March 26, 2010

I Have a Live One Here!

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , at 10:15 pm by profart

One thing I have learned as a professor of intro-level classes, break the paper assignments up into little chunks. First, have them give you a thesis statement and partial bibliography. Check on the progress two weeks later (outlines? drafts? something). Then have the paper due. If I had more patience and was teaching English instead of Art, I would break down even more. I have too many students without a single clue how to put together a writing project. With the huge push for standardized testing, I am getting more and more students who can’t think up a project for themselves, and much less research one. I still remember my own first research paper. I twas on Emily Dickinson. I was in the tenth grade.

I digress. My point is… my classes turned in their topics this week, and I have a live one! I have a student who knows what a bibliography is, how to write a thesis, and on top of that, wow! Its a real thesis, not just a book report. Even cooler, I have a friend who wrote a dissertation on the awesome topic, and I just sent off email of said friend to said student, so said student could actually speak with a real, live scholar about it.

Remember, I teach at a community college. How awesome is this?


March 11, 2010

Holy. Moly.

Posted in student mistakes tagged , , , , , at 2:59 am by profart

This was a midterm essay turned in to me by a native English speaker with a high school education. Can you find the error-free sentence?

The Ancient Near East we have a Stele of Naram – Sin, Sippar, Iraq, 2220 – 2184 BCE. Naram – Sin had a stele made that showed him win the over the people of the Zagros Mountains. He is showed with the people below him. He is telling everyone that is has the power and that he is the power.

With the Stele of Hammurabi, Babylon, Modern Iraq, 1780 BCE, he had all the duties, punishments, and his people right engraved on his stele. He had different punishment for the different classes. Had got his power by tell the people the rights and the duties. He also deals with the politics with having more than one class. The some rules and duties were not the same has a poor man and a rich man.

The Ancient Aegean we have the Citadel at Mycenae, Greece, 1600 – 1200 BCE. We can see the power and the politics in the way the city so made. The king residence built on the heights point and with the high class around him. He had a wall built around the city to protect and show the power that He had.

The Parthenon was Athens power and showed it to the world around it. The Parthenon, Athens, 447 – 432 BCE. It was the place that had the wealth and the power around it. I think with its size helped it was the power.

It does not better what time it is but we can look around and see the art work that is telling us about power, politics, wealth, and the ones in the power. That artwork will never stop.

Edit: Did I forget to mention this is from the untimed, take-home, open-book exam they had two weeks to complete?

December 3, 2009

Plagiarists beware: Flunky flunky!

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , , at 1:29 pm by profart

I hate it when students flunk. It’s bad on my nerves. I always feel like there is something more I should have done, something more I should have said. I agonize over placing the fat, honkin’ F on that record, especially with students who have at least warmed their seat all semester. But one must get what one earns, even if I lose a little sleep over it.

With one exception. Plagiarists. Don’t feel like doing footnotes? I’m going to flunk you, and not even bat an eye. Want to just copy material in from books, or cut and paste from websites? Flunky flunky! I just don’t tolerate theft of other people’s ideas and hard work, just because you are too frickin’ lazy to do your own.

With the citations thing, I give my kids a gentle second chance. Either I flip through the papers as they hand them in, and hand it back if there are no citations (or at least try to); or if they are emailed, I will send an email noting that I clearly have the wrong draft, and would they kindly email me the correct one, the one with citations? Because if that is not enough of a hint to correct the issue, they deserve to flunk for outright stupidity. We have enough thick-headed academics in the world, and I am sure if a couple professors had flunked their butts when they were being thick, instead of just passing them off to the next poor fool, we’d have a lot less of them.

There is nothing I consider more EPIC FAIL than failing to cite sources in a writing assignment, especially in upper-level courses, where it should be practically second nature. And I have one policy for EPIC FAIL: an F on your transcript.

October 14, 2008

Discussions out of academia

Posted in student stories tagged , , , , , , , at 1:10 pm by profart

I’ve been a bad profart, engaging in discussions of academic nature outside of academia. Problems of grammar, diction, syntax, critical thought, analysis, and focus are things people think apply only in the classrooms of the Ivory Tower. They seem unaware of the significance of these discussions, the need for clarity, or the importance of thinking about a subject before turning into a screaming, gnashing, flailing idiot- or at least coming across as one. 

When one is communicating with words, it is important to understand how language works. You may think your mistakes are no big deal; but for your readers, trips in grammar can result in confusion and misunderstanding. 

Let’s take the example of “[sic]”. I have come across a person who thinks that when you coin a term, you use “[sic]”. this is confusing, because “[sic]” indicates that you are quoting someone else who used in an incorrect or unusual term; coining your own terms is indicated with quotes (or, if it is a foreign term you are using in a new context, you italicize it). What is worse, this person has sunk their teeth into the improper use of “[sic]” like a rabid bulldog, pulling up the definition from Wikipedia to defend their own position on the issue (please note that Wikipedia uses a perfectly good definition of “[sic]” and includes relevant examples to clarify its use, making the rabid bulldog look even more ridiculous). 

If you were quoting my paragraph above, you would probably want to use “[sic]” to indicate my use of the word “their.” I use the plural instead of the specific singular to protect identity (though when talking about student errors, it also is useful because I often several students make the mistake, but it gets confusing to speak in plurals- instead, I condense the problem into a singular incident, but retain the plural pronoun as a conceit). It would be appropriate to indicate that you haven’t mistyped, but that my text was “just so.” 

Another fun and confusing mistake (that increasingly gets on my nerves) is the improper use of an apostrophe in a plural. Apostrophes indicate a possessive, not a plural. If you are talking about “apple’s”, then I automatically think, “The apple’s what?” What belongs to that apple? It isn’t just a typo, either- people who tend to do this, tend to do it with some consistency, and adding apostrophes are no easy feat. Leaving them out is easier to follow than adding them in. 

It is always strange to me to have people completely unable to analyze, to think about what is being said in a rational manner and see the faults therein; to be so absolutely oblivious to their own assumptions and logical holes. I know there are plenty of folks who have never learned these skills- I see them in essay grading for ETS, essay grading for my own classes, and in conversations with others every day. I fear for these people, who may send their money to Nigeria or purchase used cars at high prices over holiday weekends. I worry about these people voting, when they cannot sort through rhetoric to find fact. It is very strange; a way of experiencing the world that is outside my own experience and understanding. I do my best to remember these folks are out there, and what their lives must be like, but it is kind of like trying to understand how people live and understand the world when living in France… or China. A whole different world to me.

June 30, 2008

Clues for the Clueless #7

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , , at 1:39 pm by profart

Hint: Any sort of assessment probably requires critical thinking skills to complete; even multiple-choice assignments.


Every semester, in at least one of my sections (and especially online), there arise the discussion of multiple-choice tests, and the skills required to complete them.


I use the multiple-choice option in my online courses for two main reasons. The first, to be honest, is that the computer grades it. Immediately. I can even put in little messages to send back to the students about what they got right and wrong, so they get instant feedback. This makes my life easier, as I don’t have 70-120 papers to grade each week, the computer kindly takes care of that for me. I need only review the papers to look for patterns of problems with the group or with each student. After all, I’m an adjunct. I don’t get paid much, and I would prefer to at least make close to minimum wage.


Second, I am good at writing them. I use a careful methodology of using the textbook, considering the language of the textbook, and providing choices and answers that reveal whether or not a student actually understood the reading- often using the language from the textbook. Skimming a chapter and trying to take my multi-choice tests is probably a bad idea. We don’t have lectures. As I add in presentations, I write questions about them, too; but the main source of your knowledge is the textbook, so it is important for you to not just read the words off the page, but to comprehend what you have read.


I have a child with hyperlexia. By the end of kindergarten, he could read at an early fifth grade level. However, his comprehension of material was closer to the early third grade level. He could read the words off the page- long words were no problem, complex sentences, no problem. But did he understand a word of it? That is harder. It is all fine to be able to say words. Being able to understand what those words mean takes an entirely different skill.


As the semester wears on, I expect the students to think more about what they are reading. We have come further in discussion. We have done more work to familiarize students with what I expect from them. This is a gradual process; I don’t just suddenly stick a bunch of super-hard, thought-provoking questions in their assignments. Actually, I start the process outside of the graded assignments, ratcheting up the discussion questions first, and then the assignments.


That is where the trouble begins. Even using the language of the textbook, students have difficulty connecting different part of the chapter to come to conclusions. For example, the beginning of the chapter on Gothic at discusses the cathedral as Heavenly Jerusalem on Earth. Then there is. Later in the chapter, a discussion of stained glass and Lux Nova, creating effects of miraculous light as a metaphor for God’s presence. Can my students connect the dots, and come up with the idea that stained glass is intended to enhance the idea of a cathedral as sacred space and Heavenly Jerusalem?


Usually the trouble revs up in the chapter on Egypt, when in the discussion, I ask students to discuss non-funerary art. To be able to do this, the student has to understand what “funerary” means. Then they have to find art in Egypt that is non-funerary.

Invariably, I get long threads about pyramids (which are tombs), mortuary temples (mortuary… funerary… um… ), tomb portraits (TOMB portraits, people…), and grave goods (grave… funerary…). Granted, there are limited examples provided of non-funerary art in an introductory textbook, but I would think a student could still be able to find them- especially if they are being specifically asked to find them. But no, they just babble on about whatever they feel like. Now, that is fine to start a new thread and discuss funerary art all you want. But discussing it in a non-funerary thread just shows me you have no idea what you are supposed to be discussing!


Now take that to the multiple-choice test; you are asked what the point of non-funerary art is. The choices include references to funerary art, plus a choice of “non of the above.” Guess what the answer is?


Yet I am inundated with email about how “tricky” the question is. Well, I guess if you have no idea what “funerary” means, and your mouse has an aversion to clicking the little button next to “e: none of the above”, that would indeed be tricky. But then, the point is to see if you understand that all of those answers are about funerary art, and not non-funerary art, that you understand the difference.


Yes, you have to think about it a little. The textbook doesn’t say, “This piece is non-funerary.” The fact that an item has no connection to death, death ritual, tombs, funerary rites, or the dead should, I think, tell you the item is non-funerary; just as I expect you to know an item in or around a tomb is funerary. And is therefore not non-funerary.


Your grade school multi-guess test this ain’t. Welcome to college. 

June 24, 2008

Real student quotes.

Posted in student stories tagged , , , , at 2:05 am by profart

Ah, the wisdom of student writing. It is amazing what you can learn from students. Over my career, I have learned: 

Stonehenge was built of stones from blue whales. 

That there was a great deal of Hellenistic influence in Greece. 

“B ecause the art is the dunp thing in paintings, the big painters like Leonardo the winchy and other painter said a lot to the people by the paintings.” [No, this was not an ESL student.]

That art critics tend to criticize. They should learn not to be so negative. 

“When a leader stumbles his followers fall right on top of him.”


But what I really love about these kinds of quotes and paraphrases is that these are my students. I got to hunt them down and fix these problems. How many folks have such a golden opportunity to really change a student’s whole way of thinking and communicating? How many people can say they helped make someone a better paycheck down the road? 


June 21, 2008

Midterms roll in

Posted in FERPA tagged , , , , at 4:41 am by profart

Yes, I like making fun of student writing. It makes the job of grading it that much better. Before I start on my posts about midterm essays and final essays, I just want to be clear: 

I rarely choose examples for THIS batch of midterms. I have been collecting quotes for years. This way, the writer and their writing are that much more separated and unidentifiable, and therefore FERPA folks can be happy. I won’t say “never”, because then you lose that little bit of questioning, and things are just that much more traceable. 

I rarely poke fun at students who are known ESL. In fact, I prefer to poke fun at students who are known to NOT be ESL. So when you see this screwed up grammar and wild word choice, remember that the writer is a native English speaker. It makes it that much funnier. 

I think pointing out bad writing is a great way to remind students, parents, and other teachers that students are coming to college writing like this, and that this is unacceptable. It is also a reminder that though I do not teach English classes, I am still teaching writing and research skills. It is my job to help these kids learn to write and analyze. This is the raw material I am sent. It is also a great reminder of why we need to be able to communicate and use language appropriately. 

No, I do not think it is unethical to laugh at student writing. I am forever grateful for the professors who took the time to slap me upside the head as an undergrad and say “Do these words make sense to you?” Or as my son’s kindergarden teacher puts it, “Here’s what your words said… [my son’s mangled attempt at trying to spontaneously create a sentence from scratch instead of quoting/echoing someone else]… does that make sense to you?”

Midterms are rolling in. Stay tuned!