Tip 22: Show how your class relates to their goals.

One thing that would be good, especially in a required course, is if the students saw why they needed to be in your class. I try to tell them that the class will help them write throughout their college career. I give them a true story of a man who lost over a million dollars ($1,000,000,000) because he didn’t write well so he did not receive a promotion. But I have been given another great idea that I am going to use next time I start class.

This is from Lyubov, a coworker from Russia:

I did this for the first time in my physics class. I told them to get out a note card and write on the top of it their dream.

I give them 4 minutes for this. After they got puzzled I told them that whatever it is, they will have it as long as they will keep the note card in front of their eyes and tell everybody about it. It have to be something what they really really want.

Then the next step is that instead of thinking which way they will have to go to get that dream, they have to think that they already have it. If it is dream to became a doctor, then the student has to imagine that he is a doctor. I explained to students that it will be really helpful for them and why.

Next step: I asked them if physics is a required step on the way to reach their dream and for most of them it was. I told them that it does not matter then if they like physics or not; they have to start getting into it because it is something they have to do to go their way.

My students often come to physics class with the idea that it will be the most boring and hardest class of all.

Next I told them that we do in our life different things that we do not like to do but have to do anyway.

Instead of trying to do stuff that you don’t like, you have to find something about it that you will like. You will do it with pleasure then.

I told them that i do not like to wash the floor and clean the house. I found something that I like about it and every time I do it with the pleasure. I am thinking how everybody will be happy in a clean and spotless house.

I think this was really helpful for my students this fall. Usually it is near 60-70% of the students who do not like physics. This time I started with 1 person out of 25 who actually said that he liked it. Now I have 18 people who are working really hard.

Why teach the narrative?

Culture Cat has an excellent presentation of reasons for assigning a personal narrative as a first essay in a composition course.

I have definitely assigned the narrative essay first in the classroom with some of these in mind, especially the ideas of assigning students what they personally know and as a means of assessing their abilities.

However, I also look at the narrative essay as a bridge for college English.  I don’t know where Dr. Ratliffe’s students are coming from, but many of my students have either never written anything in high school or have only written expressive papers.  By offering as a first assignment the narrative I affirm their intimate knowledge of their subject matter, themselves, and allow them their best chance at a successful writing experience because it is the most like their previous experiences.

Emily Dickinson was not as reclusive as she’s been portrayed.

Emily Dickinson was engaged at college. She had a lover later on, perhaps a judge? But no one wants to talk about it, argues Christopher Benfey, because we like our story better.

We tend to reserve special roles for our favorite writers—sepulchral Poe; sardonic Mark Twain; sexy, world-embracing Walt Whitman—and resist evidence that contradicts our cherished images. Emily Dickinson in this constellation is forever the lovelorn spinster, pining away in her father’s mansion on Main Street in Amherst, Mass. We assume that the grand passion behind her poems (“Wild nights—Wild nights! Were I with thee”) must have had a commensurate inspiration, whether imaginary, superhuman, or divine. Evidence that Dickinson’s love life was fairly ordinary, with ordinary temptations and disappointments, doesn’t quite fit the bill. Her exile on Main Street has seemed a necessary part of the Dickinson myth, so necessary, indeed, that contrary information—which happens to have been piling up lately—has often been discounted or ignored.

If there’s a surprise in all this, it’s an ordinary one. It turns out that Emily Dickinson had the kind of early romantic entanglement and disappointment that so many young people have. They find someone congenial; they exchange gifts and promises; their parents intervene for various acknowledged and unacknowledged reasons. If such ordinariness seems somehow beneath the dignity of one of our supreme poets, that’s probably why even this latest challenge to the image of isolated Emily has gotten so little attention. Alas, there’s nothing mysterious or mystical here except what Emily Dickinson made, in her extraordinary poems, of her all-too-human disappointment.

Read all the scintillating details at Slate.

Writing in the social sciences: introductory information

Philosophy of the Social Sciences

The course I will be teaching is not a philosophy of social sciences, but I ought to do some reading in it before I head on out to teach.

Prof. Smith at Calvin College has a Philosophy of the Social Sciences course from which I took the following:

This course will investigate the foundational assumptions at work in the social sciences. Emerging in the wake of modernity and in concert with the rise of positivism, the social sciences have, since the beginning, been concerned with basic philosophical questions when reflecting on “method.” What does it mean to have “scientific” knowledge of the “social” world? What counts as “knowledge?” What is “science” in such a context? How has our understanding of “science” changed after the demise of positivism? What are the implications of hermeneutics for scientific observation and the notion of “objectivity?” And what are the implications of that for the project of the social sciences? Is positivism still with us? How are we to understand the “social?” Just what are human beings, and thus what is the nature of human community? Is social science merely descriptive, or also critical and prescriptive?

He also offers some additional readings which sound interesting.

Lori Gottlieb, “How Do I Love Thee? The New Science of Love,” The Atlantic Monthly (March 2006): 58- 70.
Daniel Izuzquiza, “Can a Gift Be Wrapped? John Milbank and Supernatural Sociology,” Heythrop Journal 67 (2006): 387-404.

Here is another Phil of soc sci, with lecture notes and audio of the foundation of philosophy in social science.

Preparing and Writing in the Social Sciences

Dr. Flaxman of Brown’s Writing Program wrote a paper on how teachers create writing assignments. The following quote provides language that I found useful.

In the Writing Fellows Program we distinguish three kinds of student writing: pre-socialized, socialized, and post-socialized. In all three cases, we describe the level of student sophistication in contextual terms. The process of education, in this model, is one of initiating students into the conventions of a particular discourse. First-year students at Brown who have never taken a course in Economics, for example, are termed “pre-socialized” to the conventions of writing Economics. Once they learn the vocabulary and conventions of writing in this discourse, they are “socialized” to the discourse. And, some, having learned the proper way to communicate economic concepts, begin to play with these conventions consciously, becoming “post-socialized” to the discourse.

In that same paper, Dr. Flaxman presents the case for the developmental model of writing, where each point is more complex than the one before. I think that will work very well with the social sciences class.

Dartmouth offers some good advice on stylistic differences between the social sciences and the humanities.

Understand, however, that writing for a particular discipline means more than simply writing good sentences. Every discipline has a preferred writing style. If you are a Humanities student, you will certainly be somewhat put off by the style of writing in the Social Sciences. The paragraphs seem surprisingly short, the sentences remarkably unremarkable, and what’s up with that pesky passive voice?

In the Social Sciences, sentences must be well-crafted but they mustn’t be “flowery.” The reader mustn’t feel that the writer is relying more on rhetoric than she is on evidence. Paragraphs must also be well-crafted and coherent, but they mustn’t belabor the point. Digressing to interesting but not immediately relevant observations is discouraged. In short, the Social Science paper should report clearly, concisely, thoroughly, and objectively the writer’s findings.

Finally, the Humanities student will find it difficult getting accustomed to the passive voice used in most Social Science papers. Perhaps it will help to understand that this voice is used for a reason: to keep the observer out of the narrative. Consider: “I observed no significant increase in aggressive behavior” vs. “No significant increase in aggressive behavior was observed.” In the second, passive sentence the observation seems more objective and impersonal, cut loose from the very subjective “I.”

Writing in the Social Sciences: beginning readings

An excellent introduction to writing in the social sciences is available through JSTOR. I think it would be a good place to begin.
“On Scientific Writing”
William F. Ogburn
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 52, No. 5 (Mar., 1947), pp. 383-388

I hate to admit that we are far behind the times in this presentation, but I found a journal article from 1977 which discusses the creation of the course I will be teaching next semester.

“Writing for the Social Sciences”
Eleanor M. Hoffman
College Composition and Communication, Vol. 28, No. 2 (May, 1977), pp. 195-197

“The Hierarchy of the Sciences?” by Stephen Cole in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Jul., 1983), pp. 111ff argues that there is no difference between the natural (hard) sciences and the social (soft) sciences in terms of cognitive consensus or the rate at which new ideas are incorporated.

This might be an interesting way to address the feelings that social sciences isn’t as strong/hard/core as natural sciences.

Writing in the Social Sciences: Sample Syllabi

This syllabus from Penn State has as a scheduled beginning exercise watching Fight Club. They also read parts of Fast Food Nation. This is definitely a writing class first, with social sciences second. There is quite a bit of rhetorical theory, including Toulmin and claims (Aristotle).

A unit on writing and inquiry in the social sciences

Unit II – Writing and Inquiry in the Social Sciences
Objectives of Unit II: To familiarize students with the issues debated in the social sciences, and writing skills used in the social sciences. To increase student confidence in reading and writing in the social sciences. The successful completion of an experiment in the social sciences.

Class …
“Issues in Social Science – Social Science in Perspective”
Introduction to the Social Sciences Unit
Reflection and in-class writing on science unit. Introduction to the social sciences.
Relating social science to lived experience. Topics in Social Science.
Read: “Behavioral Studies in Obedience” “On ‘Obedience to Authority’” “Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison” Optional: “Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience …” Write: Personal Reaction Essays. 1-2 page on each experiments.

Experimentation in the Social Sciences
Class discussion of the articles on the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milligram experiment. Discussion of the way knowledge is achieved through experimentation in the social sciences. Discussion of the purpose of such knowledge. Opinion vs. Evidence. Discussion of potential experimental topics for the Social Science Paper.
Read: “On the Ethics of Intervention …” Survey Building Complete: Ethics Survey/ Certification: http://hstraining.orda.ucsb.edu
Write: Proposal for experimental topic.

Class …
Refining and Conducting a Social Science Experiment / Experimental ethics.
Share experimental ideas. Discussion of ethics in the social sciences. Group the students into optional experimental teams. Workshop on writing effective survey questions.
Conduct: Experimental Survey

Class …
Interpreting and Presenting Data
Discussion of collected data from surveys. How to interpret information. How to craft raw data into a polished report. Group work on organizing and presenting results effectively. Discussion of experimental form.
Read: “Field Study and Reports” Write: Individual Rough draft of Social Science Experiment.

Class …
Social Science Report Workshop
Peer review and workshop of Social Science Experiment. Class discussion of common difficulties or problems. Volunteers to share portions of Social Science Experiment.
Write: Final Draft of the Social Science Experiment.

This course requires as a text
Behrens, Laurence and Rosen, Leonard J. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 8th ed.
New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2002

The social sciences unit:

Unit 1: Social Sciences
Monday 9/30: Introduction and diagnostic

Wednesday 10/2: The basics of writing a college paper
Distribution of the assignment for paper 1
Reading: “Group Minds” (WRAC pp.306-8) and “The Organization Kid”
(WRAC pp.365-74)

Monday 10/7: Summary
Reading: “Opinions and Social Pressure” (WRAC pp.309-15)

Wednesday 10/9: Paraphrase and quotation
Reading: “The Perils of Obedience” (WRAC pp.317-28)

Monday 10/14: Critique
Reading: “Review of Stanley Milgram’s Experiments on Obedience” and
“Obedience” (WRAC pp.329-45)

Wednesday 10/16: Peer review of rough drafts

Tip 18: Where do you find sources for lectures, activities, handouts?

We should review our classes periodically if we are continuing to teach the same ones OR we need new sources because we are teaching new courses.

This may sound simple. Most of us have had to come up with something new. But sometimes, in the flurry of trying to get ready, we miss some useful sources.

Old class work as a student
This could be classes you took. I gave information out on Old English literature based on my notes from grad school. Also I talk about the six areas of research on Beowulf from the same source.

My introduction to Judith this summer came from two papers I wrote in graduate school.

And so did my discussion starters on women’s roles in the Old and Middle English eras.

Old class work as a teacher
Sometimes as teachers we move away from a project, a paper, an activity because it didn’t fit the class or we were tired of it. Perhaps it didn’t work in execution although the idea was good. Or maybe it worked incredibly well, but we had other things we needed to do instead.

Go through your old syllabi, your old notes, your old handouts and see what is in there that would be useful for your classes now.

I’ve found old assignments (riddles) and old formats (aesthetic differences in syllabi) that were very useful doing this just this summer.

The internet
You can find just about anything on the internet, if you are willing to do multiple searches and take some time to get it done.

There are syllabi, for suggested readings in courses similar to yours.

There is history and cultural background information, for various periods, often including very interesting sites you could actually look at in class.

There are teacher’s plans, including quotes and activities, exercises and handouts, visual aids and videos.

If you plan ahead for time, or you take the time when you’ve been surprised at the last minute, the overabundance that is the internet can offer incredible source materials.

Journal articles
These can be a source of interest to you and the more excited about a topic you are, the more likely your students will become excited.

If this is a new topic for you, start looking for the references. Which works are referenced the most? Make sure you read those.

If it’s a standard topic, don’t be afraid to look at old articles for inspiration. I found a great article on voice in College English back in the 1980s.

Don’t neglect the tried and true.

If you are doing a new class, see what your library offers. Look at interlibrary loan.

Tip 28: How to Improve Any Class

I need to remember to explain my reasoning behind assignments. That made a HUGE difference when I was teaching cross-cultural English and when I was teaching how to express abstract thoughts well.

Hopefully it will encourage students to engage with the class if they know why an assignment has been made. Which means, of course, that I will need to have a reason for my assignments.

Teacher Education

If I’m going to give a lecture, I have to have something to say. I learned a lot about the development of the novel and 18th century travelogues last year while researching Gulliver’s Travels. This year I’m going to have to give many lectures on personalities in American literature. It means I have to learn something.

One of the things I like to do is learn. Over the last few years I have been sick and/or busy and haven’t done a lot of learning until this last year, when I had to do a lot of research to write my novel. Now, though, I am having to go back and learn a lot about the personalities and experiences of early American literature authors.

I thought at first that I could simply use the teacher’s notes in the book to give my lectures. But in that case they’d be about two minutes long. I really want a bit more information than that. I have five pages on Mary Rowlandson, the author of the first captivity narrative published as a complete work. I learned a lot about her, the times, and the literary precursors to the captivity novel. (Remember those “I was kidnapped by aliens” books? Those are modern captivity narratives.)

That same day we are also covering Samuel Sewall. I have four pages on his life. Since he was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, I wanted some good background on that. Found a wonderful essay by Tim Sutter. The only problem is it’s 8 pages long, printed out, and I don’t think I have that much time to introduce the topic. I guess I just have to hope they know about the trials. (Good luck on them remembering, even if they know.)