Near UNLV, Thursday, December 11, 2014.
This was the advice I wrote in the margin of a couple of dozen college papers I returned to students last night. I put the directions for their recent assignments back on the projector and showed them again that they both called for evaluating an author’s evident strategies, based on things like structure and style, for effectiveness. Nothing in their assignments asked for personal reflection about the topics of their texts, and yet, that’s the majority of what I got.
Coincidentally, I just read this excellent essay by Mark Bauerlein, which perfectly echoes my experience. In short, students need to be guided to write analytical work, not fluffy reactions. Amen.
At one point in the discussion, Coleman paused to note a problem in the teaching of writing in English classrooms: the dominance of “personal writing … the exposition of a personal opinion … the presentation of a personal matter.” Continue reading
I know we want to see UNLV get a crack at Duke, but the way we’ve been playing lately, we’ll be lucky to scrape past Colorado, and I can’t believe we’ll get past Baylor. The rest is open for discussion.
I had some spectacular deja vu two weeks ago as my college classes were studying for finals. I took them down to the building’s huge main lobby, where I hung butcher paper on the walls, with titles I wrote in the center, based on the major units of the semester. I broke them into teams, gave them markers, and asked them to make diagrams of major points, themes, and other relevant information from throughout the last few months. They spent a few minutes at each station, and then rotated to review and build on each other’s work.
My classes this semester were English 98, a remedial class for those whose test scores don’t qualify them to start school with English 101. They are all freshmen. Now, many of these students are decent, responsible, talented young people who go on to have great college careers. But many are not. And it is during activities like this that I hear grumbling and whining. Actually, I hear that in almost every class almost every day.
Here’s where the deja vu comes in. During this review session, a group of four upperclassmen walked by and, observing what we were doing, came over to talk to me. Continue reading
Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that UNLV will begin a new class next year, a required freshman orientation course. The class looks like a seminar designed to acclimate students to college life and work, focusing on the purposes of higher education and the skills required to succeed there.
A local talk radio host ripped into it this morning, and the comments under the RJ story are universally negative. But here’s why they’re all wrong.
If this seems like a dumbing down to anyone, consider the caliber of students we now work with. The decade-plus long experiment in Nevada with the Millennium Scholarship has filled our campuses with students who barely squirmed out of high school, who did it with lowered standards, and who now come to college with little financial investment of their own in it. Many simply do not have the background to succeed here. If UNLV wants to reduce its abysmal drop out rate, such remedial training is necessary. Who can fault us for giving our students the foundation they need?
The New Yorker just ran an excellent essay looking at some thorny educational issues: why do so many people go to college today? Are they getting much out of it? Should college be different? The author sympathetically looks at different angles to these issues, and addresses recent ideas and research on them. At one point, though, to illustrate a section where he debates the value of liberal arts training for vocational majors, for writes:
Still, students pursuing vocational degrees are almost always required to take some liberal-arts courses. Let’s say that you want a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts Management, with a Beverage Management major, from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. (Hmm. I might have taken a wrong turn in my education somewhere.) To get this degree, U.N.L.V. requires you to take two courses in English (Composition and World Literature), one course in philosophy, one course in either history or political science, courses in chemistry, mathematics, and economics, and two electives in the arts and humanities. If your professional goal is, let’s say, running the beverage service at the Bellagio, how much effort are you going to put into that class on World Literature?
Since I’ve actually taught World Literature to business majors at UNLV, please let me offer an answer.
Every semester, I have to fill out a form for my part-time night job at UNLV to advise them of my availability for the next semester. The form has a box at the bottom for comments. A while ago, I randomly filled it in with “I like pie,” an inside joke my daughter and I had (responding to any such request for feedback with the bland statement, “I like pie”).
The semester after that, I filled it in with a tough clue from a crossword puzzle I was working on, asking for help. The department secretary emailed me later that day with the answer.
Since then, I’ve tried to put increasingly silly things there. For the last two semesters, I’ve used that space to compose brief medieval legends about Sir Huston, a crusading itinerant knight who sets out on quests against illiteracy and substandard compositional skills at the behest of the royal goddesses of Castle English (my supervisors, of course–a little sucking up never hurt).
But as I turned in my current form today, I wanted, for some reason, to write a limerick. As my goal with these random scribblings is to amuse, I thought a poem about our budget crisis might be cute. Thus, this:
There once was a teacher named Jamie
Who said, “This is fun, and they pay me!”
Then the government said,
“Work for much less instead.”
He replied, “Oh, your jokes, they just slay me!”
An excellent teaching moment came my way yesterday. My English 101 class spends the last half of the semester doing a unit on persuasive writing, and the textbook has a whole section on logical fallacies. In addition to a dry review of them last night, I ended class with something a little more unique and practical.
I told my classes about the already-infamous “Asians in the Library” video that a girl at UCLA did a couple of weeks ago, and then showed it to them. As we watched, we stopped it often so we could identify specifically which logical fallacies she was committing. It was hilarious, controversial, and really drove the point home–the world is full of people who make stupid arguments, and we have the tools to deflate them.
On a more serious note, for someone like me who truly believes that racism is a thing of the past, a relic that’s been relegated to only the most extreme fringes of society, no matter how loudly some professional grievance-mongers continue to crow about it, it’s really disturbing to hear something every now and then like this that shows us that there really is still some serious racism out there. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t think of any way to view this video with a charitable explanation–this young lady just simply comes across as an ignorant bigot.
My notes on her logical fallacies are after the jump; see how many you can spot!
My NCAA Tournament brackets are at left. A little early, perhaps, but I think they’re all solid.
I have my local team, UNLV, beating Illinois this Friday, but then falling to Kansas on Sunday (much like last year). For that matter, I think Kansas will take the championship this year, beating out defending champ Duke in the final.
BYU will make it to the sweet sixteen, where I predict they’ll fall to Florida. Mountain West Conference winner San Diego State will do a little better, getting to the elite eight before Duke takes them down.
I got my chart here, by the way. Steve, you got your brackets to put up here?
When I was in college in the 90’s, Seinfeld was still dominating our catch phrase vocabulary. As you may recall, one of the most popular lines from the show concerned an extremely anal retentive soup counter owner who demanded brevity, silence, and meekness from his customers. Infringing upon these rules resulted in the sudden loss of your soup-purchasing opportunity, as he would yank the cardboard cup away from you and shout, “No soup for you!”
Jerry called him the Soup Nazi.
One of my literature classes in college was run by a man who demanded respect and precision at all times. His formality was excruciating. If a student spoke out of turn, she would be singled out for a condescending lecture about decorum. One young woman in our class said she walked by his desk and saw a hand-written letter that he’d opened that began with, “Dearest Father…”
We called him the English Nazi.
Maybe his greatest offense against our barely post-adolescent sensibilities was when he told us to draw poetry. Keep in mind that this was a class mostly populated by future English teachers; it wasn’t some 100-level freshman requirement. We all loved reading. But, when he told us to read Keats and Shelley and Browning and draw pictures of the scenes they described, and our earnest scribblings were met by curt, withering dismissals of our perception, we were astounded.
“No. That’s not what it looked like,” he would say of most of our work. Continue reading
Tomorrow starts finals week at UNLV. As I get to catch my breath and wind down from these last three and a half months of night teaching, here are a few thoughts and highlights from Fall 2010:
- One young woman in my remedial class wrote an essay about how she wasn’t sure if she should be in college, and how her heart wasn’t really in it. I edited it, then wrote that she has potential and can be successful, but needs to make a choice now and stick with it. I never got to give it back to her, though; she never came to class again after that.
- A young man in one of my classes is on a fall sports team. He emailed me once to say that he couldn’t be in class that day, because his team had to leave early for an away game that weekend. I appreciated the notice, except…our team played at home that week.
- In one class alone, four people had to drop because of conflicts with their work schedules.
- I had a student this semester who was a recent immigrant from Nigeria. Continue reading
Boy, am I glad I went to this game last night! 45-10. What fun. Here’s my breakdown of how it went:
UNLV Offense: B+. I’m tempted to call it an A- here, but I don’t want to be overenthusiastic. We played above average ball, exploiting most opportunities given us and pressing our advantages to the fullest.
QB Omar Clayton was dependable in moving the ball down the field; he’s consistently strong at it. Most of the time, when a quarterback can’t find a receiver and tries to bolt for what it’s worth, it doesn’t go well, but Clayton usually makes it work.
Junior Michael Johnson was on fire tonight, showing up everywhere at once. He didn’t quite carry the team, but on a bad night, his performance still could’ve. He’s going to make a name for himself at this rate.
On another note, one of our wide receivers is in one of my English classes, and that penalty call against him was CRAP.
UNLV Defense: C+. Look at tonight’s stats–we dominated in every category, but New Mexico wasn’t too far behind in first downs. That smells like sloppy defense to me. We’ve gotten a little better over these first few games, but we still have a ways to go–if we’d played like this against a decent team, we would’ve lost.
The highlight here was a second half sack of UNM’s QB that practically snapped the guy in half, and the subsequently dropped ball was picked up and run in for a touchdown.
UNM Defense: C-. Swiss cheese puts up a better net than this.
UNM Offense: F. This is where they were just unforgivably awful. Their receivers often seemed to be purposely trying to run into the thickest pockets of our defenders that they could find. They lost the ball so many times that I lost count–one of their many turnovers resulted from a throw that literally bounced off the intended receiver and right into our arms. It looked like a scene from a slapstick comedy.
New Mexico decided to experiment by putting in a freshman as their starting quarterback. Big mistake. At one point, he threw the ball into the ground so obviously on purpose that the crowd didn’t boo so much as collectively roll its eyes.
Verdict: it was fun to see us win (for a change), but beating a bad team having an especially bad night doesn’t count for much. Still, it gave us a chance to hone some promising skills.
UNR beat BYU at Provo yesterday, which, no matter what your conference or ranking, is hard to do. This doesn’t bode well for our rivalry game next weekend, and history is already on Reno’s side. If we play the way we did last night against them the way they played yesterday, who would win? Hard to say for sure, but I can’t favor UNLV. But, it would be one heck of a game. That’s what I hope to see.
I tried this with my English 101 class last week to great success. After reviewing the criteria for writing a good evaluative essay (including, ironically, establishing criteria), they read a copy of a review of something (one day I had them bring in reviews of things they liked–I saw reviews of movies, music, cameras, and a Snuggie–the next day I gave them positive and negative book reviews of Catcher In the Rye, as Salinger had just passed away).
After they studied their piece, I asked them to write a paragraph or two on the back, evaluating the review. How effective was it? Was it crafted suitably for the intended audience? Did it give sufficient background information (or too much) on the item being reviewed? Etc.
Then I had them exchange papers with another student, who then read their review of the original item’s review. I then had them write a paragraph reviewing the review that had just been written by their peer, using the same criteria.
Then I had them trade papers with someone else, who then read everything written so far, and who then wrote a review of the most recent review (which itself, remember, was reviewing a review). By this time, they were adequately cognizant of writing with the requirements for good evaluation in mind. I thought about extending this exercise to further rounds, but decided that this was silly enough. But it worked!
There are forty students enrolled in my third hour class. Thirty showed up today: one had been suspended, nine others were truant.
For the previous two classes, their homework—as explained at the beginning and end of each class and posted on the board—was to get a copy of a novel from a list I’d given them, and merely to bring it in to class today. The list included authors such as Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (and, for that matter, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer) among two dozen others, the only other requirement being that the book they choose be at least 250 pages long. I told them that our school librarian had a copy of the list and could help them find a book. Obviously, they had a few hundred books to choose from.
Out of the thirty students in class today, only ten had a book. A few others probably had a book but left it at home. However, the vast majority of the unprepared twenty clearly hadn’t put forth any effort at all, hadn’t bothered to write down or remember the assignment, and had lost or thrown away my handout list. They didn’t even care enough to try to do it. Keep in mind that the assignment was merely to have a copy of the book with them. That was it.
And only one-fourth of the kids in that class will get credit for it.
Is this a remedial class? Far from it. Continue reading