Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

#DevilDiss #PamphletCH Progress 30 June

Sometimes dissertation progress does not move in a straight line.
I am often reminded of the Family Circus panels where Billy seems incapable of going from point A to B in a straight line.
That was me the last couple of weeks. It's been busy, all good, but frenetic, busy.
I worked all last week and weekend turning around a revise and resubmit. The feedback and notes were great, so I was happy to work on it. Sent it off to the editor Sunday. And he liked it, but it was 2,000 words over their limit so Monday I had to cut, and cut, and cut. Always amazes me that I think all the words are precious and then I start editing. And realize they're not.
Then, I spent this past weekend working on my Milton chapter (even though the calendar doesn't have that scheduled until the end of July) because there was a journal essay prize I wanted to submit it to. So I first addressed all the notes from my director, then I completely reorganized it (as she suggested). Then I had to cut it down.
The bonus is that I just need to add an introduction that ties it to the Shakespeare chapter than comes before it, and add the Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes parts to the end but the chapter is mostly done. Which is good.
So I submitted that Sunday which was good because the deadline is Tuesday. Because I really need to get back to the pamphlet chapter. Then Monday got an email from the editor that it was over word count and they'd unsubmitted my manuscript until I fixed it. So yesterday I spent the morning fixing that, and resubmitting.

Then I FINALLY was able to get back to the pamphlet chapter.
But I spent a lot of the day struggling. Because it's a lot to look at- 179 pamphlet covers, divided into eight subtopics.

What I was writing was rough.
I have a lot of pieces like this:
    The references to treason in 1606, are easy to connect to Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators being executed for the events of the Gunpowder Plot.

Which yes, is true, and yes, is an application of psychoanalytic folklore studies and historicism, but BLECH. It's too bald. To inelegant.
But I pounded through all the subtopics yesterday, identifying patterns and just writing. Because progress is progress.
I finally finished by early afternoon. And I have a solid 24 pages of analysis that needs a lot of finesse. But didn't see a way to fix the above mess. So rather than force it, which just results in hours spent undoing, I decided to start reading some of the secondary sources I was going to use. I thought it was reading I had to do anyway, and it might provide something to job my writing. I started with Alexandra Halasz's The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England.
The book is older (1997) but had some great stuff. It also provided me with a methodology for how to fix my problem.
The first is that I can fix the chunkiness of the above statements by grounding them and situating them amongst scholarship and a greater historical lens.
But all that is just the ramp up, the big picture. The heart of the chapter is going to be an analysis of Pierce Penniless. It's a perfect encapsulation of all the topics I need to discuss, and this grounding in the text will keep the analysis from being all over the place. It will also connect to the bigger picture ideas while not losing focus.
So, today I have to run up to Santa Fe, so it's a dead day work wise, but I plan on knocking out some smaller secondary readings (about all I'll have time for by the time I get back). And tomorrow I'll start digging into the analysis of Pierce Penniless.
So, that's the progress, and the way through.

I need to finish the pamphlet chapter this upcoming week. Then I move onto two weeks of working on expanding the Shakespeare chapter from conference to chapter, which should be easier because the conference paper is solid. Then the last week in July is to add those bits to the Milton chapter, and then send chapters 4-6 off to my director.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

#DevilDiss Pamphlet Chapter Progress 23 June 2015

Last week I was buried in revise and resubmit work for my article on Elfego Baca as Created Folk Hero. I did what I always did, and procrastinated on the revisions because they always seem huge, and then I sit down to work on them, and they go quickly. These edits took longer than usual because I had about thirty books to read to add/cite and that ate up time between reading, and waiting on ILL to get some of the books. But I met my goal on Sunday of ending the week by sending the revision back to the editor, so we'll see.

Part of the reason why I busted my ass last week was because this week I need to get back to #DevilDiss full time. This week I need to finish the analysis of the 16th and 17th century pamphlets. Next week I need to finish writing/drafting the chapter.  And the week after the pamphlet chapter needs to be finished because the remaining weeks of July are dedicated to expanding the Shakespeare conference paper to a a chapter, and then a week of revising my Milton chapter based on my director's notes.

This chapter is very different from the other chapters I've written. The methodology is similar to my Milton chapter with the numbers. For my Milton chapter I looked at the number of times certain words were used in Paradise Lost as a way of focusing my argument on rebellion, revolt, and disobedience as representative of anxieties and fears of the folk as represented by the devil and other figures.
The pamphlet chapter works in similar ways. When I searched EEBO for pamphlets from 1500-1660 that included the devil it returned 201 results. Upon looking at the printed out results (frontispieces and covers only) the number got narrowed down to 179 usable pamphlets.
I chose to only analyze the covers because to a passerby, the cover is what makes the argument, and influences whether or not they read/pick up the pamphlet.
I organized the pamphlets according to subtopic (see below).
I then went through each subtopic and analyzed, made notes on the art and word choice of each cover. 
Then I identified commonalities and patterns. So, the heavy lifting work is done.
Now, I just have to write it all up, which is this week's goal.
Next week's goal is to add the scholarship. I need to find some more scholarship about the state of the Reformation and the Church of England during the 1600s so I can situate the fears/anxieties reflected in these pamphlets, specifically in the use of the devil both as a term and as a figure (in the art).
Then week after final drafting.

Yesterday got derailed a little because when I pulled the pamphlet titles I didn't cite as I went. So I spent about seven hours yesterday having to go back to EEBO and re-look up the citation information, so I could revise and reformat the bibliography. Time consuming, and completely my fault, but has to be done. I only got halfway through, so I need to finish it this afternoon once I'm back from Santa Fe. Then Thursday I start writing out the broad strokes.

I've been good about not working weekends, but had to this past weekend to get the Baca revisions finished.
Looks like I'll be working this weekend as well because there's an essay prize that has a deadline of 30 June so I have some work to do this weekend, but not a lot, it's addressing the revision notes from my director on my Milton chapter.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Country Are You Living In?

I wish I could say that the events in Charleston shocked me.
I wish that this type of blatant racism was so rare, so unheard of, that this single instance was a literal shock to individuals, communities, and the nation at large.

But it's not.

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray.

For many these are hashtags, terms that get liked and shared and RT, but that is the end of the involvement.

As an English teacher. As a former high school teacher of children, many not different from the young men and women in these news stories, there are many things upset me about these situations.
One of the things that upsets me are the rhetorics of race that are present in every single one of these stories.
Black men and women who resist or speak up are "thugs" and white men that gun down people in a church, or show up armed in force, are "mentally ill."
Pictures of the black men in these stories show themas thugs, using visual rhetoric to create a specific narrative. While the white men, perpetrators and criminals, are shown in graduation caps, and band uniforms.
Events like McKinney are called a "ruckus."
Not only are news outlets framing a biased narrative, but the underlying argument running under all of these stories seems to be that they are the result of everything EXCEPT racism.

But reading my Twitter feed and Facebook yesterday  realized that there's a much bigger program going on.
I constantly read posts that said things like:
Where did he get this from?
How could this happen?
One person doesn't represent us all.
This was a single person, it's not a hate crime.

And that's delusional bullshit.

He didn't need to "get" it from anywhere. It's pervasive in the South. And for that, look no further than South Carolina's flag.
It happened because racism across the country, but particularly in the South is normalized. It is accepted. We have gotten to the point that people aren't even giving lip service to protest that they're not racist because they no longer feel that they have it.
When a young man takes a gun into a church and murders people, and everyone rushes to say how he's not "us" you're focusing on the wrong thing. He obviously did nothing to hide his views, his support of apartheid, and the rhetorics of racism. Yet no one stepped in, no one corrected him, no one stopped him. Which makes every one in his life complicit.  Tell me again how he's not representative.
A white man killed black people, of course it's a hate crime. Those of you arguing that this was anything else are ignorant. And you need to think long and hard why you're so invested in this not being racism.

I went to high school, then undergrad in North Carolina. Later when my mom got sick I moved home and taught at the same high school I graduated from. And let me tell you- if you think the news that's been scrolling across your social media feeds are isolated incidents, or if you think we live in a post-racial world, and that racism is a few and far between occurrence, you're out of your goddamn mind.
My neighbors in NC draped a Confederate flag over their porch, and kept it there.

My students regularly argued that the South had won the Civil War, and the world would be a better place if everything was like the South.
The "n" word was regularly used. By students, parents, school administration.
On more than one occasion I had a guidance counselor, and assistant principal tell me that the sole reason a student wasn't doing well was because "they're black."
The towns are segregated, not by law, but by historic economics and continuing conditions that make it incredibly difficult for families to move into better situations.
In my recent memory I can tell you of crosses burned on yards. Not a hundred years ago, not fifty years ago.
Home schooling is popular. And most use a distorted view of Christianity to guide their practices. Using books like this:
And distorted religion bears a large part of this responsibility. I've had to sit through prayer at faculty meetings for a public high school. And was treated badly when I complained about this.
I was once almost fired for teaching The Scarlet Letter.
I was once called into the principal's office at the behest of the superintendent, and accused of being a devil worshipper. Because my students, and parents, never saw me go to church.
I was once slandered on a church email list because I told a student that their community service/service learning assignment needed to be redone as "teaching heathens about Jesus" did not address a social issue, as was the assignment.

The Boston Globe nailed it today, and this is at the heart of this issue that few seem to be willing to recognize. In the South, the argument is that the Confederate flag is "heritage, not hate." But the problem is it's a heritage, and history, OF hate.
It's everywhere.
It's pervasive.
It runs in the background.
It is implied in teaching, and modeling.
The culture, particularly the religious culture, supports this.
And it's against all minorities, not just blacks. A couple of decades ago, NC saw an influx of South American families moving in. And the racist reaction was predictable. And they too had crosses burned on their yards. And their children were called "wetbacks." And they lived in segregated neighborhoods, and when they moved into other neighborhoods were accused of "ruining" the neighborhood.

Is everyone south of the Mason-Dixon a racist? Of course not. But the culture, the heritage, that supports and encourages racism is ubiquitous.
And this is the heart of the issue. When an entire culture is build around a symbol of racism and slavery, when the majority of that population will argue with you about how it's NOT a symbol of hate, that's a problem.
There was a time where the epithets were still said, but people at least lowered their voices to say it. The "n" word was still used, but the younger generation preferred to say "those people" or "those boys."

The problem is, the people in the South are busy defending their "heritage," the people in the North are busy arguing we live in an Ivory Tower of post-racial harmony where these things are isolated incidents.
I worry that despite of the growing list of racial events the past year, people are still denying the prevalence of racism. And I worry that our collective, continued inaction against these racists acts only encourages another generation of racism. If we don't punish it. If we don't call it out. If we don't act against it. If we don't in ONE VOICE stand up and say NO MORE then these shadow racists, who have been whispering and lowering their voices no longer see a reason to even do that. They will feel empowered to step forward, present themselves as heroic, tell their stories of "their" country disappearing.
Because what the last year as shown is that racism is institutional.
And we're doing nothing about it.

So I'd like to be shocked at the events in Charleston. Certainly my heart goes out to the families and the community. Unfortunately, given the specific events of the last year, and my personal experiences the last twenty-five years, I think it is just the norm. We live with this now, and other than creating a hashtag, and RT, or sharing a story, we seem unwilling to take any other action. We seem unwilling to stop it.
Perhaps because so many of us are refusing to even acknowledge that there is an issue.

As a teacher, I hope I'm not alone in having discussions about these rhetorics of race.
In opening the conversation in our classrooms.
In making our classrooms safe spaces, and doing what we can to teach our content, to show that there's a wide world out there.
I hope we're creating lessons and sharing them for others to use.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What Article Revision Looks Like For Me

A little over a month ago I received a revise and resubmit email for an article I submitted in November.
I was very excited. It was a folklore piece and I really liked writing it, and researching it as it required work at UNM's Center for Southwest Research, a wonderful archive with a great staff.

In fact, my only non #DevilDiss project this summer is one on the Seder Dime Novel collection they have- examining the demonizing of the Other in the cover art of dime novels and framing as precursor to same moves in early comics.

But I digress.

I originally told the editor I'd turn the revisions around in a few weeks, but they said to take my time. So I admit I've been focusing on clearing my desk of other things. As I sat down today though to work on the revisions, I thought I'd share my process for this.

I will first say that I've always taken revise and resubmit. I don't know why people wouldn't. One conference presentation/panel of editors said that if they asked for that, they wanted to work with you to get the piece out. So that's always how I view it.
However, I will say that with ALL revisions, I tend to put them off, making the work required HUGE in my head, and then I sit down and in a day or two it's finished and I wonder (once again) why I put it off.

  • So, the first thing I did today was sit down and read over the reviewers' notes. The notes I received were very detailed, had a really supportive tone, and very helpful. I went through each, with a copy of the article, and made notes about where I needed to add/address the notes.
  • As I was going through these notes I also looked up and made a list of books I needed to get from the library to address these gaps.
  • Because the reviewers' notes were so great, I don't have any I disagree with, so I'll be addressing them all. There was a conversation on Twitter the other day about revisions. Sometimes we're asked to change things that we fight for, some we're too tired to fight for (this happens to me when there are multiple rounds of revisions), and some are legitimate revision notes. The conversation was when the note asked us to change our voice, which is our commodity, that was a line most of us were not willing to cross. 
  • There were two main notes one was what was folkloric about Elfego Baca and why his creation of his own legend was important. I dance around both. So I need to frontload both of those early, and rewrite/refocus the conclusion around that.
Now, the next part may seem silly (or genius).
I put in my Passion Planner when things are due. Then I backtrack work days to meet that deadline. I've been procrastinating on these revisions, so this is my last week to get these Baca revisions finished.
Also, because I don't have summer income, and budget a little tighter than normal during the summer, I'm careful about gas trips. I only live 9 miles from campus, it takes about 15-20 minutes, but I only go to campus for the library on Tuesday and Thursday.

So, today is not a library day. So I will read and annotate the articles I have. I will read over the article and read out loud with fresh eyes and make notes/corrections. I will also add the footnotes to the bibliography (not sure how I missed that first time round).
Tomorrow is a library day. So I will pick up books, make copies as needed. Tuesday and Thursday are also the days I now drive up to Santa Fe as the book courier for Bread Loaf so tomorrow afternoon I'll start on these revisions.
Friday I will finish the revisions, print out, and let it sit.
Saturday I will read over the final draft, make any last minute changes, and then send off to the editor.

So I'll send it off, and then see if the editor has any further notes/revisions which I'll address when they come in.
Part of the reason to get this done, check off is so I can turn the rest of the summer to #DevilDiss (writing the pamphlet chapter, expanding the Shakespeare one, and revising the Milton one).
Part of the reason is (hopefully) this gets accepted so I can put it on my CV for this fall's job market.

So what's your process for article revisions? What's your attitude towards revision? What advice would you have about this process for grad students or early career scholars?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Top Teaching Thoughts: Prep For New Semester

It's still relatively early in the summer, but I am already seeing some pieces about how academics use summer time- for book projects, revising articles, travel, presenting at conferences. Some people like the free time. Others miss the structure of the semester/year. The routine.
There are some great conversations on #acriwri about summer habits of academics.
I used to use my Teacher's Daybook to organize my life but Heineman stopped printing hard copies so I switched to Passion Planner this last year, and jumped on the bandwagon when they offered this month an academic (August to August) Passion Planner and can't wait until it gets here next month (although Jim Burke should totally work with them to bring back Teacher's Daybook).

I look at my monthly due dates/commitments, then I write down any absolute deadlines for articles, #DevilDiss chapters, etc. I then backtrack these deadlines, marking days when I need to work. So each day gets a project and whatever it says on the calendar I work on- whether I feel like it or not. This means that everything gets done by deadline. It also means that when I take weekends off I don't feel guilty because all my obligations are being met.

For people who are working this summer, and are getting ready to prep for the coming semester, I thought I'd collect all my teaching posts in one post for easy reference.

Thinking About Your Approach to Grades

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

posted Dec 3, 2014, 5:03 AM by Karra Shimabukuro
This is a great article about thinking or rethinking your approach to grades:
I think one of the most important things as a teacher is to realize there should be a reason for everything you do. And you should be transparent to your students about this.
  • Why do you have the grading system you do?
  • Why these assignments and not others?
  • Why do you grade the way you do?
While I know it's easy at the end of the semester to get buried in the current semester it's important too to look ahead, and see what you need/want to do to improve your practice in the future.

What I Want to Do Next Semester

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

posted Dec 28, 2014, 12:57 PM by Karra Shimabukuro
I keep a running bug list all semester. Some of these are things that I just want to revisit before revising the course. Some things may not be able to be fixed (like weird, awkward, or just plain bad class dynamics).
I had bad juju in one of my classes this past semester and just couldn't overcome it. Sometimes that happens. But a lot of what's on my list are easily achievable things for next semester.
  • Make sure my students understand the Student Learning Outcomes. Which means frontloading.
  • Be accessible to my students during office hours. As in tone down some my personality from the classroom.
  • Increase attendance during office hours.
  • Spend more time giving feedback. Specifically:
    • Electronic
    • Questioning techniques
    • Color coding
    • Holistic
    • Prompts
  • Provide more check ins for understanding
A trap of teaching for so long is getting lazy or complacent, so I actually print this list out and keep it in my binder for class as a constant reminder of what I want to do. I have a course release this semester because of my job as Core Writing Coordinator so I just have my one ENGL 220: Revising Milton course to focus on. Lots of time and energy to give all these things the attention it deserves.
In addition to this, I had some pretty toxic interactions with people this semester so I have it on my list to avoid those this semester as well.
I'm also test running some things for this class that are different from what I've normally done, in part because I proposed this course because it's a book project and I need to work some stuff out. We'll see how it goes.
What are YOUR goals for next semester?

What I Want Essays To Do

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

posted Dec 31, 2014, 5:52 AM by Karra Shimabukuro
I recently read a post title "History Essay Checklist" in which the early career scholar/teacher writes an essay TO his students as to what he's looking for when he grades essays.
This got me thinking for two separate reasons. The first was I've already identified that I want to both give more/better feedback to my students and insert more scaffolding activities into the course so by the time we get to the assignment they are better prepared. The second thing that struck me was the idea of transparency. Why aren't we always this specific with our students about what we're looking for? Many of us give rubrics (which tend to be written in an incomprehensible language) or provide assignment guidelines (which are better but still don't address a lot of the things we ACTUALLY grade on). Last semester transparency with students was one of the things I stressed with the TAs. Tell students WHY their papers get graded on Sundays. WHY topic sentences are important. WHY you chose to design the assignment that way. This helps you clarify your pedagogy and helps students see our class as a community, and us as human beings with real lives.
For example, my students know that Fridays are my #DevilDiss writing days, so I don't work on that day. On the flip side, I used to have assignments due by midnight Friday. When I checked in with them about how the assignment went (another key thing to add to your teaching repertoire) they said they felt rushed, like they didn't have enough time. So we compromised. I told them that I graded on Sundays, so I could get them back to them right after the weekend, so I couldn't give them the whole weekend, but I could push the deadline to midnight Saturday, giving them an extra-non class day to work. This worked out great- they felt as though they'd been heard, it didn't hurt me, and they got the extra time.

I have a Feedback Cheat Sheet that I use when grading, and I provide this to the students as a way of translating their papers when they get it back.
When I hand assignments back (and on Blackboard) I give general feedback- issues I noticed across the board, things to work on. But I really want to do this BEFORE the assignment gets written, to be clearer about WHAT makes a good essay/paper. So I was thinking in my assignment guidelines adding a more narrative paragraph that talks about what I'm looking for in the essay (similar to what Gosling does in his post).
What about you- what do you do to ensure students understand what is asked of them?

Focusing on Feedback

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

posted Jan 2, 2015, 7:59 AM by Karra Shimabukuro
So one of my goals this semester is to focus on feedback. I want to make sure I'm giving more feedback, better feedback, electronic feedback. So I have feedback on the brain.
So feedback associated posts are popping out to me. These two sites came across my radar this morning:
I like this idea of not giving grades, of refocusing students on feedback and improvement versus grade obsession.
Given the restrictions I have with my program, I don't know if I can do any of this, but I plan on asking and one way I thought I could do it is to give students the option to "Opt out" of interim grades, receiving only feedback and progress reports, but receiving a final grade. It would be completely optional. I could present it as a less stress, refocus approach which some students might appreciate.
One thing I am implementing this semester is mandatory conferences on the day each assignment is due. And I plan on using this form (modified from the first site above) to guide our conferences and get students thinking about their own progress.
What do you guys think? Would a focus on feedback over grades improve student performance? Those of you who have moved towards this, how do you do it? What does it look like? What, if any, pushback did you receive?

Once More into the Breach

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

posted Jan 27, 2015, 6:28 AM by Karra Shimabukuro
So we're in week three of our semester here and I admit to still feeling off-balance. Last week we had a two hour delay that cancelled class, then didn't, so that was weird. I'm prepping a new class- Revising Milton, so that's more work that I've had to do, but it is also my ONLY class, so I'll shut up.
I started with a three ring binder for class. I've already moved it to a simple folder.
However, I tried something new with students this semester. Their first week assignment was to email me and tell me one thing after the first week they were interested in, and one question they had. Now, whether it was this approach (or my rocking first day lecture that reviewed the syllabus through memes) I have no received a single question that could be answered with the dreaded "It's in the syllabus."
Here are other tips for the start of your semester (which you can implement at any time):
  • Use a Google Form to get students to sign off on using their work
  • Schedule a library tutorial so your students have the skills they need to succeed in your class
  • Don't answer work emails at night or weekends. It sets a bad precedent. Start fresh and it'll be easier to avoid the stress of this all semester.
  • Choose a set of office hours that would work with your schedule. Then have students vote for which work best.
  • Make attending office hours 1% of participation.
  • Make your online materials (Blackboard, Moodle, whatever) a dynamic site. Make sure your students see it that way. Also, make sure there's instructional design to your course layout so students can find things.

Starting the New Semester

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

Tomorrow when I flip my planner page it becomes January which means it's time to start prepping for the new semester. Already I've started to see syllabi prep moans/groans/celebrations on my Twitter feed.
So in the next couple of weeks I'll post how I prepare for the new semester.
For any senior scholars- I encourage you to share your syllabi and process with people so grad students and early career scholars can benefit.
Here is my semester prep step by step.
  • I fill in all the dates on my Ward attendance/gradebook for the semester, marking days/weeks off. But I also import my class roster to Excel for the first couple of weeks since the roll will change so much. Once the roll has stabilized I'll write their names in the Ward book.
    • I use my Ward book for attendance/tardies and grades as well as using the Blackboard gradebook so students always have access to their most up to date grades.
  • I also stole this cool idea (I think from @frittersandclam) of having the students create cards the first day that are topic based with their information on it (Name, major, classes, hobbies, plus an illustration of themselves). Last semester they were fairy tale/folktale themed. This semester their drawings will be Milton/popular culture themed.

  • My syllabi is already complete so I just need to prep lessons. I only prep one week of lessons at a time (usually on Sunday morning) because this allows me to adjust lessons/materials/approaches to best serve my students. Usually I use a composition book and hand write my lessons. However, because this course is one I plan to teach again AND because it's the basis of a book, I wanted to try electronic lessons this semester, so that's what I'm going to try. We'll see. I am doing them in Google Docs so I always have access to them and it's easy to make copies. However, I will print out that week's lessons and put in my notebook for class. That way I can make notes on it, draw out organizers, etc. Then I can always scan these pages to replace the lesson.
  • I use three books religiously all semester and like to have them close to my workspace so they're in my eyeline as reminders when I work/plan on Sunday mornings. Jim Burke (@englishcomp ) has always been my go-to guy for lesson planning. These are great things to use in your class regardless of the level.
  • I've prepped my Blackboard section of the course. Nothing fancy, just basics- course information, resources (which I'll build on all semester), and a welcome announcement with their first assignment (email me in the proper manner saying they've read and understand the course syllabus and webpage. They then tell me one thing they're confused about and one thing they're looking forward to.)
    • Since my syllabus is a Google Doc I link most class resources there on the days we use it so it's easy for students to find. This means the Blackboard site is extra bits.
    • I do post weekly announcements that are reminders, tips, that sort of thing.

  • Despite my experience, I am always nervous/excited the first day which means I tend to forget things. Last semester I forgot to tell them my name until one of the students prompted me forty minutes into my spiel. So now I have a bright yellow reminder card to outline the housekeeping bits of the first day.
  • I also color code my classes so it's easy for me to see at a glance which notebook I'm grabbing. This class is coded red.
So that's my prep before the semester starts. What's yours? Any tips or tricks?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What College Professors Could Learn From High School Teachers 1: It's Not Them It's You and Accessibility

I said the other day that I was going to write a post, series of posts, about what as a previous high school teacher I though college professors should think about. It came about as a reaction to a Twitter discussion about disability and accessibility.

One response was this:
Teach them to read a syllabus.
And it was a complete headdesk moment.
The "it's in the syllabus" jokes are constant. And rotate regularly. And completely miss the point.
I wrote this last year, and shared on Twitter, that this past year, changing how I reframed the syllabus had radical results.

Most people's syllabi make some reference to the syllabus being a "contract" between the student and professor. Most tell students they are expected to know everything on it. And many syllabi are 10-15 pages long (in large part to now required boiler plate information).
But there are several issues with this.
  • Do your students understand what a contract is? Do they understand what your expectations are of the contract? Do you discuss it with them? Do you explain how a contract in your class works? Do you check for their current understanding?
  • What do you want your syllabus to do? Does your syllabus actually accomplish this?
    • I realized this year that what I really wanted my syllabus to do was act as a "How-To" guide to my class. I wanted it to be a resource for them to use. And changing this perspective, reframing the conversation, made a huge difference.
    • This past year I presented the syllabus to the students in this way. I told them on the first day that the syllabus was their "How-To" manual for the class. I told them I was not going to read them it, it was a reference and resource for them, and I was going to go over the highlights. And the highlights are presented in memes (presentation below).
    • And this past year I didn't receive a single "it's in the syllabus" question. Because I reframed the information and presented it in such a way that they understood.

As a high school teacher I was taught that reflection was key to better teaching. I was taught that when something goes wrong I needed to ask myself first what I had done that perhaps led to this result. This is not to say that sometimes it's the students checking out, or not doing. But even then there's the question of WHY are they checking out? WHY are they not doing?

Over a year ago, I had a conversation with a professor about the gap between high school pedagogy versus how pedagogy is framed in college teaching.
Last week I completed a survey and was interviewed about the role of digital pedagogy.
These events, plus the Twitter conversation about accessibility made me think about addressing these gaps. So this is the first in a series of posts. I see them as functioning in conjunction with the resource manual I've created.

So, to address the questions of WHY your students might be checking out, not reading, not doing, I want to touch on some accessibility issues.

Seating arrangements: In high school how you set up your classroom is the first step in accessibility. It is a clear indication of how you run your classroom and what your class culture is. Do you put students in rows? Do you have them work in groups? Do you cluster desks/students together in pods? How your classroom is set up reflects how your class runs. I put students in a horseshoe for seminar/discussions/lecture (we have large tables in some rooms, desk chairs in others). For all other work, and most of the time, they are in what I call pods, small groups where the focus is on them, talking to each other, working together. I am also on the look out for people I need to move. If I notice students squinting, I move them closer. Each of our rooms has a teacher computer, projector and screen. I make sure that students can see it from wherever they are. I also make all lecture notes available on the hyperlinked syllabus so they can refer to it later. I also take pictures of board notes and post for the students.

Accessibility of media: 
  • Do you post pictures/images as part of your class? Do you fill out the text descriptor box? Students who have vision issues depend on these if they cannot see the image.
  • Do you use video in your class? Do you ensure that they all include closed captioning? 
  • When designing your course documents or Blackboard/Moodle do you make sure that you don't use color coding for color blind students? Do you bold and underline text in addition to highlighting for color blind students?
  • Do you present Web 2.0 tools that students can use to help them write, brainstorm, research?
  • When you give presentations, or visual media, is there an aural or written component for students to read/follow?
Other accessibility issues can be a little trickier. A lot can be addressed with course design, the rest with just being aware.
  • You're not allowed to ask in most case about accountability, but you should make sure your syllabus TELLS them that so they know they have to advocate for themselves. Be prepared as well, and have on hand, and make available, a list of resources for them on campus.
  • Be open to students discussing issues, difficulties they have when working. If they feel comfortable talking to you you can often in office hours or one on one work on a solution.
  • There is also the issue of socio-economic accessibility issues. If you require computer work you have to be prepared to address and offer solutions to students who don't have wi-fi at home, or a personal computer. Be sure that assignments an deadlines don't punish students for lack.
    • All the work in my classroom requires a computer- assignments and research. However, I make students aware of all the computer locations on campus, I make them aware they can check tablets out of the library to bring to class, and I offer through Google Docs the ability to work remotely in some cases. Deadlines are announced at the beginning of the semester and not changed, so students have plenty of time to get things done. They're not exempted from anything, but course design anticipates need.
I hear a lot that "teaching is not what you're here for" in grad school. I've also noticed a concern with pedagogy, specifically digital pedagogy, as a set of boxes to check off but little focus on actually WHY pedagogy is important, or what it looks like. So I hope this inaugural post, and the ones that follow serve as a resource.

A Grad School Budget

My post the other day about how I almost quit grad school has received tremendous support, and I hope that these types of situations become part of the conversations grad students, as well as their professors, have.
Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about a university's program that I was accepted to, and would have been a great fit but because they didn't offer me any support, I chose a program that came with a TA ship. I do agree with advice that you shouldn't go to grad school without support. I have it and I've still had to supplement with loans.
I do know that most of the people in my program have boy/girlfriends, fiancees, spouses and I'm sure that splitting bills makes TA ships go further. But that's not all of us. And even if you're in that situation, money is a rarely talked about issue in grad school.
Money in general is not a topic covered with grad students. Whether it's what a TAship looks like in real life, how you pay bills when you're not paid during the summer, or how you need to save, it's not a topic that comes up much. I can't recall a single post I read as prep for grad school or book or article that discussed it.
I had a conversation this past semester with my director about how my finances affected/influenced my intended timeline- I need to finish this year because I cannot afford another year. I think it's important that grad students have these conversations with their directors. My director now can keep that in mind as we work through my drafts, and keep me in mind in case she knows of or comes across opportunities for me.

So I thought I would share my budget, and what my grad school expenses look like. I've noted below where it's typical, where it's not.
Monthly Budget
$158 Dish Network:  this is my wi-fi and cable. I keep going back and forth on canceling the cable, but a lot of my work is folklore and popular culture and I worry I'll miss things if I have to rely on time lagged streaming. However, my promotional package runs out in October, and I may cancel, or cut down then.
$75 NM Gas
$50 PNM Utilities are pretty cheap in NM because gas heat is effective, and I have a swamp cooler, not AC which is also cheaper.
$100 Nehi is my dog. She has monthly medicines and monthly food.
$500 Groceries Some weeks this is more, some less. I don't eat processed food, and real food is more expensive. But I'm trying to focus on my long term health so that's a trade off.  I also try to buy meat and seafood when on deal and freeze it to save money.
$200 Gas I'm only 9 miles from campus, and tend to go down for long days and then back, so not a lot of unnecessary back and forth. However, filling up once a week at $30 x 4= $120. I'm usually under budget on this one. But this is also regular maintenance, so it evens out.
$180 Capital One credit card. I pay it off every month. My cell phone deducts from here ($70), my Amazon Prime account links to this ($85/month, mostly school books), $10 Hulu, $15 Netflix. The only time I carry a balance is when conferences go on here and I'm waiting to see if there's reimbursement from research/travel grants
$70 Renter's and Truck insurance

This comes to $1333.00
I try to put aside $100/month into savings
That's $1433 and that's my TA Ship

This upcoming year my TA ship should go up a little because there's a small pay bump now that I've passed comps. I have no idea how much it is, I just know it's more. But "more" is a relative thing in grad school.

My rent is $650/month. That's high for most people, because I have a house with a yard because of Nehi. I also have a small two bedroom (one room is an office) because at 39, and knowing I was going to be working all the time, I made the decision not to have a roommate. It's a trade off- I don't have to accommodate someone else, but it is more money.

When I had my online teaching job that covered my rent. That was my first year of the program. But last summer I lost that job, so I had to take out $8000 of student loans to cover it this past year. Before I started my PhD I had $16,276 in student loan debt from my Masters from Bread Loaf. My student loan debt is now at $39,276 because of the $8,000 last year and this year I originally asked for $10,000 for the rent, and to cover conference travel like MLA for the job market. I had to up that to $15,000 because of serious, expensive truck repairs this week that made me very nervous.

That means in three years I have more than doubled my student loan debt. If I get a job this job market cycle, then that's not a huge deal (particularly with higher ed counting as public service and ten years of on time payments equating loan forgiveness in most cases). But it becomes a major concern when my loans come off deferment and I'm looking at a $300+ monthly payment and no job.

So let's talk about the things not seen here.
I get paid August-May which means there is no paycheck in June and July and I have to pull that money out of savings and budget with that in mind.

My university has some opportunities to make more money- stretch classes, FLC, and summer teaching. I teach a FLC (First Year Learning Community- an English class paired with another course like Theatre or GEO or HIST). This course is only during the fall. We have PD during the summer, and get $1000 during the summer for this, which I put towards rent. During the fall semester it's a little less than an extra $200/month added to your check.
Stretch classes require extra training, which with my timeline I've not done.
I put in to teach summer school which is $2000 for roughly six weeks of classes. I wasn't awarded it.

We have a GPSA (Graduate and Professional Student Association) which gives up to $500 in Research Travel Grants and there is some money within the English department for conference travel. There are some larger university monies as well that you can apply for.
I usually attend a conference in the fall and one in the spring. I always put in for reimbursement from a combination of these associations. I usually get one covered, but not both. This past semester I attended four conferences, two out of the country, as prep for going on the job market and got two covered.
While some are more expensive than others, most of conferences run around $1000 including airfare, 3-4 nights at the hotel, and meals.

I don't really have any other expenses. I don't travel. I don't go out. For me this austerity is a short term solution, and worth the sacrifice, as hopefully I'll have a job next year.
There are other issues that younger graduate students may not be aware of. Things like the impact of your credit score on your future life. If you're taking on a lot of student loan debt, that perhaps you can't pay your monthly payments later, that will have a huge impact on your credit score (large balances already tank it). If you have a credit card and don't pay it off every month, keeping a large rotating balance on it, that also negatively affects your credit. While these seem like things to think of down the road, if you get a job upon graduation and want to buy a house, or finance a vehicle, these things can prevent you from doing these things. They can also affect how much you need to put down for down payments for utilities, rent, etc.

If you're researching grad school programs there are some things I'd look for financially:
  • make sure you have a TA ship
  • compare the amount of your TA ship with the cost of living in the town.
  • ask about additional opportunities to make money and how competitive these opportunities are (i.e how likely are you to get them?)
  • are there other opportunities to make money (adjuncting at neighboring schools, the writing center, tutoring, etc.)
  • how understanding is the staff and faculty about financial issues?
And of course, the end result of these financial conversations should be questions about job placement within your program, stats of graduates. My program has roughly a 1 in 8 ratio of graduates who get jobs in academia. While not everyone can choose jobs based on this, for a variety of reasons, it's worth asking the questions.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Almost Quit Today

Lots of people talk about quitting, or thinking about quitting academia.
I've written before how I think part of the solution to some higher ed issues is frank conversations about who should and shouldn't be in grad school. I've also written about how deciding this isn't for you is not a failure, and seeking life elsewhere, if you can imagine doing anything else is probably in many cases a bonus not a failure.

But this post is not about any of that.

I'm ahead in my program. I'm published. I have a work ethic, I network. And I am on track to finish the last chapter of my dissertation this month.

And today I seriously thought about quitting.
Just quitting.
Because I'm 39. And it shouldn't be this hard.

My truck is due for it's emissions check so I can renew my registration, and next week I start my summer gig as library/book courier long distance to Santa Fe, so I needed the three new tires the mechanic said I needed six months ago. And the AC is broken. So I made an appointment to take my truck in:
  • Fix check engine light
  • Fix AC
  • 3 new tires
A chunk of money, but certainly not expected to break the bank.
Three hours at the mechanic, and three mechanics under Baby Truck result in this- both my catalytic converters have failed which is what has caused the check engine light. There are sensors along with that have contributed to check engine light.
Total cost to fix: $3000-3600.
Mechanic said I could always just get a new vehicle.
Like it's just that easy. Like anyone could do it.

What I wanted to do:
 What I actually did.
Because $3600 pretty much empties my savings. And while logically I can rationalize that $3600/12 months is $300/month this year to keep it running for longer, and is nothing compared to a down payment I can't make and a monthly payment I can't afford, this was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
No logic. No rational thinking. Just D-U-N.

When I quit my teaching job I cashed out my retirement as a safety net. I still had my online teaching job, and felt good I wouldn't have to touch it. I was not counting on losing my online teaching job, or covering my dad's move and monthly bills. Both happened. And my savings is down to little over the $3600 it will cost to fix my truck.

And suddenly, I just didn't want to do it anymore.

I didn't want, at 39 1/2 to be struggling to live off $14,000.
I didn't want to take on more student loan debt.
I didn't want to eat crap food because I couldn't afford anything else.
I didn't want to have a quality of life where I can't afford to do anything. Ever.
I did not want to have to work so hard for so little.

Because part of the reason why this hit me so hard is that savings was supposed to be my safety net.
The academic job market is atrocious, as every one on the planet knows. So that money was supposed to either get me moved to an academic job or get me through until I got a back up plan (which was to transfer my NC teaching license to NM and teach high school). I've also started some very preliminary research about what to do if after a year that isn't a good fit, because I'll be 40 in February, and as much as I want to be a professor, I can't afford and am unwilling to sacrifice the quality of life adjuncting and being on the job market gerbil wheel year after wheel would get me.
But today it all just seemed like too much.
Today, as I sat and cried at home, with not a single person to help, or comfort or talk to, none of it seemed worth it.

The last few weeks there's been a lot of talk about adjuncts on welfare, tenure blowing up, and the unicorns of academic life being betrayed by their own insitutions.
And I wondered why I was doing this.
Suddenly quitting and getting a full time job, 9-5, forty hours a week, with benefits seemed like a really good idea. In fact, it seemed INSANE not to.
What the fuck was I doing all this for?
I have not doubted what I was doing since I started prepping for a PhD program in 2010 and certainly not since I started here two years ago.

But today, today I sat at my desk, I did the math of how the hell I'm going to sacrifice $3600 and I really, seriously, thought about quitting.
And there was no one to tell me not to.
There was no one to tell me I was too valuable to quit. I'd find a way. It would get easier. My contribution mattered.
Not only because I have no one but Nehi but also because NONE OF THAT IS TRUE.

Now don't get me wrong, I've wanted to be a teacher since I was about four. And a college professor not long after that. But today. Today none of the work I've done seemed worth any of what I've had to do to get here.

And yet, I did not quit. One, for practical reasons, a terminal degree is more valuable that not. So if nothing else I'm in for another year.
Two, I don't quit.

Today sucked. It sucked more than any other day the last two years has, and that's saying a lot.
I had to request more student loan money, that is hopefully approved, to cover this so that I still have the money in a year to move to an academic job, or figure what's next.
But I have to tell you, my back up plan, the one that's supposed to be the "only in case of emergency" parachute looks better today than it did yesterday.
The FBI looks interesting. I know they look for researchers/analysts.
The BIA looks interesting, teaching or otherwise.
Other federal jobs seem like a good bet.
And I feel confident my years of teaching, research, analysis, ability to communicate, and wrangle people would get me something.

And we'll see. They're all viable options if my job market this year is not successful.

But here's why I wrote this. I am an adult. Good with money. Work hard. Contribute to my field. Show up.
And today I almost quit. Not because of lack of skill, or lack or desire, but for the first time the cost of being a PhD student outweighed the potential benefit.

I'm not a whiner. The above story is not trivial. It's a real crisis that brought on a hard look at my life as a PhD student. And these are not stories I think we hear enough of.
Because we need to be professional. And we need to "shut up and deal." And we're not supposed to be transparent about how the sausage is made.

But these are part of the great lie to hide the narrative of what being a PhD student is really like.

So I'm still here.
Because logistically, logically, it'd be stupid to quit when the finish line is in sight.

But I've bookmarked

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Blackboard, Moodle, Favorite Online Teaching Tools, and Online Instructional Design

For four years I worked for an online, for-profit high school. There were many, many, many issues with this situation, for a variety of reasons, seen now in education- the tail wagging the dog, lack of institutional support, and a skewed sense of accountability, but not in the places that mattered and a real commitment to throwing teachers under the bus. Even a year later, the circumstances of me leaving makes me very sad for a whole slew of reasons. And more than a little angry.

However,  it gave me some great experience teaching wholly online. While there are issues with online only instruction, and certainly a lot of issues with for-profit schools, there were a couple of things they did right.

Before teaching we had to go through COLT (Certified Online Teacher Training). While a lot of it was about the logistics of navigating and teaching in Blackboard then Moodle, the biggest lesson was in how much online teaching differed from face to face teaching. We spent a lot of time on instructional design, something I never got from anywhere else. We also had eLCs (electronic learning communities, or online PLCs) where we met monthly to discuss a variety of matters all centered on improving student performance. A lot of this was lip service. BUT, there were some good best practices:
  • monthly, regular check ins and reflections on how students were doing, why, and what we could, and could not do
  • sharing about new things we'd tried that worked
  • sharing about new tech tools that worked well, reached students
  • shared Google Docs of materials we all had access to, could use

In my four years I worked with a team to design a course shell for English 9, revised a lot of English 11, and redesigned the AP Language course. I worked in both Blackboard and Moodle. And I think that we do a disservice to teachers, TAs, and most of all, students, when we do not teach or train new or inexperienced teachers to use these online platforms. You certainly do not need to use all the bells and whistles, but there's a right way and a wrong way to use LMS (Learning Management System).

The good news is, the wrong way easily becomes the right way because there are easy fixes, and all of them have to do with how you initially set up and present your course.

The very first thing to understand is that online instructional design is different from face to face.
Students have no reference when they enter Blackboard or Moodle, and may have no experience at all with LMS so the design has to be intuitive and do all the heavy lifting right from the start.

The presentation below is a quick walk through the simple steps to avoiding common issues.

Every summer I think of all the things I want to do different in the upcoming semester and year. I rethink past strategies, revise syllabi and course policies, and rethink approaches.

Whether or not you choose to use any of the below tools in your classroom as assignments, formative or summative, they are all great ways to model and present content in your courses. You can flip your classroom with some of these, present challenging information in interesting and engaging ways, or just use them for some fun.

I'm also a fan of using these for low stakes assignments, and as prep for larger assignments. I tend not to require them for use unless I've done a lot of modelling, and prep.  

I use a lot of these tools in my weekly announcements. I also use them in the header folders for each sequence/unit. All of these have free versions of them, and are easily embeddable into your courses (by clicking the embed html code button <> or you can link to some of them.

I'm teaching an Early English Survey in the fall, so I started to revisit a lot of my high school teaching materials, as I think I'm going to have to do a lot more front-loading and teaching content than I have with the composition courses. So I started to think of all the online programs I've used in the past to transmit content and help with larger concepts.
While this is not a complete list, these are my favorites that I use the most.
  • Wordle
    • You copy and paste text in and it uses an algorithm to present words that appear more often as bigger. I like to use it with poems, short stories, chapters. Great way to start a discussion with students about significance is of these uses. Also, they'll love the visual.
  • Blendspace
    • This is my all time favorite lesson planning tool. You can create blendspaces that are mini-lessons to ideas, stories, anything. Your created blendspace can be a collection of documents, links, images, anything you want. Students love it, and it's a great way to flip part of your classroom, or make lecture resources available.
  • Animoto 
    • free version is only 30 seconds, but creates videos from image files, lets you choose music. Great for introducing concepts and units.
  • Jing 
    • Free version of Camtasia. Short (5 minutes or less) screen capture videos. Great for walking students how to do things in your LMS or other programs.
  • Dipity
    • Online timeline that allows you to insert information, images, dates. Great for surveys.
  • Fakebook 
    • Students can create Fake Facebook profiles for famous people, literary characters, anyone.
  • Flipsnack
    • You upload image files, and it creates a flipbook. Great for introducing concepts, units, or difficult vocabulary
  • Fotobabble
    •  You upload a picture, you record a short message. It can be an explanation of the picture, a walk through the thought process of breaking it down, anything.
  • Glogster
    • Online posters. Great for brainstorming, organizing. Can include text, images, videos. 
  • Voki
    • Record short messages with funny avatars. I like to use them for assignment directions
  • SlideRocket
    • Another presentation tool, like SlideShare or PowerPoint
  • Smore
    • Create newsletters, flyers, semi-interactive so you can include links
  • Text 2 Mind Map
    • For students who are visual learners, this is great. I use it for lecture notes.
  • ACMI Storyboard generator
    • Good storyboard generator if you ever have students do this.
Just for fun. Like I said, I create weekly announcements in my courses. I try to always include an image, or gif, something fun, related to that week's material, and something to snag interest. The resources below are not for lesson planning, but are fun for announcements.
 So those are my top programs/resources I use, what are yours? Do you use anything to supplement your teaching? Do you link to these resources so students have access to them later?

If you're never tried these and/or are new to teaching, I challenge you to pick on and try it, see what the experience is, report back and share.