A backlog of articles from the Chronicle for your perusal; one for each day!

~“Bootstrapping My Way Into The Ivory Tower“–A sobering look at what a Grad School future will look like for at least some of our students.

~”AAUP Considers Adjuncts and Shared Governance“–A controversial proposal gains traction.

~On Academics and Interruptions–I’m so, so guilty here…

~On Education as a Form of Paid Entertainment–Interesting stuff on “flipping the classroom,” too.

~How to Read A Student Evaluation--It’s that time of year, no?

~An Argument about Citations–Do they really matter? Enough to fail a student who does everything else right?

~On Getting to Clear–Are you counting down the days until the semester ends? What are you missing on the way?

Better or Worse?

Last week, my Philosophy of Religion class was reading Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Book X to be specific, in which a pair of characters are talking about how full of misery and suffering the world is. After about half an hour of working through the dialogue together, one student raised her hand and asked, “Were things, like, really horrible back then? I mean, how miserable was the life then for them to go on listing all these terrible things?”

About half the class jumped up in appreciation of her point, while the other half just about leaped out of their chairs to make the point that the world is incredibly horrible NOW, full of intense suffering from which we are privileged enough to be sheltered. I asked them how many of them thought that things were better now (I left it intentionally vague) compared to the middle late 1700s. A smattering of hands went up. I asked how many of them thought that things were much worse now compared to back then. The majority raised their hands.

I thought of this article that I’d read the day before and posted a link on Blackboard to it for them to read. You should, too:

Believe it or not, the world of the past was much worse. Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.

Don’t believe it? Read the rest.




Distant Reading

Speaking of reading, this is an interesting look at the new kinds of research going on in the Humanities at places like the Stanford Literary Lab:

As its name suggests, the Lit Lab tackles literary problems by scientific means: hypothesis-testing, computational modeling, quantitative analysis. Similar efforts are currently proliferating under the broad rubric of “digital humanities,” but Moretti’s approach is among the more radical. He advocates what he terms “distant reading”: understanding literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data.

We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of “Jude the Obscure,” become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books.

Check out the rest HERE.

Economic Distributions

This one comes via recommendation from Adriana Tapanes (Humanities):

The 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody’s Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal.

When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt — which, as we’ve seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar?

Personally speaking, I’m not a big Robert Reich fan, but it’s definitely a thought provoking piece. You can read the rest here. Thanks for the suggestion, Adriana.

Reading Strategery

So, while I still don’t know exactly why it happened, the reality for our department (Humanities) is that we have a whole new set of prerequisites for our classes, and given those, I’ve been thinking all summer about how to better support the students coming in who are not as far along, preparation-wise, as the students I’ve had over the past few years.

While poking around, I found some good stuff, like this, which led me to this research on effective strategies for reading:

Text Comprehension Instruction

Comprehension is defined as “intentional thinking during which meaning is constructed through interactions between text and reader” (Harris & Hodges, 1995). Thus, readers derive meaning from text when they engage in intentional, problem solving thinking processes. The data suggest that text comprehension is enhanced when readers actively relate the ideas represented in print to their own knowledge and experiences and construct mental representations in memory.

The rationale for the explicit teaching of comprehension skills is that comprehension can be improved by teaching students to use specific cognitive strategies or to reason strategically when they encounter barriers to understanding what they are reading. Readers acquire these strategies informally to some extent, but explicit or formal instruction in the application of comprehension strategies has been shown to be highly effective in enhancing understanding. The teacher generally demonstrates such strategies for students until the students are able to carry them out independently.

The literature search identified 453 studies that addressed issues and topics relevant to text comprehension since 1980. Studies published between 1970 and 1979 were added if they were of particular relevance, resulting in 481 studies that were initially reviewed. Of these, 205 studies met the general NRP methodological criteria and were then classified into instructional categories based on the kind of instruction used. Application of the more specific review criteria precluded formal meta-analyses because of the large variation in methodologies and implementations used. The Panel found few research studies that met all NRP research methodology criteria. Nevertheless, the Panel employed the NRP criteria to the maximum extent possible in its examination of this body of literature. (See the Comprehension section of the Report of the National Reading Panel: Reports of the Subgroups.)

In its review, the Panel identified 16 categories of text comprehension instruction of which 7 appear to have a solid scientific basis for concluding that these types of instruction improve comprehension in non-impaired readers. Some of these types of instruction are helpful when used alone, but many are more effective when used as part of a multiple-strategy method. The types of instruction are:

  • Comprehension monitoring, where readers learn how to be aware of their understanding of the material;
  • Cooperative learning, where students learn reading strategies together;
  • Use of graphic and semantic organizers (including story maps), where readers make graphic representations of the material to assist comprehension;
  • Question answering, where readers answer questions posed by the teacher and receive immediate feedback;
  • Question generation, where readers ask themselves questions about various aspects of the story;
  • Story structure, where students are taught to use the structure of the story as a means of helping them recall story content in order to answer questions about what they have read; and
  • Summarization, where readers are taught to integrate ideas and generalize from the text information.

Definitely good stuff, worth reading and adapting to your classroom, if you don’t do all of this already, that is.

Two on Reading

The first one is from The Chronicle from a few weeks back arguing that we can’t (and oughtn’t try to) teach the love of reading (though you should know that that is a pretty narrow and borderline misleading summary of the article–there’s much more than that here) :

Rarely have young people been expected to have truly deep knowledge of particular texts. Instead, education, especially in its “liberal arts” embodiments, has been devoted to providing students with navigational tools—with enough knowledge to find their way through situations that they might confront later in life. (Even the old English public schools flogged their students through years of Latin and Greek not because Latin and Greek were intrinsically valuable, still less useful, but because the discipline of such study would have a salutary effect on young men’s characters. And these are the terms in which survivors of that system typically praise it.) This is one of the ways in which the artes liberales are supposed to be “liberal,” that is, “liberating”: They free you to make your own way through the challenges of life without requiring external props.

All this is to say that the idea that many teachers hold today, that one of the purposes of education is to teach students to love reading—or at least to appreciate and enjoy whole books—is largely alien to the history of education. And perhaps alien to the history of reading as well.

The other is from the NY Times Book Review on a new book by Binyavanga Wainaina, and it includes a link to his killer essay, “How to Write about Africa“:

Harried reader, I’ll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina’s stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir, “One Day I Will Write About This Place.” Although written by an East African and set in East and Southern Africa, Wainaina’s book is not just for Afrophiles or lovers of post­colonial literature. This is a book for anyone who still finds the nourishment of a well-­written tale preferable to the empty-­calorie jolt of a celebrity confessional or Swedish mystery.

Not that Wainaina is likely to judge anyone’s taste in books. In fact, at its heart, this is a story about how Wainaina was almost eaten alive by his addiction to reading anything available. “I am starting to read storybooks,” he says of his 11-year-old self, growing up in Nakuru, Kenya. “If words, in English, arranged on the page have the power to control my body in this world, this sound and language can close its folds, like a fan, and I will slide into its world, where things are arranged differently.”

Tuesday (Non)Teaching Question

Tuesday (Non)Teaching Question is an irregular feature that attempts to get a conversation going about (non)teaching.  Typically, the questions attempt to be very impractical and begin with an excessively short preamble.  T(n)TQ is brought to you by CAST.  If you have a question that you’re dying to have featured in an upcoming T(n)TQ, don’t e-mail me at since this is a one shot deal.

So we survived the semester and final grades are (almost) in…

Those of you teaching summer have a few weeks off; the rest of us have a significantly longer amount of time.

What are you planning to read/watch/see during your time off?

It would be kind of fun if we had a faculty book club of sort (similar to the once existent Pedagogy reading group).  Maybe from these responses we could find a book we could all read and discuss in the fall.

Sunday Reading

Found this stuff cleaning out some drawers…

~Remediation Research and Practices

~On Sports and Sex Identification

~The Joy of Being the Dumbest Person in the Room

~A Review of a New Book about Montaigne (who seems to be getting a lot of attention lately…an interesting trend. )

~On the Role of a Philosophy Department at a University

~On Pell Grant Cuts

~Research on Plagiarism (and the growing use of Social sites as sources, i.e., they’re not even copying out of books anymore)

~Wishing for Better Admission Tests (The MCAT Issue)

Website Wednesday

Website Wednesday is a regular feature in which we highlight one (or a couple) of sites from the Billions floating around the Intertoobz that just might help you with your Herculean task of educating inquiring minds. Any and all suggestions for future editions are welcome.

This one is a recommendation for accessing some great summer reading on the Web. One of my former students, and current HW tutor, David Work recommended it to me, knowing of my affection for long, thinky pieces of journalism, opinion and analysis.

The site is called Longform and they spend their time trawling the cyberworld for free, accessible, time worth, “full length” non-fiction. It’s a true delight, and it is updated frequently.

If you are the sort of person who gets regularly overwhelmed by that bi-weekly New Yorker in your mailbox or monthly Vanity Fair, you can limit your exposure by signing up to have them send you one story a week (their editor’s choice). But if you’d rather do your own selecting, you can rest assured that you’ll find a variety of interesting options here. They also have organizing options by topic, by magazine, by decade, and more. Poke around; you’re sure to find something great.

Maybe even something you’ll want to teach…

PS: There’s also a companion site for sports only writing called Sportsfeat. I’m not sure if/how it is different from the Sports section of Longform, but I figure it’s worth noting, in case you’re in the mood for something to investigate. All I know at this point is that they are somehow related, but they have different stories.

Leadership Reading

Just in case you’re out there looking for some reading on leadership–maybe you’re thinking about running for chair next year, or applying for a Deanship, or maybe you’re a new muckety muck of some sort or other , I’ve run across a couple of things in the last few weeks that might be interesting:

~This one is about how leaders can avoid bad advice–it’s written for President’s but it’s true, from my experience, for Chairs as well as anybody who leads anybody in any regard (as a bonus, there’s some quality advice in the comments, too);

~And this is a list of books on leadership put together by some people from The Washington Post. The only one I can say anything knowledgeable about is the one by Joseph Badarocco, who teaches Business Ethics at Harvard. I’ve read some of his other stuff and found it to be interesting and well done. I don’t know the book listed, but I’d venture to guess that it isn’t terrible. If anyone has read any of the others, please put something in the comments.

Tstuff From the Times

More reading from the New York Times in one post so you can plan your incursions on the pay wall:

~The 9/11 Memorial Misuses a Quote from Virgil (featuring the best last line of an article that I’ve seen in at least 27 months:

Finding words that do justice to a momentous event is always difficult — especially so, perhaps, in the age of Internet trawling, when a wary eye needs to be kept for the bothersome baggage that may be attached to the perfect-sounding expression. There is an easy mechanism, also time-hallowed, for winnowing out what may be right from what is clearly wrong: it’s called reading.)

~Is Sugar Toxic? (This one is by Gary Taubes, who wrote the first great thing I read about food, and started me down a whole, fascinating, and still fruitful new learning path.)

~Review of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

~The Power of Mockery

~To Tug Heartstrings, Music Must First Tickle Neurons (one for Isabelle)

~A Better Way To Teach Math (one for Mathissexy (and Co.))

~Tales of Springfield Education Negotiations (featuring a crying CTU President)

~Joe Nocera on The Limits of School Reform (i.e., how poverty and other circumstances affect learning and teaching)

~Miami Dade College: The Model for the Rest of Us

Think, Know, Prove: Reading

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

I’ve been looking at my bookshelf with a wolfish lust of late (I think I might even involuntarily growl at it now and again), looking forward to guiltless and unfettered summer reading time–lining up a top ten in the order I want to read them and then rearranging them the next day, saying “I can’t wait” at least four times a week. (Current Top Ten(ish): Moneyball, Infinite Jest, The City of Dreaming Books, Neverwhere, Walden, The Mind’s Eye, All the Devils Are Here, Frontiers of Justice, The Black Swan, Chaos, Elements of Positional Evaluation, Luka and The Fire of Life.)

Then, early this week, one reader sent me this–a list of statistics about book reading, and then I stumbled on this–an article about how intellectuals have been lamenting the good old days when people knew stuff and actually read for as long as there have been books. It made for an interesting pairing, and all of that happened during a week when I was semi-frustrated because I could not remember where I had read this–an article about different approaches to reading (spiritual seeker versus philosophical seeker) and the week after I’d pulled a book off my shelf that I hadn’t looked at in probably six years (Chu Hsi’s Learning to Be a Sage) and ran into a few of his ideas about reading:

In 13th century China, Chu Hsi writes, “Nowadays in reading a text, people have yet to read to this point here, and their minds are already on some later passage. And as soon as they do read what’s here, they wish to put it aside [and move on]. This sort of reading doesn’t aim for a personal understanding of the text. We must linger over what we read, longing to understand it. Only if we don’t wish to put it aside will we come to a personal appreciation of it. He also said: Reading a text is like looking at this house here. If you view the house from the outside, then say that you have finished seeing it, there’ll be no way to understand it. You must go inside and look around at each and every thing. What’s the size and layout of the structure? What’s the extent of the latticework? Look through the house once, then again and again. Remember everything, and you’ll have understood it.”

In another passage, he writes, “Someone asked: In reading, what do you do when you become confused by a multitude of views? The Master replied: You have to opne your mind and read through each and every view. Read one view, then another. Read them over and over again, and then right and wrong, the good and the bad, will all naturally become clear. This can be compared to a person wanting to know if a certain man is good or bad. He should keep his eye on him wherever he goes, following him here and there, observing his words and deeds, and then he’ll know whether he’s good or bad. He also said: you must simply open your mind. He also said: Wash away the old opinions to bring forth a new understanding.”

Anyway, all of that, along with the recent grading I’ve been doing (of philosophical critical reading skills), have me thinking about reading this week. Take it where you will. You may want to discuss what you’ll be reading this summer. You may want to say something about something in one of the articles linked above. You may want to say something about the library and the wonders of it (not to mention the goofy things going on all over with respect to them). You may want to talk about something else altogether. Great. It’s all good. The topic is reading.

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Over the Transom

A few suggestions from regular readers flew in  “over the transom” as they used to say in publishing circles (at least those in old buildings with transoms):

From Rock’inthashoe: A piece from about what Jill Biden ought to be saying about Community Colleges.

From Assessment Chair Michael Heathfield: An article from Salon that takes a look at Michelle Rhee, business oriented educational reform, perverted incentives, and gives a thorough scolding to just about everyone, including national media (but not, for once, the teachers!).

From Don’s Desk: More good stuff at the President’s Blog, including this interesting research about the effectiveness of lecture for learning (as measured by standardized tests), and an interesting question for those of us committed to active learning techniques. (If I were forced to pose an hypothesis about they whys and wherefores of the research, I’d point to the effectiveness of the technique for that particular measure (tests) and suggest that maybe much that is valuable about the learning (and ancillary benefits–curiosity cultivation/reinforcement, independence, process awareness, etc.) that occurs as a result of other sorts of teaching strategies is missed by that particular measure. I don’t think that most of us would say that lecturing is bad or ineffective, but rather that it is one way, among others, to help students learn and that lecturing is most effective when students have well developed academic and cognitive skills and habits (e.g., note-taking, critical awareness, metacognition) that are better developed through technique rehearsal in structured activities. But that’s me. Maybe you have a different solution? Post it there. And be sure to check out the link on quantum teleportation, too. We live in a miraculous time…

And don’t miss the great stuff that Avramakis has been posting (like this and this and this); thanks, Avramakis!

And there was this one from PEARL, too, on Academic Freedom.