Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You're in the Wrong Room...

You all know we've moved, right?

Go here from now on:


See you in the new room....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This Is NOT a Fire Drill

Okay, Class. Everyone, grab your bookbags and your jacket, push your chairs back under your desks, and follow me. We're moving to a new classroom!

The one we're in now is kind of like a basement room with rusty pipes running along the ceiling and exposed insulation here and there. Sure, it works as a space, and we've had some fun here, but let's just say it's not been the ideal environment. We're moving upstairs, to a room with lots of light, pretty walls, and technology that works more consistently than what we've had here. I think we're going to like it much more.

Everybody ready? Good. Stay together, and keep quiet in the halls, please.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading List

One of the reasons I blog - one of the major reasons, actually - is so that I can share in the insight and experience of my readers. If I know nothing else, I know that I have a limited range of vision and experience and that I am better - a better wife, mother, friend, teacher, and all-around human being - for being able to learn from others. I really value the input that people give to me. I'm just not a go-it-alone kind of gal; I seek out cooperation and collaboration, and blogging is just one of the ways I do that.

Now, having said that, I'm putting out a call for help.

I'm thinking about my composition classes coming up in January, and one of the things I'm thinking is that I'm going to make them READ. I'm thinking that most of the material I give them will be short pieces - articles, essays, short stories, poems - though there may be one extended reading assignment in the mix somewhere. I want these to be on a really wide range of topics - as broad as I can get, actually - I don't want to limit it to writing about writing. Fiction and non-fiction. Historical accounts of events, letters, memoir. Poems. Hell, I will likely throw in some art, too, just to keep things fresh.

I'm pretty well-read. I've got a good range of reading experience, and a good bit of material stashed away in my bookshelves and teaching folders. What I'm looking to do here, though, is to broaden the scope of my thinking in terms of what my students should read for a writing class. Part of this is born out of a wish to expand my own reading experience - I've never had any problems teaching material I haven't worked with before - I really enjoy the process of learning it along with my students and am hoping to be able to bring some new literary experiences into my own practice as I teach these writing classes. The rest of it is an effort to learn from others' experiences as I go forward.

What I'm asking is this: what are your favorite pieces of writing? Short stories. Plays. Blog entries (yes, even those!). Poems. Articles. Speeches. Essays. Songs. Think about the writing that's moved or inspired you. Think about different styles of writing that you've struggled with or admired. Send me bits of your own writing that you feel you really nailed. Let my request swirl around in your brain for a little while, then come back to me in the comments with suggestions and ideas (and so much the better if you tell me WHY you suggest the pieces that you do).

In short, I want your help to compile a really kick-ass reading list. You're all part of my community, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you bring.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Like So Many Deer in the Headlights...

My public speaking students got a real treat today in our guest speaker, and I'm relatively certain none of them knew what hit them.

Our guest - we'll call her K - was exactly what I thought she'd be. She was loud and brash and wonderful. She spoke about a wide range of things as she worked around her point about what it takes to become a good public speaker. She talked about how she creates her own speeches, what she's experienced in her role as an elected official, and how important being able to express one's ideas is in every day life. She quoted Plato. She read a speech she delivered to the State Senate about the dangers of MBTE in gasoline. She sang.

Yes, that's right; she SANG. Not ONLY did she sing, she sang a song about sludge. She revealed to us that the sludge song is not the only one she's got in her repertoire, either. She's got songs about nearly every issue she ever supported or opposed during her tenures as Representative and Senator. It was glorious.

I think it was the singing, more than anything else, that stunned my students into glassy-eyed amazement.

I'm glad K sang, though. Though I've done my best to make this class as comfortable and, dare I say it? - fun - as I could, I think that a lot of students still dread the idea of having to speak to people they don't know. K showed an obvious love of what she does. She showed them that any subject can be fun - or, at least, spun a little bit for the purposes of lightening. She revealed that she had butterflies before she came to our class, and gave some insight into how she prepares for speeches that she gives. Most importantly, she wasn't perfect. She meandered a bit, she went off on tangents, she lost her way once or twice. She was exactly what I was hoping she'd be.

The students don't have to do any homework as a result of K's speech; I just wanted them to experience her and, God love her, she came through for me in all her funny, irreverant, loud glory. I sent them home early with the written portion of their exam and stern exhortations to really nail both the written and the practical portion of the final.

Here's hoping they come through!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Final Exam

I've decided to give my Public Speaking class a two-part final: a take-home, written portion, and a practical portion - a short speech to be delivered in class.

The practical portion, which I've already assigned them and I hope to God/dess they're actually working on right now, will be a five minute speech about something that they'll likely encounter over the course of their career. A culinary student might make a presenation aimed at convincing a company to cater their holiday party with the student's restaurant; a business student might talk about the benefits of downsizing the production in a factory. I'm very interested to see not only what they choose to speak about, but also how they choose to deliver the speech itself. I'm hoping that at least ONE of them uses visual aids.

I've asked some trusted friends and colleagues to act as a panel for the practical exam. I feel that the students have gotten comfortable speaking in front of their peers and want to shake them up a little bit by giving them some new faces to talk to. The point of the class, after all, was to teach them to speak effectively in public and/or business situations, and I can 100% guarantee that most of those occasions will include someone with whom the students are not on a first-name basis. I plan on giving my friends rubrics to mark as they watch the speeches, and will take their impressions of the students' work into consideration as I determine grades. I've hinted that I won't be the only one grading the students' practical exams, though I'm not sure many of them have been listening closely enough to have picked up on that. It will be interesting to see their faces when they come to class on Monday.

Here, for your enjoyment, is the written portion of their final. I limited it to five questions in the hope that they would be able to really nail the answers. Some of them need to knock my socks off to pass this class, and I want to give them every opportunity to do just that. I'll give the exam to them tomorrow, so they have the entire week to work on it. Wish them luck - some of 'em need it!

Effective Communication
Final Exam, Written Portion

Mrs. Chili

December, 2006

Answer each question completely and on a separate sheet of paper. Your responses must be typed and grammatically clean and are due by 1:00 p.m. on Monday, December 11th. Late work will not be accepted and will result in a zero grade.

1. The issue of insulting and abusive speech - especially slurs directed against people on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation - is extremely controversial. Do you believe society should punish such speech with criminal penalties? To what degree are colleges and universities justified in trying to discipline students who engage in such speech? Do you feel it is proper to place any boundaries on free expression in order to prohibit insulting and abusive speech? Why or why not?

2. Advertising is a form of public speaking. Choose an advertisement - either from the radio, television, or in print - and analyze it. Which demographics are the advertisers appealing to? What methods do they use to attract certain consumers? Do these tactics alienate other potential customers? In what ways do you feel the advertisement is effective? Please include a copy of a print ad., the transcript or a radio ad., or the transcript and description of a television ad.

3. Why must informative speakers be careful not to overestimate what the audience knows about the topic? What can a speaker do to make sure that his or her ideas don’t pass over the heads of the listeners?

4. What is the difference between an informative speech and a persuasive speech? Why is speaking to persuade more challenging than speaking to inform?

5. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. Label one column “characteristics of an effective public speaker” and the other “characteristics of an ineffective public speaker.” List and briefly explain what you believe five characteristics of each to be. Oh the basis of that list, candidly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses as a speaker. Identify where you’ve improved as a result of this course, and where you still feel you need practice.

More on Writing

I've mentioned before that I have the (cough*GEEKY*cough) habit of collecting language. I make a point to copy down the words of others that speak to me - or, rather, that strike me like lightning, which is most often the case. Every once in a while, I'll go back to read something that I've written, and will be pleased to see a passage or turn of phrase that, had I not already written it myself, I'd add to my collection. It's those few perfectly crafted passages that keep me writing.

Here, I offer you the words of the great Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have a particular love for good 'ole Nate, mostly because I feel he had a deep and profound insight into what it means to be a New Englander; a Yankee in the truest sense of the word; a native (I love Sarah Orne Jewett for the same reason, but I'll save her for another post). This passage - one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing ever - is taken from The Custom-House, which serves, in most editions, as a preface to The Scarlet Letter. I'm going to give it to you without any editorializing - we can have a conversation about it, if you like, in the comments.



Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and childhood, by these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since subsisted here; always, too, in respectability; never, so far as I have known, disgraced by a single unworthy member; but seldom or never, on the other hand, after the first two generations, performing any memorable deed, or so much as putting forward a claim to public notice. Gradually, they have sunk almost out of sight; as old houses, here and there about the streets, get covered half-way to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil. From father to son, for above a hundred years, they followed the sea; a grey-headed shipmaster, in each generation, retiring from the quarter-deck to the homestead, while a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before the mast, confronting the salt spray and the gale which had blustered against his sire and grandsire. The boy, also in due time, passed from the forecastle to the cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and returned from his world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust with the natal earth. This long connexion of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human being and the locality, quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him. It is not love but instinct. The new inhabitant--who came himself from a foreign land, or whose father or grandfather came--has little claim to be called a Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster-like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom his third century is creeping, clings to the spot where his successive generations have been embedded. It is no matter that the place is joyless for him; that he is weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and dust, the dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind, and the chillest of social atmospheres;--all these, and whatever faults besides he may see or imagine, are nothing to the purpose. The spell survives, and just as powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly paradise.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bleeding on the Page

As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to take several classes under an especially dynamic professor. This woman taught writing classes, and classes about teaching writing, and I've been thinking about her as I've looked forward to the composition courses I'll be leading starting in January.

I'm remembering one class in particular, early in the semester - maybe even the first class - where the professor walked in to the classroom reading aloud from an essay she had in her hands. I can't recall the author of the piece, but it ended with this quote:

Writing is not like opening a vein

She was trying to impress upon us, her new writing class, that the art of writing is one that does not come easily. It is hard-won; the result of hours, days, sometimes lifetimes of sweat, stress, struggle and effort. Drafts and revisions and the more-than-occasional failure is de rigeur for a writer, and we should expect nothing less than that archetypal, epic struggle for ourselves.

It was not a pretty picture, and I remember wondering if I'd made a mistake in signing up for the class.

Her intention, I think, was to give us a jump on being gentle with ourselves; to teach us to not expect greatness every time we sit in front of a blank piece of paper; to express that she didn't expect greatness from us in the work that we handed in for the class. She wanted us to understand, right off the bat, that this writing stuff is hard work.

I remember thinking, though, that I disagreed with the sentiment of the essay. Now, I'm not saying that I can just bleed on the page, or that everything I write qualifies as "greatness." I don't, and it doesn't. What I am saying, though, is that I don't see writing as an epic struggle between the writer and the word. I don't feel that it's necessary to suffer to be a writer - or an artist of any kind, really. I understand that a good many artists do suffer, mind you; I'm just saying I don't think it's required.

As I prepare to teach writing classes, I'm thinking about how to present (represent?) the act of writing - the process of creating art with the written word - to my students. I'm not certain I want to give them the expectation that it's going to be hard and that they're going to fail - if not the class, then certainly the attempt to create anything of value - despite their best efforts. Neither do I want to give them the impression that they should experience no difficulty at all, that they can just channel some great muse and not do any real work.

I don't approach writing the way a lot of my professors or peers do. I'm not the kind of writer who writes draft after draft, editing and revising and rearranging. I do most of my preliminary work in my head: I think - really think - about a piece for a long time before I ever sit to write it out. I test out the language before I write it down, talking to my friends and loved ones, talking to myself in the car or the shower, trying to put the ideas in order in my head before I let them out into the world. By the time I get a piece to paper, then, it is mostly complete; I never wrote a "first draft" unless it was required by my teachers - all my first draft work took place in my brain.

That's just how *I* write, though, and I recognize that there are as many approaches to the work of writing as there are people who write. I think that a major focus of my classes is going to be to encourage students to figure out what works best for them; to allow them to try on different ways of being a writer to see which fits and feels best. Sometimes, understanding the process is just as important as the end result.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Class Participation...Sort Of....

Claudia posted this comment to the post just before this one:

While reading some pieces on the decline of Western civilizations, I came across a GREAT phrase:
(just thought I'd share!)

This got me thinking (a dangerous proposition, I know): given that I've already told you that I collect language, I'm wondering who else has great quotes about words or writing or communication or language that they'd be willing to share. I'm thinking in terms of using them as prompts for the composition classes, and for adding to my own personal (cough*geeky!*cough) collection.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Comp. 101

So, as of right now (everything is subject to change at TCC), I'm scheduled to teach three composition courses. Two are face-to-face classes - "chalk and talk," my boss calls them - and one is a hybrid, which meets face-to-face once a week and "online" once a week.

This is semi-uncharted territory for me. I've been on the other side of the desk plenty of times and have written, literally, file boxes worth of essays, research papers, poetry, and literary criticism. Most of my experience in composition has been as a student. I co-taught an AP Language and Composition course as an intern but, by the time I got to them, the students were focusing on the definitions for rhetorical terms and studying for the exam so there wasn't a whole lot of "composition" going on.

My not having taught the discipline before doesn't concern me too much, though, because I've been in the shadows of some masters and have been paying attention. I've had some fine, fine writing teachers in my past - and count one as a friend in my present - and Organic Mama spent a good bit of her professional life as an editor, so I've got plenty of support should I need it. (oh, who am I kidding? I'm going to need it!) I've been rolling around the idea of teaching writing in my head for the last week and am coming up with some pretty good ideas for keeping the class moving forward as we move through the term:

**There's a poster somewhere (though exactly where, I can't say because I can't find the damned thing now that I need it) that says:

"Ten ways to become a better writer:
1. write 2. write 3. write 4....
(you get the idea. There's also one for reading, too, but I can't find that one, either, or I'd post it)

I'm trying to decide if it's within reason to assign my writing students a "piece" a day, much like NaBloPoMo. If I decide that it IS within reason, I've got to figure out the logistics of such a thing.

**I'm seriously drawn to the idea of using blogging as a tool in the classroom. There's a certain bit of casualness to blogging that, I think, takes a lot of the pressure off of a writer. It's okay to write about stubbing one's toe or about the television show one watched last night on a blog, whereas, I think, there's a certain amount of stress a student feels to pick a "good" topic about which to write for a class. If I understand the objectives of the course correctly, the point is to write, not to write for a specific purpose. I'm thinking that blogging will be a useful environment for that kind of work. Again, I've got to figure out logistics.

**I've been remembering some of the more memorable writing teachers I've had and trying to recall the exercises they gave me, as a student, that helped forward my strength and comfort with the written word. My Freshman English teacher - then a graduate student herself - loved to give us quick, short assignments where we would be expected to respond to a quote or describe an experience or an object or a place. One professor, in particular, was all about responding to short stories or poems. I liked those assignments because they exposed me to a wide variety of writing styles, and I found myself growing more and more comfortable finding and refining my own voice. I still have many of those assignments in the aforementioned file boxes - I may go up and dig them out of the attic for the purposes of memory-refreshing.

**The woman who supervised the second half of my internship is a phenomenal writing teacher, and I still, to this day, remember some of the assignments she gave me when I was a sophomore in her class at the high school. I learned from her as her intern (or, rather, I re-learned what she taught me when I was a teenager but wasn't paying that much attention) to give the students short prompts and ask them to see where their writing goes without too much interference from themselves. "JUST WRITE," she says, "don't THINK too much; just see where your writing takes you." The students, incredulous at first (all teachers EVER ask us to DO is THINK! She wants us to NOT think?!), quickly discover that they start off writing about one thing - the flowers in the basket on a table in a short story, for example - and end up writing about something VERY different - the time they went to visit their elderly grandmother in the nursing home, and how her room smelled too strongly of rosewater. That is fascinating and important work for writers - to come to what they're really writing about - and it's gratifying to see them edit their own work to hone in on their subject and craft a masterpiece.

**I want my writing students to read, like the graphic above says, a lot and all the time. Seeing how other people use language - how words come together for that one sparkling sentence that just blows your socks off - is inspirational. I have a TON of material for them to read; it's just a matter of deciding which stories, poems, speeches, blog entries and essays to use.

So, that's my thinking thus far. My biggest concerns, like I said, are figuring out ways to make teaching three composition courses logistically feasible. I'm hoping it doesn't take me too long to settle into a rhythm, and that I'll have some fantastic stories to share with you all here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Plus One

Joe, my boss at Tiny Community College, called this afternoon and left a message on my machine.

He's caught in the throes of trying to figure out next term's schedule, and he warned me earlier this week, when he gave me the schedule for the two classes that he wanted me to take, that nothing's settled yet. I mentioned before that it takes him a while to work up to full speed, and that I always assume the worst when he wants to speak to me. I'm still not sure why I do it, but I can tell you for sure that I still do - the first few seconds of his voice message went like this:

"Hi, Chili, it's Joe. I need you to call me back, I've got some problems with your schedule."

"Damn!" I thought, "there goes at least one of my classes, if not both of them..." He saved me, though, with his next sentence:

"I might need you to take on at least one other class. Call me back when you get this. Bye"

I'm now the instructor or record (at least, tentatively) for three composition courses; two standard classes that meet face-to-face twice a week (Joe calls them "chalk and talks") and one hybrid course that meets once a week in a classroom and does the rest of the credit hours online.

I was hoping to not have any online courses. I'm not entirely comfortable with online delivery and I find that it's harder to keep students focused when they don't have a set time to meet and attend to the work for a class. Still, having experience teaching online courses can only be a good thing, given the current trend in that direction in higher education. I'm working on some ideas for an online class - one that may use blogging as a tool for learning to write - and I'm open to any suggestions you may have.

I'm going to have a LOT of reading to do next term!