Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why do students do that?

Medieval Woman has been grading papers and her experience is so similar to mine I that I must blog about it. I'm assuming that her students are writing about medieval literature and my students are writing about twentieth century American popular culture, but this phrase is so familiar. "Throughout history and extending into today, [insert assertion here; e.g. "women have been oppressed by society"]..."

Why do student write this kind of stuff? Tiruncula seems to think the answer is to ban certain phrases. If I started banning all annoying student phrases I would have a really long list, but I'm not sure it would solve the problem of poor writing/thinking. Is there an effective way to get them to stop?

Do they really think that these things have been happening throughout history? Do they lack the experience to know better? Should their instructor just point out that this statement is inaccurate? Should certain phrases be banned?

Although my writing is passable, my experience with writing instruction is somewhat limited. Often I'm able to say that something doesn't work, but I'm not sure what exactly the problem is. I can correct the student, but have trouble explaining how they would go about avoiding the error in future writings.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Movie Review: Bridge to Terabithia

In case you haven't seen it yet, I must warn you now, Bridge to Terabithia is not at all the movie that is portrayed in the TV previews. It's not a bad movie at all, just not what the previews promise.

I remember reading the story as a pre-teen and being struck by how sad it was, but there is no hint of that in the previews. I didn't want to spoil the story for you, but it isn't something I would want to take a child to unaware.

I would classify the story as part of the tradition of literature called Magical Realism, which blends aspects of fantasy and realism. In this particular story the realism hits rather hard at times. When one is expecting a straight forward fantasy story ala The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, sudden realism can be quite a shock. Apparently the book is often censored by parents when read in elementary school classrooms. I'm not saying that children shouldn't read it, it's just that parents should have some warning that their kids might be upset and need to talk.

On the positive side, the characters are much more multifaceted than are common in children's movies. Bullies and neglectful parents are not shown as one dimensional villains, but real people dealing with life in imperfect ways. To their credit, Disney created a movie that stays fairly true to the book, but why their marketing people then strayed so far from the mark in creating the previews I can't understand.


Friday, February 16, 2007

You read what?

I read comic books and I'm not afraid to admit it! This week I picked up some new issues of Strangers in Paradise from the comic book store. I read some other comic strips online, but SIP is the main comic I pay money for.

Say you find yourself, like I did, with a geeky, yet oh so lovable boyfriend and so you mysteriously end up standing around in a comic book store, bored out of your mind. I highly recommend picking up the first issue of SIP, just to give you something to do while you wait. I was almost immediately hooked on the characters, but what keeps me coming back for new issues is the dramatic storylines. (I was going to describe them as "soap-opera-ish" but these days there are a lot of programs that aren't soap operas that have similar plot devices-Heroes, Lost, 24. Literary experts help me out, what is a good word to describe long, drawn out dramatic plot twists?)


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wikis as Pedagogical Tools

This quarter I'm a TA for a class related to American history. I'm not a historian, but it's much better than last quarter. The class is being supervised by an excellent, highly experienced professor. It consists of a series of units on various aspects of American life. Each unit involves a lecture, a movie, and a set of readings. The lecture is conducted by a different professor from the department every week. This leaves a lot of work for the TAs, but in general the lectures are excellent. Excellent professor writes lucid assignments, which makes grading them much easier.

The other TA and I are both trying to use a wiki as part of the class. This week I introduced the wiki to the students in discussion. I set up the wiki with separate pages for each of the units.

The first assignment is for them to research major events in a particular decade of American history. I assigned this because after reading the first set of essays I realized that some of them were confused about basic chronology. One essay claimed that Americans were really happy when movies and movie theaters became available because then they didn't have to watch TV at home. I'm hoping that they will be able to research some basics that an educated person would consider common knowledge. I'm not as picky as Sasha Abramsky, I don't expect them to have heard the Beatles.

The goal is to get them thinking critically about American culture. I told them that participation in the wiki is part of their discussion participation grade. They are free to add information to the wiki as they like, but I want to come up with assignments as well because this is a gen. ed. class and I think giving them some structure will help them figure out how to participate. There is also a chat function they can use to enter questions and comments about the class. Any ideas about how to get students participating in an online discussion?


Monday, February 12, 2007

Philosophy Quiz

Elle took this quiz and so I couldn't resist. Good to know my philosophical leanings haven't changed much. My favorite book for a while in college was The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

You scored as Existentialism. Your life is guided by the concept of Existentialism: You choose the meaning and purpose of your life.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

“It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

--Jean-Paul Sartre

“It is man's natural sickness to believe that he possesses the Truth.”

--Blaise Pascal

More info at Arocoun's Wikipedia User Page...







Strong Egoism


Justice (Fairness)






Divine Command




What philosophy do you follow? (v1.03)
created with QuizFarm.com


News from the Homefront

Warning, random bullets of crap ahead:

This morning my back went out and I wasn't even doing anything strenuous. I have been exercising regularly for the past two weeks and now my lovely exercise habits will be ruined.

The readings I need for class tomorrow are on the class website, but for some reason they won't download.

Beorn's mom sent us a care package filled with cookies, candy, and random junk from her house. The best item is a ring made out of an antique silver fork.

Did I tell you? My back hurts.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dissertation Tips, Part 1

Saturday I attended a dissertation writing workshop and I thought it was pretty helpful. That might be because I haven't started writing my dissertation, but whatever, I'll share anyway. In general the woman leading the workshop was very encouraging. She mentioned impostor syndrome, pointed out that people who get to the dissertation stage have had a whole series of successes, and so should avoid negative beliefs about themselves. Basically, don't attribute problems to anything about your own value as a person or an academic.

Time Management
1. Time management strategies usually focus on getting organized enough to do everything you want to do. This doesn't work because there just isn't enough time to do everything you would like to do. Accept this and prioritize.

2. Academics have too many interests. This is good because all those interests grow into new projects, new teaching techniques, new grants, but it makes it easy for academics to get distracted. People outside of academia don't have many interests. (This part I disagree with, but I can see how statistically this could be true.)

3. Manage your guilt: Often we can't sit down to complete one project because it generates guilt about other projects/tasks that you should be working on. This is often framed as commitment or assertiveness issues. But it's normal to have trouble when you are deciding between two things you might actually want to do. This is not a reason to doubt your commitment or ability to choose.

4. Remember the 80/20 rule. Focus your efforts on small amounts of time, but use those times to work effectively.

1. Plan separately, plan briefly, and plan for starting (don't try to plan comprehensively because your work won't go exactly as you plan anyway.)

2. Plan for 45 minute units-she had a long explanation for this. Basically even though it may feel like you are just getting into a groove after 45 minutes, your productivity will actually be going down. Apparently your focus and attention can still be increasing but your actual cognitive abilities are slowing down at that point. This led her to all sorts of interesting observations about how her writing clients get into trouble when they have too much time available. She said she never worries about clients who claim they are busy, have kid, or other obligations.

3. Plan for the number of hours per week you will work(more hours isn't better, prioritize your tasks.)

4. Plan for your dissertation work week. When will the week start? When will your day off be? How much time will you work each day?

5. Plan for time off, preferably a whole day off. Do something restorative. The number one restorative thing you can do is spend time in nature. Other options include exercise, art, or reading for pleasure. If you can't take a whole day off, do something extravagant.

6. Plan a cutoff time for your dissertation work each day. This makes sure you don't lose touch with reality. It confronts the feeling that you are always working and at the same time never getting anything done. It will gradually move you towards starting earlier because you will know that there is a real stop time and so be more likely to get started in a timely fashion.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Up to my neck in grading

Saturday I spent the morning at a local trade conference and the afternoon at a dissertation writing workshop. The writing workshop was actually very good and maybe I'll blog some of the advice here later. But all this meant that I got no grading done and the papers need to be turned back by Tuesday. It's really difficult to read 20 essays and think of original comments when they all have the same general problems. 20 more tomorrow and I'll be done.

Why is grading so unpleasant? Do some people like grading? Does the fact that I find it so unpleasant mean that I'm not meant to be a professor? If the students were different in some way would it be more fun? If I were different would it be more fun?

Now I have to sleep.