Sunday, October 31, 2004

Who Are We?

The Chronicle has an article on the community college's identity crisis.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

On Teaching/Assessing Timed Writing

A few posts back clc raised the vexed issue of timed writing for discussion. By suggesting how it invites formulaic expression from most and often handicaps ESL students, she concludes rightly that it may be less helpful than exit portfolios for accurate writing assessment. She's wise to question how well such writing fits our teaching, as we know mostly from helping disparate students with drafting in the real world.

But come next March that world may start affecting us all somewhat more than it does now. For students taking the new SAT will have to write a new, twenty-five-minute essay for college entrance or placement. The requirement may even affect transfers — a prospect putting timed writing, I think, directly on our agenda.

Although I can't begin to describe the new test (you can perhaps read about it at The College Board or Time), I can add a bit about essay scoring. A while back Jocalo addressed that work in his SAT, Multiple Choice Tests and Writing Assessment. Like him I've had years of experience in scoring essays, first for the ECT (English Composition Test) and then the SAT II, and over the years in doing so I've come to regard scoring as at least usefully predictive. I know senior colleges do, since upper-end marks are the best general indicators of college success. Having given my own students such tests, I know they can rise to the challenge, particularly with careful coaching.

Partly to aid such work, I have thought to link the current SAT II scoring guide and sample essays from the College Board. How the new SAT guide will look I don't know, but it will probably be similar. Beyond grammatical correctness, the key is mostly substantive development, marking the truth of E. B. White's dictum: "Facts have an eloquence all their own."

A Ramble

People ask: "Joanna, now that you're no longer coordinating Basic Writing, what WILL YOU DO with all of that time on your hands?"

Well, I just might amble to the ramble.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Getting Back to Tinberg Via Vitia

Midterms are over, my grades are nearly done, and I'm going to be getting my copy of Border Talk out of my stack of books for reading and blogging. Until then, take a look at what Mike E has written over at Vitia. "Economics and 2-Year Colleges" is a thoughtful piece on money, research (or lack of) and community colleges. Mike is a terrific writer who blends ideas about economics with writing pedagogy and theory as well as other intellectual paths, and reading his blog has been a satisfying intellectual exercise this year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Mid-Atlantic Region Women's Studies Conference: Proposal Deadline Nov. 1

The Mid-Atlantic Region Women’s Studies Association
Call for Papers
for the April 2, 2005 Conference*
at Montgomery College, Rockville Campus
(just outside of Washington, DC)

“Mapping the Future
of Women’s Studies and Women’s Leadership =
Building Bridges, Crossing Borders, Blending Worlds”

*Related events at area women’s cultural and political centers are being planned for Friday evening, April 1, and Sunday morning, April 3.

We are seeking proposals that examine and discuss topics related to but not limited to:

• Women and Politics
• Women and Activism/ Service
• New Forms of Leadership/ Developing Leadership Opportunities
• New Forms of Pedagogy and Teaching Methodologies
• Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual and Transgendered Studies
• Media/ Journalism and Social Change
• Transculturalism/ Womanism/ Diversity
• Third Wave Feminism(s)
• Women of Developing Nations
• Women, War, and Peace
• Gender Studies Across the Disciplines
• Eco-Feminism
• Health Issues and Empowerment
• Women and Spirituality
• Girls and Girlhood

We encourage papers that include voices of students.

The MAWSA 2005 Conference Committee welcomes proposals in the form of papers, panels, and interactive workshops in all areas related to women’s studies teaching, research, and practice, both inside and outside of the classroom. We are focusing this year’s conference on change in the field of women’s studies and on women’s leadership.

Proposals should include:
• Contact person’s name
• Contact person’s mailing address and e-mail address
• One-page panel description or paper abstract
• Type of session
• Equipment needed
• Names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and a 50-word biography of all presenters

Please submit proposals postmarked by November 1, 2004 to:

Genevieve Carminati
Women’s Studies Program
Montgomery College
51 Mannakee Street
Rockville, MD 20850

Or proposals may be e-mailed to, or faxed to 301-738-1745, by 5:00 PM, November 1, 2004.

Monday, October 25, 2004

What Kind of Writing Really Matters?

One of the endless debates in my department is whether it is important that students be able to write an essay in class in a timed situation as an exit requirement for basic and freshman composition courses. As a true believer in portfolios, and in the notion that in the "real world" writers write over time and with the feedback of readers, I put much less importance on this form of writing than most of my colleagues. In my experience, timed, in-class writing exams end up telling me what I already know: that students for whom English is a second language will fare far worse grammatically than their native-speaking classmates and that nearly all students will write the safest, most formulaic essay in terms of content that they can.

I'm curious to know whether others out there are using in-class essays as an exit requirement and if so, to what extent issues like grammatical correctness are considered.

The New Meekness?

I broach this subject with some trepidation, because it has become a cliche that the older generation doesn't "get" the younger generation. But I've been both confused and confounded by a variety of situations at my college (and accounts from friends at other community colleges) where younger colleagues seem reluctant to assert their views in committees, department meetings, and other collegial settings.

The cases I'm thinking of do not involve wild-eyed radical off-the-wall opinions. Rather they involve not asking office support staff to make copies of course outlines for curriculum committee because it might upset the office staff. They involve attending a staff development session on doing research, but worrying that if administration found out, it would indicate you weren't really committed to teaching. They involve not posting to a department listserv so you won't be considered a whiner. They involve not expressing any strong views about your discipline or teaching until after you have tenure. They involve not proposing any changes to existing courses because you'd have to work on persuading others.

Now I'm not suggesting every younger colleague functions this way, but I've heard so many expressions of caution from a good range that I think there's something more than just a conservative wave hitting community colleges. But I haven't a clue what it might be.

So I stick my neck out here in hopes that others may have thoughts and insights that could help me understand what's going on or that I'm simply way off base.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Pumpkin Baby

This is the only non-writing post I'll ever make here, but bear with me. I don't have kids, so I am an especially doting aunt, and in the interest of fairness, I have another niece who was not mentioned in Friday's blog.

This niece, we'll call her "Pumpkin Baby," is five months old and incredibly beguiling. She's especially beguiling in her orange pumpkin romper with the green fringed collar and the jaunty (because it's too small)orange cap with the green stem on top. Yes, I'm smitten, but I was also amazed at her power last night to part pedestrian traffic on the crowded streets of Chevy Chase and to get us a table at half the wait at a very crowded restaurant. It was like walking behind Moses in the Red Sea. That her father carried her on her stomach so that she looked like she was flying through the crowd made her even more potent. And cute.

A great way to end midterm week--an Italian dinner with a sweet little bambina and her parents.

A Shout Out to VS and DL

At yesterday's meeting, our colleague and departmental computer maven presented her subcommittee's work on creating a distance learning template for one of our freshman comp. courses. Using WebCT as the platform, the subcommittee developed a semester's worth of assignments and activities to carry someone new to DL through the course. The new template reflected the conributions of three instructors with three different approaches which were able to blend into one well-thought-out product. From what I understand, this will be THE template for the course, and after using it for a semester, individual instructors will be able to tinker with it. Beyond the template, VS and the subcommittee are working on a training guide for the instructors.

I am very impressed. We're lucky to have VS at our college.

"I Hear Typing"

Yesterday at a meeting of the college-wide composition steering committee, our dean teased me about my softspoken manner in class, of my saying "I hear typing" rather than pouncing on the offending soul. The truth is that duing any evaluation , I turn into a Bob Newhart character, slightly amazed and intellectually confused about other people's behavior.

But that's not what this posting is about. Her comment reminded me about how so much has changed in the five years that I've been teaching writing in a networked environment. I have had to get used to the sound of typing because so many of my students now take notes on the computer. In the past, they were either finishing papers or surfing the net. Yes, that still happens, but I move around the room a lot, so it's hard to hide what you have on screen.

More importantly, though, my students, whether at the Basic Writing or Freshman Comp level, bring much more computer experience to class. Almost to a person, they have email accounts, know how to type and save things online and on disks, can use a search engine, and understand terms like "nav bar," server" and so forth.

Since all of their course materials are on the faculty server so that they can download or print out what they need, it was inevitable that they would type notes and save them to disk. (We have a student server, but because it isn't protected, it is far too easy for someone to delete other people's folders). By midterm, about half the class was more comfortable taking notes on the computer than in their notebooks.

Moreover, we use computers from the first day of classes, and their first writing assignment is to send me an email to introduce themselves to me. Using the computer for drafting is optional, but all final drafts must be typed. Having discussion groups online and using emails to contact each other is no longer a problem to be overcome--they take to it naturally, as they do to reading or creating powerpoints.

What this boils down to for me is that it makes possible moving to other levels of technology in the classroom--I don't have to spend a great deal of time teaching computer use, as I would have years ago. And it has become easier for me to assess how technology supports traditional writing and encourages new forms of it, so I am no longer debating how some new-fangled technological innovation will fit in a writing classroom--instead, I'm able to move on to thinking about what the implications of said implementation.

While I've not polled my students about why this is so, I suspect that computer games, online shopping, and online communicating among other real world applications are what have driven their skills aquisition, along with having access to computers at school or at home.

I hear typing.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Clothes Make the Class: How About Those SOX?

Jocalohas written a post about clothing as a form (use?)of rhetoric, describing what he wears, or chooses to wear to his classes at different points of the semester. I wonder if he has a category called "Oh shit, I forgot to do the laundry and now I'm scrounging around my closet for anything clean" ? I say this half jokingly--I'm in the process of scaling down my wardrobe to a few interchangeable things that I can wear because I am tired of doing laundry or forgetting about laundry. And I've realized that I don't need a lot of clothes, just a few sufficient, appropriate things to wear.

So today, to express my support as a Beantown baby, I'm wearing my husband's beloved Curt Schilling Tshirt. And a clean pair of slacks, my grey hoodie sweatjacket, pink (red were in the laundry)socks and Birkenstocks.

If I had the time or the energy, I'd love to create a lesson plan around the RS/Yankees rivalry, using mythology, economics, politics and urban legends. Maybe I will next year. What I'd really like is to hear from academic baseballistas who could examine the game in terms of economics, politics and urban legends.

I'll end with this--my nieces, living in Massachusetts, were taught kindergarten math by means of the Sox. Their teacher had a big red sock that she gave to a child each week, and said child was supposed to spend the week collecting numbers--uniform numbers, stats, scores--related to the Sox.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Portfolio Pilot at Midterm

After almost a week of conferences with my students, I can say that the portfolio system is working much better than they realize. They were very nervous last week when we began to work on the project, and now that they've been redrafting, meeting with tutors, each other and me, they have calmed down. I've modified the premise of portfolio-keeping so that they choose one paper that I've looked at and commented on (A visit to the school activities fair that results in a letter to a friend explaining why said friend, who is already considering our school, would enjoy our activities and should apply to our school.).
The other paper is based on any of the journals that they've done in and out of class. So, I can't really claim that the students have had much choice in putting together their work, which will include a one-page essay about how their writing ,or their perception of writing, has changed since September. But it is a good enough blend of giving them more freedom to choose than they're used to--more freedom to think for themselves.

While the students have been typing or visiting the Writing Center, I've been meeting one on one with all of them to discuss any of their three papers. I am so glad to have a structured time to sit down with each student. Most students don't come by my office during my office hours, and I think that meeting with me helps break the ice, so to speak.

My teaching goal over the past seven weeks has been to revise the course (Basic Writing)to incorporate portfolios, and to work with my students to develop comfortable writing processes and confidence in their reading and writing so that they aren't hanging on my elbow waiting to be told exactly what to write and when.

This last part--the confidence factor--determines how well they'll handle the rest. And speaking of rest, I'm going to go eat lunch before tutoring in the Writing Center, so chow for now.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Intellectual Property

Clancy Ratliff, over at Culture Cat has posted "Intellectual Property Links for Compositionists," a project that she and others are developing. For those of us who use technology in our teaching, this list, and, frankly, her entire blog, is a must read.

The Assignment That Went Bad

It seemed like such a clever idea, and that was the first red flag. Clever ideas are like cotton candy sometimes--beautiful to spin and and look at, but in time, become a flat and sticky mess.
We had just finished working through a chapter in the textbook on coherence, and my idea was to create a worksheet in which the students would work through a paragraph of an already written draft and analyze their topic sentences, order and transitions. So far, so good. Well, here's where the clever idea got the better of me. I added that they should look for examples of parallelism, repetitive words, and misused homonyms. After just three weeks in Basic Writing, my students were going to wow me with their acute critical skills.

The second red flag popped up when one of two classes didn't turn the assignment in on time. Okay, a quarter of the class did, but the rest turned the assignment in over the next week.

And today, when I finally pulled the sets out to grade, I realized that what I had done was overwhelming. Many writers had rewritten their entire paper. Others had simply recopied a paragraph, incoherent warts and all, onto a new page and turned it in. And yes, a good handful of students in both classes did the assignment and wrote thoughtful responses.

In retrospect, I should have limited the assignment to the topic sentence, organization and transitions, and left the rest for another time. I think that more students would have gotten through the assignment on time, and that it would have been meaningful for them. I might also have added a visit to a Writing Center tutor as part of the project so that they could have received extra help as needed.

By making the assignment shorter, I'd have been able to have returned it rather quickly, something that I think helps keep up a BW classes' morale. I'm not saying that I need to water down my assignments to please the students, but I need to keep in mind what they can handle early in the semester. They are in the midst of preparing their midterm portfolios right now, and they are doing far better than they would have a month ago.

Well, it's back to the stacks and stacks. I'll be writing up my thoughts on Tinberg et al next week, once the grades are in.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Books, Books, Books

These came in the mail today--anyone for a book chat?

1. Embodied Literacies: Imageword and a Poetics of Teaching, Fleckenstein

2. Bootstraps: From an American Academic on Color, Villanueva

3. Representing the "Other" : Basic Writers and the Teaching of Basic Writing, Horner and Lu

4. Weaving a Virtual WebGruber, ed.

5. Border Talk: Writing and Knowing in the Two-Year College, Tinberg

Looks like Border Talk is going to be the first one up. In the midst of midterms, I may not be able to post here as much as I'd like, but I'd like to get a conversation going about T's ideas. What do you think?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Announcement: CCHA Southern Conference

Thank you for the warm welcome, Rosa. I'm really looking forward to participating on the CCE blogspot.

Ted Wadley from the Community College Humanities Association Southern Division has asked me to post the following announcement for their upcoming convention. The deadline for early registration (no late fee) has been extended until Oct. 11 (today!):

We're looking forward to seeing everyone at the Community College Humanities Association Southern Division Conference, October 28-30, in the arts district of midtown Atlanta.

There are exciting sessions in history, literature, fine arts, and other humanities disciplines. Speakers include a Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright and editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If you haven't done so, please register soon. Conference material is online at Make hotel reservations at the Sheraton Midtown Atlanta Hotel at Colony Square, 188 14th Street at Peachtree, Atlanta, Georgia 30361
Phone (404) 892-6000 Fax (404) 872-9192

The Woodruff Arts Center is just across the street:
The Alliance Theater -- "The Fourth Wall" by A.R. Gurney
The Atlanta Symphony -- Mahler's Symphony #9
The High Museum of Art -- Van Gogh to Mondrian and Feast of Color
And the Atlanta Botanical Garden features
Chihuly in the Garden

Saturday, October 09, 2004

And a Hearty Welcome

to Steve H. Can't wait to read your posts!

The Week That Got Away

On Monday, I had so much planned to write for the blog. By Tuesday, I realized that I could write about it or plan my midterms. Midterms won.
However, in the spirit of blogging, let me tell you what we did yesterday in BW. We have spent the last two weeks looking at how we use/choose words to put across meaning. Yesterday, my students were to print out another copy of an earlier assignment (not yet graded and returned), exchange with a peer group member, and, using a highlighter, highlight any places where the writer used wordy, trite or vague language. (This was an Evergreen chapter)Students were encouraged to use their notes and textbooks. We had enough time for each student to have both members of the group respond by the end of class. I did not collect the work because, frankly, I have enough to do figuring out midterms and responding to the papers I already have this weekend. My plan is that during portfolio preparation week, the students will pull out my response, which has to do with coherence and detail development, and their peer response, and learn to merge (consider?) different kinds of responses.

Which brings me to my midterm plans. The students will be revising two pieces of writing for their portfolios. One will be a journal entry that they choose, the other will be a class assignment--a letter written to a friend who is considering coming to our college and wants to know more about the kinds of activities we have. The students went to the Fall Rush activities fair a few weeks ago to do some research on what's available. Since then, I've read their letters and now, their peer group has read them, too.

I know that directing one of their submissions violates the spirit of portfolio- keeping, but this is the first time I've done portfolios with a BW group. For every innovation I create, I have probably two old behaviors that I use for my own comfort. I'm teaching the course again next semester, and will no doubt refine what I'm doing now.

I would love to hear from other BW teachers--tell me about your experiences with portfolios; tell me about what books you use; tell me how you see your students' writing as having changed through out the semester.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Let Us Entertain You

An excerpt from Mark Edmunson's book Why Read? on how students have changed because of computers. Interesting read.