Sunday, October 30, 2005

Cliopatria Awards

Nominations are open for the Cliopatria Awards for the best in History blogging. These are real awards, people, in the sense that they are by bloggers and blogreaders, for bloggers -- and they're being announced at the History Blogging panel at the AHA meeting in Philadelphia! Legitimacy in the world of Tribbles!

There will be awards in six categories:

Nominations will be open to all readers throughout November; panels of expert* judges will make the final decisions during December. Go here for more info.

*And yeah, I'm a judge. Disclaimer of vested interest noted.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

It is to laugh

Gacked from Carl at Got Medieval:

The Shaft theme in Middle English!

I'd probably appreciate it more if I were someone who actually studied the stuff, but my English and German skills are good enough that I at least got most of it.

Coming Soon: The 'best' of the midterms or, awwwww, my students really love me, 'cos they made me laugh for my birthday!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Marking Break ...

Marking Break

So does anybody know the war during which Fernando takes place? It's annoying me. Spanish Civil War? Napoleonic War? Wait -- Mexican-American war? And why are Agnethe and Anni-Frid singing in bad Spanish accents?

Why do I care? Because I told the students that the question that looked like a question about Joan of Arc was absolutely not about Joan of Arc. So that they should really look at their papers and make sure they answered the question I asked. Most of the answers tell me about Joan of Arc, and not what the trial documents tell us about religious beliefs or gender roles. Oh, except for the ones that tell me that the corrupt Roman Catholic Church was trying to keep people down and the Roman Catholics couldn't have been all that holy if they didn't believe in Joan's visions.

So yeah, it's time to worry about song lyrics ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The job description I want to see

The job description I want to see

Small to decently large Liberal Arts College or even research university to appoint a Europeanist specializing in the Middle Ages at the Assistant Professor rank. Additional fields in Ancient and Early Modern Europe preferred. Candidate should have a demonstrated ability to teach the Western Civ survey and supervise TAs for the survey. This tenure-track position will require the coordination of the survey and a willingness to undertake a teaching : research load that emphasizes teaching (to be taken into account at consideration for tenure). The person hired will be in charge of ensuring that students who pass the survey will be able to write a tolerable essay, differentiate between primary and secondary sources, and have a rough idea of chronology, historiography, narrative, etc. Graduate supervision will primarily be in pedagogy, and the successful candidate can expect to teach no more than two upper division courses per year (in addition to a graduate teaching class).

Any takers? Really. Think of how even a really strong department could use this -- Someone who is interested and active in scholarship, but is also willing to do the grunt work of making sure that the grad students get some prep for teaching, grading, etc., AND works to make sure that the underprepared undergrads get the skills and the time they need, so that they don't end up getting frustrated and dropping out! G'wan then -- you know you want me!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Teaching Carnival II

Teaching Carnival II is up!

Hi all -- Teaching Carnival II is up at Scribblingwoman -- and it's pretty damned amazing. Scope! Breadth! Stuff you want to read on teaching, teachers, and students!! Go there!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

It's that time of the term ...

It's that time of the term ...

Since GZombie asked, and because this is something like work, in that it's working out pedagogical ideas, I thought I might write a general, semi-comprehensive answer. Otherwise, this will just be a meme ;-)

The questions:

  1. How long does it take you to read and comment on an essay?
  2. What kind of comments do you make on your students' essays?
  3. What are the goals of your comments on your students' essays?
  4. Can one write too many comments on a student paper? How do you identify for yourself the point of diminishing returns?
  5. How do you calibrate (if that's the right word) your expectations for first-year students, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and grad students?
  6. How do you decide what grade to assign to a paper?

Grading is probably one of the least-liked parts of our jobs. We all whinge about it. It takes time, it's draining, and it's very hard to know how to walk the line between what we see as constructive criticism and what many of our students see as personal attacks. The hardest kind of grading is the essay, I think. Most of us (all of us in the Humanities and most of the Social Sciences, at least) assign some kind of essay writing. We all seem to have an idea of what we're looking for, and are thoroughly depressed when our students fall short of our expectations. And we grade.

The questions GZombie poses are pretty basic, and very important. But I think one of the things the questions bypass is something I've been working on for the last couple of years, something that strikes revulsion and occasional terror -- and sometimes just plain orneriness -- in the hearts of academics everywhere: Outcomes and Assessment. Outcomes and Assessment are the Pain and Panic of Bad Administrators. They are often trotted out as part of the accreditation process, thrown at overworked faculty as "something we have to get on top of" by people who really know nothing but the jargon. Or so it often seems.

But when it comes down to it, GZombie's questions really are primarily assessment-focused. And for those of us who have been fortunate enough to work in places where assessment work is faculty-driven, they are natural. In fact, they are natural questions for any of us who love to teach -- the difference is that many of us have never properly learned to articulate the questions, let alone the answers, in a useful way. I think most good teachers know the answers, but I also know that asking the questions has helped me to be a better teacher. At least, I hope it has.

So, to answer those questions. Grading is always different -- it all depends on the kind of essay. But it takes me roughly 20-30 minutes to read a 5-page paper and comment on it. I can do it in less, but if I want to write substantive comments, it's longer. Except ...

You see, I started using a grading rubric -- a matrix, actually -- a couple of years ago. Every assignment has some things in common, mostly the mechanics. Is there a thesis statement? Is it clearly stated? Is there an appropriate use of supporting arguments and evidence? Beyond that, assignments vary, but it's still reasonably easy to come up with criteria. Criteria can be outcome oriented or not. Since I figured out what outcomes were, I've started thinking about them and how to articulate them much more. In some ways, it's really changed my teaching, and I worry sometimes that I've changed too much. Outcomes as I understand them tend to be organized around broader transferable skills than around the mere acquisition of information. So, for example, I want my students to be able to differentiate between primary and secondary sources, and to understand how to read each one critically. I want students to be able to use historical evidence to construct a well-argued narrative. What I don't articulate as well is what most of us historians grew up with -- which content is important. I worry about that. Where is the line between helping students learn information and a generally accepted historical picture and teaching them to do history? If anyone has an answer to that one, I'd like to hear it!

But back to the rubric. Now that I use them, I spend far less time on my comments. I don't feel that I have to explain every little thing, which sometimes becomes an exercise in justifying to the student the grade she earned. Now, I circle problems and check the appropriate box on the rubric. The comments I write have become much more formative, which is what I like. They aren't always positive -- in fact, I do have to remind myself to write something useful for good papers, too. But they can be more specific, because the overall picture is clearer for the student. She can check the rubric and then come argue if she wants.

I don't get as many student arguments over grades any more, though. Part of it may be the fact that students can really see what I'm looking for in advance (I put the matrices out on Blackboard so the students can check them out), but I think it's because the students have a graphic representation that, although it's not quantitative, makes the assessment process seem more transparent and fair. It may be because the process is more transparent and fair, too. I am pretty sure that I am more consistent when I use a matrix, because I remind myself of the standards I've set with almost every paper.

I'm not sure I've adequately explained this in terms of Outcomes and Assessment, though. Weariness sets in early these days. But in an ADM-sized nutshell, in order to create a matrix, I have to articulate for myself what I want the students to have learned in a particular exercise. Articulating the outcomes makes it possible for me to assess them. It also makes me much more careful in creating assignments. Most of my assignments are much clearer now than they were a few years ago. Before, I was likely to assign a book review by saying, "Write a book review." Now I look to what I want the student to learn and include those things on the assignment sheet. Instead of thinking, "The student should critically assess a scholarly monograph," for example, I must now ask myself what I mean by 'critically assess.' So I tell the students they need to identify the author's thesis, evaluate the evidence the author uses and whether those uses are legitimate, identify the author and his possible biases, identify the audience and judge whether the book is appropriate ...

By clarifying these things to myself, I find that my explanations of assignments (and sometime the explanations of their value) are much more cogent when I express them to my students. The grades I assign are largely based on where the marks fall on the matrix, so that pretty much narrows down the grade to a general area with about a 5-point spread. What I write in the comments helps to set the final grade, at the top of a range or the bottom. I don't have grad students, but the basic method works across the undergrad board. It's also particularly useful in showing students who have no experience with college or with writing (and there are many of them in my neck of the woods -- I had to explain today what a bibliography was) what we are looking for.

At least it does in theory. For me, it works well. The students? Well, it works well for the ones who actually read the assignments carefully and give more than a cursory look to the materials they've been given ... But that's another post!

And by the way ... I know I used the word 'articulate' far more than I should have. I'm sleepy and ill. Sue me!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New at H-Net

New at H-Net

H-Net has started a new discussion list, H-Adjunct. It's the H-Net Network for Adjunct, part-time and temporary
faculty at universities, colleges and community colleges -- sponsored by the Joint OAH/AHA committee for adjunct and part-time faculty.

If you're interested in that kind of thing. I think most of my readers are in more permanent positions than I, but it looks like it might be useful ...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Medievalist's Kitchen

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This is my new kitchen. The countertops and sink are supposed to be replaced. Keeping the upper cabinets, though. I'm going there now to make a Thai green curry ...

Carnivalesque IX!

Carnivalesque IX!

Carnivalesque IX is up at Alun's. All Ancient and Mediaeval, with an additional Hallowe'en theme! Go, read, and be enlightened!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Confused about Miers

Confused about Miers

So I'm listening to NPR this morning, and they're talking about Harriet Miers. No big surprise there. Except this part: Apparently Miers was Catholic 'before she converted to Christianity.' Er ... not to beg the question, but as a medievalist I have to ask ... WTF?

Repeat after me, class: Catholics are Christians. Arguably the original ones. Not that I have any personal stake in this.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Teaching Carnival II

Teaching Carnival II

Following Teaching Carnival I at GZombie's place, mj at Scribblingwoman will be hosting Teaching Carnival II on October 15. E-mail suggestions to scribbling*AT*gmail*DOT*com

Sunday, October 02, 2005



That's me. Too swamped to blog, read blogs, or comment. Moved this weekend. Sort of. Stuff is at new house. Cats, clothes, toiletries and I are not. DSL installed but doesn't work, so no office hours tomorrow so I can wait for the tech. Why am I still at Professor Kinsey's? My wonderful landlord was trying to make the bathroom really nice, but it turned into A Project. So with luck, there will be cement board on the walls around the tub tonight (but not around the piping, which needs replacing tomorrow or the next night) and I should be able to bathe, but not shower, for the next couple of days. And the shower should be done by Thursday ...

Have I prepped for this week? HAH!

So I'm probably going to be gone for a few days while I try to catch up. Calls and e-mails of moral support are greatly appreciated, though!