Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Anonymous Surveys

I am uber excited about my first set of anonymous surveys, which I first discussed here. It was a simple procedure; most students took 5-7 minutes to answer my questions, which inquired as to the effectiveness of the peer review, reading from the books, my own comments, and class discussion. I found varying degrees of positivity on each segment, but in general I found the survey quite helpful. The students, with few exceptions, put alot of thought into their answers.

I've given this particular assignment three times now, and I finally have an affirmation that some things work, and some things don't. Regarding the class discussion, which I always felt to be my weakest point (and still may be, in some aspects), I was very much reassured. Many students said that they garnered things from the text that they hadn't, before we talked about it in class. My favorite, of course, is that they absolutely love the in-class writings. As anyone knows from reading my blog, this is also my favorite.

All in all, it was a positive experience, this survey. The first assignment was easy; its a fallback. I am eager to repeat this process in more challenging, potentially more confusing assignments. I would certainly recommend this to other beginning teachers, as a first hand, anonymous account of the classroom experience.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Artsy Fartsy

Warning: Links abound!

When my high school put on Play It Again, Sam my freshman year, I played the part of the "Museum Girl" (Diana Davila) in this scene.

Today, I played Woody Allen's part--in my Comp 2 classroom. Showing them several different painting, drawings, and photographs, I asked my students to write about the piece of art they felt they could most easily and closely identify with. My assortment included paintings by M.C. Escher (Bond of Union and Relativity), Van Gogh, Picasso (Girl Before a Mirror and The Old Guitarist), H.O. Tanner, Dali, Munch, and R. Bearden; the photography of Ansel Adams, Annie Liebovitz and Lois Greenfield; and a few pieces from my own private collection--paintings by my brother and one by local a artist. "What does it say to you," I asked--in as non-pretentious a manner as I could muster. I must say that they reacted quite positively, and many of them were excited to run into new artists and paintings. They were very interested in the controversial Miley Cyrus pictures and I think a few of them fell in love with M.C. Escher today.

At the end of class, I asked them to write a response to one of the photos or paintings we'd looked at in class (there were about 20 items to choose from, including one sculpture. We only discussed a few of them as a class). Seven out of 19 students chose the Dali. We had not talked about it at all; it was simply displayed against the blackboard with several other options. All of these students were female. Although they differed in whether they thought the painting was melancholy or simply peaceful, almost every single one of them expressed a wish to be at the window with her.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Home sweet Home

I just returned from what may very likely be the worst bachelorette party experience of my life. The list of party offenses is long. I had so much fun that I graded all of my student's papers. Yes, at the bachelorette party. And no one noticed that it may have been rude to grade papers at such an event, because they were too busy bickering amongst themselves and gushing about an over expensive wedding. I was the token "representing the groom's side" invitee, anyway. Urgh. My brain hurts, quite literally. I'm just not that girly.

Or maybe I'm just not that interested in weddings, and the entourage of events that accompany them. I think its an extension of the cult of perfect motherhood--the cult of the perfect wedding. It is a very emotionally destructive and ridiculously expensive way to look at things. People seem to forget that a wedding is just a big friggin par-tay, and instead insist that the hall, color scheme, table settings, music choices, and countless other menial details be SET IN STONE AT LEAST TWO YEARS BEFORE THE DATE. Fuck.

So the wedding just set the happy couple and their parents farther into debt than my phD program ever will, and still I'm the impractical one. That's all besides the fact that when it comes down to it, the night's over just like any other night, and whether or not you served the mashed potatoes with the skins on or off will ony be remembered by the cruel promulgators of this wedding-cult regime. There's so much emphasis (and money) put on the silly day and time that no one reminds the couple of what comes next: marriage. More time needs to spent on preparing young couples for a life together, if this is what they've chosen. It's great to get the dream wedding, sure--but not if the partner is just a pawn to get to the fairy tale.

When I got back today from crappy bachelorette party (see above), Floyd told me that he and my oldest brother had been talking, and decided it would be really cool to fix up my brother's Z71 pick up (or some other such alphanumeric title). They want to chop off the top of it so it's like a souped up convertible, and then they plan to baja with it in our backyard. Now that's my kind of man. Maybe a little reckless. But he's always thinkin, that one.

I am happy to be home. I could use a backyard baja right about now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Name change

I just went over a section on names, and naming with my Comp 2 class. We had a fun and interesting discussion, in which many of the students learned a lot about themselves and each other. We read snippets of blogs like this one from Spastic Onomastic. I tried not to limit it just to our own names but wanted to draw attention to our naming of things, and the connotations a word or sound contains...I think it got a little over my head, personally. Maybe they just weren't buying it.

Anywho, it got me thinking about the name of this blog, previously "Meanderings" which has never satisfied me. Of course, it was somewhat appropriate, as that's just what this is--meandering through mental corridors. Still, it has always irked me. It was a title I slapped on, regrettably, without much thought. So, its Friday night and I'm up late reading Virgil (ah, gradschool), and I stumbled across this phrase I had forgotten I was in love with: mirabile dictu*. Memories of undergraduate Latin classes swarmed my brain (swarmed...sorry, I'm at the part in Georgics with the bees) and it seemed like a more appropriate title for my outlook as of late. Meanderings is too emo for me.

Maybe, on a bad day, I should have an alter-ego blog titled "Osculare Fundamentum" We shall see.

*If I am embarassing myself by misapplying the term please let me know, but I just love it. It means "wonder to relate" or "happy to tell you" etc. I likes it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

[In]experienced teaching

My mother unintentionally, but quite directly, gave me a great piece of advice/comfort over the weekend. She hadn't even heard my insecure musings about teaching a new class, and being a newb in general (*shuddering* Mom, are you reading my blog?). Basically she called out of the blue to talk to me about how experience is a teacher's best weapon, and that we can only really learn the success rate of a given discussion or assignment after we've tried it a few times.

*Rolling eyes as one can only roll eyes at mother* So my mom says that what I need is experience. I knew that! But she went on (I had no part in this conversation, by the way) and said that this is not to say that inexperienced teachers are inherently unsuccessful, of course not. Slightly more encouraging. What will carry me through in the meantime, she says, is consistent and insistent enthusiasm, plus lots of energy. Its contagious, keeps the kids awake, and might make them wonder--what's so great about writing, that she's so excited about it?

Obviously, there's other stuff involved. Writing theory, rhetoric; Pathos, Ethos and Abedneg--wait, wait, sorry. D'Artagnon. I've read it, taught it, but in the end I need to draw from what I know about writing. There needs to be more of it. So, my students write a lot. They certainly write more than they read. They talk about what they read about, and then write about what they talked about. They write in all sorts of different forms, to different audiences. And I comment back, in detail, on every single thing that they write. I love it. It's my favorite part of the job.

This year I am really honing in on discussion skills, and *gasp* its working! Is it the students? Is it me? They never did this last year! Today, I couldn't get them to stop talking. Hands were raised, everywhere I looked; faces were engaged, pencils were scribbling; they were looking at one another and responding to each other...what a rush. The only student who sits out and spends the entire time connected to her blackberry, or rolling her eyes, is the daughter of my high school dean. Oh, the irony.

So, back to enthusiasm-it's all I got; on a startling majority of my semester evaluations, students write that they appreciate my enthusiasm. I am still not entirely sure what this means. In fact, I'm not really sure exactly how to take those evaluations, what with the scantron and the "strongly agree/disagree" survey. Ick. There are some random odds and ends in written section that make me smile, but rarely anything about any of the assignments. Let's face it: by the time the students have filled out all those bubbles, they've reverted to standardized test mode and quit doing any thinking. So, this got me to thinking...

(whoops! more digressions)
The folks into student portfolios like to have a reflective letter included to serve as a 'road map' of the writings contained in the collection. This is nice. It's kind of a 'feel good' read for the teacher, in which the student talks about how much they learned, and how great an experience it was, and how much more they enjoy writing now, and how they've grown as a writer.
Then, for the next portfolio at the end of the semester, they turn in the exact same letter. I've had it happen. Several times.

I'm sick of reflective letters. I'm sick of trying to patch assignments together based on theoretical methods of extracting the perfect reaction from students. I've already put them together, and assigned them--hell, a coupla semesters now. I can gauge, roughly, the success of the assignment based on the students writing, but what about their opinion of the scaffolding exercises? Did they make sense? Did they feel the discussion/reading/writing in class helped them for the larger assignment?
I'm desperate for honest feedback from the only people who really know my assignments--my students. So, for at least this semester--or until I gain some experience--I am coming up with a set of questions, specifically in reference to the latest assignment, for my students to answer anonymously. Typed. Optional, hell. No pressure, just give me some effin feedback.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fast food, good cause

My sister has an intimate relationship with my answering machine. Well, just about anyone who calls here halfway regularly does. I don't answer the phone. Its typically not worth it. Nor do I carry a phone around with me that will ring (inevitably) during class or some other such inopportune moment, particularly considering that I wouldn't answer that phone, either. So, people call and leave lengthy messages and I call them back at a time suitable to me. It's something about being busy all day long, deadline crunches, customer service, that makes me unwilling to give my free time away to someone who isn't even physically there.

Her answering machine message: Wendy's kids meals have really great toys right now. So if I'm out and about being graduate studenty and not eating, or only ate gummi-bears for breakfast (mmmm...), I should stop by Wendy's for a Kids Meal, and send the toy in her direction.

Dutiful sister and aunt that I am, I develop a hankerin' for some fountain pop and a Jr. Bacon, and now I've got this great CandyLand toy. This got me to thinking--if I always order the kids meal, I can develop a toy collection! Substandard toys, yes--but toys nonethless! At this point, when the kids come over, they go directly to the subwoofer, because they know that on top of it is the R2D2 figurine, and the upper half of Darth Sith (He's meant to come apart, as he gets chopped in half in the movie. Can't find his legs, though). In my defense, its not that the kids are horribly bored when they come over; they usually go run on the trail behind our house. Still, makes sense that I have a few tricks up my sleeve, even if those tricks are fastfood-quality toys.

I eat fast food. I do. I'm not going to turn my nose up and deny McDonald's three times before the cock crows. When I am out running the road (I've put 1500 miles on my Jeep since we bought it a month ago), Mickey-D's or some other such garbage is what's available. It suits my time schedule, and it doesn't upset my stomach. I don't have one of those ultra-sensitive "My stomach hurts when I eat roadkill because I eat well consistently" stomachs.

Anyway, one thing that often vexes me, in dealing with fast food, is the gigundo portion of food that I'm only really going to eat half of. Another thing that vexes me, is that I have eight nieces and nephews age ten and under, and no toys for them to play with when they come over (aside from the poor little star wars figurines that we've acquired-I say acquired so as to not underscore our geekiness). I believe I have found a single solution to these two unrelated vexations!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Somedays I'm on top

Thursday was a day like that. I can't quite explain it--some people look at astrological cycles, or hormonal cycles. I don't get real into it. I just know that I was wearing a tie, and it was orange plaid, and any time any part of me is wearing orange plaid, nothing can go wrong.

Work was great. I was over-efficient. I locked myself in the office and made many phone calls, cleared up many claims. Some days, insurance companies are worth calling. A trick of the job is knowin when its a day to call them, and when to leave them well enough alone. It was the tie. Orange plaid.

My comp II class went extremely well, and it was a relief considering the anxiety I have every day going into that class. I had them read Ray Bradbury's short story "Kaleidoscope," a story I have been fascinated by since childhood. It was a scaffolding exercise for a four part "Personal Casebook" I'm having them create. I'm asking them to identify themselves in different aspects:
1.) where their names come from (does it fit you? would you want to change it? why? to what?)
2.) where they fit in, in terms of family, and how does being a daughter, aunt, uncle, father, etc... identify them. What do these titles and relationships mean, and how do they help as sources of identification?
3.) where they fit in the cosmos--whether its a religious thing, or a philosophical one, you can get a sense of your identity when you imagine yourself faced with imminent death (thus the Bradbury story) and
4.) pick a piece of artwork that you can relate to/identify with and explain how it relates to you.

Next in line is an assignment that will require some genealogy work, as I will ask them to consider where their familes come from (this may require some phonecalls to parents, but I'd like it to extend into cultural studies, because they then have to research their heritage). I want them then to pick a point from that culture and do a mini-research project on it...more details later. To be fair, I am sensitive to the student who may not have access to this information, whether they are adopted, or simply have limited access for whatever reason...

anyway, I have things up my sleeve and I'm excited to see that I have at least almost half the class interested in discussion, and even more than that with insightful things to say in their reading responses.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunburned from dancing

It's always a bit anti-climactic, driving home after a performance. You rehearse for what, six weeks? three months? (It depends on the piece) And then its just over, and there's nothing left for you to do but to drive home. On any given day, I typically choose to ride in silence, unless its one of my Great Courses on tape . Tonight, I needed the quiet. I was woozy from all the sunshine, and all the smiles.

Smiles are exhausting. Not just the cheesy "on-stage" smiles. (Believe me, I have those specially designed to not fatigue my face). It's the genuine, o-my-god-they're-cheering-for-me smiles that get tiring. This particular performance is taxing because it's not just one, but three shows within a 5 hour span. That means you have to get psyched up, walk on "stage" (stage being the conventional term, but not really applicable to this particular performance...I'll get to that), psych yourself out, and stop shaking so that your pas de bureaux isn't sloppy, and get on with it--then you're done for an hour, only to repeat the process again, and in our case, a third time. Its an adrenalin roller coaster, and certainly takes its toll by the end of the day. We went out for beers afterward, but were so tired none of us had more than two.

My parents came, which meant a lot to me. I don't think my mother has been able to come to one of my performances since my undergraduate thesis in May 2001. She made fun of my costume (a very cutesy sundress, one that I've "ugh"ed over several times) and my dad leaned in to give me a kiss--again, with the exhausting smiles).

We did REALLY well, which is a relief. Six weeks is not a long time to rehearse, and I don't think we had all of us together at the same time until dress , which then went badly for technical reasons (btw, if someone knows of any dress rehearsal on earth that's ever gone well, please let me know!). It pulled together beautifully today. We dance on a stone sculpture, and then walk into a reflecting pond. Incidentally, said pond has multiple signs surrounding it "NO swimming NO wading" But it doesn't say NO dancing!(we also have an insurance policy specific to this event...silly bureaucracy) So, it's not a stage. As my dad says, "It's 3D" because our atmostphere, the sculpture and the pool, are as much a part of the dance as the choreography and the music.

I have been thinking so much about my Curriculum Vitae lately, and personal statements--in fact, that is what occupied my mind on my quiet ride home tonight. Here's something that I just spent 6 weeks to create. Its done in an instant, everyone's back home and there's a wee little line on the CV under the fucking "extracurricular" section, or something else just as lame. But this is something that hundreds of people came to today! I hate to think of the truly awesome and enriching experiences of my life as notches on a belt (mind you, that belt is purple velvet...) or lines on a CV. And yet, my graduate experience has taught me to do just that. I'm a paper doll--quite literally, because whoever sees my application sees just that, paper. These applications raise a unique and hair-raising challenge that I'm not sure quite how to meet yet.