Category Archives: Authenticity

Remarkable

 

Something remarkable happened today—
I looked in the mirror and I liked how I looked.
(I was wearing a swimming suit, by the way.)

There’s something you should know—how very much I weigh,
and the fact that my back is fused and strange and crooked.
Something remarkable happened today

in the locker room mirror. I thought, “Hey–
nice hip.” (The right one sticks out and I had it stuck.)
I was wearing my bright blue one-piece, by the way,

the one that inspired a very fit man last month to say
“New suit, looks good.” I mostly just said thanks,
which means another remarkable thing happened that day.

I didn’t make excuses. I didn’t say
I’m sorry I’m not leaner. I didn’t choke
for wearing a swimming suit. By the way,

I thought my entire body looked okay.
For me to think that—it’s like lightning struck.
Something remarkable happened today.
I was wearing a swimming suit, by the way.

IMG_9498

Thinking About Camille Paglia in the Pool

I think she’d have a serious suit.
I think she’d wear a swim cap, no matter
how short her hair was currently.
I think she’d have a lane preference
and I think she’d express it to anyone
already there. I think she’d get her way.

Would she be a swamper? A splasher? A drifter? No,
I think she’d move through the water cleanly,
like an angry little otter. An opinionated knife.
She might critique my stroke. She might admire my
persistence. She might have a theory about how I float.

What would it be like to care so much
about everything? My husband’s like that.
I am not.

______
She’s got a new book coming out, apparently–will probably buy it. Still think about Sexual Personae now and then. This article brought her to mind.

51jwFaIwmoL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

The answer is, the question is

So when it all comes down,
what it all comes down to, what
the answer is, the question is
how I did, how did I
spend them,
those bits of time,
my moments, my allotment of them,
what did I do with them
where did I leave them
did I wring them dry
did I use them well
then clean and oil them,
put them away to use again–
impossible–not something
I would be likely to do
and not something
anyone can do with a moment

I gorged on some
and let the shiny wrappers pile right up
and this one–this one
I’m holding like an injured dove
but there are more, so many,
so many, they scuttled away
like roaches or I stomped them
like roaches
and anyway they’re gone

______

img_4684

I wrote this poem whilst on retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisco (a truly special place)

Oh children let me tell you of the 80s

Oh children let me tell you of the 80s when
we learned about gay because so many of
the men we loved got sick, they died, so
now when people try to calm themselves
about political mayhem they sigh and say, “Well,
we survived Reagan, we’ll survive ________.”
We say no, we didn’t, we didn’t all survive,
we didn’t, some pretty ones died,
they got skinny and sick with awful red blotches.
People wouldn’t touch them. Doctors wouldn’t
treat them. People wouldn’t say the word.
Reagan wouldn’t say the word.
I will say the word Reagan wouldn’t say,
AIDS, I’ll say it and I’ll also say
I blame him. I blame him. I blame him.

The ones who didn’t die, we worried they would,
the pretty ones, the ones who did their eyes better
than I ever could, and some of them loved women,
too, but we knew they loved men or
maybe they did or they just didn’t care what we knew
or what we thought we knew and we loved them so much
it turned out we didn’t care either and
they’re part of why we have non-binary rainbows now,
but children they’re dying now, too, too
soon, some of the prettiest ones this year, and
your middle-aged people are crying because
we were young and pretty once and
all the prettiest ones are dying.

_____

img_4605

Red wine in a blue glass #sad

_____
Update 12/26

One of my students last week was saying “Freeze frame!” and other students knew the song, and I said, “Wait–are you talking about the J. Geils band?” Yes, they were, they love it. This was in a class where they were practicing teaching a p.e. unit to elementary students (I volunteered to be a naughty student so they could practice how to handle that). One of the lessons involved teaching us the words & motions to “Y.M.C.A.” I asked one of our staffers (who was also volunteering) if he thought students knew what a big part that song played in gay culture, and he didn’t seem to know it, so I’m guessing students don’t, either.

So the 80s are back, but as far as I can see, in a pretty shallow way. Which is fine, except there are things that are important to know about the 80s, including AIDS. One of the reasons I give away condoms on campus is that I heard on the radio a couple of years that the only demographic group where AIDS cases were going up were college-age people in rural, white areas (my students, in other words). I suppose I could look up the stats to be more precise, but the point is, as with so many things, there’s so much they don’t know.

Some caveats: I remember spending so much time early on when we talked about AIDS saying over and over again “it’s not just a gay disease,” and it wasn’t, and isn’t, but we nearly lost a generation of gay men, so many of them creative and amazing–what would the world be like if we could’ve slowed it sooner?

(I also remember that we said to each other that men wearing so much makeup didn’t mean they were gay–or two earrings, or one earring on the right–and of course it didn’t, but we wondered. I remember spending a lot of time wondering. Just barely post-adolescent, I remember how sad I was to find out some singer I loved was gay because that added one more layer of impossibility he’d ever marry me. I felt the same way when I found out Walt Whitman was gay, because not only was he dead, he wouldn’t have loved me like that, anyway. Because, of course, it was all about me.)

And another thing–I revised the wording here a little. The day after the election there were several tweets saying “But we didn’t all survive Reagan/Bush.” I can’t find one that said “The thing is,” but I woke up this morning worried I’d copied the wording too closely. So I changed it. If I find that specific tweet, I’ll link it.

Once Again The Wire Explains My Life to Me

 

Yes, once again The Wire has helped me figure out my life. WHY WHY WHY have I seen an uptick in essays that have a gorgeous structure—intro/thesis, clear transitions, academic style, good introductions of sources, clear citations AND YET almost entirely random quotes that DO NOT MATCH the general statements that precede them?

I’m just guessing on account of teaching to the test.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.44.47 PM

The Wire Season 4, Episode 9, “Know Your Place”

In this episode of The Wire (NO SPOILERS! I’m only on Season 4 for chrissakes) Pryzbylewski is lamenting having to teach students to begin and end each answer in a formulaic way, and somehow KAZAAM! everything was clear to me.

I have clever students who are (as Ken Bain would point out) strategic enough to do what they need to do to get the grade they want, so they learn the format, and the tone, and YET:

It looks something like this (totally made up, not based on a particular student paper):

General statement: Even though girls are thought of as being cleaner and neater than boys, that’s not always true.

Quote used: “RQ1: How do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”

Or, even, “In a scholarly, peer-reviewed article called ‘Testing the Effects of Social Norms and Behavioral Privacy on Hand Washing: A Field Experiment,’ Lapinski et al. ask “how do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”‘(Lapinski et al. 341)*,

p.s. I’ve lost track of the whole single quote/double quote thing.

p.p.s. *I totally made up that page number

THE POINT IS, if you’re just skimming, the way I’m sure I would if I were an AP exam reader (and the way in which I’m sure actual AP readers don’t skim, right?), it sounds fine. But if you actually read for content, for substance, for MEANING, Jaysus, it don’t work at all. I mean, Jeebus.

Which reminds me of a Bible verse: 2 Timothy Chapter3, verses  (written, as we like to say, by the Apostle Paul to the lovely young Timothy):

“3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will [all kinds of stuff Paul is bothered by, some of which I am bothered by, some not so much] having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

A form of godliness, but denying its power. That so much applies to churches, and “godly” folks, but also language, to quote scripture: “The word of god is seldom, and  tremblingly partook.”

Did Paul get exhausted? This exhausts me. Have nothing to do with such  people.

 

 

NOT THE EASIEST WEEK AT WORK? YEAH, ME NEITHER

“I was in the house when the house burned down”
Warren Zevon

The gears are grinding hard today, the sound
of conflict, disruption, and general unrest
is metallic, shearing, unpleasant at best.
The eruption of what used to be safe underground
is nothing like a garden coming up in spring
and also nothing like a shy girl speaking up.
It’s not a birth and also not a blossoming.
It is something like taking a painful dump.
And yet it’s very nearly exhilarating
to watch someone say “Enough. No more.
I’m done. Just stop .” Even for those who think
they could endure.

It really does and doesn’t matter.

You’re just trying to enjoy your sandwich, to appreciate
the privilege of being alive on this crazy day.

______

Because Letterman ended last night, I’ve been thinking again about Warren Zevon. We told our son at breakfast this morning that we considered “Zevon” as a first name for him, as well as “Warren.” We went with Wendell instead, but we’re guessing by the time he’s in college, he’ll have met at least a couple of Zevon’s.

Crazy week at work. So crazy, I probably can’t even talk about it. But wow.

Anyway, this Rolling Stone compilation is nice, of some serious moments from Mr. Letterman, and in the Zevon one, he says his famous line, “Enjoy every sandwich.”

_____

Even broken glass can be pretty.

Even broken glass can be pretty.

(image by Duke Lenoir photo from Creative Commons–attribution license.)

“Feedback is what happens second” Part I

Gearing up for spring semester begins late in fall semester for me. That’s a practical matter–if I waited until the fall semester was over to gear up for spring, I’d be behind schedule immediately. It’s more than a practical matter, though. There comes a time in every semester, the deepest, darkest time (which in fall corresponds with shorter days and longer nights) of a semester, when it’s easier to see what’s not working rather than what is working.

One of my ongoing goals as a teacher is to return student work faster. I struggle with it for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t like delivering bad news. I absolutely love sitting down with students and providing feedback on drafts and revisions, but at that point, the possibilities for success are still wide open. With a final draft, some doors are shut. I’ve wondered if switching to a portfolio system would help me here because of how much I enjoy giving feedback early in the process.
  • I’m a master procrastinator when faced with unpleasant tasks.
  • There isn’t a clear deadline for when student work has to be returned except in terms of when they need to turn in the next assignment, or at the very end of the semester. This is one reason I think a portfolio system might work better–I’d be grading final drafts at the end of the semester when the deadlines are very firm and real.

I’m not saying these are GOOD reasons, but they’re reasons I’ve discovered.  I just realized earlier this month that I’m always slower about returning student work in spring semester & one reason for that is probably because I tend to have more problems with anxiety and depression in the spring (ironic, because I love light and love when the days begin to grow longer). I discovered it because I keep track of when student work comes in and when I return it (I call it TIR for turned-in-returned rate) on a spreadsheet & I have numbers going back several years. The good news is that overall, I’m doing much better than I used to. The bad news is that my numbers have gotten ugly the last couple of spring semesters….

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to try something I’ve never tried in relation to solving this problem. (Other things I continue to do: keeping track, rewarding myself if I meet my goals at different points in the semester, reporting to someone on how I’m doing–which is what I was doing earlier this month when I discovered the WORSE IN SPRING PATTERN.  I was putting my numbers in my yearly activity report.)

I’m problematizing the problem. I’m going to do research first, on feedback, and see what the research says.  That’s where I am right now, and at least at the moment, my plan is to report on the research at different points in the semester.

I know it’s important–feedback is the thing that an instructor can do in a real class that an instructor can’t do in a MOOC, and however good AI gets, it still seems to me we’re a long way away from computers being able to give good feedback to writers on much beyond sentence complexity, vocabulary, spelling, and some grammar. Feedback is what makes instructors invaluable.

The first article I’m tackling is called “The Power of Feedback” and it’s by John Hattie and Helen Temperly at the University of Auckland.

One of the first quotes that struck me in the article was this one, “Feedback has no effect in a vacuum; to be powerful in its effect, there must be a learning context to which feedback is addressed.”  That’s why they say “feedback is what happens second.”  Instruction has to happen first.  When I read this quote I thought immediately of my discomfort when a student in creative writing asks me for feedback on something they wrote before the class.  I tell them it feels weird because I don’t know what they were trying for, whereas if they wrote in response to an assignment, I know what they were supposed to be trying to do.

I appreciate Hattie & Temperley’s article for their definitions & clarifications, among other things.  Here’s one:  “The claim is made that the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal. ” To me this emphasizes the importance of backward design–if my students and I don’t know what our goals are, I just don’t stand a chance of providing effective feedback.

These three questions seem so crucial: “Effective feedback must answer three major questions asked by a teacher and/or by a student: Where am I going? (What are the goals?), How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)”

I particularly appreciate the emphasis on the role students play in the feedback process. Here’s the good news:  it’s not a passive role. Here are some things students can do. They can

  • “increase their effort, particularly when the effort leads to tackling more challenging tasks or appreciating higher quality experiences rather than just doing ‘more.'”
  • “develop effective error detection skills, which lead to their own self-feedback aimed at reaching a goal.”
  • “seek better strategies to complete the task or be taught them, or they can obtain more information.”

So I dived into this article hoping for motivation for returning student work faster, and it does address that several pages in, and I’ll get to that as I post on the topic, but for now, it’s met a goal I didn’t even realize I had–get me pumped up about a new semester.

What can I do with this enthusiasm? Lots.  “Teachers can also assist by clarifying goals, enhancing commitment or increased effort to reaching them through feedback….More generally, teachers can create a learning environment in which students develop self-regulation and error detection skills.”

I need to model self-assessment and self-regulation by setting goals, monitoring them, and then making adjustments (all processes discussed in the article, but also widely discussed any time metacognition comes up).

So my goal for returning student work in terms of promptness is this.  By the end of Week 5, I want my overall average to be below 7 days, and the average for longer assignments to be below 10 days, but I want the standard deviation to be 2.0 or lower–this past fall my averages met those goals, but the standard deviation was too high (I was still keeping some longer assignments wayyyyyyy too long).

a little poem I wrote with big feelings

a little poem I wrote with big feelings

Beyond that, I’m setting some goals on the quality of feedback. I want to set the questions and good points from “The Power of Feedback” in front of myself as I start to communicate with students about their work, which I’m less than a week away from (classes start on Monday and the first assignments come in next Friday–sooner, since some students will want me to look at rough drafts, more than likely).

My plan is to report on my turned-in-returned rate after Week 5, or sooner, and I’ll also write more about this article & others I’ve found and will find.

Meanwhile–it’s back to finishing up syllabi & schedules for next week!