April 29, 2011

Summer Plans

Continuing with my theme of "cabin fever," school-wise, I found this great photo on one of the multiple blogs I read.  I can't remember the last time I made a summer list, with any hope of finishing any of it.  As I've gotten older, I find the concept of "self-editing" at times to be a crippling attitude.  Why put it on a list, my older self seems to say, if you know it won't get done/get finished or even be started?  The energy level starts out at about 70% of what my thirty-year old self used to have (maybe 50%?) and goes downhill from there, so that by the end of the day, I'm reduced to clicking my way through the web and drooling as I read about other people's productivity.

But the sign above doesn't just speak to productivity--it's about experience.  I love the entries "learn some Spanish" and "back-yard movie night."  (I have to assume also that "make paella" is more the child's mother, than the child.)  So, in this spirit of experience (and well, some productivity), here's my first run at a Summer: The Extended List.

Drive through a small town
Get a tan on my legs
Make a berry shortcake
Travel to family reunion

It's a start.  Now to find some poster paint and a cute child to hold it up.

April 27, 2011

Need an Atta' Boy?

At this point in the semester--which, by the way, seems like it will go on FOREVER--I'm sending you an atta'boy to remind you all that we are all above average.  That's just my .02 worth.  Now, back to the grading.

April 18, 2011

Thinking on Their Own

It's about this time of the semester that I start to push the students out of the nest.  I figure I've taught them lots and lots and lots of things, but now it's time for them to start using their tools.  These thoughts were prompted by this email:

I have a quick question, for .edu and .org, do these count against the one free web you told us about? You might have told us during class, but i have forgotten. 

My response:
It depends on the source.  You have the tools to evaluate your sources, so I know you can figure out what is a reputable, scholarly source.  I've seen good sources on both of the those domains, as well as poor sources.

I then advised the student to bring the sources in question to their research paper conference, where we could talk it out. I know that for myself, when learning a new task, it's not until I put the skills into play that the knowledge is added to the mix.  I remember my friend Rosalyn, a kindergarten teacher saying that after the winter break, she never ties a pupil's shoes for them.

We only have about 8 days of class left in our semester.  Time to let them tie their own shoes, time to prepare them to leave the nest.

April 14, 2011

A Student's Worst Nightmare

To go along with yesterday's post. . .
(Click to enlarge.)

April 13, 2011

Make-Up Tests or Quizzes

Here are two emails I received yesterday after class:

This is A. from your English 101 class. I am sick and will not be in class today. I know the MLA test is today, and I was wondering if I would be able to make it up? Please let me know. See you in class on Thursday! Thank you for your time.

Prof. E.
    I woke up today with the flu or something and I can't even get out of bed. I was wondering if I don't go to class today, if there is anyway I could still make up the test.

Other than the fact that the second one was sent to my department chair, instead of me, both of these emails look fine on the surface: requesting a make-up exam for one they planned to miss.  Except that my syllabus clearly states there are no make-up exams. After doing some math, I figured this test was worth about 2% of their grade, if that.  Was it worth all the hassle?

Out of curiosity, I did a quick Google search on Make-Up Exam Policy.  The response varies but I did like what the University of Indianapolis states: Make-up exams are a courtesy that is extended to students by their instructors. An instructor is never obligated to provide a make-up exam for any student.  In addition, a recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Negotiating the Demands of Students' Lives, had this to say: 

At most colleges, individual faculty members are forced to negotiate the demands of students’ lives in their classes as the semester plays out. You provide extensions, you let students take exams early, you give make-up assignments, you decide to excuse absences. Individual faculty bear the burden of making semester-long classes fit a student’s life, and some are better at doing that than others.

It helped to realize that what I was thinking about doing, was "making classes fit a student's life," so I decided in this case to try and accommodate their requests.  This required a series of emails to the person who proctors exams for the Writing Center, setting up the cover letter, me sending him the two-part exams, trying to find a time.  Then I had to email back to the students the arrangements, cautioning them that their deadline was Thursday by class time, when I had planned to hand back the tests.

That only took an extra hour.  What was interesting was when I emailed the students to let them know about accommodating their request, there was no response from either of the students; not even a thank-you. Whenever I deviate from my syllabus, I always feel like a 90-pound weakling who just had sand kicked in her face.  So, from now on--no make-up exams.

April 7, 2011


I am a frequent reader of Teaching College English.  Recently she posted an historical overview of tips that teachers have given to get around the odious task of grading.  (This caused me to think of some things I've tried to do to help with this task, rather than sinking to GA--Grading Avoidance.)

I am trying to get the grading down to a more minimal level as well.  While I am more streamlined that my earlier self, I still wish I could be quicker.  Here's what I do now:
  • Minimal Marking: At the beginning of the semester I pass out a sheet with my grading symbols and codes.  Some of them are standard editing symbols and some are my inventions.  In the margins of their 1st essay, they get an X with the code beside it, and I either underline or circle the error.  Essay #2, no circling or underlining, but still the X's and codes.  Essay #3, gets them an X in the margin only, with an occasional code.
  • Error Log: After each essay the student is required to make a list of their errors, and where in the handbook they can find the answers for fixing them.  They have to compile all the essays onto one sheet; hopefully they'll see their progression and "own their errors."
  • Rubric: I make a rubric, adjusting it slightly for each essay.  This keeps me honest and helps the student know that while I did mark off for POV switches, they overall only lost 3 points (thereby helping with the whining).  The bulk of the grading is not in the "mechanical section" but in structure and content, and the rubric keeps me focused.
Problems with marking a lot are, a) it takes too much time, b) it's usually a waste of our time, and c) it's discouraging to the student to see their paper filled with our ink.  On some of the more recent essays, I heavily marked and coded the first page and a half of student's essays that contained multiple errors.  I then drew a line across with my ruler and wrote that while the errors persisted, I would not be marking them.  However, the student was under obligation to locate and fix the errors if they were to do a re-write.

I have to say that the rest of the essay was far less tedious to grade, and I could focus on the more significant problems of structure and cohesiveness, content and support.