Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Summary and Response

On December 25, 2010, the online New York Times featured an article by Tamar Lewin, "A Quest to Explain What Grades Really Mean."  In the article, Lewin details efforts, primarily at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, to detail and combat grade inflation.  Grade inflation is the tendency of grades to creep up over time, which makes accurate assessment of what grades actually mean harder.  Grade inflation is perceived as a problem at a number of colleges and universities, though efforts to fight it are rare and not necessarily effective.

Lewin quotes Andrew Perrin, the sociologist on whose work the article focuses, as saying “An A should mean outstanding work; it should not be the default grade....If everyone gets an A for adequate completion of tasks, it cripples our ability to recognize exemplary scholarship.”  The idea behind the quote is one that shows up in my teaching.  That idea is that just showing up and turning in basic-level work is not worth a special reward.  It is an older idea, admittedly, and one that reflects a stricter view of what college work ought to be.

Employers, though, are not known to be forgiving, particularly in times of economic trouble.  They will demand high-quality work, and will lay off or fire people who do not perform it.  In light of this, is it necessarily a bad thing to grade "harshly," meaning that students who do base-line competent work will not get As but the Cs which are defined in college catalogs as "average?"  Then, too, there is the idea that if things are easy, students have no reason to get better; the point of any kind of education is to improve, so anything that takes away from the desire to improve is to be avoided.

Adequate /ăd'ǝ*kwǝt/ (adj.)- sufficient to the assigned task but not distinguished in any way; acceptable but not praiseworthy
Default /dǝ*fâlt'/ (adj.)- standard of comparison, status when not affected by outside influences, normal, base-line
Exemplary /ĕg*zĕm'plǝ*rē/ (adj.)- worthy of serving as an example, almost always a good one

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sample Summary

On December 26, 2010, Maggie Stiefvater's article "Pure Escapism" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, Stiefvater notes that the reason for the recent upswing in dystopian young adult fiction is often incorrectly identified.  Rather than being a reflection of current circumstances, the trend is a reflection of a desire for escapism, a desire to get away from what is perceived as being imprisonment.  In the case of young adult fiction, the escapism comes from the easy identification of what is wrong, so that it may be more easily fought against; the world does not exist in such a clear-cut division of right and wrong.

Dystopian /dĭs*tō'pē*ən/ (adj.)- representing a society that appears ideal but is instead based upon an idea the presumed readership considers extremely objectionable

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sample Summary

On December 23, 2010, Paul Krugman's "The Humbug Express" appeared in the online New York Times.  In it, Krugman notes that a number of statements made by conservative think tanks and politicians--called "humbug factories" by Krugman--are based on inaccurate data.  Nonetheless, Krugman notes, those statements are regarded as true because they are pervasive.  That is to say that they appear often, and because they do, people think they are true.  Although Krugman reveals a significant liberal bias in his comments, he does point out the danger in assuming that something is true just because it appears often.

Conservative /kǝn*sŭr’vǝ*tĭv/ (adj.)- politically inclined towards weak central governmental authority, socially inclined towards perceived traditional values
Liberal /lĭ’bǝr*ǝl/ (adj.)- politically inclined towards strong central governmental authority, socially inclined towards inclusion and equal regard for multpile groups
Pervasive /pǝr*vā’sĭv/ (adj.)- appearing often and in many places

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sample Summary

Because this blog is supposed to operate as a teaching resource (as noted in my "Statement of Purpose"), it is appropriate to post models that students in my classes can follow.  The first such model appears below, and adheres to the standards laid out on the relevant page of my teaching website.

On December 21, 2010, NYTimes.com posted an article by Tamar Lewin and Anemona Hartocollis, "Colleges Rethink R.O.T.C. after 'Don't Ask' Repeal."  In the article, Lewin and Hartocollis note that the impending repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is prompting many high-end colleges to reexamine their bans on the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.  Notably, "the presidents of Harvard, Yale and Columbia have issued statements expressing interest in bringing back the R.O.T.C.," which marks a significant change in their schools' positions.  However, Lewin and Hartocollis report that there are some who think the military will not open ROTC programs on such campuses due to insufficient potential for recruiting.  Even so, the idea that elite colleges are considering hosting ROTC units is a significant and welcome change.

Corps /kōr/ (n.)- a body; in this case, a body of military personnel

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teaching Philosophy

One of my earlier career goals was to become a high-school English teacher, and I have in the past been certified to hold such a position in Texas.  While I was going through my training to earn such certification, I was advised by a number of my pedagogy professors to develop a coherent statement of my teaching philosophy.  That is, I was told that I ought to think about why I teach and use that to develop and refine how I teach.

As I made a concerted effort to be a conscientious student, I did as my teachers told me.  My first effort, though, was not a good one.  I have a copy of it somewhere, I think, but I am ashamed to pull it up and let other people see it.

My situation turned out such that I did not need to put forth that initial version of my teaching philosophy.  An opportunity to pursue graduate school opened up for me, one that promised to give me a change of scenery and a paycheck, and I took it.  After a semester in graduate school, though, I landed in another pedagogy class.  Like those I had been in earlier, that class required me to draft a teaching philosophy.

When I wrote a teaching philosophy for my graduate class, I was more pleased with the result than I was when I wrote one as an undergraduate.  I understood more going into the project, so I was in a better position to be able to learn more from actually doing the writing.  Also, I had had a lot more practice writing, so I was better at the task of putting words on the page.  What resulted has remained the teaching philosophy that I have "on file."  That is to say that when I have sent out applications for college teaching jobs over the past few years, the teaching philosophy I drafted for my graduate class has been the one that I have sent along with the other application materials.

So far, it seems to have worked out pretty well.  I have been able to land a full-time college teaching job at a two-year school in New York City, while most of the people in the field at my age are either part-time workers or still graduate assistants.  There is nothing wrong with being either, I must note, but full-time work has better benefits and brings in more money.

I try, though, to remain aware of what I do, and that means that I need to go back and look over what I have done to see how I can do it better when I have to do it again.  This process applies to my teaching, and since it does, it also has to apply to what underlies my teaching.  As such, I looked back at my teaching philosophy and realized that it needs some changing.

Some of the changes are a simple result of the passage of time.  It is nearly five years now since I wrote my current teaching philosophy, and my understanding of the world has changed (I hope for the better!).  Also, the last few years of teaching have been instructive.  When I initially wrote my teaching philosophy, I was in coursework at a state college, but my last five terms teaching have been at an urban, for-profit college that serves traditionally under-privileged populations.  I have learned things from the students in my classes that I would not have been exposed to did I not have the experiences I have had these past terms, and my beliefs about teaching have shifted with that new knowledge.

Right now, among the other writing projects I have to do (dissertation and conference papers), I am working on revising my teaching philosophy.  Without doubt, sections of it will appear here as I go through revision; I find that outside help is always welcome, and there is something about putting writing where others can see it that motivates me to be a bit more careful in how I set up my words.

Until then, I welcome comment about teaching practices and hints about where I can find more information about them.

Conscientious /kân*shē*ĕn’shǝs/ (adj.)- devoted to or focused on doing the right thing
Pedagogy /pĕd’ǝ*gō*jē/ (n.)- the study and practice of teaching
Philosophy /fĭl*ŏs’ǝ*fē/ (n.)- "love of wisdom"; in this selection, a statement of guiding ideas and beliefs arrived at through a combination of study and observation in practice

Statement of Purpose

I had begun to write a different post altogether when it occurred to me that I ought to lay out my purpose in setting up this blog.  Like my teaching website, this blog exists to help my students with the work that I require them to do.  For the website, the help comes in the form of laying out the specific guidelines of individual assignments and courses.  The blog is for students to get examples of writing (particularly summaries) and to see writing in development.  Because there is less formatting work involved, producing text in a blog tends to be faster.  Accordingly, I can be more responsive to student concerns and issues in this blog.

With some luck, I may be able to engage students in discussions in the comments, as well.  That, though, will depend greatly on the students and how things go, overall.

One additional note about this blog needs to be made.  As it is explicitly a teaching concern, I am likely to offer definitions for terms.  In most of my writing, I do not do so.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I have plans to use this blog in my teaching.  For now, though, this will be a placeholder for it.