Advice for Students on Missing Class

Dr. Lee Skallerup Bassett offers some good advice to students when they have missed or will miss a class.

I especially appreciated the “Before You Reach Out 1. Read the syllabus” section.

I will probably make this a link for my students on the next iteration of the syllabus, but considering that my students often don’t do what I specifically require them to, I probably won’t get a lot who go and read it. However, the better students and the more paranoid ones will read it and that will help educated them.

I think it would be particularly helpful for a freshman class, which I did not have this semester.

A Richer World

Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says that “the world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for” (268).

In this section Gladwell is talking about the fact that public education in the United States WORKS (255-260).

The public education system is actually quite effective. In our education system, Johnny and Jill can learn to read, if they are in school.

Based on fairly rigorous research by Karl Alexander, Gladwell says the real problem is our summer vacations. Over summer vacation wealthy students learn a lot. Students in poverty learn almost nothing. Over five years of summer vacation, they don’t even learn enough to raise their reading level a percent. Rich students raise their by 52% over the same amount of time.

I do not believe the answer is to reapportion wealth. But if we are seriously interested in equal opportunity in the United States, then we need to have summer school, at least for the lower SES students–not as a punishment but as a way of enabling them to keep up with the wealthier children.

Key to Becoming a Genius

In the section of Outliers dealing with KIPP and math, Gladwell says several things which, while they may seem unrelated here, seem to me to imply a quilting of implications.

Willingness to keep working?
First he said that being good at math is a function of success and willingness to keep working (246).

Students who are willing to keep working, trying to figure out what it is that needs to be done, are more likely to succeed. That success makes them more likely to be willing to work on a problem even longer the next time.

Math geniuses, like my eldest son, are folks who are willing to sit and fiddle with a math question for twenty or thirty minutes, trying to figure out how it should work. I know that my eldest does this. I have seen him do it.

What is Motivation?

According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, motivation comes from doing work that is complex, when you have autonomy, and there is a clear relationship between effort and reward (150).

How can I provide that in an English classroom?

If I adopted the five point rubric suggested in one of the articles I was reading recently, I might could do that. I need to consider it. Can I name the five without looking them up?

sentence structure

That’s not terrible, four of the five. I think identifying it as ideas, rather than content, which is what I do now, might be an improvement. I am far more likely to mark reasonable ideas as acceptable without thinking perhaps I should give it a superior. Content, on the other hand, is so general to me that I think if they put in only what applies and they did a decent job, perhaps it should receive more than acceptable.

Students Teaching Themselves

It is a scary thought. If my students can teach themselves, what will I do for a living?

I doubt it will impact my job situation (since I won’t be teaching in 25 years and education is slow to change), but it might impact others.

But I also see it as a positive and hopeful sign for the world at large.

Listen to Sugata Mitra’s LIFT talk on the Hole in the Wall Project, found at TED. He won the 2013 TED Prize.

Plagiarism Lament

Today I was thinking about a time when I was grading an excellent student’s essay. This was an assignment designed to not be plagiarizable. (I’m a PhD in English. I am the most qualified person to make up new words, don’t you think?)

This was the evaluation essay.

For this essay, the students took the commercial analysis they did as a group and wrote an evaluation of the commercial individually.

They had to discuss the commercial’s success or effectiveness in reaching the target audience and with the commercial’s argument, but other than that, they could choose their focus.

The evaluation essay, coming at the end of the semester when many other papers are due, was designed to be an easy assignment, as it built on four weeks’ worth of work the students had already done with their group.

But when I hit “ideologies of primitivism” in the paper, I knew this was probably not my student’s work. We haven’t discussed primitivism in class. So I searched for it, along with the commercial’s name, and found it right away. It’s a group post created for a different class.

I was so disappointed. Academic integrity fail.

Each semester I try to make my classes less plagiarizable and I still get experiences like this one. It is so frustrating, especially when it comes from a student who has been strong in the class previously. For some reason, when it is a weak student I find it less frustrating. I guess I figure they don’t want to fail and they have figured out their work isn’t up to par, so they go looking for work that is up to par.

Which also reminds me of the time that I had a student handing in consistently D level work and, after the fourth essay, I discovered all of them were plagiarized. Made me revise my syllabus once again–to allow for requirement to turn in previous assignments a second time. For a while I just collected all the essays from the semester during the final exam.

What Can You Do with a Graduate Degree?

Let’s take Klondike’s “Five Second Challenge to Glory.” Do something hard for five seconds. Brainstorm (that’s something we do well, right?) answers to the question: What can you do with a graduate degree in English? Go!

research– anything that needs it, even be a dramaturgue
write– analyze, evaluate, discuss: anything that needs to be long and involved, but could write shorter on demand
edit– excellent at finding the organizational or grammatical flaws in work already written
think– but not outside the box, perhaps at the edges of the box: a good thinker in an area where most of the work has been done and people are trying to finish it up
— also can come up with new reasons (interpretations) for things: This is someone who will not let the first word be the last. This can be useful to help others get out of their boxes.

I came to this challenge from a post on Why Grad School is a Trap, though it has been relabeled, and the statement that most intrigued me (as someone who escaped the trap and “made good” twice over):

But higher education is too formalized to be called pure learning. It is too geared towards the production of new knowledge, new scholars, new theoretical interventions to be a place where thinkers come to dialogue and to sit and converse in the garden.

Just thinking on the internet.

Writing by Hand

Heather Sellers requires her students to turn in handwritten first drafts, because she can tell the difference between handwritten works and typed compositions, even within the same story.

I have been reading a lot about this.

I read an article in the last month about how Nietzche’s work got terser as his blindness forced him to type instead of handwriting his works.

So the technology we use to write impacts how we write. Interesting. And true from my own experience.

Related to an earlier post on the topic of the impact.


Far later than I should have, I finally got Outliers at the store and am in the process of reading it.

As I read it, I am joyful, scared, happy, afraid, satisfied, and amazed. But right now I am shocked. Shocked at what Gladwell says and how right I think he is.

I’m fifty pages on from the most important things I have read, yet I didn’t stop until I was shocked.

If you’ve read the book, you will know what I am talking about when I say that I am Southern. My family is from the Appalachians. And that is why I am shocked. The shock was enough to get me off the couch and up to the computer to type what I want to remember the most.

“autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward–are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying” (149)

Hmmm. Need to think about that for homework.

“Work that fulfills these three criteria is meaningful” (150).

“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig” (150).
“if you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires” (151).

And, for another shock, I apparently was very much at risk of death on my plane trip in 1988 to Thailand, not just physically assaulted by an old Korean guy. … Thankfully my Korean Air flight did not crash.

Update: Have finished it. Going to use part of it in my linguistics class.