Sunday, November 28, 2004

Scraps: after writing up three assignments and feeling silly

Thanksgiving in Vermont was great--a good break from most of our routine habits--all except (say it with me, folks):


One of my sisters-in-law is an engineer and a scrapbooker. She has a two-page spread in her family scrapbook called "What Exactly Does R Do as an Engineer?"

If I ever get around to scrapbooking, my two- page spread will be called "Grading Papers" and will feature photos of me hunched over papers-- in Vermont,at home at the local Starbucks, on planes flying to conventions, in meetings, on buses, in trains, asleep in bed, in front of the television, in grocery stores, restaurants, doctors' offices, backyards, frontyards, townhouses and outhouses, on horseback, at weddings, at funerals and christenings, birthdays and Bat Mitvahs, at baseball games and rugby tournaments, on and off of golf courses--

in my green sweatpants and ratty Tshirt, with a cup of coffee or a bottle of cola by my side.

All around me, people will be living lives (some may even be scrapbooking)--laughing, crying, fighting, arguing, negotiating, singing, dancing, skiing, playing baseball--

and there I'll be. I have no doubt that when I die, they'll have to dig a cube-shaped grave to acommodate my stiff, cross-legged body, my fingers wrapped around a purple pen. And sticking to my elbow will be papers.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to say on this day of taking stock and giving thanks, thank you--readers and my fellow contributing bloggers--for joining me here at CCE over the past few months. Have a safe and relaxing holiday, which means, in English teacher speak, don't grade too many papers ;-).

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Give Thanks, and Then, Give The BIll of Rights

For Thanksgiving this year, well, before Thanksgiving, I'm giving each of my students a copy of the Bill of Rights, downloaded and printed from the National Archives site. I wish that I'd thought of it sooner and could create some assignments based on it, but for now, I'll be content with handing out copies to them. Next semester, I might begin a thread in my reading class with the Bill of Rights--take time to read and discuss it, and then ask the students to bring in examples of rights being abused or protected over the course of the semester. Maybe I'll focus on the First Ammendment in particular.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

If You're Going to Indianapolis,

and you happen to meet some community college English teachers, mention this blog to them.
And if you're reading this post, why not think aboout posting something here yourself? CCE welcomes the voices of instructors everywhere, and all you have to do is to email CLC.

The greater the variety, the more interesting, challenging and stimulating the mix--

All voices welcome, including yours.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Having the Stupids

The last post here reminded me of an insight into a particular student behavior that I got about 20 years ago when I was the parent of three teen-aged boys. When my sons screwed up on something, they often took refuge in locutions such as "I forgot" or "I didn't know" or "no one told me." They'd get these "I'm just a kid, whaddaya expect" looks on their faces.

I began to recognize the same technique among some of my students. I had long realized that some students try to turn teachers into parents--and then they can use the well-honed "having the stupids" methods on teacher qua parent. But teachers aren't parents--and it's a trap when we let students maneuver us into that role.

The two ways I usually deal with this are to turn the responsibility back on the student (essentially what Rosa G did with her students) and/or to name it. When I get a lot of "stupids" behavior in a given class, I just call it that. "Oh, we're having the stupids today, eh?" The first time I explain what I mean by the "stupids" and usually see lots of recognitions around the classroom. Probably some students don't even recognize their method because they've used it so successfully for many years.

This particular insight is an example of what Schon and others call practicioner knowledge. Experienced teachers develop insights from the act of teaching. Sometimes we can make those insights explicit and theorize them. Other times, we just apply such an insight because it works. Getting a lot of teachers to capture this kind of practicioner knowledge would be a worthy project. It's one function this blog might serve.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Week That Almost Was

It's Thursday, and I haven't read much in Tinburg all week, but I hope to rectify that by this weekend. My father came to town on Saturday, and as he is in the early stages of dementia, much of my free time has been devoted to taking care of him. I'm glad to do it--he raised the three of us on his own after our mother died, leaving him the 54 year-old single father of a 13, 10 and 5 year-old. So, today, instead of holing up at home and reading Border Talk, I spent the day shopping with my father for a gift for my sister's baby and taking Dad on the subway downtown to visit my sister and said baby. All told, we had only a few hours together, but the effect that it had on my father was worth it.

Earlier this week I was in a foul mood because all three of my classes "forgot" to get the book that we were going to be reading this month. Well, let's just say that in my first class, 10 out of 22 had bought the book; in my second, 5 out of the 15 who had shown up had bought the book, and the next morning, 7 out of 20 reading students had the book. The writing classes are reading Nickel and Dimed, and the reading class, Bless Me, Ultima. Neither book is hard to find, especially since we live in a LARGE metropolitan area with MANY bookstores. And all of the students had plenty of time to get the book (I decided to use both after my book order went in, so while they were on the syllabi, they weren't in the campus store).

Having been kept awake both Sunday and Monday night by a police helicopter flying over my neighborhood, I was in a terrible mood and decided that any student who didn't have the book would have to leave and take an absence for half of class. I didn't want the nonbook students to take advantage of the students who had the book, had done the assignment and were ready to discuss things. So, on Monday and Tuesday, I met with very small groups of students and had a meaningful exchange of ideas. On Wednesday and Thursday, I noticed that EVERYONE had copies of the books and was able to participate pretty darn well.

And the whole point of this piece isn't to draw together some nifty, mawkishly sentimental plays on the word "forget," or to poignantly meditate about an old man who cannot remember things clearly while younger adults use forgetting as an easy excuse, and what a mistake they are making by taking this easy way out.

The point of this piece is to say that this has almost been one of those weeks. What has kept it from becoming one of those weeks has been:

1. Working with a colleague on a conference proposal on blogging and women;

2. Spending Tuesday afternoon listening to my father talk about the years he spent in Wyoming, practicing law and running a magazine and courting my mother;

3. Writing a letter of recomendation for a student who is not only a bright go-getter, but a thoroughly decent person as well;

4. Hearing that a colleague has just had a volume of poems published; and,

5. Doing a peer evaluation for a colleague and coming away from it with several great ideas for the classroom.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Border Talking

In rereading the first few chapters of Tinberg's book, I'm taken with this idea of "articulating disciplinary ways of knowing" (xiii). As the instructors participate in a writing workshop, they discuss and argue over what various terms mean, coming to a realization that a term like "argument" can be perceived differently depending on one's discipline. I want to know more. When a student comes to be tutored in the Writing Center, and she brings a writing assignment from another part of the curriculum, I want to be able to view her work from that area's perspective and not from my "English" one. Not that there isn't any common ground among disciplines or that "English" means only one kind of writing, but I am very curious to see where things diverge, where arguments erupt when two sides don't realize that they have two different definitions for the same term. If WAC is to ever be successful, time has to be spent locating the hot spots, if only to acknowledge that they exist and that each discipline has the right to determine how its voice will be expressed.