Category Archives: Education

AcBoWriMo: Academic Book Writing Month

I was just thinking yesterday about how something like NaNoWriMo was cool, but really not the writing I needed to be doing. (I routinely write the first chapter of a novel just to get it out of me. Chapter 2 usually proves to be more of a problem). Lo and behold, ProfHacker posted about Charlotte Frost’s idea to do AcBoWriMo, where you write an academic book in a month–with, of course, the caveat that academic writing is far different than novel writing. “[B]ut aren’t you just a little bit curious to know how much of a kick-start a dedicated writing month could give your book?” she asks.

So in the spirit of fun and GTD, I am going to give it a shot. Plus I just joined a faculty writing group at Dominican, so I am in the mindset of improving the volume and quality of my writing. I am thinking  500 words a day is totally doable, but to get to the full 50,000 words in a 30 day month requires 1,666 words a day.  Considering that it’s already November 2, this may be challenging. Plus I don’t have any projects that require quite that length in the pipeline. I do have several shorter projects due in November, plus a number of longer projects partially completed. So rather than planning to “do things over winter break” (hahahahahhaha), it’s not a bad idea to just suffer through November and enjoy more of December for fun, as several people have pointed out.

In November I have 750 words worth of writing due to two different publications, a white paper that needs to happen soon, and two articles I would like to at least draft (both are outlined already). That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 words. Not to mention I could always blog more! So let’s say 20,000 words to be generous. That’s 666 words a day. I have written 600 words for a book review draft (it’s pretty rough yet), and this blog post will end up being about 400 words. So that’s 1,000 words. I feel like that’s cheating, but then again, it’s not nothing!

Anyone else participating in any of these “write such and such many words of…” memes? Do other people accomplish things in different ways? Or are writing groups the only way to do it?

Writing Progress Chart

“Fair Grades”

The excellent Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Dominican hosted a seminar this afternoon discussing the article “Fair Grades” by Daryl Close [1]. Close suggests that there are three models of grading; the first is that grades are in some measure based on reward or punishment, the second that is getting a certain grade is the goal of education; and lastly (the one  he agrees with) is that grades reflect a student’s mastery of the material. Such factors as attendance and comportment are not academic in nature, and hence irrelevant to grades. Such other practices as grading on a curve or dropping the lowest quiz grades are also deemed unethical by this measure, as they presuppose some students will be able to master only some of the content along some predefined trend. Ultimately, however, he seems to say that anything is fair to grade on, as long as the criteria are spelled out ahead of time. If you will give grades based on how nice people are, then say so in the syllabus. “A fine enough ethical point for a philosopher,” as one of my colleagues stated.

Many faculty from Dominican present felt that it was in fact our duty to teach such virtues as coming to class regularly and on time–but that a class worth going to we wouldn’t have to entice students to attend. In this sense, we acknowledge (as I believe) that we generally live in a Model 2 grading world, in which grades and degrees are currency we can spend in life. We turn over a student to an employer with a stamp saying “this student knows certain material and will show up”.  I can absolutely see why Close has a problem with this; but the fact of the matter is, it pretty well describes the way many students see higher education.  Though not, I might add, those students who have completed my junior seminar.

I find this a fascinating topic because I personally have an unusual experience with grades. As you may know, I didn’t go to a school between the ages of 9 and 18, though I certainly got plenty of schooling. Grades were not a part of my  daily experience, and I managed to learn how to show up places on time and read books despite this. Perhaps it’s because my education was by turns extremely practical (many volunteer and regular jobs), and extremely impractical (learning Ancient Greek for the sheer joy of it).

It could be that I am unusual, but ultimately I don’t think grades can possibly create a certain type of person. A punitive grade might make someone briefly unhappy, but a grade describes a student’s attitude towards his or her education just as much as it describes a student’s aptitude. I got excellent grades in college partly because I did what was expected of me, but I did what was expected of me because I generally believed that it would result in me getting the education I was there to get. Maybe it’s only because I was taking the right classes at a college that was a good fit for me.

As someone who jumped in teaching college head first, I graded as leniently as possible my first semester, since I knew it was a learning experience for me as much as the students. Since I teach a seminar that requires engaging with challenging texts in an authentic way, I could tell which students were honestly trying and which were going through the motions. But I’m not sure most people in real life cares how much people care, as long as the work gets done.

Did you care about your grades in school? Why or why not? (I am tempted to grade all my internet friends on their level of engagement with my blog, so be forewarned).

 

1. Close D. Fair Grades. Teaching Philosophy. 2009. 32(4):361-398. Available at: http://bright.net/~dclose/fair-grades-typescript.pdf.

Two Year High School

Immediately on reading the New York Times article High Schools to Offer Plan to Graduate 2 Years Early (2/17/10) I was ambivalent about this type of plan. As someone who had perhaps an unusual high school education, I like the idea of options, but on the other hand this plan sounds like it could be too constricting for many students. It calls for all students to take exams in their sophomore year, and then immediately go to community college, elite college prep, or remedial courses. This is much more in keeping with foreign systems, which seems to be an argument in its favor to proponents.

“School systems like Singapore’s promise students that if they diligently study the material in their course syllabuses, they will do well on their examinations,” says an educational consultant interviewed for the article. He goes on to say that students in the US often do not know where their efforts are best put.

Leaving aside concerns about teaching to the test that is already a problem, I see some problems with this attitude. Students who have come to the US to study often tell me that they admire the freedom US students have to pursue an academic path–and to change their minds when necessary. In many countries one’s educational path is set at 16, and it takes a lot of ambition to change this later on. It’s good to know which courses you’ll need to do well in a career for sure, but as we all know, not being able to become an auror because of a vindictive Potions master is overly punitive.

No matter what, I do like the idea of being able to leave school and do something more challenging or relevant at the age of 16 without having a stigma attached. I considered starting community college at the age of 16 myself–I took the placement test, but then decided that what I was doing was working so well for me that there was no need to change just then. Plus I did have my heart set on a very traditional college experience. But for many people, high school does not have to take 4 years, and college does not have to come immediately after.

And (of course) this ties into libraries. Libraries provide, above all, educational experiences which are self-directed and unique to each person. They can begin and end as appropriate to each learner, hopefully with guidance from a librarian. (There is also that other Library in the Series of Tubes, but I won’t address that and related caveats right now).