January 21, 2010

New Term's Resolutions

It's that time of year again. So much potential. So many things to do right this time. The beginning of the term. (And the downside, so many syllabi to review as students' eyes glaze over. Disorientation!)

My Mini Resolutions:

1. I will get assignments back to students within the week. (With some feedback!)

2. I'll post something here minimally one time per week. (Ha!)

3. I will do better question assignments (this will be an ongoing theme...**)

4. I will be in my office for every minute of my Drop In office hours (unless I am in the bathroom or go downstairs to the snack bar in which case I'll write on my dry erase board.)

5. I will find better ways to help tie other classes into my current classes... help students recognize the connections.

6. I won't stay on campus more than one night a week.

7. and more... I think. We'll see.

**I'm fine tuning my question assignments as I try to figure out why students seem incapable of evaluating their own responses to questions and try to help they develop skills to do so.

January 3, 2010

Flashback to December 4th, 2008 - Why I Fear the Ink

The post below tells the story of why I fear the ink. It was written in December 2008 during my first year of full-time teaching. Don't Fear the Ink is a way for me to a) to help my students who are struggling with developing their writing and b) to make myself write more. My idea for helping students was that I could normalize some common (and idiosyncratic) difficulties with writing and share some ways of dealing with them. Even us professors struggle with this stuff. Nothing about finishing graduate school made writing any easier or less work. Also, I sometimes respond to things that happen in my classes too (i.e., thoughts on vocab or reading), so this blog is slowly mutating into a teaching blog. This blog may be moving to Weebly. I have a few posts there and am trying out the site. Let me know what you think!

How I learn to Fear the Ink (Short Version)

In elementary school I knew I didn't have the right handwriting (i.e., that even, gracefully loopy, and legible type of which many of the girls in my class had. Who really dots their i's with tiny hearts?), and I wasn't full of adjectives and adverbs and fancy nouns and verbs. People got check pluses for lots of flowery writing back then.

By middle school, I really got irritated by teachers' habits of ruining perfectly good books by forcing us to write papers on them. (They also made us read many dull books. And gave us opportunities to write about how irritating, dull, or inane the story and/or the characters were. That was my motivation. Passive-aggressive writing got me through a few classes.)

By high school my hatred for writing was firmly established. It was hard to find motivation to do my work. We learned of a new torture device in the English teacher arsenal: MLA format. Some how I passed AP English and did well enough to skip the freshman composition class in college. That seemed to work out in my favor at the time, but thinking back now I'm not so sure about that.

In college, the papers got longer and required more references. (New styles & formats! APA! CBE! Chicago!) I turned in papers for my yearly required writing intensive courses (20+ pages & references) and never got much feedback on the clarity of my ideas or the mechanics of my writing.

However, toward the end of my first year in graduate school, a professor finally and metaphorically kicked my butt. She recommended me for a writing workshop because my "writing obscured my ideas." I was defensive, angry, and genuinely confused. No one told me that before! Surely if it were true, someone might have mentioned it before I got to my 500th year of schooling?!? (Okay, more like 17th grade.)

I was a passive-aggressive ass to the instructor of the writing workshop. "You think we don't know what an outline is??? Or the difference between a subject and a predicate?!? I have to sit through a weekend of this crap!?" ((Sorry G.B.!)) Okay, fine. They caught me. I did my best to let my indignation go. Ate my vegetables. Completed the workshop.

Upon Reflection Post Workshop
The thing was I knew how to make an outline and what a verb was, but before the workshop (and qualifying exams) I never used these as part of writing. I treated them all like reference books that never leave the shelf. But here was my problem -- this habit was reinforced in nearly all of my prior classes. (Even many of my favorites.) So, yes, I was/am a lazy and avoidant writer... but now that I am a teacher, and I've a stake in not inadvertently reinforcing these same habits in my students.

Anyway, long after the workshop was over I was thankful. ((Thanks G.R.!!)) I still hate writing (I'm working on love/hate), but I know what I have to do when I need to write -- even though I don't always choose to do it. I know that I need other people to review my writing to catch the gaps and contradictions in my ideas. I know I have to circle around the ideas a couple time as a matter of course. I know the APA Style manual is just to be accepted, not reasoned with.

The weird, important thing is, in the process of learning what I needed to do, I realized that all the work was normal. It was the way writing was supposed to happen, not just a punishment for being a born and raised a rotten writer who snuck through school and still couldn't figure out.

What a revelation. My only regret was having it in grad school. Real writers (you know, the grownup, professional kind) write and revise and revise and revise and revise. None of my teachers ever said that was, in part, what made them good (or better). Or maybe they did say that, but we never really practiced it so it didn't stick. My assumption was that good (student) writers were the ones who always had less ink on their papers.