Le samedi

→I woke up and did not even have to talk myself into getting up, so I must be improving. I have had good dreams for two days. I still say I threw my life away. However, I am only teaching three classes and they are all interesting.

This blog gathered together some interesting old posts, including two by me, on a question the Spanish Professor has taken up again. How would I now respond to the original question?

• My university, one of those hardest hit by the 2008 crash, is improving now from my perspective, and so am I. But we are on an entrepreneurial model and I can only say things are improving because they had been so bad for so long — since this region’s crash in the 1980s, I am told.

• I have written a certain amount on the state of the university under my own name. I am not repeating those discussions here. The immediate problem is defunding, and the larger problems are longstanding. But I do not believe our universities are “failing.”

• Some in the adjunct movement want non-tenure-track jobs on long-term contracts, with lower pay than tenure track. They want this for everyone, permanently. I am against such measures for labor reasons, among others. That is an enormous ideological difference.

• My unit doesn’t use adjuncts, of course, and my own project is to turn instructorships into tenure-track and tenured lines. But I want to fill these with people interested in doing a little more than inventing ways to bend to corporatization.

• My university and department are an interesting hybrid of a liberal arts college, a community college, and a large public research institution, and I think we have potential as a place for this reason. Perhaps, precisely because we are so obscure, we can remain somewhere a non-elite person can get the kind of education that now will normally be available only at the very best schools.

→ More interestingly, I have derived a marvelous insight from Shedding Khawatir: the fact that we have a lot of demand for lower division courses, and a lot of dissatisfaction with the nature and quality of the ones we offer, is a very good argument for hiring more Ph.D.s, on the tenure track. It is not true that we just need more attractive, workhorse instructors, or an SLA czar: we just need more people with Ph.D.-level training, and that kind of commitment to development. This is very intriguing and it is not something my administration or colleagues see; I hope I can teach them.

This is the post and comments thread on teaching that I am still considering. Shedding says we should have common syllabi and assessments, but make our own “lesson plans.” The assessments have to be very good, not just something a committee throws together by (probably false) “concensus” and without research.

She has chapter tests and no midterm. Each chapter test is part “traditional” (grammar and vocabulary) and part proficiency based (focused on reading, listening, speaking, or writing). So it is (short) traditional test + listening text or oral exam or writing prompt or reading text. She makes the traditional part very short so there is time for the rest, and can be done in 50 minutes. The final exam contains all of these parts, although the oral part is not at the same time.

To make the proficiency based exercises “objective” she uses a grading rubric, and in the case of the oral examination, she records the groups so that she can listen to them later and grade them. Importantly, it is impossible to pass the test without doing well on the proficiency section as it is always worth 50% or more of the grade.

In terms of lesson planning, she suggests a common language goal across sections for each lesson (e.g., activate the past tense in interpersonal communication, global listening, etc.) but says the actual implementation should be up to the teacher based on the context.

The syllabus should not include instructions like “cover page 2″ or “do drill 6,” she says, because this can lead to varying interpretations. However, if the teacher knows the students are going to be tested on their listening skills, for example, they are more likely to have them do an actual listening activity rather than, say, dictation.



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Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, Movement, News, Questions, Resources, What Is A Scholar?

7 responses to “Le samedi

  1. “the fact that we have a lot of demand for lower division courses, and a lot of dissatisfaction with the nature and quality of the ones we offer, is a very good argument for hiring more Ph.D.s, on the tenure track. It is not true that we just need more attractive, workhorse instructors, or an SLA czar: we just need more people with Ph.D.-level training, and that kind of commitment to development. This is very intriguing and it is not something my administration or colleagues see; I hope I can teach them.”

    Yes, yes, YES! This is a version of the gospel I’ve been preaching on my blog: a focus on lower-level undergraduate teaching, particularly gen. eds. that draw non-majors to our disciplines. Not only is it something TT colleagues and administrators fail to see, it cuts against the entire grain of the higher ed hierarchy.

    I’d like to know more about where you’re finding adjuncts advocating adjunctification-for-all, particularly where that involves the end of seminars and small classes.

    • Z

      O good, I will start reading you!

      Where I get this impression of the adjunct movement: Tenured Radical, who wants to abolish tenure, was the first; then Schuman and particularly her commenters. I have seen a lot of discussion of seminars as useless and narrow luxuries, and a lot of advocacy of long-term non-tenure track contracts (and high teaching loads). I consider it all to hasty to say tenure is dead, or that it is bad — I am interested in academic freedom and faculty governance.

      I may be overreacting but I find the discussion over there all too narrow. My own attitude is more that of the posts I link to here: http://profacero.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/blogenspiel/

  2. Thanks! I really liked Timothy Burke’s essay. I’m not familiar with Blogenspiel, but I’ll add it to my list.
    There are a lot of problems that need to be solved in higher ed.
    I look forward to following your blog more closely and reading about the kinds of solutions you advocate.

    • Z

      I will try to make the blog concentrate more on these things. It is coming up on its 8th anniversary, and was started as an arty/personal blog, not an academic one. But it is tending toward academic-ness and perhaps I should write more about curriculum and policy.

      One of my issues about the adjunct situation is, I do not like having people on committees who do not have terminal degree and do not do research – are not current on pedagogy, either – sitting on committees and having a vote on major decisions, and having views either informed by their favorite textbook company representative or by whatever is most expedient to them. I want to work with people who have full on professional training and support. Right now my subunit has over 50% instructors with random, often fairly old MAs, and showing “solidarity” with their plight (being non tenure track) by having them vote on so much is not sound. I. want. Ph.D.s and. I. want. them. on. tenure. track. research. and. not. “clinical”. lines.

      • I hear you. In my unit, there are a lot of adjuncts with terminal degrees (like me). Some of them are deadwood, some of them are actively researching/writing, some of them have (thanks to the dreadful job market) been contingent faculty at a variety of institutions and bring a wealth of pedagogical insight to the job. All of them teach freshman. TT faculty only teach freshmen in the occasional honors seminar (or if one tests out of prereqs for their classes). Our unit experienced a 20% decline in majors this past year, but I only know that because I’m friends with TT faculty who are invited to faculty meetings. If our unit wants to get serious about recruiting and retaining majors, it would be expedient to get the instructors of first-year students in on the conversation. Should they have voting rights? Probably not. But my unit’s strategy of pretending like they’re not there and that the courses they teach take place in some alternate and irrelevant universe is not sound either.

        Would we be better off if all the work performed by contingent faculty was part of a tenure-stream line? Yes. But it sounds like in your department, as in mine, that ideal solution is a long way off. I’m looking for strategies that draw on the resources we have while working towards a future where they’re allocating differently.

  3. BTW and FWIW, I like the “arty/personal” stuff!

    • Z

      There must be something to Southern hospitality, which I usually pooh-pooh. My first job was in California but it was dominated by Southerners and all faculty went to meetings. My next job was down here and it was the same way, and so is it at this job. I have been a VAP at UIUC and the University of Oregon, and there, people barely even acknowledged lower-level adjuncts in the halls…especially at Oregon. I got a card from one of them when I left, saying how wonderful it was that that I always smiled and said hello, and how this had really changed his impression of what it was like to work at a university.

      We all teach freshmen here, and/but have managed to get those MAs out of the upper level classes they really have no business in. The language program is h— and this is not only faculty’s fault. One theory on it is to take all PhDs out of it and let the MAs run it; then we can start in the fourth semester with whoever is left and reteach/retool. But it could become a worse disaster. A major problem, in addition to the MA feeling that they do not need to stay current, is that they are teaching 4-7 sections (the sixth and seventh by choice), 5 on average. This means they cannot really teach, at least not all classes / all students.

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