Climb that mountain of ungraded papers with confidence… and smart skills!

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Grading papers sucks.

There. I said it.

Most of us got into our profession because we love teaching. When we design courses and lessons, when we interact with our classes in discussion, when we see the look of wonder on our students’ faces at the moment of significant learning, we feel a charge of accomplishment and authentic meaning. Sometimes we feel that in the best student essays we read, too. And then…

What kills us a little each time is different for different teachers. Maybe it’s the frustration of noting the difference between genuine student struggle and a genuine lack of effort. Maybe we chafe at the instructions unfollowed, or the writing mechanics still unmastered (and unproofread). Or maybe it’s just the mountain of paper at the start of the process. Mountain climbers may climb the mountains because they are there. We aren’t freaking mountain climbers. We never asked to be, we never trained to be… and the threat of the seemingly insurmountable task can hit many of us (especially the serial procrastinators among us, myself included) with a sense of paralysis.

Of course, pro mountain climbers don’t just gambol out into the wilderness with a rucksack and a jaunty song and start climbing. Through knowledge of appropriate equipment and safety rules, and the wisdom that comes from reflective practice, they have learned how to prepare and proceed in order to reach the summit most effectively — at the right pace, applying the best practices, and avoiding the slippery spots that can send the unwary off the edge. And by climbing those mountains in the right way, the pros can forego the dread of “inevitable” risk and enjoy the purpose of the climb.

Rick Reis of the tomorrows-professor listserv introduces us to a fellow climber, Brian Martin of the University of Wollongong. He reminds us of some important best practices in essay grading that can keep us safe and sane, and thus help us approach grading’s true purpose: as the assessment-as-teaching needed for effective student learning.

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Folks:

The posting below gives some excellent advice on how to approach the task of marking, or grading, student essay assignments. It is from the September 8, 2014 issue of the postings on a blog by Brian Martin, professor of social sciences in the Humanities and Social Inquiry department at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and is reprinted with permission. More information about his blog and how to subscribe can be found at: http://comments.bmartin.cc.

Regards,
Rick Reis
reis@stanford.edu

Marking (Grading) Essays: Making it Easier and More Fun

It’s worthwhile discovering methods to make marking more enjoyable. The same methods can be used to tackle other dreaded tasks.

Sitting on your desk is a pile of essays that need to be marked. There might be just 10 or 20, or maybe 50, 100 or more. For most teachers, this is not an eagerly awaited task. Is there some way to make marking easier and more enjoyable?

I’ve been marking undergraduate essays for over 25 years and have tried out various methods to make the task less onerous. Gradually I’ve discovered ways that work well for me. You may or may not want to adapt these for your own circumstances. In any case, I encourage you to undertake your own search for better methods. If you’re looking ahead at 25 years of marking, surely it’s worthwhile to explore better ways to go about it.

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Have your students read your teaching philosophy? Get on the bus!

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When we last left our heroes, they were discovering how “painting a portrait” of one’s classroom experiences with concrete details and reflective discussion can help craft a teaching philosophy statement that is attractive to job search committees and useful for faculty review portfolios.  But have you considered sharing your teaching philosophy with your students?

A friend of mine at Augie has often done this as part of an exercise at the start of the course with her students: she shares her teaching philosophy, which vividly uses the metaphor of the ’90s educational children’s TV program The Magic School Bus to describe her thoughts about ideal teaching and learning. Well, she’s like that.

She then asks students to draft a brief “philosophy of learning” statement, which gets students (most of them for the first time) to do some reflective metacognition on how and why they tend to approach learning the way that they do.

A research study brief published in the new (free!) online Faculty Development Today newsletter discusses a pilot approach to sharing teaching philosophy statements with students and assessing their end-of-course responses. The results are intriguing: this move can not only provide you with helpful feedback on your teaching, but also might encourage a greater sense of classroom community for students!  It’s worth checking out.  Maybe you’ll end up showing your students the inside of your magic school bus and take them for a spin!

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6 Reasons to Use Student-Directed Teaching Strategies

Faculty members traditionally develop a teaching philosophy statement (TPS) as part of the job application process, for tenure reviews, or to encourage reflection. In a study published in the Journal of Faculty Development, we propose an alternative approach—to develop the TPS with students as the primary target audience, distribute it to students at the beginning of a course, and collect evaluative data from students about its accuracy at the end of the course. Data were reported from three faculty members who used this student-directed TPS approach. The study revealed implications for faculty development and for the creation and use of teaching philosophies.

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Don’t just write a teaching philosophy… paint a picture.

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Writing a thoughtful and compelling statement of teaching philosophy is hard. It’s crucially important, and not merely for securing a faculty position, or making your case in a faculty review for tenure, promotion or merit. The process of self-reflection and articulation is an important exercise we all need to revisit periodically in order to (re-)discover the core of what’s important to us in our pedagogy and the outcomes we want for our students. But such self-examination can be awkward — where do I start? How much is it OK to toot my own horn? And more fundamentally, how do I put the basic instincts I have about what’s important to me into words that aren’t broad, abstract platitudes?  How do I get past “I want my students to be independent learners” and “active learning is important” and “I’m a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage?” (Those cliches may be true for us, but they’re deflating to write and tedious to read.)

The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis has a wonderful set of resources for helping one compose a teaching philosophy statement, including links to lots more online resources.  Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has a useful site on writing a teaching philosophy statement, providing some simple but powerful question prompts to drive your philosophical invention, as well as a helpful video featuring Susan Yager, who frequently teaches in ISU’s Preparing Future Faculty Program:

But what the Wash U and Iowa State sites might not provide as clearly is a sense of the core of a really unique, definitive teaching philosophy: the concrete texture and experiential detail of your classroom, described in ways that help the reader get a vibrant sense of what it’s like for your students and for you as the teacher.

Here’s where Mary Anne Lewis from Ohio Wesleyan University comes in. In her recent post on Vitae (an essential blog site to follow if you’re on the job hunt, or even just interested in ongoing faculty development at your current place of employment), Lewis describes how she discovered the notion of a teaching philosophy as a “self-portrait,” and in doing so rediscovered and was able to articulate her personal joys of teaching and learning.

Be sure to check out the original post on Vitae — at the end is Lewis’ own teaching philosophy statement in an embedded document file… and it’s really worth the read!

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October 3, 2014

Image: sketch of Albert Camus, by Petr Vorel

Just two years ago, I was in the same position that many of you are in now, namely on the academic job market. The fall semester is under way and, in addition to dissertation work and teaching obligations, you have to write and revise some dense documents for your job applications. Those documents, far from conversational in tone, have to represent your past five to eight (or more) years of academic work in a clear, compelling, articulate, elegant way that demonstrates your unique contributions to your field. And you should have finished your other dissertation chapter. And your dishes are dirty. And you have run out of socks.

I found crafting a “statement of teaching philosophy” particularly elusive. What is it exactly, I wondered, and how does one write such a statement? Should the tone be philosophical, practical, entertaining, or some combination of all three?

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Hack your writing with simple discipline strategies

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We academics constantly face two competing impulses that threaten our productivity as researchers and writers:

  1. The chronic busyness that fills our days — prepping classes, grading student work, preparing for meetings, attending meetings, recovering from meetings……. that convinces us we have no time to write;
  2. The radical (compared to most other jobs) flexibility of our schedules, with sometimes wide expanses of unstructured time that can paradoxically cripple our ability to use much of it for writing (e.g., “I have all summer… My God, where did the time go?!?!?”).

This post from from Jennifer Ahern-Dodson of Duke University, written for the ProfHacker blog (which you should follow regularly — it’s great!), provide some simple yet valuable tips for keeping your writing productive by keeping it scheduled, limited, accountable to others, and kept in mental perspective with humor.

I just helped start a Writers Group for faculty at my college; the participants all seem to agree that having a sense of human connection for fellowship and accountability makes the process less daunting by making it less isolating. While I didn’t have it when I started this particular group, I am going to share with them the Writing Group Starter Kit from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. It includes worksheets and instructions for making the group experience focused and productive.

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Now if I could only follow the advice myself!

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ProfHacker

Teaching, tech, and productivity.

September 30, 2014 by

Scholarly Writing Hacks: 5 Lessons I Learned Writing Every Day in June

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[This is a guest post by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, an assistant professor of the Practice in Writing Studies at Duke University where she teaches digital storytelling and researches learning communities and community-university partnerships. You can follow her on Twitter @jaherndodson.--@JBJ]

On May 31st panic set in. I had agreed to commit to writing every day in the month of June as part of a faculty writing group experiment. Inspired both by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), recent conversations about mini-monographs, and a visionary classics colleague who cooked up this idea, seven of us agreed to set a big scholarly writing project goal for the month (such as writing 30,000 words) and write every day to reach it.

We agreed to post our daily word count and to report our progress (and musings) on a private WordPress site: “(Wee) Little Monograph in a Month.” Despite my enthusiasm for the challenge, I feared I’d fail: Could I keep my writing momentum going for a full 30 days? Could I really write just a little every day and get a rough, raggedy draft by the end of the month?

Here’s what I learned from trying.

1. Use writing to figure out what you think. In the early messy-thinking-on-the-page stage, it’s not the quality of the words, but generating text that matters most. Because I committed to writing every day for a month, I was able to turn off the internal critical voice, that perfectionist voice that many writers struggle with, and just write instead of agonizing over every word and sentence. Sometimes my writing meandered for a while before I discovered what it was I wanted to say, but I finished the month with enough of a draft to see both gaps and possibilities. I had something to revise. One of my favorite posts from a fellow traveler in our June group captures the value of generative writing best:

Is anyone else discovering that they might be writing awkward/problematic/vomitatious words but that they are THINKING, and SEEING their project, as if for the first time?

2. 20-30 minutes a day really does make a difference. I’ll admit I was skeptical, but as I settled into the month, I realized that by writing just a little every day, I was making writing a habit. By “showing up” to write daily (whether I felt inspired or not), I discovered myself thinking about my project even after I’d met my daily writing goal, and so found renewed intellectual energy when I showed up to write the next day. Enforcing upper limits on writing time allowed me to walk away and not lapse into the stressful binge-writing trap, a practice that I sometimes fall back on that perversely just generates more resistance to writing at all.

Experimenting with short daily writing also allowed me to do an end run around the problem of (seemingly) unlimited summer writing time (no teaching, committee, administrative commitments), yet never feeling I had enough time to write the first draft of a book.

3. You gotta have a plan, and having a plan means scheduling time for weekly assessments and revisions of the plan and its goals. I revisited my writing goals at the end of each week to keep my big-picture goals in mind (to get that first draft on paper) and to see if I was working productively toward that goal. Each Friday part of my scheduled writing time included these questions:

(Big picture): What was I trying to think about, to understand, to express with this project? To whom? Why? How did the particular section I was working on fit into the big picture?

(Daily writing): How did it go? Did I need to stop and do more research before the next writing session? Was I distracted at that coffee shop? Bored by chapter 3? More productive in the morning? Did I need to schedule writing around vacation or travel?

By planning weekly assessments, I could celebrate small successes when I hit weekly targets, remind myself what it was I wanted to say, and look honestly at what was happening when I was writing, so I could see where I was getting stuck and whether I needed to revise my writing plans to keep the momentum going. Momentum is crucial.

4. Community matters: Showing up for each other helps you show up for your writing. I often resisted writing in June, especially on the weekends and while on a family beach trip. But when I resisted, when I felt I could not write one more word, I turned to our group WordPress site for motivation. Each of us in the June challenge—an historian, philosopher, rhetorician, classicist, German literature scholar, biologist, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies scholar—posted the highs and lows we encountered with our writing and our research. Despite the disparate topics (including Medieval dogs, ancient foods from the wild, and fan fiction) and meeting only virtually, I felt connected to other writers, which kept me writing. Our group posted word counts daily, which was a helpful accountability measure, but we also infused a sense of fun by posting snapshots of our writing lives with a format adapted from the tumblr siteAcademic Breakfast. Here’s one from a writer studying foraging cultures:

wineglassWhere am I? On my sun porch

What am I drinking? Glass of Grüner Veltliner (Cheers!)

What am I doing? (5 words) Pre-writing – today’s words till ahead

How am I doing? (10 words) Proving difficult today to tend plants AND write about them.

5. We need to keep a sense of humor about the challenges of writing in the real world.
allthecatsOur writing community posted a wide range of experiences (and distractions) that we faced as we tried to write every day in June. Cats taking over our writing spaces. Power outages. Laptop crashes. Big ideas for other projects popping up and distracting us from our June writing project goals. We wrote in airports while waiting for lost luggage, a Disney World bathroom at 5am while family members slept, and in an outdoor garden that called for attention. Our pictures and musings captured our writing lives as we actually lived them, not as we imagined them. Collectively, we demystified the magical summer-of-productive-writing so many of us long for in April, but rarely see materialize by early August. Life happens. Writing can find a way in if we make the space for it.

In the end, I managed to write every day in the month of June and sketched out a rough draft of a book that I’d been sitting on for years. Draft in hand, I now turn toward the hard work of revising it. To work productively toward that goal, I know I need a faculty writing community, a writing routine (when the specter of “unlimited” writing time gets replaced by the “no time to write” mantra), and a plan for the academic year.

Our June group is resuming for the fall, and new writers are joining us. We will name and post our writing project goals and weekly targets to our new WordPress site “justwrite.” (My weekly goals will include writing Monday-Friday for at least 20 minutes).We will continue to post pictures of our writing spaces and the joys and challenges of scholarly writing. Our pictures may be less glamorous—beach views and sun porches replaced by offices or classroom spaces—but we will write, and use these scholarly writing hacks to face new kinds of writing resistance with good humor and a shared commitment to cultivating a sane and productive scholarly writing life.

Have you had success with online writing groups? What strategies seemed to help get the writing done? Share in comments!

In-post photos are courtesy of J. Clare Woods. Lead photo is “Writing in the Purple Room” by Flickr user Julie Jordan Scott / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

Listen to Ringo! Turn to your friends.

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One of the truly irritating things about a career in academia is that it is invariably performed by human beings. Well, perhaps nearly  invariably — we all know that certain bionic colleague who seems to be able to do it all effortlessly, leaving the rest of us breathless and in awe.

No, that’s bunk — even the Six Million Dollar Faculty experience the same occasional crisis moments and more common feelings of fatigue, overwhelm, and panic. The job demands much, sometimes too much, and we’re just regular people with limits and limitations. And these moments of — what? inevitable humanity? — happen at every stage of the academic career, and never at an opportune moment. Usually at the worst moments, right? The days after midterms and finals with a stack of work to assess and students expecting grades. The looming deadline for a manuscript submission. The weeks of preparing for a tenure or promotion review. And then there’s the all-too-mundane yet all-too-human inevitabilities: illness, family concerns, conflicting obligations… you know, life stuff.

Where can we turn for the answer? Of course, you reply: Ringo Starr, and his friends.

Sometimes, the answer to the most complex personal problems can be as simple (and yet as profound) as the simplest pop song lyrics:

What do I do when my love is away
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day
Are you sad because you’re on your own?

No, I get by with a little help from my friends…

Of course, in academia, this approach assumes that the friends are there — that you’ve taken the time and effort to cultivate collegial connections with the folks in your department and elsewhere. When you’re a new faculty member, of course, this requires reaching out for help making these connections: to department chairs, a faculty mentor, other senior faculty, more-senior junior faculty, the faculty development staff at your institution.

Even with the groundwork laid by a network of familiar and dependable colleagues, though, it still takes a certain strength to admit the need to reach out. The life of an academic can feel like a solitary one so much of the time; it can seem presumptuous, even inappropriate, to ask someone to cover your classes, shoulder some of your work, or even just take time from their own frenetic schedule to listen to you vent. But Nate Kreuter from Western Carolina University reminds us in Inside Higher Ed that we need to give ourselves permission to channel our inner Ringo, and seek the help we need.

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October 1, 2014

Sometimes we are overwhelmed. The forces of life converge, place us in a bind, and restrict our ability to do our jobs. We’ve all watched it happen to a friend or colleague. Perhaps many of us have experienced it for ourselves. In these moments, our work life can become secondary, and probably should become secondary in many cases.

We need, during these moments, to ask for help.

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Free webinars on tech for teaching next week!

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As you know, loyal readers, APP likes incorporating technology into teaching and learning, and loves free.  So I pass along an announcement I ran across on the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network listserv for free webinars on October 6-10, 2014 from MacMillan Higher Ed.

Yeah, yeah, a couple of them might be infomercials (APP endorses none of these products, necessarily), but the ideas and approaches presented in the webinars could be really useful… and did I mention they’re free???

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Hello all, Macmillan Education, where I work, is sponsoring the following webinars for it’s second Ed Tech Week.  As you can see, some of the topics center around Macmillan products (Writer’s Help, LaunchPad), but most are around issues in teaching and learning.  If you teach a digital pedagogy class, consult on trends in higher education, work in student success among others, these may be of help to you, your students, or faculty colleagues.

Topics:

  • Integrating Writer’s Help into the First Year Classroom: Four Methods by Lonni Pearce, University of Colorado at Boulder – Monday, October 6 at 1pm Eastern
  • Use What Your Students Do Already: Optimizing Students’ Tech Skills for Communicating by Johndan Johnson-Eillola, Clarkson University, Monday, October 6 at 3pm Eastern
  • The Economics of Online Education and the Future of Teaching by Alex Tabarrok, George Mason University, Tuesday, October 7 at 12pm Eastern
  • Assessment and Utilization of Noncognitives to Support Student Success and Retention by Paul Gore of The University of Utah and Wade Leuwerke of Drake University, Thursday, October 9 at 2pm Eastern
  • Maximizing and Managing LaunchPad: Optimizing the LaunchPad Experience for You and Your Students by Toni Henderson, Langara College, Thursday, October 9 at 3pm Eastern
  • Innovations in Assignment Design Using Technology by Rob Lue, Harvard University, Friday, October 10 at 3pm Eastern

You can see full session descriptions and register by going here:  http://macmillanhighered.com/Catalog/page/content.aspx?Title=16568

nick.carbone at gmail dot com
http://teachnet.blogspot.com/

Is “bad” academic writing a self-defense strategy?

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There were at least two moments for me as a graduate student when I knew I was struggling to become part of a larger intellectual community: the first time I encountered scholarly writing that was so dense, complex and specialized that it made me feel stupid and resentful, and the first time I looked at a draft of my own writing and recognized some of the same patterns of overly complicated scholarship-as-legerdemain I resented in others. “Wow, I’m capable of that? Yuck.” I suspect I am not the only one to have had two such moments in my career.

While some of us take pride in being able to read and write in prose thick with jargon and layers of stylistic complexity, others are more vocal about feeling like I’ve often felt. The late Denis Dutton’s brief annual series The Bad Writing Contest took aim at these conventions of academic prose and brought them to broader attention.

“As usual,” commented Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, “this year’s winners were produced by well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and academic journals.”Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton remarked that “it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’.”

There are any number of reasons why academic writing can feel laborious, impenetrable, and intimidating to readers — and it’s often not the case that the reason is the intellectual inferiority of the reader. Indeed, as Harvard University’s Steven Pinker points out in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week, several factors leading to problematic academic writing style might be located at the intellectual anxiety of the writer:

  1. self-consciousness: the writer’s worry that they will be perceived by others as intellectually illegitimate in their field;
  2. the “curse of knowledge”: the writer’s inability to recognize the possibility that other people may not know what they know.

Even the venerated literary critic Jacques Derrida has shared that he experiences feelings of fear and intimidation when engaged in critical scholarly writing:

Pinker’s essay is a thoughtful, useful examination of why our writing often takes the forms it does at its worst — useful for us as academic writers, and useful for us to share with our students as we attempt to guide them into the kind of writing that helps them enter an intellectual conversation with fellow experts.

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Why Academics Stink at Writing

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Scott Seymour

Together with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having a foreign policy, the most conspicuous trait of the American professoriate may be the prose style called academese. An editorial cartoon by Tom Toles shows a bearded academic at his desk offering the following explanation of why SAT verbal scores are at an all-time low: “Incomplete implementation of strategized programmatics designated to maximize acquisition of awareness and utilization of communications skills pursuant to standardized review and assessment of languaginal development.” In a similar vein, Bill Watterson has the 6-year-old Calvin titling his homework assignment “The Dynamics of Inter­being and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes,” and exclaiming to Hobbes, his tiger companion, “Academia, here I come!”

No honest professor can deny that there’s something to the stereotype. When the late Denis Dutton (founder of the Chronicle-owned Arts & Letters Daily) ran an annual Bad Writing Contest to celebrate “the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles,” he had no shortage of nominations, and he awarded the prizes to some of academe’s leading lights.

But the familiarity of bad academic writing raises a puzzle. Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand?

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