Archive for the ‘Holly Pappas’ Category

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Mid-course correction

posted: 3.22.13 by archived

Despite snow in the forecast, it’s spring break here and time for mid-semester evaluations, of both my students and my course/myself. Typically that initiates, for me at least, a period of glumness that can last until end-of-the-semester adrenaline kicks in.  The statistics are grim: about 10% of the students still registered for my courses are not showing up for class and another whopping 40% or more have slipped perhaps irretrievably behind in coursework. For all of my talking and thinking and writing about the excitement of course design, it is again the issue of student persistence that’s occupying my thoughts these days.

Last week a student said to me, as if to explain her failure to turn in the previous two assignments, that none of her other classes required homework. When I asked how this could be, she acknowledged that she did look over the PowerPoint slides her teachers provided just before exams, but that was all of the out-of-class work required to earn her a slot on the Dean’s List. She asked me to predict her final grade in the course, to help with her decision of whether to risk hurting her GPA or to withdraw from my class.  I can’t get her out of my mind. 

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Introducing research: the active classroom

posted: 3.8.13 by archived

In the past, in classrooms with only an instructor’s computer on a podium, I’ve unrolled my spiel about finding and evaluating sources: on the chalkboard listing the classic criteria of relevance, authority, bias, and currency; with my computer demonstrating strategies to find sources using research databases, online catalog, Amazon, Google and its alternatives; asking students to apply evaluation criteria to the hand-picked sources I offered up.

Determined to reduce my lecture time and with the luxury of laptops for students, I tried another approach this semester. With very little introduction, I challenged students to find the best source they could for a ten-page college-level research paper about how Frank Lloyd Wright remains an influence (or has become irrelevant) in contemporary house design (we’re in the “domestic spaces” section of my places-and-spaces themed comp class; each of my sections had a different housing-related research question). I asked them to post the link (or the information required to find the source, if the source was not available electronically) on a Google Doc I had set up, along with a note about the search strategy they used and their rationale for choosing that particular source. Because I’m using a course blog, it was an easy matter to set the Google Doc to be editable by anyone who had the link and then posting the Google Doc link on our course blog. After class, I locked access so that the document could be viewed but not edited. [read more]

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at Revision: notes for a reluctant student

posted: 2.22.13 by archived

Start with this video about how Jerry Seinfeld wrote (and is still writing) his Pop-Tart joke. (You are old enough to remember Jerry Seinfeld, right?)

If you only had one chance to get it right, if your words were squeezed out in quick-hardening concrete, wouldn’t it take you forever to dare to start?

In his Paris Review interview, E. L. Doctorow said that “[Writing is] like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” So you’ve driven across the country and ended up as planned in the Pacific Ocean. Would you require a reader to trace your own circuitous route, blind to all those serendipitous roadside attractions you too had missed? [read more]

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Course design: the creative process

posted: 2.7.13 by archived

As I’ve been working on a new version of my comp class, I’ve been thinking about not just the particular units and assignments, readings and activities I plan to use but also the process of course design itself. It has reminded me of one of my old analogies for the writing process, as I described in a comment to one of Susan’s posts:

Writing an essay is like cleaning a room. If you just take it one item at a time, it’s too easy to get sidetracked and leave the job half-(or less) done. When I was a little girl, my mother taught me instead to first dump everything that wasn’t in its place into the middle of the room. Paradoxically it becomes easier to manage when you have a heaping, messy pile in front of you that needs only to be sorted into piles that are easy to manage: dirty dishes for the sink, books for the bookcase, dirty clothes for the laundry, and (always) that pile of garbage for the trashcan.

Picking a room. First comes the choice of a theme. For me, this has often been quite an instinctive decision, influenced by articles (or books or videos or whatever) I happen to come across and the critical mass of curiosity that accretes around these materials.  In a recent blog post “what is the topic of composition?” Alex Reid considers the choice of theme more systematically, coming up with his own list of criteria for an appropriate FYC theme: (condensed version) the issue connects to student experience and instructor interest; the issue has been addressed in multiple academic disciplines and genres as well as in other public professional and nonprofessional discourse; the issue is timely; and the issue does not lend itself to firmly entrenched binary positions. My own criteria are evolving, but include the following: consideration of the theme can move from personal to public; it is not connected to the usual sociopolitical controversies (abortion, immigration, childhood obesity) but rather a topic that encourages students to look at their own experience more freshly. [read more]

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Thinking about my iPad: writing teacher version

posted: 1.11.13 by archived

Not long after finishing my foot-tall pile of student portfolios and turning in my grades for the semester, on my iPad for a bit of relaxation, I inexplicably found myself downloading something called the Grading Game. Making a game out of proofreading and getting an amazing four and a half stars from over 1200 ratings, this app is according to one reviewer “the perfect piece of entertainment for grammar fiends.” Though I can’t recommend it (largely because its errors seem much too contrived), that game has set me to thinking about how I’ve been using and plan to use my iPad to support my teaching.

I’ve got another reason for being more reflective about my iPad use. I was an early adopter. My original iPad was a consolation prize from my husband after I was turned down for a full-time teaching position after eight years of adjunct invisibility; my current iPad was purchased a few months ago under much different circumstances, with the help of a technology grant given to full-time faculty (I got the position the next time around).

My initial thoughts about iPads and teaching are tinged with regret: that because iPads are not required at my college and few students seem to own them, opportunities for classroom use are constricted. We do have a couple of iPad carts on campus that can be reserved for limited in-class exercises, but many of the ways I’d love to be able to use the iPad with my students are not feasible. (Our new computer labs have done a great deal to ease this regret, but still it would be nice if students owned technology they could use both in class and outside class.) [read more]

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Academic rhythms: the fallow period

posted: 12.21.12 by archived

The cycle of endings and beginnings is one of my favorite parts of the academic life, especially that period of overlap as one semester ends and the ideas for the next start emerging and clarifying, shifting and jostling in my brain.  As the semester wound down and my approach for the current semester started to bore both my students and myself, I’d been toying with the idea of something livelier. Although I do use some of the same assignments from semester to semester, I always seem to be shaking things up; there are clear disadvantages to this approach, in terms of prep time required and limited ability to refine particular assignments, but it has the great advantage of keeping me fresh and excited.

I had originally considered a composition course arranged perhaps around a series of objects-based assignments. I was particularly inspired by Susan Naomi Bernstein’s post “History of New York in 5 Objects,” Time magazine’s more recent “History of the Campaign in 100 Objects,” and Sherry Turkle’s book Evocative Objects, and soon William Carlos Williams’s “No ideas but in things” was drumming in my head. Then I thought people, places, and things (in some order) might be a workable if quite general framework—anything to prompt students to look more closely and think more deeply. [read more]

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The most wonderful time of the year

posted: 12.7.12 by archived

This semester more than most I’m welcoming that ubiquitous yet problematic assignment, the FYC research paper. This semester’s focus on curiosity, creativity, and persistence (CCP for short) has at times felt like a straitjacket, with the research paper a promise of freedom as students search for topics that match their own interests.

Before I describe this semester’s permutation of the research assignment, though, I want to stop to mention a few observations on student response to CCP (with more surveying to be done on a low-stakes final “exam):

  • For personal essays based on one of CC or P, approximately 60% of students chose to write essays about persistence; in an imperfect echo of the irony of Romney’s 47%, I’m expecting completion rates in the course of about that same percentage.
  • Of the ten memoirs on curiosity, topics were split between curiosity about students’ own lives and curiosity about assorted paranormal phenomena, with traditional intellectual curiosity making little to no appearance. [read more]

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A low-tech solution to canned comments?

posted: 11.16.12 by archived

In the midst of mid-semester grading, I catch myself writing the same thing over and over: what’s the main idea here? add a topic sentence to focus this paragraph, semicolon requires a full sentence on each side, in-text citation needed.  I’ve already seen these essays in rough draft form on student blogs, where end-of-post commenting helps me to keep my feedback global, but on final drafts this semester I’m marking paper copies and trying to model there the close reading I’m trying to encourage as part of their revision process. But these canned comments cost me not only time but more importantly focus, as my attention is shifted away from grappling with the deeper problems I’d like to address of logic and organization and development.

At the back of my mind are the usual questions of how useful these comments will be for students. As a writer I’d welcome someone’s careful attention to my writing, but for many of my students I fear my scribbles are only overwhelming or discouraging or superfluous to the grade I attach to the end. Ideally I’d like to be able to tailor the depth of my comments for individual students, but that seems to be impossible on a practical level with 100 students’ preferences to keep straight. [read more]

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Saturday in Boston

posted: 11.2.12 by archived

Come mid-semester, when responding to student writing starts to feel like a Sisyphean task, I need to remember that I have a mind, body, spirit separate from my identity as a grading machine. A bike ride or a walk in the woods will do that for my body; for my mind and spirit last weekend it was a day spent at the Boston Book Festival. Copley Square was packed with readers and writers trying to edge their way to the booths set up by independent bookstores, literary magazines, writers’ organizations and to line up outside auditoriums and beautiful old churches around the square to listen to writers and thinkers talk about their craft.

At home afterwards, when I was thinking back on the day, I realized how cleverly I had chosen out of all of the impossibly difficult choices (Lemony Snicket or Junot Diaz or Hanna Rosin, for example) four sessions that captured and reflected four of my key bookish roles: writer and reader, student and teacher.  (There’s nothing I love more than a neat classification scheme!)

Writer. The first panel I attended was titled Memoir: Parents and Children (with memoirists Buzz Bissinger, Alexandra Styron, Alex Witchel, and Leslie Maitland). I’ve been stalled at about page 220 of a memoir started after I turned 50, my mother died, and my three daughters weathered adolescence, so I was interested in what these writers had to say about their motivations for writing, the necessity of a narrative arc, their process of investigation, what they learned from writing, and how family and friends reacted. [read more]

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Finding that elusive spark

posted: 10.19.12 by archived

If you’re not writing memoir, you’re writing a research paper, I tell my students. If it’s not already inside your head, you’re seeking out some sort of “outside” source to write from. But as we get towards mid-semester, it’s the big R-Research Paper that’s been on my mind and just how to handle it this semester.  I’ve told my students we’re doing a multimodal research project, made up of several smaller pieces (an argument, something image-based, some primary research), but I’ve been vague about topic.  So I’ve been scouring around for possibilities, examples to help me convey to my students what I’ve got in mind.

What I ran across was “Greeting cards are getting slammed by social media.” It drew my attention because of my interest in how technology is changing social connections, my appreciation of handwritten artifacts, my disdain for prepackaged sentiment and too-obvious rhymes. I noted some numerical evidence (and thought of other sorts of statistics I might be able to find): “According to a U.S. Postal Service study, correspondence such as greeting cards fell 24 percent between 2002 and 2010. Invitations alone dropped nearly 25 percent just between 2008 and 2010.” I remembered some cards I have stashed away: a Spanish dancer birthday card my father had improbably sent my mother during their courtship; a Snoopy card sent to ask my fifteen-year-old self for a date; a flowery card of best wishes from fellow workers when I left my job at the library. I thought about the personal timeline these cards would define for me. Widening my scope to the historical, I could construct a photo essay of greeting cards through the decades of the twentieth century. Digging through my boxes, I found these baby cards from my birth and my oldest daughter’s, fodder for a visual analysis to contrast attitudes towards birth and family roles:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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