Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Collage Activity for Week 1, and a few words about Emails

The second activity that we do is the collage--a means of representing in a nonverbal way, one's interests and personality. It's intentionally very different from the business card activity, both in purpose and in format. With no help from me except for an assignment sheet, the students create their collages for Friday's class.
In class, I blend this activity with learning how to get into MS Word as well as how to save files. This step is becoming almost unnecessary, but there are still enough students who need to learn how to operate a computer that it is worth doing.

So, we open a new file in MS Word and the first round of writing is to describe what the objects on their collages represent. What does each color, object, photograph tell the viewer about the creator? During this time, I walk around the room and make sure that each student has been able to open a file and get started.

At the end of fifteen minutes, I stop them, and ask them to give me their collages. There are two long tables up front, and I place all of the collages on there. I invite the class up to the front of the room to pick another collage to write about, specifying that they not choose a person whose collage they've already seen or talked about.

We spend another fifteen minutes writing, this time, analyzing the new collage. What does this collage say about the person who created it? This time, they have to imagine and guess at the answer.

When time's up, we go around the room, each student talking about what they've guessed about their collage artist. I hold the collage in question and walk around so that everyone can see it. When the speaker is finished, I ask the artist how close the speaker was to interpreting her (or him). My emphasis is less on correctness but on the act of interpretation.

In both sections, we ran out of time before we could finish.

But not before I could give them the next assignment, "Send Me An Email."

What I like about this particular activity is that once again, names and faces are reinforced; students are asked to take something created in one medium and translate it into another; and they are asked to stand up and talk to each other(good practice for project reports and a good antidote for fidgeting).

Right now, I'm reading and responding to the emails. By the deadline, half of them had come in,each describing their student self. I respond to each of them with a two- to three- line message that lets them know that I've paid attention to what they've said, and in some cases, I've posed a question to them.

The first obvious benefit is that the class gets to email me, thus breaking the ice for using that communication tool. Secondly, they are having to draft another kind of communication: not a paragraph, not a business card, not a collage, but an email, which has specific conventions to follow. Finally, they are, for the third time this week, having to reflect on some aspect of themselves, and bring it to the fore.

So far the emails have been fine. The only quibble I have is that students sometimes forget to sign them, so I'm left trying to figure out who Snugglypoo876 or BadBrunette are.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

First Week Activities in BW

Since we've moved to portfolios this year, I no longer have to spend the first two sessions giving diagnostic tests in writing and grammar. That has freed up quite a bit of time to pull together the first week activities into a coherent unit, rather than having to do only a part of the plan and then rush on to something else.

On the first day, we go over the syllabus, which runs to four pages since I've blended the college's with my own. I touch on the major points and will use the syllabus as a document for study in few weeks. Then, I do give them a writing diagnostic assignment, but I choose topics that are either timely or are geared towards seeing how they do with narration or exposition.

Homework consists of getting the school supplies on the syllabus.

On day two, I walk around the room and take roll. Then, we begin the activity of the day, which is to create business cards, something I do in all of my BW and DR classes. This activity does at least three things: it gets the students thinking about why they are in college at all; it gives them some play with word and image and drafting; and, because they exchange cards, they leave class knowing two other students that they can contact when they have questions.

I begin by giving each student one of my business cards. We look it over and analyze the elements, including the logo, and why each element is on the card. Then they freewrite for about ten minutes about their professional goals, as a warm up. Following the freewrite, I ask them to sketch a rough draft of their card on the same paper as the freewrite. They are to create a card that represents them in their future occupation, but which also has their real email and phone numbers on it. This activity takes another ten minutes, and when I sense that they are done, I hand out three 5x3" index cards to each student.

For 15 minutes, each student creates three copies of their index card. Some student whip right through this, others are very painstaking and need more time, which I can't give if I want to get through the assignment, but I do suggest that they finish the cards at home and bring them in for the next class.

Cards done, I request that they pass one up to me, so that I have my own set of cards. I put the students into groups of three, tell them to exchange cards and spend time getting to know each other, because in a few minutes, they will have to introduce their group to the class.

While they chat, I go through the cards and try to match names and faces.

When time's up, we go around the room, each group standing and having their "designated spokes-student" introduce them by name and career goal.

At this point, I have just enough time to give them the collage assignment for homework and class is over.

I'll write about the collage assignment in my next post since this is getting rather long. Essentially, the assignment is to create a collage from photos, found objects or whatnot, which depicts the personal interests of the student. By the end of the week, the student will have created three documents which depict three aspects of herself--her professional self through the cards; her personal self through the collage, and her academic self through an email sent to me.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wonderful, Wonderful Cat Blogging

I'm in a fix right now--feel like a cold is coming on, so I don't feel much like blogging as ambitiously as I had planned. So, fortunately, I reached into my bag of tricks and found this, which discusses a cat's participation in early 20th century technology. Don't laugh too hard (your sides will ache; your heart will go pitter-pat).

And I'll be back on Saturday. Honest.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Second Day of Classes

Began at 8 a.m. in a room with an air blower so loud that it felt like I was teaching from inside an airplane engine. By the end of class, I was coughing from having had to boom my voice at students. Fortunately, I was able to get the room changed, so we'll have a quieter, gentler semester.

Today (and yesterday) I tried something new with my students. Since working on retention has been one of my goals this year, I've been looking for ways to make my students feel comfortable with me from the start. So, instead of taking roll by standing in the front of the room, I went from student to student and asked what her or his name was. In a class of 22-24 students, of course, this kind of thing is doable.
Another tact I tried was to talk about the rhythms of the semester and how missing class or not doing the work assigned can throw a person off course. I encouraged them to come to me if they were starting to miss classes and were afraid to come back because they were embarrassed or ashamed--I don't think I said it quite that way, but I did talk about not letting things snowball.

If these were credit-level courses, I wouldn't be doing this, but with developmental classes, the students' confidence and academic literacy is sometimes shaky, and I want them to get off to a good start. Having done a stunning turn of flunking out as a college student, I can, as they said in the 80's, "relate" to the nervous, the shy, the negative students in my class--the trick is to help them figure out a way out of the failure cycle without stepping over one's boundaries as an instructor.

If I have time tomorrow, I'll post about how I open up the writing course in week one.

Monday, January 24, 2005

First Day of Classes

I met with my classes this morning. Back -to- back classes from 8-11. Good people, great lab. Went over my standards with them ; )

More tomorrow after I've recovered from the shock of having to get going early in the morning.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

When is a Door Not a Door? When it's a Blog.

This is the informal title of my 4C's presentation--which really has to do with using blogging as a professional development tool. But my working title really does spell out the number -one attraction that blogs have for me, and that is their asynchronicity and online(-icity?). Right now it's nearly 5 in the morning (a cold, cold, cold morning) and I am sitting here, plugging away--having visited all of the blogs on the blogroll and a few others.
I don't have to depend on you to be in your office and willing to talk with me--or, in this case, listen.
And of course, the you's I'm writing to, youse guys, are in offices all over the map, and it's pretty unlikely that I will ever pop my head in your door.

Which leads me to another attraction of blogging for this professional--I've been able to talk to other academics that I might never have met or known about had I not blogged. My professional perspective has certainly widened as a result of blogging.

Over the course of the next month, I'll work on my presentation here. Makes sense.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

What Jeff Said

Jeff Rice sent along these sites which show Cool in action. I'm giving them their own post so that more people can see them.

the Malcolm X assignment:

I'm posting this link in hopes that Jeff can send a correction--it doesn't seem to work.
Writing About Cool course

When Jeff gets the other assignments online, you can find them here.

Thanks, Jeff.

On Wednesday

On Wednesday I went to a poetry reading given by my colleague, Kay Bosgraaf. She took a sabbatical a year ago and spent it writing and revising poems that became part of her book currently being published. (I've currently forgotten its title, but I promise that I'll have it, and a sample poem, soon).

Dr. Bosgraaf's poetry is autobiographical and her best poems that afternoon were her pantoums. I don't think I've ever heard someone use the pantoum as effectively or resonantly as she does. Don't get me started on her imagery--I can still see her great-grandfather in his chair, "rocking all the way back to the Netherlands."

Our college, through the Center for Teaching and Learning and through the Writing and Reading Center, does a good job of presenting the writers among our faculty, and I wish that I could do just as good a job as an audience. If I could, I'd go to every reading.

I mention all of this because I've been thinking about the ways our college does or should highlight/affirm the research and scholarship of the faculty. Two-Year Teacher-Scholar has motivated me to give it all a more critical look than I have in the past.

How am I being supported this year? Well, I'm being funded to attend the 4C's, for one. There is no way that I could go if I had to pay for it myself.

I'm using the $2,000 educational assistance fund money that we each get to fund:

1. Attending an online conference on using blogs in education
2. Pay for an online poetry course through
3. Pay conferences fees for the 4C's, The Mid-Atlantic Women's Studies Conference, and a Skip Downing On Course workshop.

Like I said, there is no way that I could go to any of this if I had to pay for it myself. All of these activities add depth to my teaching as well as refresh my brain and remind me of why I love teaching in the first place.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Check it out.


From the Tech-Rhet maillist at Interversity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Catching Up on My Reading

I spent last night reading "Two-Year College Teacher- Scholar." I'd encourage anyone entering the two-year college workplace to read it as it sets out the need for reflective practices (as in time for research)and institutional reinforcement of such practices. Makes sense, doesn't it? We teach our students to think about how they learn and what they've learned, and it behooves us, as professionals and as human beings, to have the time to reflect on what we do when we teach. Not to do so turns teaching into an assembly-line activity, where one uses the same old handouts and worksheets without even updating them.

Another site worth a look is Community College Week. I've recently begun a subscription to it and have appreciated its focus on the CC as its own entity, not as something to be mentioned in paragraph 66 of an article centered on the "university." Because of the CC focus, one is able to read about other institutions and see the variety of campuses, student needs and so on that exist between and among CC's across the country.

Finally, I've begun reading Jeff Rice's book, Writing About Cool: Hypertext and Cultural Studies in the Computer Classroom. Given that I've spent the past year wandering about in a fitful diva-daze trying to think about how I could enhance what I do in the networked classroom, this text is taking me to the next level, where I can begin to conceptualize the changes in writing (process and text)that technology is bringing to our lives. Jeff has agreed to post here about his ideas, and I look forward to his doing that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Reading and Blogging

This semester I'll be teaching the second level of developmental reading and have been casting about looking for ways to use blogging in the course. Unlike my writing classes, RD 099 will meet in a traditional classroom, so if I want to use the internet, I'll have to schedule time in the lab or assign blogging to be done outside of class.

I'm eager to use a blog with this course for several reasons--one being that RD 099 is a three-hour course that meets on Tuesday and Thursday. I want to have activities that can be done on that long stretch between Thursday and Tuesday. Also, the class meets for an hour and 15 minutes each time, so there is not as much time as I'd to have in class for activities that reinforce reading and writing. The informality of the medium is the last reason why I'm eager to get my class on board. I want them to be talking about what they've read and what their ideas are without worrying about grammar and mechanics to the point of getting nothing written.

The only concern I have is that they might be nervous about writing something that everyone on the internet could read. Maybe that will encourage them to think about how they phrase things before they write their ideas down. On the other hand, we can always delete entries and responses, so maybe I'm overworrying (won't be the first time!)

The first time we blog, we'll be together in the lab. There after, the blogging will be done out of class, but will be used in class discussions and referred to often enough that it doesn't seem like an entity in outer space.

Next week, I'll blog some more about the books we're reading and how I'll be blogging with this class. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Women's Studies Blogging and Blogging by Feminists

A colleague and I will be doing a blogging workshop in April, and we'd like to compile a blogroll of feminist and WS-related blogs. I'm especially interested in finding out about bloggers in other areas of the Humanities and the Sciences. If you can suggest any blogs, let me know. Thanks.

The Play's the Thing

We talk an awful lot about composition here, which is great, but I'd like to switch gears a bit. What are some of your favorite contemporary dramas to teach in a Composition and Literature or Introduction to Literature course?

Shelf Life

So I went into Borders last week. I had time to kill and I needed to buy a copy of Ethelbert Miller's Fathering Words, an autobiographical work that I'll be teaching later on this semester. Couldn't find it. Rather, I couldn't find the Biography/Autobiography section. And I looked. And looked. Until a clerk asked, "hey, need some help?" "Hey, yeah," I answered. Turns out that Borders doesn't have a Biography section. "We put the biographies in the sections associated with the writer, like Hemingway's in non-fiction, next to his novels, and the others are wherever," he pointed to wherever as he explained this new system. So Miller's work should have been in the Black Studies or the Local Authors section, which it wasn't.

I left the store shaking my head. "Barnes and Noble and libraries have Biography sections, but not us," my helper had said. Why the hell not? Is Borders trying to imitate linking? Given the associational nature of linking, it might be better to leave it to the computers, at least for now. Can you imagine a shelf with Hemingway's biography, A movable Feast and other works, plus books about elephant hunting, mood disorders, Key West and all things related? Well, actually, I can imagine such a shelf, but the problem is that with organization by association, the consumer is left at the mercy of whomever opened up the carton of books that day. As it was, the Local Authors section was loaded with picture books about the Chesapeake Bay, research on the Civil War, and cookbooks showcasing the Delmarva region's famous crab cakes. No Ethelbert Miller to be found there, or in the Black Studies section (So we put everything about African Americans in one section? Hmmmm...).

Yet, as we blur genres and boundaries in composition, maybe blurring of categories in bookstores is to be expected. However, it felt like looking through the broken lens of a kaleidoscope--everything was fanning out in a pattern that I couldn't discern. If I'd had the time, browsing through the stacks might have been fun, but I really needed, in my time-pressed twenty-first century way, to get the book right then and not a moment later. Nor was I expecting that there not be biographies and autobiographies lined up, alphabetical by subject, as I was used to.

I had meant this post to be a cranky venting of steam, but now I wonder if it doesn't mirror what's going on in writing these days--reordering and disordering of what we're used to. And the reader (allegorical ole me) is pressed by the need to figure out the new order while simultaneously feeling time bear down on her ability to think.