Greetings and welcome to Teaching Carnival IV! It's been a pleasure to have a legitimate excuse for rummaging around the internets, finding new blogs, and spending lots and lots of time reading things that were neither written by my students (much as I love them), nor by scholars who have said all the interesting things about my research subject before I got around to it. As always, there's a great variety of thoughtful and thought-provoking posts on the web, a sampling of which I am proud to present here.
I will note, however, that the timing of this particular carnival may skew its results to, umm, perhaps the more negative end of the spectrum? The end of the semester - well, it's not much fun. The academic blogosphere has been dragging its collective rear end, hoping just to make it through to winter break in one piece. This has yielded a truly spectacular crop of therapeutic venting about grading, apathetic students, uninformed students, panicked students, plagiarizing students, and the teaching profession as a whole. Now, while I would hate to give the impression that all professors do is whine about their students (nor is whining always very pedagogically insightful), I couldn't resist including a brief sample of choice pieces in their own little appendix to the main (you'll find it at the end of the post).
Finally, let me also point out that if anyone who wasn't included here wants to get into the act, please do nominate your post(s) for Teaching Carnival V, hosted over at Ancarett's Abode on January 15!
THE END OF THE SEMESTER
It's a wonderful time of the year, isn't it? When everyone's so exhausted from their endeavors but has to push on to the bitter end? Cut-rate parasite describes that end-of-semester feeling. Rhetoric and Democracy sees two kinds of students at this time of year: those who are panicking, and those who should be. As Bardiac describes, illnesses abound, and Arete warns first year students how to avoid them. The student stress is palpable; profgrrrl wonders how, if at all, faculty should help students cope with end-of-semester stress. jo(e)'s students have figured out how faculty can help, and it involves whipped cream pies.
Sometimes that stress results in students' poor judgment. timna comments on coping with requests for extra credit and flaky potatoes; Dr. Crazy talks about appropriate ways for students to speak to professors in end-of-semester e-mails, and then responds to critics. Meanwhile, Seeking Solace asks, how much slack should we cut students at the end of the semester?
The end of the semester does, however, offer an opportunity to look back and assess the whole, and to see progress. Manorama and Nels evalute their semesters, in which Manorama offers the heretical (but admirable) opinion that she enjoys grading. Advice at Your Own Risk describes her satisfying last day of class. Finally, jo(e)'s students sum up what they learned this semester.
Unfortunately, the end of the semester seems to see a significant increase in problems with plagiarism. Bardiac describes one such case here, and Jane Dark from Evensong Martini Club talks about her experience here and here. Students may not always understand why it's such a big deal, but Overread, Ryan Claycomb at Raining Cats and Dogma, and Hugo Schwyzer clearly describe the strong emotional responses many teachers have to plagiarism, responses that can't (and shouldn't be?) separated from the intellectual issue. Meanwhile, Scrivener offers a proposal on how to prevent it - do you think rewarding the entire class with extra credit if no one plagiarizes all semester would work? Let Scrivener know what you think.
Student evaluations generate reactions almost as strong as those associated with plagiarism. As ianqui points out, many things unrelated to your teaching can influence the results. Sometimes, as ABDmom has found, students won't fill them out. Psycgirl discusses the ideal results: a lower-than-average class GPA combined with higher-than-average ratings. Timna is surprised by some of the things that students consider worthy of high ratings, while Angry Professor points out the extremes in her results. No one has yet invented the perfect evaluation form; Ancarett talks about how she tailors her forms, and Limon de Campo, The Salt Box, and Dr. Crazy discuss more generally why student evaluations don't work. Finally, professors should evaluate professors, too; profgrrrrl points out that getting feedback from one's colleagues is sometimes difficult.
Everyone's favorite part of the end of the semester: exams! Lost in the middle and psycgirl talk about the difficulty in writing exams; Ancrene Wiseass offers a slightly different take on the task. Ryan at Raining Cats and Dogma talks about grading them, while Queen of West Procrastination learns how to be the bad guy. And any readers who are not Finnish should find Field-Notes's observations on Finnish test-taking practices of interest.
Okay, I lied; everyone's favorite part of the end of the semester isn't exams, it's grading. Well, if not, at least it generates quite a bit of discussion. PartsnPieces asks whether student failures should be attributed to the students or to the professor. Mel at In Favor of Thinking suggests thinking about grading as an intellectual endeavor. Nels talks about grading over the course of the semester. Grading can be an emotional process; Timna feels guilty about assigning grades, while Ancrene Wiseass comes to terms with the fact that giving grades makes her The Authority. Jane Dark talks about conferencing and grading at the end of a writing course, while luckybuzz wonders why grading sucks so much. One answer, of course, is that it results in e-mails like these, from Angry Professor. (Angry Professor has also brought her statistical expertise to bear, by graphing patterns in student e-mails.) GrumpyABDajdunct talks about grade climbers, and Rudbeckia Hirta about norming vs. curving grades.
Moving to posts dealing with issues less tied to the end of the semester:
THE DISCIPLINARY CORNER
(that is, a corner for the disciplines, not where you get disciplined!)
Nels describes one way to end the semester in a rhetoric class, as well as his plans for next semester, and why he teaches book-length, narrative nonfiction. Clancy uses humor in the communication classroom, while Ancrene Wiseass discusses how to teach students to write a thesis. Finally, Dr. Crazy explains why and how she teaches MLA style (you'd never have thought such an interesting post could have been produced on such a subject!).
Nels also talks about his plans to teach Abraham Verghese. Chuck of the chutry experiment describes his media and history class in the spring, while John at Machina Memorialis thinks about his course on science fiction.
La Lecturess describes her efforts at talking students out of erroneous interpretations and trying to get students to overcome their cultural insensitivity (which sounds a lot like what we historians call anachronism; go, LL!). Bardiac discusses teaching about bad things in good literature, or how to deal with subjects like rape and murder when you're teaching Shakespeare. Bardiac also offers an extremely useful guide to reading theory. Timna puts her final exam to good use by asking students to synthesize approaches to literature.
Michael Berube ponders teaching about racism with James
Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, while Limon de Campo discusses coping with teaching about racism in class (inspired, strangely enough, by experiences with a bigoted hairdresser). Ryan at Raining Cats and Dogma thinks about teaching literature that will make students question their beliefs.
Finally, the Little Professor offers some end of the semester observations on the literature that she taught.
I have to apologize because these posts come from one blogger, and that clearly reflects the pattern of blogs that I read (or my bias, as my students would call it). But terminal degree's observations on teaching music are well worth the reading: the pleasures of teaching music, her satisfaction in watching student recitals, and how grading in the performing arts differs from in other disciplines.
Math and Sciences
Coturnix discusses how to teach science to non-traditional (and non-science-major) students, while Ianqui wonders what to do with graduate students who need statistics. Rudbeckia Hirta describes the factors working against student success in math even before they get to college. She also talks about how to teach calculus, the problems that her calculus students encountered, and advises students to buy some paper. Finally, PZ Myers at Pharyngula has advice for professors looking for blood.
profgrrrrl offers two posts about voice in social sciences research: one about students unsure of theirs, and a second on how to help students find their voices. She also discusses the problems with choosing textbooks.
Hugo Schwyzer discusses the dilemmas of coverage in teaching Western Civ courses;
how can one instructor possibly get from Gilgamesh to the 21st century?
Hugo has stopped even trying, and explains why; among the comments to
Hugo's post, Jonathan Dresner has an especially interesting
counter-take here, and Nathanael Robinson offers further thoughts on Western Civ here. Meanwhile, Caleb McDaniel wonders how to approach a class that may
be “the only history class they will ever take,” and Jonathan Dresner explains why history students should write a thesis.
(Please note that I've linked to Cliopatria, but many of these folks
have their own blogs that are definitely worth checking out.) There's an older but good post on what it means to "profess" history, from Brian Ogilvie at anima vagula blandula. Finally, Timothy Burke describes the class that never was, a Primary Text Workshop that I wish I could have taken as a college student, but doesn't seem to draw students today.
GENERAL TEACHING TECHNIQUES, POLICIES, AND ISSUES
A fascinating conversation about teaching evolved out of an initial post by Dean Dad on whether someone interested in teaching history should get a Ph.D. Dr. Crazy responded in a series of posts about how to advise students who want to go to graduate school. Bardiac responds with this post and this post. (Some of these posts wander away from teaching, strictly, into discussions of academia in general and the job market more specifically. Still, I include them here, because they're a wonderful resource for anyone advising students about grad school - in which case, you might want to start with Dr. Crazy's post.)
Bitch, Ph.D. describes a different way to organize class schedules, one that gives both professors and students a break. Maggie May explains “round robins” – for those days when you don’t want to dominate the conversation or just don’t feel like talking! Ancarett argues in favor of videos in a history course. Seeking Solace tries to teach students how to do research, and Geeky Mom discusses the problems with teaching to the middle. Bill Tozier at Notional Slurry describes how he'd like to begin a semester.
Bardiac advises on how to write good letters of recommendation. PowerProf talks about the difficulties in advising, and Bardiac offers a wonderful series on advising: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. Bardiac also comments on how to deal with students who have personal problems. (Okay, clearly I'm saying you should just hop over and read almost everything Bardiac writes!) Mel of In Favor of Thinking discusses how students can talk to professors. Seeking Solace also talks about why not to accept late work. Conversely, Anastasia explains why the things that bother most other teachers - like late work - don't bother her.
What to do when the professor is the teaching problem? ianqui questions to what extent should profs advise students on areas they don't know well, and Bill Tozier of Notional Slurry discusses the problem of floundering professors. Coturnix suggests trading the three Rs for the three Ss.
Finally, jo(e) offers an incredibly evocative simile for teaching: like catching snakes.
TEACHING AND TECHNOLOGY
Mel at In Favor of Thinking discusses using Wikipedia in teaching; Timothy Burke offers another perspective at Cliopatria, with more from Jonathan T. Reynolds at Cliopatria and John at Machina Memorialis (who discusses social software to boot). KF of Planned Obsolescence writes a wonderful post on using blogging in her Theories of New Media class; The Crooked Timber gang asks whether people have asked their students to print out blogs for class use. Nels discusses how blogging is going to be a part of his tenure file.
I found remarkably little out there about teaching graduate students specifically. Collin vs. Blog does talk about how to evaluate dissertations, and ianqui describes the tension between wanting grad students and wishing they would go away. This lack may be a result of the blogs that I read/find, or it may result from the fact that proportionally, many more professors cope with undergraduates than graduate students, but it would be great to see some more posts addressing the issues of graduate teaching.
In this section I wanted to highlight some of the ways that teaching and "real life" intersect. These are somewhat more personal observations, perhaps less generalizable than some of the posts above, but they still offer important insights into teaching as a profession.
One way in which "real life" intervenes in teaching is the influence
of all those students' "real lives" on what and how they can learn.
Along these lines, ianqui talks about the difference between the first and second incarnations of a class, and PartsnPieces describes
teaching multiple sections of the same course.
A question that recurs throughout the academic blogosphere is how professors should talk about students on their blogs. Brian Ogilive comments here; The Little Professor, responding to Manorama, discusses how blogging professors should treat student e-mails. Pi at akimbo, inspired by Dr. Crazy, talks about the fine line between healthy venting and disdain for one's students.
What Now? wonders how to teach even if you've lost your enthusiasm; Tiruncula talks about how to maintain one's sanity and not create extra work for oneself. see jane in the academy confronts the problems with organizing one's own schedule most effectively.
The Impersonator discusses learning how to be a professor and not just a student, and psycgirl offers similar observations.
Since the personal is political, check out Geoffrey Kurtz of Looking at the City on the non-politics of teaching. PartsnPieces feels like she's failed students by not taking off her mask; how can she reach students when her institution encourages her not to show them her real self? BrightStar, whose teaching this semester went better than last semester, nonetheless wonders how much to share about her personal life, and what to do with students who show disturbing enthusiasm; Susan at Crunchy Granola copes with inappropriate sexual innuendo in class.
And finally, everyone who teaches knows that it can be the most frustrating profession in the world: Seeking Solace has a post that points straight to the heart of the problem, when students just don't seem to care.
APPENDIX: MY TOP THREE CRAZY STUDENT POSTS
1. jane in the academy's student who didn't want to write a lit review. Honestly, I know others would probably vote for #2 as the craziest, but this one's my favorite.
2. Scott Eric Kaufman at Acephalous had a rather eye-opening morning.
3. Stewgad copes with student cell phones.
Okay, folks, that's it for this month. I apologize in advance if there's anyone who feels left out, or for the areas (like fine arts, social sciences, and sciences) that may seem neglected. The selection unfortunately reflects my own interests and patterns in blog-reading, and given the scope of the blogosphere, inevitably some perspectives will be neglected. I hope, however, that this post gives you something to think about over the holiday break and as you prepare those classes for spring semester!