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This Week In My Classes: Finishing Touches

By (December 3, 2012) No Comment

Today was the last day for my fall term classes, which means the last meeting altogether for two of them. One of them, Introduction to Literature, continues in January, when I will also be adding another round of The 19th-Century Novel from Dickens to Hardy–a very different round, just by the way, from the last one, since not one of the books will be the same and a couple of them are ones I’ve never, or very rarely, assigned before. But I can’t think about that now! That’s next term … and tempting as it is to wander away from the remaining obligations of this term, they do still have to take precedence.

In Intro it was our third editing workshop of the term: we’ve been doing one before each due date. The last two were peer editing, but today they did reverse outlines, using a worksheet I adapted (with acknowledgment) from this useful one prepared for the Writing Center at U of T Scarborough. The only real change I made, besides some tweaks to the explanations to fit our particular assignment, was to add a space between the block for each paragraph for them to put in a transition word or phrase indicating the logical relationship between the paragraphs. I think peer editing has its uses, but it often seems like the blind leading the blind, and I’ve seen papers turned in with crazy problems that peer editors apparently were fine with–so I wanted to focus on their ability to scrutinize their own writing and judge its strengths and weaknesses for themselves. I think it was an effective exercise for turning up problems: certainly they did not simply fill in the blanks and try to leave early! These essays are due in their final versions on Wednesday, so that will be my next big job this week.

In Mystery and Detective Fiction I gave a review lecture, a useful thing, I think, for reminding them about the specific material but also, and more important, for going once more through some of the framing ideas and unifying themes of the course. It was also our last chance to talk about Devil in a Blue Dress. I think it works reasonably well to incorporate comments on the novel into the review session, but I do feel we ended up giving it short shrift, so maybe next time around I’ll be sure to allow one more class on it. After my talk we used the review handout I’d prepared for some Q&A, so students could ask about the material they felt least certain about and get help from their classmates as well as from me. And that’s that, until we meet again for the final exam next week. A handful of students are doing the optional final essay instead, due the same day as the exam, so that’s a lot of what I’ll be doing next week.

In The Somerville Seminar, we had our last round of Pecha Kucha presentations today. Five in one class is too many–not because we ran out of time for the presentations, but because it didn’t leave us much time for discussion after each session. I had originally planned for four a day but we all felt the end of term crowding in on us so I proposed starting them a bit later and tightening up the schedule. Overall it was still probably the best choice, but next time I do them I will allow more space around the presentations. I do think I’d like to use them again as an assignment, though. They were really well done, and though the format does impose constraints that can seem artificial, the dynamic is very different than with standard PPT slides or with other kinds of student presentations. The brisk pace keeps everyone’s attention, and the emphasis on graphics to illustrate concepts or support ideas, rather than using slides as alternative versions of the same things being said aloud, made the experience much more entertaining. The strict time limit moderated by the impersonal settings on the computer also frees me from having to be the Presentation Police. It’s very stressful to see someone running over time and crowding out whoever comes next, and to have to choose between letting them go on and publicly calling attention to the problem by stopping them. The most anyone ran over this time was about 10 seconds. So at this point I’m a fan of this new style, and as for substance, well, it’s amazing how much information and insight you can fit into 6 minutes and 40 seconds if you really think about it.

I felt quite distressed last week as I felt the wiki projects for the seminar were not coming together–despite (she says defensively) my having warned them and warned them about not putting off collaborative work until the last minute, and my having stressed as much as I possibly could that this kind of project is best done in small increments rather than large doses, including regular ‘gardening.’ As I watched the daily reports come in from PB Works, I knew that many (though certainly not all) of the students had nonetheless been putting off their contributions. Facing that reality, and taking into account that the projects for the course were not familiar kinds–for them or for me–and that thus perhaps we had all underestimated how much time it would take to do them well, I took a very rare step for me and acted on the regulation that allows a change to course requirements with a strong vote in favor by the class. I put up a proposal for an alternative plan removing one of the course requirements, and it did get basically unanimous support. There were a few complications, and for a while I regretted having even raised it as a possibility, but we got it all sorted out, so now my only regret is having waited as long as I did to propose it. As I said to the class, I really do believe it was possible to complete all the originally planned components, but this way I hope that everyone will do better work and feel better about it too. There will be more weight, now, on the wiki projects–and reading and evaluating the final product will be my other significant work after the deadline passes next week.

So now I have a very short window between wrapping up the classroom work and getting in my first batch of assignments. I have reference letters to do and department minutes to write up, and a plagiarism hearing, and a dentist appointment! Not all fun and games, in other words. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll get in a little Christmas shopping too. Then I’ll be in what we on Twitter fondly (?) call #gradingjail. In the meantime, also, I have finally begun Anna Karenina, because I’ve been craving some really good reading.