Evidence of a failed assignment

April 20, 2011 § 12 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I had my annual review. And I subsequently blogged about it. Twice.

Yesterday, I completed my students’ blog grades for the semester and had Excel do all the math for me. I utilized my Average and Sum formulas, and these are the results.

Spring 2010: I think I have a different concept of "failure"....

Clearly my students failed to remember their blogs, three days a week (including Sunday nights).

Obviously they failed to complete the assignment in a satisfactory manner.

I had a horrible idea that wasted not only my students’ time but mine as well.


And, in case you were curious, these are the results from the previous semesters.

Summer 2010: the pilot class

Fall 2010: section 1

Fall 2010: section 2

Blogs and Writing Pedagogy: what I should have said

April 7, 2011 § 22 Comments

“I just don’t see the blogs accomplishing your pedagogy like you think they do.”

I sit there, blinking. Crap. My jaw clenches. Don’t you cry, Amanda. Not now. Not in your annual review. I am so miserable in my job, and I’m positive he can tell. Despite my best efforts to prepare a portfolio that might suggest otherwise, I’m sure he can tell that I have been miserable for quite some time. But I’m afraid. If I tell him the truth, what consequences could I stand to risk? Might I be strung up? Would this follow me my entire life? If a potential employer asks him about my teaching experience, will I be ruined? Buck up. Seriously. Stop. Just don’t say anything. If you talk, you’ll definitely cry. Just don’t say anything.

“According to your students, they had trouble remembering to do the blogs. And it looks like they’re not worth much, only 10% of the overall grade, so doing them doesn’t really affect their overall grade.”

“Actually,” I cut in, my voice breaking. “They’re part of the 10% daily grade, which also includes quizzes.”

“Right, I saw that on your policy statement. That’s redundant. Daily quizzes and three blogs a week.”

“They’re not daily quizzes,” I try to explain. The tears are starting to rise up. Can he tell? “I give the quizzes randomly, but on average there are ten quizzes in a semester.”

“Okay, so my point is that the blogs don’t count for much, and if they’re sharing that 10% of the daily grade with a few quizzes, then they count for even less. Do you see how that gives the students little incentive to want to even do them in the first place?”

It takes a conscious effort to nod. Don’t say anything or else you’ll start crying. Shit, why are you such a baby? You’ve never been like this before in an annual review! Can’t you take criticism at all??

“Why did you come up with the blog assignment at all?”

The question surprises me. Catches me off-guard. It shouldn’t because I’ve been asked it before. Except…this is different. I think when I’ve been asked this question, it’s usually been phrased with the word how. This feels immediately judgmental. He has already made up his mind. He’s looking for a reason to change his mind. I won’t give it to him. I can’t give it to him. Not without crying.

“I-I guess I just…” I swallow. “To me, they’re like critical reading responses except the students have the opportunity to read each other’s responses and then respond to them as well. I wanted to keep the conversation going, I guess. I just….”

“Okay, but I’m not sure that it does that for you. The students remarked about how they often forgot to even do the blogs in the first place. I would recommend either eliminating the blogs entirely, reducing the number of blogs they should do in a week, or eliminate quizzes. Actually, I think I would recommend reducing the number of blogs in a week and eliminate the quizzes.”

I’m back to blinking. I really like the blogs. My students had seemed to really like the blogs. My mind is reeling. They forgot to do the blogs? But…according to my grade book, most of my students did most, if not all, of the blogs…. I have more students with perfect blog grades than students with failing blog grades. I don’t understand why they would claim that they didn’t remember to do them…. That’s not true….

The rest of the review continues in a similar vein. He pulls out the already-written assessment report, crosses out the word “eliminate” and replaces it with “reconsider” so that the final sentence now reads, “reconsider the blog assignments.” I sign the form, representing my agreement to his report. He was going to tell me to eliminate the blogs entirely…. My first out-of-the-box assignment failed. I walk out of his office and quickly get into mine, closing the door, and collecting myself. Don’t cry, not now. One more meeting. Don’t cry. I pull it together after ten minutes, and I am late to my next meeting. But I’m not in tears.

After several days of consideration, I realize now what I should have said. And now that I am beginning to apply for jobs, I realize what I did by not defending myself–if he serves as a reference, then he will deliver the same report he gave during my annual review. If I mention the blog assignment in my application materials (in spite of everything, I am still proud of it), then I now face the risk of the hiring manager asking him, “She mentioned something about blogs. What do you know about that assignment?” And what will he say? I surely can’t know, but I have a good guess.

I should have defended myself. I should have given him something else to say.

The blogs work.

1. Overall quiz grades from semesters without blogs to semesters with blogs have marked improvement. The reason? Students are reading. They have to do the readings in order to write the blogs. And if they did the readings, then they will do well on quizzes. Although I do change questions from time to time on my quizzes, the type of information I’m searching for is pretty consistent from semester to semester. My students’ daily grade average has improved.

2. They are a low-stakes assignment purposefully designed to be low-stakes. If a student forgets to write a blog once or twice, his or her daily average is not ruined. But, completing all blog assignments on time and receiving a perfect score on the blogging assignment by the end of the semester is equal to receiving perfect scores on four quizzes. It is a “gimme” assignment, but it’s supposed to be. Students are not graded on quality or content of the blog, except according to some basic standards (it should be about a specific text assigned that day and it should be analytical). They are not graded on how well they analyze (unlike their papers), but instead they are given an opportunity to practice analysis in a way that will not hurt their overall grade.

3. Class discussions are much more focused on critically analyzing the texts rather than “walking through” the plots. Students will chime in and say, “Yeah! I wrote about that on my blog!” And others will respond to that student in class. The classroom rapport is typically supportive, congenial, and encouraging. Because a student was able to sort of “try out” his or her idea on a personal blog, the idea was given space to develop so that it would be fully-formed by the time s/he brings it up in class. Even when students disagree with one another’s points, the comments are polite, respectful, and explanatory. They learn not only how to make their own points but also how to properly counter-argue against someone else’s points respectfully.

4. Papers and essay questions on exams are generally more analytical than summative. My students have physical evidence that their peers have previous knowledge of the text, so there is little reason to summarize major plot points. Because they’ve had the chance to practice analysis without fear of failure, they are often more confident in the presentation of their arguments. Because of this, I’ve been able to ask more from my students. And, for the most part, they deliver.

5. The blogs reinforce to my students the idea that one cannot be a good reader without writing, and one cannot be a good writer without reading. Although my students may have more writing assignments in a literature course than others may have, my students not only get the point but have it demonstrated to them that reading and writing are inextricable.

6. I use the blogs myself as a guide for class discussions. I usually try to peruse the blogs the day of class (since blogs are due by midnight the day before), and through that perusal I’ll see what they are confused about, what was interesting to them, what they really gravitated toward. And I will tailor class discussion based on their needs–do we need to unpack that theme more? explore that concept? Judging by exams, my students do get more out of these discussions from the blog posts.

I realize now that I should have defended myself and my blogs.

They work.

If I were to teach again, I would absolutely keep the blogs with no changes whatsoever. They would still be worth very little on the overall grade because low-stakes grades work. There would still be three blogs due every week. They would still have the same number of required words due per post.

My writing pedagogy is that through practice (constant, consistent practice), students develop basic communication skills as well as sophisticated analytical skills. Ideas develop best through writing. Texts are explored best through writing. Learning to write properly will inevitably lead to the ability to articulate an intelligent thought eloquently (either in speech or the written word). If my students are to believe that the literature was not composed within a vacuum, then I should demonstrate to them precisely how one composes devoid of a vacuum. And, thanks to the power of the Internet and new social media, blogs are a perfect method to free writing from a vacuum-like experience.

That’s what I should have said.

A fair warning to all readers, old and new

February 28, 2011 § 12 Comments

For some reason or another, these past four days have been turning up A.Hab.! Completely undeservedly, I am receiving recognition from a few sources, which has brought with it a ton of new readers (I’ve either gotten close to or broken past the 100-views-a-day barrier for three days). I am astonished and thrilled. So, to all new readers: Welcome! I hope you enjoy what you see here, and I hope even more that I can live up to your expectations! 😉

The places that I’ve gotten some recognition?

Well, it all started when the Social Media Coordinator for Martinelli’s, Warren, asked to share my story on the Facebook. Shock and awe! Someone at Martinelli’s saw my love-note to their apple juice in the glass bottles. It was…surreal. I’ve never been noticed by a company before, except, say, if I forgot to mail my bill payment on time or something. 😉

And then, in honor of the Oscars and yearbook season, Tori Nelson at The Ramblings honored me with the awesome superlative of “Most Likely to Rid the World of Ugly Words.” Shock and awe, again! I never received a superlative when I was in grade school. Ever. Sure, I was friends with the people who were “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Best Study Partner” (I wasn’t the friend of the “Best Dressed” and “Cutest Couple” recipients…class distinction, you know). So, many thanks to Tori for the sweet superlative! It means so much to me that you chose to recognize me for your first round of “The Sunday Paper” (where, weekly, she will point her own readers to her favorite blogs). So sweet! And, since turnabout is fair play, especially in the blogosphere: all my readers–go read Tori’s blog. Forthwith! You will not regret it! She is a hysterical, stay-at-home mom of 1-year-old Thomas, and invites her readers to laugh with (and sometimes at) her daily grind. She always puts a smile on my face!

So, then, after that stunning experience, I wake up this morning and find that the lovely Lisa Kramer at Woman Wielding Words (I loooove that alliterative title!) also gave me a shout-out! She credits me for being an honest writer–and I responded to her that it was a difficult choice to make, but one that I knew I would have to firmly decide. If I chose not to be honest with my experiences, then I would be faced either with lying or misrepresenting my life. If I chose to be honest, then I could potentially help someone else who is going through this…and also potentially get myself in some trouble. (That’s why I write this quasi-anonymously–you may notice that if someone writes a comment revealing my location, I will edit that comment. I have dropped the hint a few times, but it’s not something that I want splashed about the page…just yet. Give me until August, please. :)) It is greatly important to me that I honestly discuss especially my love-hate relationship with academia; it turned out that when I started to explore my true feelings, I discovered that I am not alone. I wish I had known that I wasn’t alone earlier. That’s the point of this blog. So, a huge thanks goes out to Lisa for recognizing that and for sharing my blog with her readers as well; it’s just amazing to me how far a little shout-out can go in this blogosphere of ours. And, with that in mind, please give Lisa’s blog a perusal. Reading her blog is like going through a private, personal stash of thoughts and mementos collected in a box. I thoroughly enjoy her writing–she’s a real writer’s writer; I don’t think she can help it! 🙂 Her writing style is accessible, witty, and enjoyable. Some of her favorite themes to revisit are her experiences as a professor of theater, her beautiful daughter Sarah, and her own fiction. Believe me: you will love them all!

Thanks again to all of these generous shout-outs in these past few days. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the recognition all of a sudden, but I truly truly appreciate it!

Now, that said…I want to give my old and new readers a fair warning.

As many of you know and others of you will soon discover, I am writing a dissertation. This is a book-length project of torture. I have given myself a deadline of March 11th to complete the next chapter. That’s two weeks to write an entire chapter. This is not an easy task to accomplish and will probably require me to write more than 2 pages a day–probably to achieve my goal, I’ll need to write at least 4-5 new pages a day (around 1000-1500 words). This means two things: 1. I am going to continue to participate in the PostADay challenge, so there will be new entries every single day, but they may not be particularly riveting or insightful, and 2. I am going to fail hard at keeping up with commenting on new blog posts, and I will also fail hard at keeping up with responding to your comments on my blog as well. Please know that I am reading your blogs, I am loving your blogs, and that I truly appreciate your comments. I will try so very hard to catch up at some point, but please do not take my lack of communication personally. Give me until after March 11th, and I should be able to return to normal…at least for a little while.

In the meantime, seriously, check out my blog roll and fall in love with these same writers I adore. They will entertain you and bring you great joy and personal validation. 🙂

Self-promotion, thy name is A.Hab.

February 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

I seriously need to sit down and work on those “rainy day” posts, for days such as today. I’m feeling pretty yucky, but I (smart girl) finished my dissertation writing commitment yesterday evening and can now curl up on the couch and die. Well, not die. Just lie in misery.

Another thing I did last night was create a Facebook page for this blog! I also learned how to post a badge for my blog’s Facebook page, which is right there on the right-hand side. Although it feels a little like I’m self-important, I also think it might be a great way for you all to keep connected to the blog. I might not be on the Facebook any more, but that doesn’t mean that my readers aren’t. As some of you know, I’ve been using one of our mutual friends as my Facebook promoter. Unfortunately, I can’t pay her to live like Don King, so I thought I should make my own promotion.

That hair style is just too rich for my blood....

If you have a Facebook account, then you might want to “like” this page so that you can stay updated on new blog posts. If you don’t have a Facebook account, then you should probably get one so that you can “like” this page and stay updated on new posts. …heh, just kidding. Sort of.

Photo credit: The Cleve Scene

Intentional Informing: revisited

January 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

So, my topic for today was about my nearly nonexistent digital presence. In a comment response to my post, my husband shared an article he found on The Daily Mail, and I just can’t let it sit in a comment that might get little to no attention. Before you read my take on it, you should read the article first: “Took all my pills, bye bye”: Woman commits suicide on Facebook…and none of her 1,048 online friends help.

My take: Simone Back intentionally informed her supposed network of “friends.” This is something of a misnomer that Facebook is entirely culpable for–who do you know who can honestly say they have over 1,000 friends? Unfortunately the word “friends” implies something here. It implies a mutual contract of respect, love, support, and compassion. In real life, outside of the digital world, this is a privilege that we bestow upon people with intention. For instance, some people will qualify those in their lives as “friends,” “colleagues,” “peers,” “acquaintances,” “neighbors,” “family” (blood related or not), etc. I myself do this as well. And that is healthy.

Now, is it guaranteed that Simone Back expected her 1,048 “friends” to rush to her aid, to at least call 999 on her behalf, to even ask if she wanted to talk? Who knows? She’s dead. We can’t ask her what she wanted when she posted that status. Is it likely that she expected her “friends” to taunt her publicly on her profile within the very thread where she announces her intention to end her life? Probably not. And is it really the responsibility of this 47-year-old woman’s 1,048 “friends” to keep her from swallowing all of her pills and make sure her life was all rainbows and sunshine? Of course not.

But what should they have done? What does social media, the use of the word “friend” suggest they should have done?

In my book: those who lived nearby should have rushed to her home or called 999. They should have informed her mother earlier than the following day.

I hope that everyone who reads that article is chilled by these people’s attitudes and inaction. I do not intend to have a miserable day or have some form of an emergency, but I do damn well expect my friends to be there to offer support and compassion when I need it.

Any one else want to weigh in?

Intentional Informing: my nearly nonexistent digital presence

January 5, 2011 § 15 Comments

On May 30, 2010, I permanently deleted my Facebook account. Of course, there were annoying hoops to jump through (such as waiting two weeks before attempting to log in again because that would cancel the process), but I finally managed to succeed. The two-week rule couldn’t have come at a better time for me: my sister’s bachelorette party was within the first week, her wedding was in the second week, and then my friends and I took a brief trip to an ashram in the Bahamas the week after that. It’s been six months since I freed myself from Facebook’s clutches, and I’m doing quite well.

Yes, yes, in the beginning I went through a form of withdrawal. I was the kind of person who was online All. The. Time. In a way, I was abusing Facebook. No, I didn’t get started on Farmville (because I absolutely refused to give myself one more form of “virtual reality” to distract me from real reality). But I was the person who constantly refreshed her News Feed in order to see if people were online or responding to something clever I said or a question I asked; I commented on statuses that divulged daily mundaneness like, “I changed my fabric softener today. We’ll see how I like it” or “I hate doing laundry” or “I don’t feel like grading today.” I was thinking in the third person: “A.Hab. wishes she were with Robert right now” or “A.Hab. really needs to focus on her work” or “A.Hab. is getting extremely worried about herself for thinking in third person.”

What occurred to me was that 1. I’m not so super interesting that my friends are waiting with bated breath about my thoughts every single second of every single day. 2. I’m not that important that I should feel compelled to bestow upon my friends every thought that crosses my mind. 3. Although I love them, I am not interested in those teensy little mundane thoughts that my friends shared with me (well…shared with all of us).

I decided that I wanted to get back to a more intimate form of communication. For instance, if my best friend wanted me, A.Hab., to know that she changed her fabric softener or that she didn’t feel like grading in that moment, then she could seek me out. Text me, call me, e-mail me. (By the way, I do realize it’s pretty hysterical that I’m considering e-mailing and texting a more intimate form of communication.) I wanted to reestablish intentional informing. If I specifically am supposed to know a detail about my friend’s life, then I will be intentionally informed. And the same goes for me–if I want a specific friend (or a specific group of friends) to know something about me, then I will intentionally inform them. They won’t just happen to find out because they logged on to some website that day.

And, I’ll tell you what: it’s working. In the beginning, I felt out of the loop because I didn’t know every single detail of my friends’ lives right that second. And, yes, I was asking a lot from my friends, too. Rather than conveniently convey a piece of information in one spot to all of their friends, they would have to make special arrangements for me. But those people who actually do want me to know something have had no problem informing me. I feel as though I have regained control over not only my privacy but also my reception and passing of information.

That brings me to the blog. But A.Hab., you might say, aren’t you being just a mite hypocritical since you have a blog and all?

Maybe. Maybe it’s hypocritical. But even if it is, I still feel completely in control over what I share, how much I share, and with whom I share that information. For instance, I tend to share publicly things that I have already discussed with the people I wanted to inform first. I also don’t use my blog as a dumping place for conversation-halting thoughts like, “I hate the rain.” If I want to blog about how much I hate the rain, maybe I’ll post a series of traumatizing memories about the times I’ve hydroplaned.

This is my point: whether you choose to have a nearly nonexistent digital presence or a fully existent one, inform with intention. Inform, fully aware of the consequences of that informing, with an intent to do something (to connect with other people, to seek support, to offer support, to educate, to humor). Don’t just share every little thing. Your thoughts, your experiences, your ideas are important enough to pass through a filter first. If you don’t feel that the general public has earned the right to be aware of your information, then don’t share it with the general public. If you believe that the general public stands to gain something from your ideas, then by all means share. If you believe that you stand to gain something by sharing your ideas with the general public, then of course share.

I think it’s time for us to take charge of this Information Superhighway. We don’t have to just inform because we have the ability to anymore.

So, what say ye, people of the Interwebs? Is there a place for intentional informing in this news-happy world, or is ol’ A.Hab. barking up the wrong tree?

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