. I'm debating whether to boost her marks somewhere to give her an A, just because I know she's capable of earning one. I'll figure that out on Monday and submit the change of grade for her at that point.

That will be four grade changes in one semester: that's a record for me, and more than I hope to do again, but c'est la guerre.

I also fiddled around a little with handouts for fall, but I spent a lot of time on a thing about SF--defining science, science fiction, blathering on about what genres are and what SF is and blah blah blah--when I suddenly thought, "I've written some of this before; I know I have. Where might it be?" It is, not surprisingly, in the "course description" part of the syllabus. What I have there is not as lengthy (and still probably too wordy), but it covers the bases. I originally was going to simply dump the handout I was working on, but I've retitled it "lecture notes" and I'll rework it so I can refer to it when I talk to the class the first few days. I hope I also remember to write a note to myself to write things on the board. It really does help students keep track of what I'm saying. I could do a Power Point presentation (antiquated delivery system, as far as my students are concerned): that would have the advantage of being something I could post on the Blackboard page so students could refer back to it--but it also would take a lot more time to create (though creating it would be fun: I like that design process way more than I ought to). Well, something to think about.

What I didn't do was work on any of the handouts for the 101s--and there will be a whole lot more of those than there are for SF (though even the SF students will groan at the number of handouts--and their length). I may shove the whole bunch of folders into one of my tote bags to take home with me so I have them to refer to as I work tomorrow.

I do plan to work from home tomorrow; I'm not interested in coming in to campus again, even though it is easier to get into work mode here. I have to be back on Monday to work with Cathy on whatever preliminary sorting through we do on the adjunct schedules (she'll work on them when she's upstate, though I wish she'd rely on me more instead of doing everything herself). And I assume that, whenever I wrap things up with Cathy, I'll come back upstairs to crank away at my own stuff, even if it's just to have printouts ready to send off to Printing and Publications, so I don't use up all the department's copier toner and add to the wear and tear on the machines. We're supposed to send big jobs to Printing in any event--but it's hard to do that without sufficient lead time, and right now, I don't know how many copies of anything to get, as I have no idea how many students I'll have in any of my classes. (Right now, three in one 101, four in the other, and nine in SF.)

But that's all down the road. For now, I'm going to figure out what, if anything, I want to take home--and then head out to do some life maintenance stuff. Nothing urgent, but it will be good to get it taken care of.

Posting from home tomorrow, is my guess. Thanks for hanging around over the summer, faithful readers. I'll try to continue to keep you amused (or whatever you are).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In the office...

I haven't been here long, and haven't done much--in part because I know I'm going to have to come back tomorrow. One of the students who is fulfilling an incomplete needs to drop off one more part of the final assignment, and I need to talk to Cathy about a few things.

Here's what I accomplished: I responded to a student who had sent an email wondering why she got a D+ when she thought she was doing well. I sent her the grade calculation sheet, and her grade technically works out to a 67.15, which is indeed a D+. However, adding three of the missed reading journals in, using the average mark that she made, would get her just over the crest into a C--so I just gave her the points and submitted the change of grade request.

I made that decision largely in the context of the student who was whining and complaining and making a huge stink about her D+ earlier. Two factors played into today's decision. Factor one: this other student wrote a very respectful, calm, mature email, simply asking if I could explain why she got the grade she did. There was no whining about how harsh I was, how unfair the grade was, none of that. When I got her email--three weeks ago now--I responded to let her know that I'd have to check my records and let her know. I've not heard anything, which might mean she's not checking email but which might also mean that she was doing what I asked, which was to wait until I could get back to her. So, her adult behavior got her a lot of Brownie points. Factor two: this other student's essays actually were all C-level essays (unlike the whiner, whose final essay was a bit of a train-wreck, as I think I mentioned)--and this other student came to see me several times to get extra help, talked to me after class, was very proactive in her own learning process. So not only was her writing more deserving of the C grade, she worked to learn something to earn that C. So, if I gave the whiner a C despite her not really deserving it, I figure this student should get the same bump up to a better grade, as she's a great deal more deserving.

As for the students fulfilling those incompletes: I'm a little nervous about reading the essay for the one who was guilty of triggering some plagiarism flags. I gave her the incomplete so she'd have a chance at a higher grade--and honestly, right now, I can't remember if a C would be good enough for her or if she's really hoping for a B, and I can't remember (and am too lazy to dig out the paperwork to find out) where she stands. The other student should do just fine: she's good for at least a B+, possibly even an A, depending on how this final version looks.

But I am too tired and lazy to deal with either one of those today. I've been having a lot of disrupted sleep the last few nights, and between that and the heat, my brain feels limp and wilted, certainly not ready to read and think carefully about student writing.

One other little note about today: when I was in Cathy's office, working on adjunct schedules, a young woman came in to the office, and I overheard her talking to the secretary on duty about how she already has a bachelor's degree from someplace good (I forget where right now) and she wants to get a bio degree here but doesn't think she should have to take our comp sequence... I went out to talk with her: she was agitated and clearly was expecting to have to fight to get the comp requirements waived--but I explained that the only reason it was coming up is because none of her courses specifically lines up with our Comp 1, but that of course it would be ridiculous for her to have to take freshman comp after she's written a 25-page thesis to get her degree. I'll talk to Cathy about it, as I don't know what administrative hoops we have to jump through--but I also mentioned that we will soon be running a course on writing in the sciences, and the student lit up like the Fourth of July: she'd love that; she'd take it in a heart beat. I told her it's still a 100-level course, but she was thrilled at the thought. It was nice to be able to calm her down, let her know we're not going to be unreasonable about this--and to get confirmation of my initial impression, which is that this is a student who wants to learn; she just doesn't want to take courses that are ridiculously elementary given her clear accomplishments. She left a lot happier than she came in, that's for sure--and I'll get back to her tomorrow about whatever Cathy says.

Now, even though I cast my gaze in the general direction of my desk and see huge piles of stuff that needs to be taken care of and cleared away, I am going to blithely ignore it and toddle off toward home. Maybe I'll get more done here tomorrow, or maybe not. Whatever. I'm off like a prom dress...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Surprise, surprise...

I actually did some work today. Actual work, on classes. I looked briefly at some of the stuff I was working on for the SF class, but mostly I worked on the handouts for the 101s--and although I think things are more clear, they're also still way too wordy and long. My experience has been (and continues to be) that if a student can possibly misconstrue or just plain miss an important directive, he or she will do precisely that. So the challenges are, 1. defending against "But you never said..." 2. defending against "But what are we supposed to actually do?" 3. doing both of those things, simultaneously, using the minimum number of words and words of very few syllables (and that will be comprehensible by students with extremely limited vocabularies).

The latter is why I don't refer to "explicating" a text any more. I don't think any student I ever taught understood what the fuck that meant--even when I defined it and provided a little footnote on the writing assignments that required explication, giving the definition again. Hell, they don't understand what I mean by "contextualize"--which seems like a more familiar word (though I'm not sure they know what "context" actually means) but turns out to be just as opaque to them as "explicate."

Some part of me still has a very hard time accepting the simple fact that the vast majority of students simply do not know how to evaluate and synthesize anything anyone else has to say. How does this idea fit into the context of the original author's argument--and how does it fit into the context of your argument? What's it doing there?

And suddenly, I might as well be speaking Swahili. Whaddaya mean, "what's it doing there"? It's just there: it is what it is... (and I proceed to tear my hair out and gnash my teeth).

But it occurs to me that I didn't say anything about that--the context of an idea--in my explanation of annotation or expanded notes, and I should. Years ago, I was very excited by a presentation at a professional development event in which the speaker demonstrated three very simple diagrams for how arguments work. I even found the handout I tried to use with my 101 students, from which I extracted the following:

This is taken from a presentation given by Dr. Patrick Grim, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at SUNY-Stony Brook.

Arguments have only three structures. Every argument (making a point through using specific evidence) will take one of those three structures. They look like this:



1                      2                                  1          +          2                                  1
                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                        2
            3                                                          3
                                                                                                                        3
Independent reasons                           dependent reasons                             
supporting a conclusion:                     supporting a conclusion:         a chain of reasons
each would be a little a                       the argument works

argument on its own                           only if you have both


I tried to get my students to look at an article they'd read and determine which of the three structures was being used--and what the major premises were for the points in the structure--and they could not, could not, do it. But I feel like I may need to go back to it, find a way to make it work for them, so, to use the cliche, they not only see the trees but actually understand how the trees work together to create the forest.

Damned if I know how to do that, however. I mean it: no clue whatsoever about how to get students to do that. As I think about it, however, I realize it's actually more complicated than it seems at first, as the first step that's required is for the reader to be able to corral sentences/ideas into categories, seeing connections, what goes with what. (Also, there are usually more than three "reasons" in any really good argument, which adds a complicating factor.) But I really do want to figure out how to at least begin to get this across to students, not only in terms of their understanding of what they read but in terms of understanding their own arguments and how to structure them.

And yeah: this is why I love what I do for a living. This is the kind of mental challenge that is at once wildly frustrating and energizing: a combination between puzzle solving and psychology, trying to understand the student mind well enough to put something together that will click. That perpetual search for the magic, golden assignment that will produce the desired result in at least the vast majority of the students.

I mentioned in some recent post that I would love to work on all my handouts with a group of students, but my ambitions are even larger now: I'd love to spend an entire semester with students, working on figuring out what they understand, what they don't, where their assumptions are so radically different from mine we are speaking mutually incomprehensible languages.... I'd be a much better professor, and they'd be infinitely better students at the end of any such process. Oh, how I wish we could use seminar hours to actually hold seminars!

Well, dream on, dream ever, but meanwhile, get on with the slog at hand, I suppose.

Shifting gears, I would like to make note of my 15 seconds of fame (I don't think we get 15 minutes any more). I think I may have mentioned firing off a letter to the editor of Time magazine, in response to yet another article that focuses on how important community colleges are as job-training centers and ignoring the liberal arts aspect of two-year schools--and much to my surprise and delight, a portion of my letter actually made the "What you said about..." page of this week's issue. This of course is not at all in the same league as my kid sister being consulted as an expert for an article (as she was some years ago), but still, I'm pretty pleased with myself about it.

Oh, and by the way, speaking of the whole "I can only do two things in a day" thing? I think the laundry is going to have to wait a day or two. I do have to get to the grocery store, but that and my work on 101 handouts constitute the "two things" for today. In fact, I actually got a third thing done, resolving a problem with a missing router from last September. That feels awfully nice to get crossed off the "to do" list after all this time. I'd like to get out for a swim, too, as it's too hot for any other form of exercise, but that would be a fourth thing, so ... well, unlikely, is my guess.

And we'll see what tomorrow has in store.