Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Bee and BW's

I'll write my cc essay this weekend when I have some energy. For now, let's look at the derivation of the word "bee" as in spelling or quilting. According to the Information Please Fact Finder:


The word "bee" has long been used to describe a busy gathering of people who come together for a special purpose, such as quilting, spinning, logging, or raising a barn. "Spelling bee" in particular is an American term that came into use by the 1870s.

Many think that this use of "bee" was inspired by the hard-working social insect of the same name. But some scholars believe it comes from the Middle English "bene," meaning a favor, which was sometimes used to describe neighbors helping out with a particular activity.


Seems like the word has a strong association with community. I like that. I like it very much. What prompted this ety-entomological turn was my just finishing a Powerpoint spelling bee for my BW classes tomorrow. I told my classes I'd put them in groups, and we'd play the college- level version, which I just invented an hour ago. Because the spelling (from Evergreen)focusses on look/alikes and sound/alikes, I needed to have a visual medium to show the questions-- hence Powerpoint, and hence a game that looks like a hybrid of Jeopardy! and a spelling bee.

My plan is that tomorrow we will have fun reviewing the chapter, and my bigger plan is that we will start looking at Powerpoints as a means for the students to create grammar projects for class.

I am part of a pre-pilot pilot this semester--using portfolios instead of an essay and a very old grammar test from Evergreen. One of things I am changing is the grammar component of the course. While I've always taught grammar in a way that had immediate application to what the students were writing, I'm moving a few steps beyond that, liberated as I am from having to teach all of the chapters of E for the final. Last week, we looked at the concept of person and number, this week we're looking at spelling, and next week, we'll be going more deeply into sentences. What I've wanted to do is to postpone teaching grammar until the students reached a point where they could see that they needed to brush up. In both sections, we've hit that point.

How does this relate to the writing and portfolio-ing in the class? My end -of-the semester goal is that they will be writing their own rubrics for their papers, which will contain two parts: One, the general assignment requirements, and two, their own list of things to go over--so, if Cindy the student needs to make sure that she doesn't fuse sentences, then that wil be on her rubric. If Jocalo can write a sentence but gets tangled up in apostrophes, then that's what he'll have on his rubric. One of the ways that each student will work out the tangles will be to create a Powerpoint presentation of about 5 slides.

When my students leave my class, I want for them to have improved as writers, and the way to get there is to teach them to be more aware of their writing and themselves as writers.

And the hardworking bee is the official symbol of Genoa, Italy, from where my grandmother's family emigrated, and there's no real point to this last sentence so ciao for now.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Thunderstorm Ate My Paper

Just as I was about to hit the publish key, the school lost its net connection. Tomorrow, I'll rewrite the whole darn thing about being a CC student during the 70's to augment the essay over at Jocalo's and the discussion at Mike's .
So, in the spirit of Steve Krause'sdiscussion about having a "Plan B," here is today's offering: Check out the September 12th panel.

Yesh!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Chiming In

There's an interesting post and discussion at vitia about the differences between the two-year and four-year student. Although Mike isn't a community college faculty member, he often offers inciteful and respectful commentary on teaching English at our institutions.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Writing Prompts

On the CCCC Blogging SIG listserv, Clancy Ratliff of the University of Minnesota asked comp teachers to share their writing prompts to make them available for students, especially those keeping journals and blogs. By chance, I found these writing prompts from the late Mary Jane Moffat. They are truly a rich resource.

If you have your own prompts, please post them here for others to use for their students.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A Topic on Topics

I've always operated with the belief that if I let my students choose their own topics for their papers, then their papers will be better because the student will at least be writing about something that s/he is interested in. The only time that I break this caveat is for argumentative papers, as I normally give my students a choice of topics to write about for a persuasive essay. I've just found that this is easier for them as they tend to get much anxiety when they have to choose a topic and are asked for an opinion about an "issue."

There are definitely pitfalls to this approach. One semester I had a student who wrote a descriptive essay on street drag racing, wrote a process essay about what he does to prepare for a street race, wrote a personal narrative on how he was arrested once for participating in this illegal activity, and a comparison/contrast essay that had also something to do with street racing. The two reasons I let him do this were because 1)He was ESL and really struggling with the language and the class was giving him major anxiety and 2) All four of the papers were actually very different from each other and he met the requirements of the class. But now I can't help if I in some way did him a disservice by not making him choose other topics, for there is a lesson to be learned in writing about things that are difficult to write about.

Now that I am headlong into this semester and it is time for my students to start working on their portfolios, I am wondering if I should just assign topics or again let them choose their own.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking

If you live and teach in the Northeast or MidAtlantic area, you really ought to try at least one of the workshops offered by IWT. Unlike a traditional conference, where you listen to a twenty-minute presentation, the workshops at Bard are like mini-courses, where you spend the weekend with a small group of other instructors, learning by doing. The kinds of courses range from writing essays to poetry to teaching specific texts to using visual texts, narrative and on and on. Among the benefits I derived from my two visits to Bard was the opportunity to not only practice the technique, but to write reflectively at each juncture about the experience. Metacognition has become one of the staples of any writing course I teach. And I can't stress enough the value of the doing--by trying out the technique over and over again, you're able to work through many questions you might have about how to apply it to your own classroom.

I wish I could give you a link to a page with more information, but the webpage at Bard is rather sparse. Instead, here's the email for the program administrator, Judi Smith, who can send you one of their workshop brochures: jsmith@bard.edu.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Greatest Job (If Only)

I often imagine what it would be like if I could teach English at the college level and not have to respond to student papers. If I could do some reading, go to class, ask stimulating questions, impart the few interesting things I know about being a good writer, and hang out for an hour and twenty with those motivated (for the most part), amiable people who register for my courses. If after doing that I could go home and watch Law & Order reruns all night without thinking about that stack of papers I should be reading. . .

Like all fantasies, it's just that. And so every semester I look for a way to make it easier, less time-consuming, and more palatable to respond to student papers. And every semester I fail. I've tried it all: grading rubrics, shorthand systems, responding to one issue only, trying to do most of it in conferencing. No matter what, I spend an inordinate amount of time not only responding but avoiding responding to student papers because I hate it so much. I don't hate reading them--I often look forward to that to see what they've done--but commenting is the bane of my existence as an English teacher.

I know I'm not alone in this, and I know it isn't just a community college teaching issue. But the community colleges are where instructors are more likely to be teaching three to four (or even five) composition-based courses per semester. I think it is an especially important issue for us because the burnout which can result inevitably has deleterious effects on our students.

Maybe it's a dead horse, but somehow I cling to the hope that if we keep talking about it, we'll come up with a solution.

Reading Parenthetically

In my basic writing class on Friday, we did some reading out loud from the textbook. As I followed along in my book, I noticed the student readers ignoring anything in parenthesis, whether it was a citation or an explanation. I've seen this happen before, and I've become more and more curious about why they glide past explanatory information.
Tomorrow, I'll ask my current students why this is so. My guess is that it's a half-remembered rule or convention, not reading citation information out loud, that they are applying to any occurrence of the parenthesis. If they aren't reading the information out loud, are they reading it at all? Would a student be more inclined to read parenthetical information if she were reading quietly? Or not?

What do you think? Has anyone else noticed this?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Two-Year College English

We've named this blog Community College English, a term I prefer. But our profession has named the national organization Two-Year College English Association (TYCA). TYCA has six regional associations which each offer conferences for community college faculty. We'll try to call attention to those occasions for meeting colleagues face to face. Meantime, we hope you'll drop in here with your thoughts, ideas and experiences as a community college professor--or someone interested in the profession.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Sad Truths?

Despite its typical let's-blame-the-liberals-for-mucking-with-the-educational-system tone, this piece from The New York Post accurately describes much of what I see in my first-year writing students.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Doors

I want my old door back. Sure, it was worn out, but who could tell? Handouts advertising literary activities on and off campus were taped up on it. A postcard of a Turkish tulip sat underneath another postcard of a group of monkeys sitting in a tree. Above the postcard, I'd posted a blurb from Shambhala Sunmagazine: "Are we living authentically?" it asked, the word "authentically" stopping above a monkey who had slapped his paw on his brow. And then there were my office hours, in Lucida calligraphy, on a sheet of colored paper.

And now there is a new door. Varnished, cool, darkly elegant. So.Not.Me. But identical to everyone else's. In place of using our doors, we were given tiny little metal paper holders, one to a customer, and now that's where my office hours, still Lucida, still on a colored sheet of paper, hang. Alone.

The new doors were given to us as part of a renovation of our building, and we got new office furniture in the deal. The furniture I like. Just about every piece is on wheels, and I can move things around my office to suit me. But the doors rankle me-- especially because we were told not to put things on them in order to protect the varnish. From what? Library of Congress posters? Flyers from the Writer's Center? Literary postcards? Cartoons about school and writing? Flyers advertising the college's writing center, or tutoring center or poetry slam? Life?

Good grief. The other reason is that the college is trying to give us a more "professional" look. I'm a college professor, for goodness sake! Our doors are where we post things that either specifically for our students or specifically express who we are. In a sense, our doors humanize us to our students and, to some extent, to each other. We are professors: we profess; confess; impress; address; redress and yes, we assess.

And yet, in calmer moments I will agree that not all of my colleagues have posted anything -- either on the old doors or the new ones. In even calmer moments, I'll admit that not everyone has the same urge to express herself by putting things on her door, but we're a sizable expressive bunch, and we span the curriculum.

So this post, the very first on this new blog, is a rant about my office door. In moments of a near-meditative -bliss kind of calm, I ask myself "A door? You're carrying on about a door?" Umm. Yeah. Until I can hoist a corkboard onto the door, I'll be complaining. How can I support the arts in my area or college, if I have no- where to post the flyers? Where else can I tape up drafts of my poetry for comments? Or messages to my students? My door is part of how I communicate at work, and I want it back.I want to be authentically me.