Class Report: ENGL 062, 9 August 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to paraphrase and summary before responding to student questions about orthography. In-class practice was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • Homework: Summary and Response, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Paraphrasing and Summarizing Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

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A Rumination on Commas

Standout Comma
I recently came across Chris Stokel-Walker’s 23 July 2018 BBC.com piece, “The Commas That Cost Companies Millions.” In the piece, Stokel-Walker details several legal cases where the presence and placement of commas matters, whether to the tune of millions of dollars (as in the Oakhurst Dairy case), in a Texas Supreme Court insurance case, an old tariff law, or a vendor contract, or in a capital case, as in 1916. Stokel-Walker along the way also reports on the need for linguistic ambiguity in some diplomatic contexts, and the article closes with a commendation to review documents carefully and hash out their meaning–adjusting the affecting punctuation–before agreeing to them.

As someone who remains involved in teaching writing, and doing so in accord with particular style guides (which have stated opinions about comma use), I am engaged in issues Stokel-Walker addresses in the article. Indeed, as was true of the Oakhurst Dairy case before, Stokel-Walker’s piece is a boon for those in my position. No few students have, in my experience, bemoaned attention to small details such as comma use (and commas are frequently an issue demanding attention in their writing); having a piece ready to hand that notes ways in which different punctuation results in different meanings–some of them quite costly–helps to make the real-world connections that are not always evident to those enrolled in required writing classes. And even if the use of particular style manuals can be problematic–as I acknowledge they can well be–they do speak to audience expectations, which must be addressed in any writing that would succeed at reaching any particular group of people.

That younger students I’ve taught, both at the secondary and undergraduate levels, would balk at having to pay such detailed attention is not a surprise. Being young, they tend to act as youths, and youth is not much associated with patience. Too, being young, they are newer to having to do anything, including to attend to details; they will necessarily be less practiced at it, and will therefore likely do less well at it–and I know of few who enjoy having it pointed out to them that they do not do a thing well. (They may appreciate knowing where they need to improve, but that is not the same thing as enjoying it, to be sure.) But I am surprised that the same attitude prevails among the older students I currently teach–people who, having been in the workforce and, in many cases, the military, are acquainted with the idea that small details matter. And I am surprised that those enrolled in the business- and technology-heavy programs offered where I continue to teach balk at such things, given the damage done by a misplaced decimal point on an accounting spreadsheet or by a single mis-typed character in a long string of code.

I suppose the matter is one of looking at standardized spelling and punctuation–whatever standard is applied–reads as a matter of being persnickety, as one that doesn’t affect anything “real.” Some of that, I’m sure, is an attitude held over from bad earlier teaching (not that I necessarily teach well; I’ve read the comments students have written of me, and they are not always compliments). That is, part comes from an issue I address in another essay, and part comes from teachers using “grammar” as a “gotcha” mechanism. Some, too, is the same unfamiliarity present among younger students; those I teach now have generally been away from formal schooling for a while, and the lack of exposure is not always helpful. But whatever the reason, I think it will be helpful to add Stokel-Walker’s recent piece to my teaching materials; while the details can differ, they do matter, and students–indeed, all of us–benefit from attending to them.

Care to help me fund my further comma use?

Another Rumination on an Online Course

A week ago, I commented on a training course I took to help myself and my major employer against disaster-readiness requirements, in which comments I made a note about my old study habits:

I looked at relevant texts–in this case, printed transcripts of the lessons [associated with the training course]–and annotated them before sitting for the actual lessons, and I followed along with the lessons as I could with the annotated texts in hand, making adjustments to my own notes along the way. Consequently, I had little difficulty in passing off the in-lesson assessments, and, when it came time to sit for the exam that would solemnize my completion of the course (and offer me continuing education units, which offer was not unwelcome), I passed it off with little difficulty.

Aside from coming off as more than a little arrogant–which I know it does, thank you–it suggested itself to me as a point of departure for more discussion. Indeed, I note that my study habits “might become [what I want to make a point of] in another blog post”–and so I offer this one.

First, I know that the methods I use may not be useful for every student in every subject. I’m trained as a reader and annotator, and I know not everybody is–and not all areas of inquiry and practice admit of annotation. The martial arts I have studied at times in the past are such disciplines; while judo may admit to it to some degree, what with certifications involved in refereeing and serving as a technical official, the performance of the art is a thing that must be done to be understood–and Aikikai aikido even more so. I hardly hold such practices in disdain–and many of the folks I esteem greatly are not “readers,” as such.

Second, I’m trained as a reader. Seriously. I’ve been damned lucky in being able to access and undertake such training, as I know many are not and have not. And I’m luckier in that I have a main job that still allows me to keep a toe in academe and run side-hustles that let me use that training to advantage. It’s a position of privilege I occupy, and I do not discount that. But neither this point nor the previous mean that what I do cannot be of some help to others, which is why I make a point of it now.

So, as I note above, I tend to print texts out (or buy them, when I have the money and I must or can) in large part because I find the physical media easier to use. I can page through books faster than I can scroll through screens, and while I can use a search function faster than that, I cannot always remember the best search terms–but I can glance across pages and remember what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. And I make marks on the physical pages for my convenience, in part to make later references easier–the marks stand out, being different from the printing on the pages–and in part to keep my notes about things with the things they are about. The things themselves need annotation, or I need them to have it, else I’d not make it–but the notes make no sense without reference to what they are notes about. I have a box full of notes taken on legal pads and other assorted papers, and when I look through them, I have no idea anymore what’s going on with them–but where I’ve marked my texts themselves, I’ve had no such problems at all, even a decade or more after the fact.

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One page of many.
The picture is mine. So is the handwriting.

To be sure, it’s no miracle method I use, nor is it anything necessarily special. For me, it works. I can hope it will for others, too.

Care to help me find and discuss yet better ways?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 2 August 2018

After a note about the abortive class meeting of the previous week, discussion turned towards the needs of introductions and conclusions before moving on to revision strategies. In-class practice with selected revision techniques was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Final Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Implied Main Ideas Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. The most recent office hour was canceled due to another obligation on the instructor’s part.

Class Report: ENGL 062, 26 July 2018

Class was to open with treating questions from the previous class meeting before turning to concerns of writing as a process and of essay structures. Some time would have been allotted to work on student assignments. However, neither of the students enrolled attended.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Review Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Outlining and Mapping Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: My Reading Lab: Outlining and Mapping Topic and Post-Test Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018

Students, please keep in mind that the post-tests provide the grades for My Reading Lab assignments.

 

Class Report: ENGL 062, 19 July 2018

After treating questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of definition (prescriptive/descriptive, denotation/connotation), broad genres, paragraphing, and expected paper formatting. Some time was allotted to work on student assignments.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 23 July 2018
  • Homework: p162, #5 in the course textbook, a developed paragraph due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 23 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Vocabulary Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 23 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Stated Main Ideas Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 23 July 2018

Students should note that My Reading Lab will be down overnight between 20 and 21 July. Submissions should be made accordingly.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

Class Report: ENGL 062, 12 July 2018

For the first meeting of the July 2018 session, discussion focused on introductions to the class and to its participants. Attention was given to course structure and requirements, including how to access course materials. Basic reading and writing concepts received attention, and some time was afforded to work on student assignments.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread, plus contributions to the Introductions thread), due online before 0059 on 16 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Learning Path Diagnostic, due online before 0059 on 16 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Active Reading Strategies Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 16 July 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

Initial Comments for the July 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

To spite my earlier comments, I’ve been offered a section of ENGL 062: Introduction to Reading and Writing for the July 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve even signed my contract for doing so, so I’ll take a bit to get my materials ready again.

The session runs from 9 July through 1 September 2018; the class meets Thursdays from 1800 to 2150 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. I am not yet certain when or if I will have office hours–the “if” because the class is something of an unusual situation. It is, at present, showing only one student enrolled, which would normally make for a threat of class cancellation. Circumstances are such, however, that the class has been authorized despite the low enrollment–although the campus is trying to get other students enrolled in the class. If more do not enroll, however, the class will function as an eight-week tutorial, and that might well eliminate the need for office-hour availability. Perhaps; it will remain to be seen.

Reflective Comments for the May 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the March 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in ENGL 216: Technical Writing during the May 2018 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 216: Technical Writing during the May 2018 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, and the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were homework meant to practice skills used in the work0place and in later stages of the course project. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are below, with relative weights shown in the figure below:

Grade Breakdown

  • Course Project
    • Topic Proposal- 20 points
    • Annotated Sources- 50 points
    • Outline and Back Matter- 50 points
    • First Draft- 70 points
    • Front Matter- 40 points
    • Final Draft- 100 points
    • Presentation- 60 points
  • Online Discussions
    • Weeks 1-5, 20 points each
    • Weeks 6 and 7, 80 points each
  • Homework Assignments
    • Weeks 1-4, 50 points each
  • Final Exam- 150 points
  • Total- 1000 points

As before, most assignments were assessed by means of rubrics provided by the institution. Some few were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Mondays from 1800-2150 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 8
  • Average class score: 679.625/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 208.849
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 2
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 2

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

Final Grades

As in my previous session teaching the course, attendance was assessed as part of classroom activities; a component of the discussion grading each week was given to in-class attendance and participation. Consequently, attendance data is available; on average, four students attended each class meeting, with 33 total absences noted. The absences, and their concomitant rate of non-submission, exerted negative influence on overall student performance.

Student Absences

On the whole, I think the session was reasonably good. I was fortunate enough to have returning students, which is always helpful; those who have been in classes with me know what to expect, and it is gratifying to see them build on skills I know they have rehearsed. (This is true with adult learners no less than with more traditional students–at least for me.) And I was lucky to have diligent, dedicated students, as well; those who apply themselves with a will are always better to teach than those who do not, even if the latter have more innate talent and better preparation than the former.

Carry-over from the previous session of teaching the class proved helpful. Continuing to use examples from practice not necessarily part of academe was advantageous for the students, and being able to employ materials from the earlier session made the job of preparing for class easier to do. More refinement needs to be done to the selection process–I want to align the examples more, although I am not sure in which direction I want to align them–but the general idea remains a good one.

As ever, concerns remain. I wish I had some better way to motivate attendance and assignment-submission (which were the major factors diminishing student grade-performance–and their more important but less valorized development as writers). How many assignments were missed is shows below:

Assignments Missing

Too, I would have liked to have seen more of my students apply themselves to the topic I had emphasized for the course project; I think they would have gotten more use out of it and done better on their work, overall. The problem, though, is that my students are adults at a for-profit institution; they are under no illusions that they are in their programs to earn credentials in the pursuit of better job prospects. That situation makes it difficult for them to take the time to consider options and delve into materials deeply–and it vitiates against doing anything more than the minimum to pass off the course. The matter bears more consideration.

As ever, I appreciate having had the chance to teach again, and I look forward to having others in sessions yet to come.

On Not Teaching

It should not be a surprise that I find myself without a teaching assignment at the moment; I normally post reports of my classroom activities (as witness this, this, and this, among many others), as well as various “Initial Comments” posts regarding my teaching assignments (as witness this, this, and this, among some others). The lack of them will be a giveaway for those of you (and I thank you!) who regularly read what I write here, a clear indication that I’m not in the classroom at the moment. And even for those who are not regular readers (which numbers will shrink, I hope), since I am in the US and it is the summer, it should not be a surprise that I am not teaching.

This would be the case, of course, were I a high school teacher, as I came out of my undergraduate curriculum trained to be. And it might well be the case were I tenure-line faculty, which I came out of my graduate curriculum trained to be. But since I am neither–and not for lack of trying, I promise–but an academic expatriate whose remaining ties to academe are contingent labor, it is a certainty there will be sessions when I am out of that work. (I’m not out of work, overall; I still have the day-job I’ve noted having.)

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Yes, I still get to clean this toilet.

Experience teaches me that, did I not have the day-job, I’d be in a world of hurt–as many contingent academics are. In New York, for instance, an educational worker being out of work over the summer is not necessarily entitled to unemployment compensation; it is expected that teaching doesn’t happen, despite every institution of higher learning (or “higher learning,” as the case may be) with which I’ve ever been affiliated has offered summer classes. Similarly, because contingent academics–and I use that term because not every school calls them “adjuncts,” and some people get pissy about using “the wrong words” to describe situations–are on session-to-session or semester-to-semester contracts, gaps in employment aren’t firings, which limits the ability of such folks–myself among them–to get benefits from a system into which they pay from already-meager, often-below-poverty-level, salaries. And because–again, from experience–employers outside academe do not regard advanced degrees and experience teaching the skills employers purport to seek as having those skills, and because they tend to look at clusters of post-nominal letters and think that those who have them will seek other opportunities as soon as they become available,* those who will try to take up a summer job or a longer-term opportunity will find it more difficult than might otherwise be the case.

Again, experience. I hold a doctorate and have taught college since 2006. It took me close to 200 applications across a year and a half to get the job I’ve got now, and I was applying for entry-level jobs that ask for having graduated high school and being able to type at about half the rate I type. Two. Hundred. Maybe twenty called me back, and of those, fifteen were flat rejections. And I know I got lucky.

I know I still am lucky. The job I have is a good one (although I could wish for a higher hourly rate; still, the PTO benefit is nice, even if I’m still having to adjust to it). I can afford to not be teaching–at least for a while. But I know that many others cannot, and while I hope that one of them has the class that might otherwise have been mine, I hold little hope that the rest–that any of us–will see matters improve any time soon.

*Honestly, though, why should they not? If a business owner took advantage of a better economic opportunity, that owner would be lauded; since the only business most of us own is that of our labor, why should we not act similarly? Or why should we be disdained for acting in our economic interests to the extent that the prevailing systems allow us to do so–by those who do no more than that same thing?

Help me make it through the lean times?