Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Let's start at the very beginning...

Arrrrgh! I freakin' loathe Sound of Music!!!!! Why did I think to start this post with that lyric? Now it is burned into my braiiiiiiin!

Ahem. Let me try this again. Once more, from the top.

I am procrastinating, as is my usual way. Tomorrow morning I give two finals and hand back the research papers. I have done a reasonable amount of grading, and my procrastinating consists of reconfiguring my Intro to Writing About Lit course. To do that, I decided to read back through old posts and then I got distracted by all my old posts about shoes and food. Mmmm. Anyway.

I put a lot of time in my Writing at a College Level class this semester and beforehand. My plan was to do just ok enough on the IWAL class, which is one level advanced from WACL (yeah, they need better acronyms, huh), to make it through the semester and then take the break to do improvements. Well, I'm gonna need a lot of improvements.

Back at Postdoc State, I taught a lit survey that was not really in my expertise, if you remember. I certainly posted a lot of angst-ing about that class and how difficult it was to tailor that course to a bunch of unprepared students who had to take a lit survey as a requirement. But at the end of the day, they weren't training me, and they weren't paying me very much, and they were explicitly telling me to get the hell out and get a better job. So I wasn't really committed to more than getting it serviceable.

Now, of course, I have totally different stakes. Similar problems of unmotivated students who don't really know how to be students or maybe should not be in this class. New, different problems in that it is a composition class and an intro to literature class rather than a historical survey. I need to find a way to make that basic structure less boring, more engaging, but I am kinda the worst person to do that. I was the one who taught a very traditional and bare bones intro to the major course when I was a grad student and it was my turn to get this course option. Other people were doing Ooh ooh it's my dissertation topic and we are creating wikifications and holding the entire course online in Second Life! type inventive things, and mine was based around very traditional essay assignments and canonical texts. I guess I just like to try it once bare-bones and then be inventive.

The other problem is that this class is largely not required, and can be fulfilled by the other writing option: Intro to Writing and Critical Thinking, which is based around nonfiction essays and various social science or law themes. This means that enrollment and retention are always going to be a serious issue in my plannings. And I don't want to have to teach another evening late start college writing class again. Ugh.

So I am looking at the course outline and SLO metrics and requirements for the course again and asking myself: what do I really want students to be able to do and to know when they are done with the course? What do I want to model and emphasize for my students over the semester? (for example, I had lots of struggles with getting students to buy, bring, open, and use the book this semester; but do I want to be draconian and persnickety with book checks and quizzes and checking for reading notes? Do I want to kick them out of the classroom for not being prepared, or will this run me into retention problems?)

I need to cover poetry, drama, short stories and the novel --- but does it matter where I start? does it matter what genre I finish with? Does it matter how much time I spend on any particular genre? I also have to cover all the standard elements of literature ---- so what if I mixed up genres and taught by looking at imagery, plot, pattern, theme, sound, form etc? Should I have standard essay assignments that match the genres, or would it be more useful or interesting to compare/analyze different genres across an essay? Since I need to build in at least one research paper, how should I scaffold that in? Should I put that in the middle of the semester? The end? These students especially seemed so exhausted and were not even trying to show that they were doing the reading by the end of our very long semester --- how should I work with building that into the schedule?

Are there interesting assignments I could have them do other than your standard essays that would still help them develop close reading and critical thinking skills? The novel I taught/am teaching has a Cal State web site devoted to it, and this class had to craft new covers/illustrations for the novel and then write up justifications of how they were portraying the novel's theme better than the original. I like that idea and want to somehow steal and adapt it. What other inventive assignments could I bring in, or at least look at and possibly adapt?

I should add that any particular day, especially at the end of the semester, I would only have 4 or so out of the 20 enrolled students in the room. This spring the course is MWF at 50 minutes a pop and I have no idea how the attendance/minimum enrollment situation will shake out. But the time and the fact that I am scheduled back to back across campus is making me lean away from any presentations and any extended group activities that carry across the week.

Hmm. I am still frustrated and overwhelmed by the limits and structures of this class. But, procrastinating about this is better than tallying up this semester's grading! I encourage you all to lay out plans and suggestions in the comments. That or links to food and shoes. Mmmm.

Friday, December 13, 2013

So close! So blargh!

Well I haven't been completely too busy, but I have not been posting. And about a week ago I started coming down with a cold --- or maybe something worse, because it was accompanied by chills and a fever and my neck hurts about where lymph nodes should exist, I think. It has been weird because this is like the first time I have noticed heat/achiness wash over me and then go away again. I have been complaining about wanting to not feel like this any more and then boom! got my period. Yup, now I feel different, and way worse! And not sure I can mix those medicines.

I have been coming home and sleeping on the couch from 5 to about 9 or so, eating some dinner, chugging insane amounts of orange juice (btw, I need to get a third bottle for this week as I'm out again), and heading downstairs to bed. I would think after a few days of this I would be fine again, but no.

On the brighter side, I am done with classes! Yay! I got big huge stacks of research papers and even have graded some. I have the grades mostly wrapped up and once I do these with the last peer reviews I will only have the finals. Those are Wed and Thurs. Then I will start dealing with Christmas stuff and a long list of stuff I didn't get around to during the semester, and then I will work on tweaking my classes so they are more successful and less frustrating this time around. (I am teaching the same 2 courses.) The tweaking would be more successful if I hadn't stopped updating my "do this differently next time" file when the workload went crazy. Unfortunately that was probably also the time I was least prepped and had the most problems. I'm sure I will be asking you all about it, looking for that magic bullet.

Until then, I toast you with a kleenex and the last little bit of orange juice --- salud!