Saturday, February 27, 2010


I meant to write an update yesterday but .... life sort of got in the way! The MWF class went brilliantly yesterday! This was our last class session of critically examining the ideas related to essay #2 -- a media analysis. Students can examine a film like "Good Hair" (or any other film of their choosing), a print advertisement, or the comments after a news story (like the Pizza Hut story here in St Louis last week that raised some questions as to race in this particular area). Anyway, we spent part of the class going over these options (once again!) and then we spent some time talking about their reading of Black Like Me -- I keep suggesting to the students that the words and phrases of John Howard Griffin are welcome to enter their own conversations in their essays. But the cool thing is that many of them seem to be connecting and relating to his words. I don't always see that with students when I use a "typical" text or reader.

And the conversation was fun! I think students walked out having a better idea of what they might want to do for this next assignment! I love it when things just "feel" together in a class. I will probably lose this soon but for the moment, we are all on the same page!

And that's about it! I have about a million things to do, and I am also stressed over something I did to myself -- I am competing in another triathlon tomorrow morning (an indoor one!) but this race includes the longest swimming that I have done up to this point. The one I did two weeks ago (my first!) had me pretty tired and it was a bit shorter -- but I guess I can always flip on my back and paddle!

Maybe that will be the same thing I will do for the writing up of my dissertation?!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Update

Not a lot to report right now. I spent most of last week meeting with the students individually to discuss their first essays and not students are gearing up for their second essays. Both classes watched the Chris Rock documentary "Good Hair" (trailer at the bottom of this entry!). I think it's a fascinating look at the political history of hair (specifically African American hair). And the comments from Maya Angelou are simply priceless! Anyway, the race issue is right there and I think the students in both classes are becoming more savvy at talking about racial issues up front.

And that's about it. A long weekend reading the 101 essays from Monday night. And I'm also tired today because Jim and I worked until pretty late last night at the Animal Alliance Fund Raiser at Harry's (Animal Alliance works hard at pushing for animal-friendly legislation such as banning puppy mills in Missouri). Anyway, the cleanup always seems to go on forever (though I got to hob-nob with Brook Dubman, Mr. "Because You Like Nice Things" -- for those of you not in the St Louis area, he has commercials for his furniture store using that catchphrase). So there I am hanging out with sem-famous people late on a Sunday night! :D

Tomorrow I am not teaching my morning classes and, instead, attending a professional development workshop at the Belleville Campus. Afterwards, I am back to Granite City for my night literature class (non-western lit).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

One Stack of Essays Out of the Way!

Oh no! I wrote my whole blog, hit "Publish Post" and the whole thing disappeared! Egads! I will never be able to articulate exactly what I just wrote moments ago!

But let me try .... I just finished reading the last MWF essay -- I want to try and come up with some qualifiable data (sort of) -- for example, how many of the essays exhibited a focus/ argument? Was there adequate development to back up the arguments? How many essays had stigmatizing errors that got in the way of the reading? Did the essays show "passion" on the part of the authors, something we don't often see in FYC essays?

For the most part, I am pleased. Of course, not everyone agreed with each other but the essays generally reflected revelance to the students' lives, they were interesting, and I could tell that the students had "something" that they wanted to "really" contribute to our class discussion about race. Sure, there is the danger that students were simply "talking the talk" but does that matter if they were able to create an arguement/ focus and then support it? Isn't that our goal in FYC? And, of course, I don't want students to simply embrace our class material (or digest it) without solid critical thinking -- and I am pretty sure that this didn't happen. The essays were generally pretty interesting and I now loking forward to a close reading of the essays from the Monday night class ....

Monday, February 15, 2010

And Now the Fun Starts!

After spending the entire weekend reading ENG 95 papers, I am now in the midst of looking at all the essays for both sections of ENG 101! Most of the students turned their papers in on time even though we had a "Snow Schedule" for the day (all classes started at 10 AM). I honestly expected a lot more frazzled phone calls and emails.

So now I have to start reading and critiquing! I will be curious to find out if the writing is, indeed, "better" and "more engaged" than the typical first essays I see in more "normal" sections of ENG 101. I have only read two so far -- and they were great! -- but I probably could be accused of cheating because I picked two strong writers to start off the reading marathon!

I need to have the MWF papers mostly done by Wednesday because those students are coming in to conference with me starting on that day ... the other stack needs to be done by next Monday night.

The picture above, by the way, is Jim (looking snarky because he hates it when I take pictures of him!) at the London Tea Room in our wonderful downtown St Louis -- the Tea Room had a special V-Day "high tea" -- fabulous finger foods and lots of yummy goodness -- and great tea for a snowy day!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bad Dissertation Girl!

Well, it didn't take too long for my life to get complicated with keeping up with my regular classes, taking care of the Honors Program (another hat I wear!), and researching my two ENG 101 classes. It is official -- I am overwhelmed!

Since we didn't have class on Friday (gotta love getting Lincoln's birthday off when you work in Illinois!), I do want to mention at least one thing that happened in the Wednesday class -- it was simply fabulous! Two students had volunteered earlier in the week to bring copies of their drafts in progress and it turned out that both students had strong drafts to even start with. (I have students bring enough copies of their draft for everyone in the entire class and then we read on our own and come back and talk through the papers as a class/ larger discussion). Both essays were written from different angles and both essays generated a lot of discussion in terms of basic organization (focus/ support) but also ideas. For students still struggling with their racial autobiographies, I think these folks provided two good models of what you "can" do. And I am positive that both essays opened up interesting "doors" for individual members of the class.

So the essays are due tomorrow in both classes. And right now it's snowing like crazy. As much as I would love to have a snow day, I would rather not have one tomorrow. This would completely screw up our schedule! At the least, this darn snow is going to make my Metrolink/ Bus commute a pain at 6:30 AM (Jim needs our car on Mondays).

On a fun note -- I was recently chosen to receive an advance copy of the prequel to the fabulous Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I loved PP&Z -- and I consider myself a HUGE Jane Austen fan! I think she would love the zombie angle! Anyway, I was just sent the prequel on Friday afternoon and I am almost done! Love it so far! In return for getting an advance copy, I am required to write a review on this very blog. So if you are already bored by my classroom exploits, now you have a review of the prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies coming at you soon! (For the record, I wouldn't consider myself a zombie fan -- though I did love that British zombie film Shaun of the Dead with Simon Pegg-- but Elizabeth Bennett as a zombie slayer is just too good to pass up!).

Monday, February 8, 2010

When Did My Monday Night Class Start Feeling This Long?!

A feeling of frustration tonight -- yet again. Part of it has to do with the fact that in the Monday evening class I feel like we have sooooo much ground to cover so I keep flip-flopping between topics in the quest to cover everything that the MWF class does in three days. Instead of coming across as comprehensive, I fear that I come across as disorganized and chaotic.

The younger male student who I have mentioned before is also part of my frustration. He reminds me of a student I had a few years ago who had to disagree with everything I said simply, I fear, for the pure joy of it. He just wanted to argue with someone! This kid seems a little like this; I don't know. I just can’t read him yet. I will be curious to see his first essay next week -- is he a good writer? Are there developmental issues?

I taped tonight’s class with the Flip video – a first. I haven’t watched it yet but I did just check to make sure that it taped and it apparently did. I have just realized, though, that there’s nothing more depressing that hearing yourself taped. I sound like a hyper, giddy school girl. Do I always sound like that?!

Oh -- the MWF class went fine today as well. We seemed a bit short on people. I am guessing the falling snow might have something to do with that (though most of the evening students were here!). I had those students look at an example of a "weak" paper from a few semesters ago to model useful conversations for the upcoming writing workshop on Wednesday.

"Inside Higher Ed" article

slu / 08 - Inside Higher Ed

And the saga continues with David Horowitz and St Louis University .... (click on the Inside Higher Education link above for the story). Personally, I think it would be interesting to watch Horowitz in action (he is certainly entitled to his own opinion) but he is blantantly "using" students to forward his own aganda (under the guise of "I am helping students since their Liberal teachers aren't")and that annoys me more than anything!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


The MWF class went well yesterday (Friday) but I was stuck how "political" our discussion got even though we were just talking about the issue of audience as a rhetorical device. But maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. I showed them two versions of articles written just after Malcolm X was assassinated -- one rather conservative (noting how the man who assassinated him had to be "rescued" from the "mob") and the other more left-leaning I suppose (personalizing the man). I think students figured out which was which but it was a difficult conversation and so many of them didn't seem to understand what I meant by "Democrat" and "Republican." Or maybe they were confused as to how your personal perspective can shape the language that you choose to use when you write any sort of text. I am not sure but I was shocked that so many of them couldn't even identify major politicans by their political party (i.e. Obama, Biden, Blago, etc) or even what broad designations these alliances seem to suggest. So I went in to the class thinking we were just going to talk about language choices with audience expectations BUT I left feeling like I opened up a political can of worms (I sensed that some of the students were quite uncomortable with the class discussion).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Comma Splice Wednesday

Nothing too interesting to report from Wedneday's class. Since their diagnostic essays showed some problems with the typical FYC suspects -- comma splices, run-ons, and fragments, I made a quirky little Powerpoint and then had the students do an exercise. BUT -- somewhere in the craziness of the morning, I forgot the exercise I prepared so I winged it instead ... And I think it worked better! I had the students open up a new Word document on their computers (we meet in a lab) and write a short paragraph on their weekend plans in which they had to intentionally make as many mistakes as they could in relation to these three common error patterns. What fun! They loved "writing badly" -- afterwards, I had them do a shuffle "dance" where they switched seats and got to fix each others' problems. I think fun was had by all. Before they left class, I had the students print off their resulting paragraphs and I think I am going to get them to play with them once more at the beginning of tomorrow's class.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Overcoming Nervousness -- Finally!

Tough day -- but a good one! The MWF class went pretty well, I think. We watched part of a PBS documentary called "Race: The Power of an Illusion." This short piece talks about the idea that biologically there are no differences between people in terms of race. Our DNA resembles those in our specific location, even if the other person seemingly seems different because of racial differences. After the video, I tried to show them how they can use snippets of this visual text to help them create the racial autobiographies that they are working on (essay assignment #1). I think I did this part OK, though there was a ton of dissention as to whether race "counts." I discovered that I need to be careful about how I help to shape the discussion because I thought, maybe again, that I was being a bit defensive in terms of why I picked this topic for this course.

The evening class (we just finished a few minutes ago!) went well! All the students returned from last week (minus one) and I think the discussion went much better; people seemed more comfortable with each other. The MWF class has an older gentleman who has issues with race in general -- in the evening class it is a youngish guy (early 20's). Interesting. We talked about essay organization after talking about Black Like Me and reviewing the racial autobiography assignment BUT what worked better here was that a student (Mary) allowed me to use her draft (she had emailed it to me for comments over the weekend) to frame the discussion. This was pretty brave of her. In the end, we had a fun discussion (partly because of Mary's willingness to let me use her draft!). Essentially, I got a good vibe. And I wasn't nervous. All good.

Here is a snippet from the series I am showing the students: