August Days

I was going to be serious with these, but then I saw some fun ones, so I’m just putting in all the ones I think are cool. From National Day Calendar.

August 2: National Coloring Book Day

August 8: National Happiness Happens Day

August 9: National Book Lovers’ Day

August 14: National Creamsicle Day

August 16: National Tell a Joke Day

August 27: National Just Because Day

August 28: National Power Rangers Day AND National Bow Tie Day

Flow Issues

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the psychologist who summarizes his life’s work in The Flow. The book has been recommended to me several times, from several different sources.

I’ve only read 10% of the book and I can tell you that I don’t believe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes.

First, he vehemently says that the spiritual does not exist. He gives no proof, no argument. His word is the end of that discussion.

Then he does the same thing for creation. He states quite clearly that the universe was not made for humanity (which I agree with) and so it is hostile to it (possibly) because it is the result of random change (no).

At the 10% mark, he says the same thing about any non-physical experiences. He says there is no such thing as extra-sensory perception and other generalized things that I understand to mean non-physical. So, looking at that I see him saying several things I disagree with. God cannot talk to you. You cannot know when someone you love is in trouble. No one can ever know what another is thinking, without any discussion. These I do not agree with.

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.

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.

Publishing Advice

I remember (and have recently re-read) the post where I wrote that I knew I needed to get published and that I should be writing and that I had no idea how to do those things. Trial and error teaches a lot–at least to some people.

Recently I explained that “life long learner” means I have to keep re-learning the same things in different ways. 🙂

That said, there was a good post on the CHE about what publishing means for a lot of places. Even though I am not in one of those places and do not want to be, I know that I am behind in publishing and presenting. Certainly if you use the metrics of the post I am behind (as in, I never got there).

While it does not apply to me per se, there are many nuggets of wisdom hidden in the carefully sifted advice. (Now I am thinking of chocolate chips and brownies for some reason.) Without further ado, advice from the brilliant at the CHE:

You have a special challenge in that you need to keep up a publication record as if you were at an R1 while coping with a heavy teaching load.  The model I was taught to aim for was 2-2-4: two articles and two smaller pieces every year, and a book every four years.  Now, I actually think most people fall short of that.  But if you want to move, you’d want to aim for an equivalent of that, in the most streamlined and efficient way.  The first advice I’d give is to drop the second “2” — the smaller pieces (generally book reviews, can also be encyclopedia entries or whatnot).  Those are a luxury.  The articles and books are the most important.  So here are the rules as I see them:

1. Piggyback your current research on your last research.  Use the same kind of materials, but viewed from a different angle or expanded.  You can see the prolific scholars doing this already.  For instance, the first book will be about Lincoln’s White House staff, using the appropriate archives.  The second book will be about women in Lincoln’s White House, using the same archives.  The third book will be about Lincoln’s ideas of hierarchy, using the same archives. In every case, pick only an idea that’s interesting to you, but pick strategically.  Also pick something in which you don’t have to embark on a whole new set of secondary reading.

2. Don’t put every single thing you learn and think on the subject in the book.  Save self-contained nuggets of findings for separate articles.  For my last book, I finished the book and then wrote a spin-off article in three days. I had all the quotations right in front of me and knew the material so thoroughly that it just flew onto the page. If you can get four or five extra articles out of your book, that would be excellent.  Don’t feel the need to jam it all in; use this to plant articles in good journals.

3. Make every piece of writing earn its keep.  Don’t publish in edited collections; they count for less on the CV. Submit every article to a top-tier journal and work your way down the food chain. Position your book for the top presses.  Don’t make my mistake and give your book to lower-tier presses just because they ask for it and you think, “Phew! Someone will publish this!”  Try all the top-tier presses first.

4. Find the CVs of the top people in your field and keep tabs on them. Keep track of how you measure up. 

5. Minimize the busywork your job asks for as much as possible.  Where possible, give assignments that are swift to grade; streamline teaching prep; keep extensive records so you don’t have to redesign your classes every year. 
Then try to get in 90 minutes of academic writing every workday; 45 minutes should be your minimum.  Don’t save it all up for a long weekend stint, which may or may not be possible when the time comes.  The research shows that the most prolific people write for shorter periods and often.

6. Take Sundays off; ideally Saturdays too.  Do not stay up working till midnight.  Burning yourself out won’t get the job done and also makes the job not worth doing.  Your goal is to work smart, not exhaustively.

Best of luck!

hegemony. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2409.”,9 March 2011,,30991.2400.html.

Why the CHE?

I realized I have been quoting the CHE a lot and you may be wondering if it is because I have nothing to say. No, it isn’t that. It is that I really enjoy reading the fora–much like other people binge watch television series–and I tend to binge read. When I get off, I stay off for a long time. But if I have time and my brain is still working, I like to see what other people in similar situations have to say about things that I also care about.

Here is the reason the fora exist:

The CHE Fora provide academics at all ranks, in all types of institutions, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, civilians, occasional trolls and frequent spammers, with the opportunity to pontificate, commiserate, alienate, inform, deform, transform, mock, rock, and sock their way through the hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semesterly, and annual struggles, triumphs, breakdowns, collapses, small victories, frustrations, exasperations, and lucubrations of academic life.

aandsdean. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame: Reply 2376.”, 4 February 2011,,30991.2370.html.

As we are academics and enjoy the “dollar words” as my father referred to long words with Greek and Latin words, I thought that would appeal. There are also sections for those whose predilections run towards Old English, which tend to be the “quarter words,” with the “mock, rock, and sock” section.

Tell me why…

When I was a girl, my mother would sing a song that started with those words. “Tell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue–and I will tell you just why I love you.”

Nothing except the first three words are relevant to this post.

Our students do not understand why they need our classes. They don’t know why we are assigning particular things. Two years ago (or so) I attended a colleague’s class and he started every class by explaining how this assignment fit the learning goals of the course. I didn’t ask him how he introduced the whole course, but I have tried (with more or less success) to explain to students why we are doing x and how x fits into the picture of xXXx that the course is designed for. Sometimes there are goofy rules and sometimes there are good reasons. I confess that I explain them both.

Here is a CHE post on the idea that we need to explain to our students why we do things.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute (although I agree with a lot of what OAP said).  So, because they want a vending-machine education we should give them one?  My son doesn’t like/want to clean his room but that doesn’t mean that I allow him to not clean it.  Students (in general) have never like to learn without some kind of external or internal motivation.  It hurts their brains too much and it takes time away from things that they’d rather be doing.  As much as I loved college as an undergrad, if given a choice between taking and passing Intro. to Chem. or sitting in my room reading something that I chose/wanted to read, I would have opted for the latter (and still would). 

I think that the answer is not so much giving them what they want but teaching them why what they want is less than what they deserve or what they should truly want or what will help them to become better people (or whatever motivation works).  We in academia assume that others see the academy through the same lens that we do and understand it in the same way that we do.  But they don’t.  They don’t understand the values  that we hold dear.  Perhaps instead of dismissing these students as hopeless and/or helpless, we should try to show them what’s so great about it and how it can add value to their lives as well.  When one of my students gave a persuasive speech on why colleges should do away with electives and the liberal studies core curriculum, instead of exploding in anger or shaking my head in silent disbelief and disgust, I tried to explain to them and the rest of the class the reasoning behind the system and the values that it adds to their education.    I make an effort to teach my freshman comp. students not only what we do but why we do it.  They seem to appreciate it.

changinggears. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2374.”, 29 January 2011,,30991.2370.html

What to do with January?

January, in college life, is two to three weeks of no school. Community College Dean asks on his blog if there is a way to redeem January, for students who have barely passed and barely failed.

A student who limped across the finish line in, say, basic algebra may harbor a lingering doubt about being fully prepared for intermediate or college algebra. (Names change, but you get the idea.) For the student who escaped the Fall with a low passing grade and some lingering doubts, I’m wondering if a January catchup/review session might help them stay on track in the Spring. (Alternately, for the student who failed but came close in the Fall, I could envision an intensive review leading to a second shot at a final exam in January. The benefit would be that the student wouldn’t lose an entire semester by retaking the course in the Spring.) It’s a variation on the “summer bridge” idea, but somewhat looser. Rather than a graded course — which requires a certain number of hours, a set of assignments, and all the usual trappings — a noncredit review could be adjusted to meet demonstrated student need. If you only need, say, eight hours of review to get up to speed, good for you.

I think he might be on to something.

Email Etiquette: Results

I teach email etiquette to all my first-year students. I also teach it to my upper division students, just in case they didn’t get it when they were the young ‘uns. Many, I would guess even most students, take the ideas to heart and use them when they create emails they intend to send to profs. If they did not, the strange and extreme lack-of-email-etiquette pieces we receive would not be afforded so much attention.

Since there are some students who cannot imagine anyone doing such a thing as forgetting to use the email etiquette–and both the ones least and most likely to are those who would fit this category–I like to collect these little nuggets as real-life examples.

from the CHE forums:

“Entire e-mail (no greeting, no signature):

I having trouble remebering what the assignment was for 2mor so please get back at me with sum details.

Clearly someone skipped the e-mail etiquette portion of the syllabus.”

dr_know. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2371.”, 26 January 2011,,30991.2370.html. Accessed 31 December 2018.

Why, yes, I did know I am probably spending too much time on the fora… But they are so enlightening!

Research Paper: History

Yes, I know this is TeachingCollegeEnglish, not history. However, having been a double major undergrad (at least according to myself and the number of hours I took in both fields), history resonates with me. Also, I have students writing research papers. Some of them are on history. But really, lots of this can apply to anyone’s research project.

This was on the Chronicle of Higher Ed forums, in the HOF (Hall of Fame) section, written by marlborough back in 2011. Please go to the CHE for other fascinating statements and professors talking about professer-ing.

Quote here:

GI do this with pretty big 300 and 400 level history classes.  I posted this on another thread, but here it is again.  The bonus is that the steps are more or less plagiarist and ghost-proof.  This is for History, but other fields may be able to adapt:

Primary Source Eval:
his form will not work perfectly for every source, so please follow to the best of your ability and improvise any replacement questions appropriate to your source.

1. Title and author of your source
2. When was this written, and subsequently, when was it published. If this is memoir published substantially AFTER the events described, how does the time gap affect the material (i.e. is this someone who is now an adult describing the actions of a child, this person’s politics changed, etc.)
3. Capsule biography of the author of your source–why is this person an appropriate or important source of information, what are his/her biases through religion, politics, class, gender, etc.
4. What are the limitations of this source–was this person absent at important events, or have a restricted view of them for some reason? Does this source have a bias that makes it problematic, and if so, what is it?
5. What does this source do well? What people, events and themes does it give useful information about?
6. Make a wish list of complementary primary sources you wish existed to fill out the blind spots or limitations of your primary source. They don’t have to really exist, just guess at what would give you a really complete picture of the scene you’ve touched on with this one source.
7. List at least ten solid historical questions for which this source would be good research material. These are likely theses for your research paper, so think carefully about this. List your questions and mark at least a couple of them which you feel are most promising as paper directions.
*Because this is a short paper, look for things that are narrowly defined–for example, instead of asking “what was life like for soldiers in the WWI trenches?” ask “what effect did letters from home have on WWI soldiers” or “how did WWI soldiers experience a poison gas attack?” 

Research Proposal:
1. Which of your research questions have you chosen?
2. Why? What is interesting about this to you? What other skills/interests/background do you bring to this question?
3. What are your own immediate feelings about this question? What do you think the answer will be? What are your personal biases about this?
4. What other PRIMARY sources will you use to investigate this? List them in as much detail as possible if they exist, and also list “wish list” items that we will search for a little harder–sometimes they do exist.
5. What SECONDARY sources will you be consulting to round out your understanding of the context of the question and your source? List a preliminary pool of books, journal articles and other materials. Unless the websites you find are professionally handled collections of primary materials or secondary sources of REAL merit, don’t even bother, and don’t tick me off by including them with actual sources. 

1. Have a really good, focused thesis question appropriate to a 10 page paper (chosen from your best research questions).

2. Assemble a big pile of sources likely to have some bearing on your question. Look everywhere you can, including JSTOR,, Google Books, the MnPals system in the library catalog search, the bibliographies of the primary and secondary sources you already have, etc.  Use the key words you brainstormed.

3. Go through each of these with your _thesis question in mind_. Write it on your arm, if necessary.  Each time you find something, stick a post-it note next to the information and move on. Pretty soon, you’ll have a stack of books and articles marked up with post-its.

4. Set aside several hours. Using Word, go to the pull-down menu Tools and click on “envelopes and labels.” Click on “options” and select Business Card, then click “New Document.” You will see a Word page that has been divided into business card sized sections. If you are old-school, you can do this on index cards, but this is easier to do, you can proofread it and save it forever.  You will also be printing ME out a copy, or copying index cards.  Your choice.

5. Start with the book on the top of the pile. Make a bibliography card by typing in the full and complete citation of the work into the first square on your page.

6. Then, for each post-it in the book, make a square, starting with a short citation (author, title if more than one work by author in your stack, and page number). If you cannot quote or summarize the post-it marked information in the space of a business card, you don’t understand it. Try again.

7. Once you have gone through your whole stack of sources, save your pages of squares and give back all of your sources to the library. Seriously, send them away. Avoid fines. Clean out your backpack. If you’ve done your notes correctly, you don’t need them any more. Print out your pages of squares and (carefully using a paper cutter) divide them into little separate squares.

8. Deal out of the stack all of the bibliography cards, putting them in alphabetical order for easy use later. Paper clip them and set them aside.

9. Take a while and sort what you have on the squares into different ways of answering the question. When you have a strong answer, try to phrase that answer in the form of a declarative sentence.  Presto!  You have a THESIS.  See what you realistically have to work with and what arrangement of arguments works effectively for what you have to SUPPORT that thesis. If you are lacking an important element, go get a source to deal with that, post-it note it and make some more cards. If one stack gets big, divide it into more workable piles that make logical sense. Eventually, you should have about a stack of 1-2 squares for every paragraph in your paper. If it becomes obvious you’ll need some connecting paragraphs that come entirely from you, use a blank square and write up what needs to go in that connector.

10. Paperclip paragraphs together and then stack these in the order you want to use them in the paper. This is a nice time to make an outline so you can see the whole paper in skeleton form (AND turn in a required outline).

11. Sit down and write the paper. Just have the stack of squares next to you at the computer and go through them in order. When you quote something or reach the end of a paragraph, put in the citation, handily located at the top of the card (for your first citation, when you need full information, just pull out the bibliography card and put a little check mark on it that means you’ve done first full citation in the paper). When you’re done, get the bibliography cards and do the Works Cited, which is easy to arrange in alphabetical order, carefully discarding the cards for any unused works.

12. Go back and carefully proof-read your paper, careful to look for your/you’re and they’re/there/their mistakes, use of less than full names for people you’ve first mentioned in the paper, misspellings and other careless stuff likely to annoy me. Quote ends.


Marlborough. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2353.”, 4 January 2011,,30991.2340.html. Accessed 29 December 2018.