Friday, November 10, 2017

The Qualifying Essay

(I'm writing this in late August, and setting it to appear when the QE is about to happen. This will serve as a reminder to me.)

Years ago, when I began here, the Qualifying Essay was a do-or-die test: pass it or flunk English 100. That was about two Composition Directors ago, and we are in the middle of changing things. Changes happen slowly when it comes to curriculum.

The "do-or-die" part was never accurate anyhow. We had a grading standard that told teachers to count up comma problems and so forth, but all of us actually read over the QE and tried to put the student in a place that would be best for him/her. I don't think we ever counted comma faults the way we were told to, and we usually would look at the student's performance over the whole semester before deciding what to recommend.

Now we're downplaying the QE and saying it's one piece of evidence that goes into the mix.

We do need a different name, though. Perhaps Capstone Essay? In-Class Retrospective? QE just doesn't say what we are doing with it now. It's just an in-class essay that comes along a couple of weeks before the course ends. That's it.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Signing Up for Spring Courses

You can begin signing up for Spring 2018 courses on Monday, November 13. Here are some quick guidelines:
  • Sign up as soon as possible. Courses fill up, and you don't want to get shut out of a course you really need.
    • Courses have a maximum size, and most instructors are not very willing to sign for overloads. In fact, most of our supervisors have told us not to do it.
  • Go ahead and sign up for English 101. If you need to repeat 100, we can easily make the change later.
  • Sign up for English 110 as well. It's a one-credit lab, and the time is arranged to fit your schedule. It's a required course for most students who are moving from 100 to 101
Should you attempt to follow the same instructor into the next course? Good question. Those who favor this idea say that it's great to stick with someone whose style matches yours. Those who disagree say that the English Department (like the other departments here) is filled with qualified, interesting people, and it's a good thing to get a cross section of their learning.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rules for Paper Revisions

The rules for paper revisions are discussed in our course syllabus, so this is just a summary.
  • Essays 1, 2, 3, and 4 are eligible for revision. The midterm, the Qualifying Essay, and Essay 5 are not eligible.
  • You may revise two of those essays for a better grade.
  • Essays which receive a passing grade (C+ = 76% or better) are not eligible for revision.

Mechanical Details

  • Your revision is due one week after you receive the graded paper. No written work of any sort (originals or revisions) will be accepted after the end of our class period on Wednesday, November 29.
  • Do not upload your revision to Blackboard. Your revision will be hard copy (printed pages).
  • The "revision package" will consist of three things:
    1. The original paper you submitted, along with its comment sheet
    2. Your revised paper
    3. A memo discussing what you changed and why you changed it

Grading

  • If your revision consists entirely of making changes the teacher marked (fixing capitalization, for example), your grade will not change.
  • If your "revision package" lacks any of the three elements (for example, if you simply turn in a clean copy of the revised paper without either the memo or the original marked copy), your grade will not change.
  • If your revised paper is somehow worse than the original attempt, your grade will not change.
  • The grade for the revised paper replaces the original paper grade. They are not averaged.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Handwriting

Everyone writes everything on a computer now, right? Wrong.

In high school, perhaps you got along without having any handwriting skills (and, sadly, nobody teaches people how to handle a pen any more), but in college, you should expect to do a lot of handwriting.
  • Classroom notes. You came to college to learn from teachers, and some of the things they say show up on tests. Computers are awkward for taking class notes, and phones are totally useless. Several studies show that people who hand-write class notes learn more about the content than people who take notes on computers.
  • Notes on reading. You should be marking your textbooks and keeping a reading journal of your assignments. This just won't work with a computer.
  • In-class tests and quizzes. There is often no way to print out a typed copy of a quiz, so you will be writing it. If your writing is slow and difficult, you are at a disadvantage. If your writing is incomprehensible, the teacher might not have the patience to decipher you.
  • Rough drafts of essays. Yes, I know that some people draft very well on a computer, but many people do not. They get tangled up in Facebook. They have trouble finding the letter "q." They have trouble making a bullet list. And when the draft is done, they almost never print the whole thing out and lay it on a table to look at it. Handwritten rough drafts are just more natural. (C.S. Lewis, the Christian writer, said that the typewriter's noise interrupted his chain of thought. He really liked the scratching noise of the pen on the paper.)

Some videos to watch

This set of instructional videos really gets to the heart of the matter in a series of 5-minute chunks. I like where she begins: If you have poor handwriting, it is probably because you were poorly taught. (Many reasons for this, but the main reason is probably that your teachers did not know how to write well either!)
  1. Introduction to the series
  2. Setting Up Your Handwriting Practice Area
  3. Handwriting Practices
  4. Essential Elements of Handwriting
  5. Fine Motor Movement of Handwriting
  6. How to Make Your Handwriting Personal

A summer assignment

Go out and buy a somewhat decent pen (doesn't have to be expensive, but it needs to write easily), some writing paper, some envelopes, and a personal journal or diary.

Several times a week, write in that journal about how your summer is going. Nobody else will read this unless you give it to them; it's just an exercise in getting your thoughts on paper and exercising those hand muscles. Use the writing paper and envelopes to write a few letters to distant relatives (grandmother? uncle?) about how your preparation for college is going.

A last little story

I got to sit in on a job interview a while back. The prospective employee sat down and the boss looked at his application form. The first question from the boss was "Did you write this with your left foot?" That's a bad beginning for an interview. You want to do better.

Monday, September 18, 2017

When should you obsess about grades?

As my English 101 course ended this Spring, I got several emails from students, all saying pretty much the same thing.
Help!! I really need a B in this class and I just realized that my average is C minus!! What can I do?? Is there any extra credit I can do to pull up my grade?
These emails came in at the start of Finals Week, and all the work of the class had been submitted. There were literally no more points to be earned. Time for a little bit of realism:
  • Week 14 is too late to begin worrying about your grades. Most college courses rely on an accumulation of information and points, so if you are concerned about your grades, Week 2 is a better time to start worrying.
  • Put the pressure on the right person. If your grades are low, put the pressure on yourself, not on your teacher.
  • If you know you will struggle in a class, ask for help. It's always available.
  • Few teachers give extra-credit assignments. I don't. Extra-credit puts extra work on the shoulders of the teacher, and is unfair to the rest of the students who did the work during the term. Besides, extra-credit doesn't usually fit into the syllabus. (Just for reference, it would have taken a nearly perfect—198 out of 200—8-page paper to have raised that C minus grade to a B in English 101. The arithmetic of averages means that you can't turn in a 10-point assignment and do much to an 800-point course.)
  • Most teachers have rules about revisions, late papers, etc., and the rules vary from one teacher to another. Read the syllabus.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Teachers and Email

I did not grow up in your world.

In your world, an email or text message absolutely must be answered within five minutes or less. This is the reason people cannot stop texting in class and a major reason kids die in traffic accidents. That text message simply cannot wait until the end of the class period. That text message absolutely cannot wait until you are at a red light.

In your world, five minutes between a text and an answer is a very, very long time.

My world is different.

Twice in my career I have had run-ins with mediocre students who sent multiple desperate emails over the weekend asking very ordinary procedural questions ("DID YOU GET THE ATTACHMENT I SENT?" "DID YOU GET THE ATTACHMENT I SENT?" "DID YOU GET THE ATTACHMENT I SENT?"), and when I did not respond to Sunday morning emails, it was worth an early morning desperate phone call to my supervisor's boss's home phone ("HE NEVER RESPONDS TO ANY OF MY EMAILS").

So here are my rules, and you will find that my rules are typical of many teachers:
  • I do not respond to emails while I am asleep. This means that on an ordinary working day, you will not get anything from me between 10 PM and 6 AM.
  • After I get up in the morning, I shower, shave, and eat breakfast. I don't respond to emails while I am using the bathroom. This means that you won't get an email from me between 6 AM and 7 AM on a working day.
  • I don't respond to emails while I am driving a car. This means that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I won't respond to an email between 7 AM and 8 AM.
  • I don't respond to emails while I am teaching a class. This means that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I won't respond to an email between 8 AM and 11 AM.
  • I actually get weekends off, so if you send an email Saturday night or Sunday morning, I probably will not see it until Monday. I do not respond to emails during church.
  • I try to keep ordinary office hours, so around 5 PM I figure my working day is done. You should not ordinarily expect me to respond to emails in the evening.
My email inbox fills with 10 to 20 routine items a day ("Donuts in the faculty lounge" "Buy this textbook" "Automatic summary of a bunch of things you don't care about" "Someone you never met is retiring from a department you never heard of") along with half a dozen scams and sales pitches ("Men! Buy this exotic herb!") and two or three student communications that don't need any response ("I wasn't in class today because I felt sick").

If you need an excused absence to attend your uncle's funeral and I don't respond to your desperate Saturday and Sunday emails, don't panic. Don't get the Provost out of bed with a phone call. Just ask me when you get back.

The way productive adults handle electronic messages

It's quite possible to spend your entire working day looking at text messages and emails, and if you routinely check for new messages more often than once every hour, you need this advice from Huffington Post.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Why I don't mark every error

Some of my students figure I will mark every comma problem, spelling error, and capitalization mistake. Then all they have to do to revise the paper (and get a perfect grade) is to put in the commas where I put the marks.

Wrong.

Here are just a few of the reasons I will not mark absolutely everything on your papers.
  1. The definition of "good writing" is much larger than "no comma problems." You need to know that a good paper says something smart, says it clearly, and backs it up with quality evidence.
  2. If I mark everything, you never learn the skill of proofreading your own paper.
  3. After I've read about a hundred pages of student writing, I start to miss things.
  4. If you submit a "revision" that is simply fixing all the grammar items I have marked, you have not revised anything. I did the revision. (And if your paper had other problems, a simple run of repairing commas has not made it much better.)

A few other things to know about grading

  • Some errors annoy readers more than others. I can probably skip over a simple misspelling (perceive or percieve?), especially if it only shows up once. If, however, every plural in the paper has an inappropriate apostrophe, it's only one kind of error, but my brain begins to melt. Put that together with some other third-grader error (not capitalizing "I" when it is the first person pronoun, for example), and I have a very difficult time respecting the paper.
  • The midnight papers are always bad. Slamming something together in the last hour or two before it is due deprives you of the time you need to reflect, copyedit, and proofread. You should expect the midnight paper to be a mess that gets a terrible grade.
  • The more difficult the content, the more errors you will make. Expect it. You might be able to sail through a "what I did last summer" paper, but a critique and analysis of a piece of academic writing will bring out all the elementary school mistakes.
  • I expect you to grow. You will get some mercy at the beginning of English 100, but the papers at the end of the course should be better. If you still cannot get the apostrophe into a contraction or find the difference between their and there, I will assume you did not learn many skills here. And if (as actually happened), you get to the end of English 101 and cannot capitalize the first letter of your hometown's name, I will assume you just don't care about submitting a quality product.
  • A stupid paper with great spelling is still a stupid paper.
    A smart, well-written paper with terrible spelling and grammar becomes a stupid paper.
    It's like driving a car. If you do a great job of steering and braking, but can never find your destination, you are not yet a good driver. If your sense of direction and map reading skills are wonderful, but you can't steer or brake too well, we don't call you a good driver either.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Paper Grades in English 100

Grading in 100 is unusual in several ways. For one thing, you don't actually get a letter grade in this course—you get a "pass" 👍 or a "no pass" 👎 and neither one affects your Grade Point Average.
Important Note: This does not mean that the course is unimportant or that it doesn't count. It just means that you don't need to obsess about the difference between a B+ and an A-. If you don't pass 100 this time, you won't move on to 101. I'll see you again in 100 in the Spring semester.
Another unusual characteristic, at least for some of you, is that there is no mathematical precision to the grading. Some of you are used to the kind of course where English teachers would need a calculator to grade papers. I'm not doing that. (I once taught at a place where we were supposed to grade 38 separate items for each paper. It was possible to fail the entire course by a comma.)

Instead of counting and calculating, I'm asking the question, "Is this writing any good? How good is it?" I'll give you a class handout which discusses the things I'm looking at, but when I finally get to the end of the process, I ask a very gut-level question. Did this paper have really severe problems that get in the way of communication? (That's a D.) Was it OK, but unremarkable, bland, predictable, and boring? (There's a C.) Pretty good, but still has room for improvement? (That's a B paper.) Or did it really sparkle and provide a good example of what a college freshman should be doing? (That's an A.)

This approach leads to two other conclusions.
  1. Sometimes a student will bring back a paper and say, "I fixed this comma. Can I have a higher grade?" The answer is probably not. The difference between "OK, but unremarkable, bland, predictable, and boring" and "pretty good, but still has room for improvement" is probably not a single comma.
  2. Other students will submit a revision and say, "I made all the punctuation changes you asked for but I didn't do anything else. Can I have a higher grade?" You didn't do any thinking. All you did was to follow my commands, so I deserve a higher grade, but you don't. Again, it's very unlikely that bad punctuation was the only thing that took down the grade.

The wine and sewage example

If you have a barrel of sewage and add a cup of fine French wine, you still have a barrel of sewage.

Oddly enough, if you have a barrel of fine French wine, and you add a cup of sewage, you now have a barrel of sewage.

The point is that if you have a stupid, boring paper (sewage) and the punctuation is wonderful, you still have a stupid, boring paper. But if you have a brilliant, interesting paper with terrible spelling and punctuation, you still don't have a wonderful paper—the sewage of the grammar problems has corrupted the brilliant writing.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Homework = home + work

Attitude toward homework is one of the big differences between high school and college.

  • In high school, you often had in-class time to do homework; in college that's almost never the case. (Maybe your high school teachers didn't think you would actually do the work. Maybe your high school teacher had trouble thinking up things to fill five hours a week)
  • In high school, you were rarely expected to do the reading before you got to class (and the teacher would probably tell you everything that the reading said anyhow). In college, you are expected to read and understand today's assignment before you get here.
  • In high school, two hours of daily homework was considered a lot (an hour was more typical). In college, you should figure on two hours of homework for every hour you sit in class. (This means that a 15-credit load should generate about 30 hours of weekly homework, or about four hours and twenty minutes every day of the week including Saturday and Sunday.)
  • In high school, teachers would refrain from assigning homework on the weekend of the big game. If your town was religious, you might not have gotten homework on Wednesday because everyone was supposed to be in church. College instructors do not often give homework "vacations" like that.

On the bright side

  • High school homework often was mindless worksheets, distributed in class for you to fill in that night. College homework tends to be more meaningful and assigned far in advance. In most courses, you can see the whole list of readings on the first day you attend.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Paper Length and Word Count

University instructors almost always will give written assignments in terms of page length.

Most high school boys and girls (remember that you are not high school boys and girls any more!) know all the immature tricks to use up more sheets of paper without doing any more thinking or writing: huge margins, oversize type, huge paragraph indents, and all the rest. I have even seen really desperate Internet pages giving instructions for increasing the size of your commas and periods (like that's going to help).

When University instructors assign papers by page count, they are thinking of a standard MLA format paper:
  • 12-point Times New Roman type
  • Line-spacing set to "double-space"
  • One inch margins all around
  • First line of the paragraph indented half an inch
  • No extra line skipped between paragraphs
  • First page will not have a huge amount of white space at the top
  • Last page will be more than a line or two.
In our course, all of our papers will be submitted as electronic copies through Blackboard, so the page-length issue becomes much easier to discuss. All the immature tricks fade away because I can easily do a word count.

Word counts are a little tricky because a mature writer will probably use longer words than a beginner, so a beginner's thousand words will be a lot fewer sheets than a more mature writer would produce.

To get around this, I took a very simple freshman paper and figured how many words per page the writer was getting. Then I took a fairly intricate Wikipedia article and did the same. After I had these numbers, I averaged them. This is what I got for the body of the paper (not counting the header with your name, etc.):
  • Two-page paper = 560-680 words (average 620)
  • Three-page paper = 880-1060 words (average 970)
  • Four-page paper = 1200-1440 words (average 1320)
I don't plan on being incredibly hard-edged about these page counts, but if you cannot hit at least 80% of the minimum, you should expect your grade to suffer.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Drinking

OK—I know what you are going to say. Ashland is a dry campus. Drinking is illegal for persons under 21 years old. You come from a good family. You know how to control your drinking. Blah! Blah! Blah!

The truth is that (according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism statistics for 2013)
  • College students drink more often than non-students (59.4 percent of full-time college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month compared with 50.6 percent of other persons of the same age)
  • College students are more likely to be heavy drinkers than non-students (12.7 percent of college students ages 18–22 engaged in heavy drinking—5 or more drinks on an occasion on 5 or more occasions per month—in the past month compared with 9.3 percent of other persons of the same age.)
  • College students are more likely to be binge drinkers than non-students (39 percent of college students ages 18–22 engaged in binge drinking (5 or more drinks on an occasion) in the past month compared with 33.4 percent of other persons of the same age.)
Other statistics show that 25% of America's college freshmen drink enough for it to affect their grades and academic performance. Drinking is a strong contributor to
  • Unintended sex and pregnancy
  • Physical violence
  • Auto accidents and death
If you find you cannot control your drinking, you are not alone.We have a free, confidential counseling service that can help.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Did we do anything in class?"

I often get questions phrased like this:

"I have to be absent Friday. Are we going to do anything?"
"I was sick yesterday. Did anything happen in class?"

Teachers do not react well when you say it like this. When we are talking to other teachers, we get incredibly snarky about such questions. We're tempted to say, "Nothing happened at all. We sat there counting our fingers as usual." But that wouldn't be helpful.

Where the question comes from

I have to assume that the student asking the question is genuinely interested in keeping up with the work. That's good.

I also suspect that high school teachers do not publish lesson plans or assignment schedules, so every day is a surprise. If a high school kid misses a day of class, the reading assignments, homework assignments, and major paper assignments also get missed.

And it's true that some college instructors will take off in a radically different direction with little warning. I would call that a rookie mistake. Most of us have figured out the lesson plans and reading schedules weeks or months in advance and publish them for everyone to see.

Figuring out what we did

For our course, you have three major ways to get the daily readings:
  1. The printed schedule. Many of our readings are online, so you will need to somehow get to a computer, but at least you will know the textbook readings and the due dates for papers. We have a number of in-class writing activities, and there's no good way to figure them out from home, but at least you will know what we were doing while you were gone.
  2. The alternate website. The reason for this one is that Writing Center people can get to it (and sometimes Blackboard has a bad day). Here you can get all the essay assignments and an electronic copy of the schedule, with internet links to many of the readings.
  3. Blackboard. All of the online readings are here. In addition, you will find any additional handouts and PDF copies of any slide shows we did.

Let's not forget friends

One of your best resources is a smart pal who can tell you what else happened. You want the attentive person who is jotting down notes, not the goof-off who is playing with Facebook or sleeping. If someone asks a good question in class or the teacher gives a memorable illustration, your smart pal is your best hope for getting the information.

Why I don't type out my notes for you

After only a couple of classes, you should have realized that I am not reading from a typed manuscript. I don't even use a detailed outline very often. Much of the time, I'm using the material on the screen as my outline, and the extra comments and illustrations are impromptu. That means that to give you my entire lecture, I would struggle to remember, type the whole thing out, and hope that I had included everything. That sounds like a couple of hours of work.

I've been at this teaching game since 1995, and one result is that my standard set of things to say has become pretty refined. Stick around long enough and you will probably hear the "Caramel Macchiato Rule" and the barrel of sewage illustration more than once. You will probably see them somewhere in this blog too. Don't worry. I'm not going to test you on those.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Handling Textbooks

In a lot of ways, the college attitude toward textbooks is totally opposite to the attitude in high school.
  • When you were in high school, the school district owned the books, and marking them was a very serious offense; in college, you own the book, and marking it is a good strategy for learning.
  • When you were in high school, you did the reading assignments after the class session; in college, you are expected to do the reading before you show up.
  • In high school, relatively few people actually read things because the teacher would tell you everything that the book contained. (That might have been due to the teacher's frustration with students who refused to read anything.) In college, nobody babies you like that. You have to do the reading.

Housekeeping details for textbooks

Each teacher/section has a unique book list. If you are taking an English course from Allen and your roommate is taking a course with the same number from someone else, you will have different books. (Note: When you buy the books, make sure you are buying books for the correct section. The bookstore people can help you.)

When you buy your books, keep the receipt. If you bought the wrong book or you have to change your schedule, you can get full credit for an unmarked book within the first couple of weeks.

Books are expensive and some people are dishonest. Don't just leave them laying around on tables. They are very easy to sell, so keep track of your stuff. (This goes for computers and other expensive things too. Not everyone in the college is as sweet and honest as you are.)

Don't obsess about keeping the book in perfect condition. Once you decide that the book is truly yours, go ahead and mark it. Write your name inside the front cover. When buy-back time comes at the end of the semester, you can sell a neatly-marked copy. (And the bad news is that if the textbook comes out in a new edition, you won't be able to sell it at all anyhow.) So highlight important points to help you study.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Making Some Changes

Today is the first day of class, and the essential purpose of this blog is changing.

During the summer, it was general friendly advice for incoming college freshmen. Any good bookstore has half a dozen books designed to get high school kids ready for college, and most of them are pretty good, but this was my personal take on the subject. (Besides—oddly—I have never seen any book make a big deal of typing or handwriting. You do these all the time in college. Why don't the books mention them?)

Now in the fall, the purpose of this blog is to give you some background information about why things are happening in the course, along with some personal advice. I am very aware that we just do not have time to do everything that is necessary, and I am also aware that a classroom with fifteen students has at least six or eight completely different sets of needs. This blog can help customize things for you.

Attitude: One big change you need to make

  • Did vacation time just start? Most college freshmen are astonished at just how hard they have to work. Maybe they slid through high school on a combination of good looks, extracurricular participation, and teacher affection. That doesn't work here. You really do have to figure on about 30 hours of study and homework outside of class.
  • Anger. Here you are, stuck in a Developmental English class that doesn't even count on your GPA. For my part, I intend to make this a writing class, not just a fixing-what's-wrong class, and I set it up so any college freshman can get something from it. I also do not intend to talk down to you, even when we are dealing with material you should have caught in the third grade (capitalizing proper nouns, for example).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Incredible textbook confusion

First issue: LaunchPad

Here's the thing about LaunchPad. I still love the content, and wish it would work, but to get exercises, etc., to open requires an awkward work-around. I showed the whole thing to a young friend  (who happens to be employed as a computer IT expert) and asked if he would use this program. He replied "No way!"

The publisher has said (and I hope they are right) that the version with the LaunchPad card costs the same as the one without, so there's no point in digging around to get the "without" of the textbook. We just won't open those cards.

Of course, if you bought the stand-alone card, you should return it to the bookstore.

Which version?

The book I hope you will buy looks like this. 

It's the one I used when I set up the reading assignments and the page numbers.


A word or two about textbook versions

Textbooks go through several versions, and sometimes they need to. MLA documentation standards changed, so a new version was necessary. English usage changes, and that makes a new version necessary sometimes too. The problem here is that a new version makes it impossible to sell an old one back to the bookstore.

You don't want to sell this book anyhow. It's the kind of reference you will need for the next four years, and the changes in grammar and usage are likely to be small. (Which spelling is acceptable: all right or alright? If we are pluralizing CPA, do we use an apostrophe? What about they as a generic singular pronoun?)

The kind of person who will read your writing (teachers and prospective employers) tend to be somewhat conservative anyhow, so cutting-edge grammar changes will not fly with them.

OK—there is a new version

This is awkward. The publisher announced that another one will pop out in mid-September, but I've been working on this course for a couple of months, and it wasn't available to me. I didn't even find out about it until today. (Why would they come up with a new version just after the semester starts? That's insane!) If you do happen to get the newer version from Amazon or somewhere, you can probably find the readings by using the section numbers I've published in the syllabus.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Things to bring to class on the first day

Don't overdo it. I often see students laboring around campus with a little suitcase on wheels. I assume they are carrying their computer, their notebooks, and every textbook they were asked to buy this semester. Maybe a few library books and their lunch. Here's what you need to bring to class that first day:
  • A copy of your class schedule. Just to remind you where to go. (This is difficult to say, but sometimes campus computers really do make mistakes, and they send you to classes that don't exist or put you in places where you don't belong. A printout of your schedule will solve a lot of problems if you have to ask questions.)
    • A campus map would not be a bad idea either.
  • Pen or pencil. You do need to bring your own. Only annoying fools think everyone else should supply them with writing tools.
  • Spiral notebook. On that first day, someone is certain to say something you will need to remember. (It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a spiral notebook for each course you will take.)
  • Accordion file folder. The first day usually has a lot of handouts, so you want to keep them all, together with each other, but separate from the handouts for other classes.
  • Everything else is optional. You will probably not need your textbooks in class on the first day. In fact, college teachers do not often require you to use the textbook in class. It's for homework reading, and we assume you have done the reading before you get here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Late LaunchPad Info

All of the information about buying the book for this course stresses that you will need a version that includes access to a program called "LaunchPad."

I am changing that.

The start of class is about a week away, and LaunchPad has some major technical problems, so I'm backing out of that requirement. You won't see LaunchPad on the syllabus.

The textbook version with the LaunchPad access card costs the same as the one without, so you haven't wasted any money, and if you buy the card separately, you should be able to return it to the bookstore for credit.

Don't throw that card away, though. If the publisher fixes things, we might actually use the program. It has a lot going for it if the students can get to it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Do I really need to buy the books?

The short answer is "Only if you intend to do the work needed to pass the course."

It is true that some teachers forget the cost of books and go overboard on their reading lists. If you have a course that specifies five or six books, it's fair to ask which are required and which are optional. You won't run into that situation for a couple of years though. As a freshman, you are far more likely to get a one-book reading list.

In our course, that one book, A Writer's Reference, is the sort of thing you would keep for years because it is, well, a reference. If you ever need to do any writing after our course, you will want this book.
True story: At a recent faculty seminar, the head of the nursing department commented that correct APA citation format normally counts for 30% of the grade in nursing papers. You don't know what APA format is? That's why you bought the reference book.
I guess it is possible for you and a roommate to share a textbook if you are taking the same course/section, but you will really need to coordinate your reading schedules. If both of you are last-minute readers, the next obvious question is which one of you will get the book. If one of you likes to take the book to the library to make writing easier, the other must tag along too.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Into the Fall

Here are a few last-minute details you will need to know:

Schedule

The courses I will teach this Fall are English 100, sections A, B, & C. As I write this (and all things are subject to change), all three sections will meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Room 106 of the Dauch College of Business & Economics (some maps list it as COBE).
  • Section A: 8 to 8:50 AM
  • Section B: 9 to 9:50 AM
  • Section C: 10 to 10:50 AM

Things to buy

Computers: You do not need a computer to succeed in college because we have computer labs available in several places around campus. Most people do own laptops, but if you're uncertain about which to buy, perhaps you should wait until you get here and try out a few different ones from friends. Tablets (such as iPad) are fun, but you will get frustrated if you try to type a long paper on one.

Textbook: Yes, you do need to own the textbooks for most college courses. The one for this course is a reference book, the kind of thing you will want to keep for a long time (like a dictionary). Most college courses require at least a little writing (and some require a lot), so you will want something to help you. This is the book for this course:
  • Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer's Reference with 2016 MLA Update. 8th ed., Macmillan, 2016.
You need to know several things about college textbooks:
  1. Edition number is important. An 8th edition is not the same as a 7th.
  2. The college bookstore has what you need, and the staff know how to help you find it.
  3. Different instructors require different textbooks. Other sections of English 100 may not be using A Writer's Reference.
  4. If you buy a book from the bookstore and do not damage it, you can return it during the first couple of weeks for a refund. (This is useful if you make a mistake or discover you need to change your class schedule.) Keep your receipts.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Learning Laundry

Now, before it's a last-second emergency, learn how to do laundry. (Note: This is probably a more urgent issue for guys!) Ask your mom or someone else who actually knows how to do laundry to show you. (My high school girlfriend walked me through the process and stood over me while I did a couple of loads. I'm endlessly grateful to her for that.)

I am not endorsing a particular laundry product, but here's a website from one of them that should help:

Two hints need extra emphasis:
  • Don't wash your brand-new red sweatshirt with everything else unless you want to go through this year nick-named "Pinky." Dark colors bleed dye onto everything else in the machine. Reds bleed a LOT!
  • If you leave your phone in your pocket, you get to buy a new phone. If you leave a ballpoint pen in your pocket, the dryer will make certain everything has blobs of ink.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Late Preparations

During the last month

  1. Look carefully at your class schedule. Mistakes happen, and you will find it much easier to correct them in the week or two before classes start.
  2. Do a campus walk-through. We are a small campus, but we are still big enough to be confusing. Some buildings are known by more than one name (a great example is the building our class is in: commonly called Dauch, it's also called COBE, which stands for the College of Business and Economics). Your Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule is different from your Tuesday-Thursday schedule. Walk both of them and actually find the rooms.
  3. Get an eye exam. Don't laugh. At least one student in every section I teach sits in the back, squinting and struggling to see the board. If you need glasses, get them. Wear them. They don't look weird.
  4. Go shopping. I assume you'll buy new clothes and such, but don't go overboard. What you wore in high school will probably work in college. Do be aware, though, that your class schedule will probably have you doing ten minutes of power-walking several times a week in November weather. If your aunt wants to buy you clothing, ask for boots, hat, gloves, and a warm coat. Dorm room stuff? Again, don't go overboard. Those rooms are tiny, and you don't know what your roommate will bring. If you are thinking of renting a truck to bring your stuff, you should scale back.

Things to buy before you get here

  • Books? Maybe. Books are very expensive and places like Amazon can save you money, but Amazon can cause trouble too.
    • For one thing, you will probably need your books by the second week of class, and you don't want to wait for Amazon to get around to sending them.
    • For another, the college book market is very confusing. The publisher of our textbook lists no fewer than ten different related titles and options. If you order the wrong one, you will face a delay and extra expense.
    • The campus bookstore has what you need, and they are quite good about getting things before the first day. (They wanted to know my book choices last March!)
  • Computer stuff
    • If you have a rich uncle who wants to buy you a computer, let him. If not, then perhaps you should wait. We have computer labs on campus, and you can get a discount for buying a computer through our IT department (though that will take a little while because they have to order it for you). You might like to try out several kinds before sinking that much money into a computer.
    • Apple/Windows/Chrome? They all work here. If you have a good working computer from high school, just bring that.
    • Tablets (such as iPad) are pretty useless. You cannot take notes on them, and they are difficult and frustrating to use for typing long papers. If you want a tablet for fun, go ahead, but it will not be a useful writing tool.
    • Phone? I assume you already have one. Yes, students try to write papers on their phones, but it is quite slow and difficult. You really have no use whatsoever for a phone in our class. In fact, student use of cell phones in class is the quickest route to a C minus.
    • Do not buy a copy of Microsoft Word. You get it free through the college, and there are other alternatives you might like.
  • Notebooks, pens and paper. Definitely. Try out several pens and buy a couple that work well for you. You will be doing a LOT of writing in college. I recommend a wire-bound notebook for each class you take.
  • Backpack or courier bag. You'll need a portable office, and a good backpack is a great help. I am also a fan of accordion file folders, the kind with several pockets so you can organize things for each class. Teachers will give you loose handouts, and you want them available.
  • Office supplies. Take a trip to a place like Office Max or Staples and stock up. You will want (at least) highlighters, a good stapler, staples, pens, paper, and paper clips. I get a lot of use from a ruler. If you are bringing your own computer printer (not a bad idea), get a package of ink cartridges. All these things are available at the campus bookstore, but the selection is limited and the prices are higher. Besides, if you take your rich uncle with you, he might pay for the supplies.

Monday, July 24, 2017

How much should you obsess over grades?

College grades cause an incredible amount of anxiety. Here are a few kinds of student I have had in my classes:

Laid-back until the last minute

I often have students who drift through the course doing ordinary work (or not quite that good), then at the last second they send me an email saying, "I am on academic probation, and I really need a B in this class. What can I do?" One fellow sent me this email on the first day of Finals Week. The only real answer, though I was too kind-hearted to say it, was "Buy a time machine and go back to the second week of class, then do all the work and hand it in on time." He needed to begin at the start of the semester (especially because he knew he was in trouble) and consistently apply pressure to himself to do better.

Wound too tight

At the other extreme is the student who never got anything under 100% totally perfect A++ in high school and is willing to get into a screaming match over three points in an 675-point course. I have several things to say to that student:
  • Really??? If your high school grades were that high, either you are a genius who doesn't need to obsess OR your high school teachers had low standards and you need to face the real world.
  • Are you here for the points or to learn something? Maybe you lost those three points because you didn't do something right and need to learn how to do it better.
  • College grades are a range. At Ashland the range for an A is 93% to 100%, which means that you can lose as many as 47 points in my English 101 course and still pull an A. (English 100 isn't really a graded course, so if your writing average is above 78%, you are good to go.)
By the way, that screaming match student really existed. The course had a total of 800 points, so she was desperate to grab 0.375% of her final grade. She said she had never lost a single point in her entire school career, and she needed total perfection to get into a good grad school. She was a mediocre student who chattered with her friends all through the class and did not know what I was asking for when I assigned them to write an outline. (I think there was a better route to good grades than screaming at the teacher. And no, grad schools do not require total perfection in freshman English grades.)

Always right

One student informed me that he had learned everything there is to know by the time he was 15. Another had been told by a high school English teacher that you insert a comma every time you take a breath, so the grammar handbook and I were quite wrong when we insisted that this fake rule doesn't work too well. (I could go on about this—do heavy smokers need more commas than Olympic distance runners?) She brought her father in to argue the point with the Dean. Some of these people have picked up the culture's lie that every authority figure is always wrong—and so is everyone who has studied deeply. Some have bought the foolish idea that the way to truth and knowledge is for an adolescent with no experience and education to just think things through. In any case, the "always right" crowd is wasting their time here: they are immune to any new knowledge, so there is no point in attending college.

Willing to cheat

In various forms, I always have at least one student who assumes that the only point of a college education is to get "the piece of paper" that is the key to a high-paying job. I have no respect for this attitude. College instructors are pretty good at catching cheaters, and when we do we have little mercy. At the start of your career, you should assume that total honesty on your part is the standard, and if you have questions about whether something is acceptable (for example, submitting a paper you have already used elsewhere), you must ask the instructor.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What professors are like

I have to start by saying that Ashland is not much like a huge university such as OSU (Apologies to outsiders who are reading this blog). When I was a freshman, my chemistry, history, and biology lectures all had 200+ students, and we had discussion/lab sections that were supervised by graduate students. That's pretty typical for a large university, but at Ashland, your history class is more likely to have 20 students. This means you have some hope of getting an answer to a question if the lecture has lost you.

I also have to say that those stupid movies like Animal House or Van Wilder (etc., etc.) are just plain wrong. They have almost nothing in common with real college life. They are about as accurate as a Groucho Marx movie.

A few differences between high school teachers and college teachers

There are some similarities: Almost nobody goes into either field for the money; we genuinely like our students and the content of the courses—that's why we do this. Having said that, there are a few distinctions:
  • College instructors are specialists in their field; high school teachers are specialists in education. To teach anything whatsoever in college, one must have at least a Master's in that field. The majority have doctorates. If you are taking a college course in English Composition, you are listening to someone who has spent several years specializing in English—my own work includes four years studying composition pedagogy. Your college instructor certainly knows what he/she is talking about, and has a passion for the subject, but may not have a lot of entertainment skills.
  • College instructors have a fair amount of academic freedom (at least at Ashland). We do have to follow a broad outline for each course, called the Master Syllabus, but we have a lot of leeway within that outline. One English 101 course might spend most of the semester on a book such as The Soloist, while another does a selection of readings on the environment, and another a set of readings designed to be examples of rhetoric and argument. (I have done all three in various 101 sections.)
  • College instructors don't really want to talk to your mother. If you are over 18 years old, it's actually illegal for me to discuss your grades with your mother unless you give me a signed waiver (Federal law). One of my students hauled her father into the Dean's office to protest that the grammar handbook and I disagreed with her high school English teacher on comma usage. She didn't get too far. Generally, we assume that our students are young adults who are in charge of their own lives.
  • We don't see you every day, but we do have office hours. Very few freshmen show up for office hours, and that's a shame. Every one of us has office hours posted on the door (it's part of our job description). You do not need an appointment or even a very good reason. Just knock on the door and you can chat with the teacher.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Getting Your Computer Ready for School

Most of you either bought a new computer for school or kept one (complete with all the stickers) from high school. I am in both groups, actually: My main traveling computer is a laptop that has been with me for a couple of years, but my home desktop unit just got a new hard drive, so it's completely blank.

Here's some summer advice to make your transition easier (and besides, doing something like this will feel like you are progressing toward being a college student).

  • Clean house. Go through all those files and ask yourself whether you really need that homework from your first Junior semester.
    • You might like to delete or hide some of those embarrassing photos.
    • And that desktop image.
  • Back up the really important stuff. (Your only picture of Uncle Ed, the school addresses of your buddies, and so forth.) I put mine on a CD. If you can't do that, you can upload a copy to Google Drive. Computers crash at school. Computers get stolen. There are some things you don't want to lose.
  • Figure out Google Drive. Everyone who has a gmail account has access to this cloud drive, and when you get to Ashland, you have an AU Google Drive account with infinite storage space. It's an excellent way to move things from one computer to another and to save important things.
  • Don't buy a copy of MS Word. AU students get a free copy. As soon as you are permitted, go to this Ashland University link and download your copy.
    • MS Word is a huge file! You probably want to start the download before you go to bed.
    • The download instructions are complex, so I suggest you print them out before you begin.
  • Windows users: figure out OneDrive. Go to this Microsoft link to see how. (OneDrive is a free service that allows you to back up your work to a Microsoft server so you can get to it from other computers. If your computer quits, your writing is still on the cloud server.)
  • Apple users: our cloud server is iCloud. Here is the link to setup instructions. (Note: iCloud is fairly small unless you pay Apple some extra money, so if you have a lot of music or video material on your computer, it won't all fit. There's a way to set up iCloud so it only saves items you specify.)
  • This one should be obvious: If the computer is giving you trouble, get it to a repair shop before you get to school.
  • Learn how your system does file folders and set up your system. I suggest a master folder called something like "Fall 2017" with daughter folders inside for each course you are taking. Inside each course folder you can create folders for such things as major papers, homework assignments, and class notes. By the way, you should come up with document titles that actually tell you something—not names like "English Paper." The whole idea here is to help you find what you need without wading through a mountain of unrelated material. Your time is important in college.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Writing Teacher in the Summer

This is the first summer in a very long time without any classes (my choice). I was tempted to go on a European journey (Wales was very appealing), but instead I find myself focused on two activities: bicycling and writing.

Ohio has an enormous mileage in Rails-to-Trails routes, and some really beautiful ones are within half an hour's drive of my home in Mansfield, so that's where you will find me at least four days a week. A thirty-mile ride in the evening sounds grand. (People ask me how long that takes. I'm a fairly slow rider, so it's 2½ to 3 hours.) The picture is an Internet image of my favorite wheels, a Giant Roam.

The other part of the summer has been writing. I'm working on a textbook for prisoners who are taking a college English course online. It's quite a project, and I have never done anything like this before, so it's a somewhat frustrating adventure. Loose papers everywhere! Notes to myself about great ideas to include—but will I find the notes when it comes time to write that chapter?

On the non-biking evenings (and many mornings) you will find me in a restaurant with a cup of coffee, a stack of paper, and a pen, working on the next chapter. People are fascinated. They have never seen anyone do anything like this before. It's like seeing someone perform brain surgery with a butter knife. For my part, handwriting just feels better, and gave me the added advantage that the computer crash of a few weeks ago didn't take away a single word of my book. Though I already have several good pens, I bought this one to commemorate the start of the project:


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Keyboarding skills

A quick heads-up: The State of Ohio thinks that a college freshman English course should require 25 pages of edited, finished, typed papers per semester. If you are taking five academic courses (a pretty standard number), that means you might type as many as 100 pages of papers this semester.

That's a lot if your idea of "typing" is two thumbs on an iPhone. That's a lot if you have to search around for the "q" or you don't know how to actually type a quotation mark.

Now is not too soon to practice your typing skills. I did a quick search on Yahoo and found this free touch-typing practice page. It looks pretty good, and there are others if you search Google. (And your local bookstore certainly has a selection of how-to books for beginning typists.)

Every college freshman struggles with time pressure; learning to produce your papers quickly and efficiently should help at least a little.

Bulletin for Ashland students

Part of your tuition pays for a free copy of Microsoft Word, so don't buy one this summer.
  • This link to our Information Technology department is the beginning point for your free download.
    • I don't know how soon you have permission to download that software, but you need to sign in to MyAU Portal. The link is halfway down the page.
    • The instructions for downloading MS Word are very complex. I suggest you print them out before you start.
  • For Windows users (whether Ashland students or not), here is an excellent (and huge) free alternative to MS Word: Apache Open Office
    • As an Apple user, I greatly prefer NeoOffice, which is Open Office ported for the Apple. It costs a bit of money, but I think it's worth the expense.
  • Apple users already have Apple Pages, a very good word processor.
  • And of course, we all have Google Docs. You get there from your Ashland email account.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Distrusting Technology

First, a few observations:
  • Dr. Gary Levine, who used to teach in our Department, had a saying: "Remember that technology will always fail you."
  • One of my English 101 students had a 5-page paper ready to submit last semester, then Microsoft Word ate it. Nothing was left except the first line.
  • I was teaching a Distance Education course for prisoners last Fall, and we had to give all the students a one-month course extension because the tablets they were writing on kept crashing.
  • Last Thursday, my desktop computer crashed, taking all of the files I had accumulated over three years. No, I didn't have a backup. (Big mistake)
  • And finally, several well-regarded academic studies have learned that college students learn more when taking notes with pen and paper than they do when taking notes on a computer.
So, even though college freshmen are all very certain that everything must be done electronically, here is my list of reasons to do all your rough drafting with paper and pen. (Full disclosure here: I'm in the early stages of writing a book, all with pen and paper. I am so glad my stuff wasn't on that computer which crashed.)

Equipment
  1. A pad of paper is not too likely to crash and forget your essay.
  2. The battery in a pencil doesn't go dead.
  3. If you drop a pad of paper or a pencil, you probably have not destroyed it. Few pens or pads of paper cost $800.
  4. People are unlikely to steal a stack of written notes. Dishonest, lazy people would have to put a lot of work into plagiarizing from your handwritten notes, so they won't do it.
Your Work Strategy
  1. The paper/pen rough draft doesn't look finished, so you are not seduced into thinking that one trip through is enough. It doesn't look fine and wonderful. You assume you will need to revise it.
  2. If you handwrite, you are forced to take a second look at the project as you type up the final.
  3. Tablets and computer screens never show you the whole page. You can't take a step back and gaze at the product while you think.
  4. If your rough draft is on sheets of paper, you can spread them out on the floor and rearrange them into a sequence that makes sense. You are not committed to the first organization that crossed your mind.
  5. It takes zero time to figure out how to work a pencil and paper. Many people spend significant time struggling to make the computer work. (How do I make a numbered list? How do I get the accent above the last letter of José?)
Your Mind
  1. Handwriting slows you down and forces you to think.
  2. Handwriting feels more like writing. (I love the reaction I get when I'm sitting in a fast-food place, writing with a fountain pen and a sheet of paper, and some stranger asks what I'm doing. "Writing a book." They always act as if I'm performing brain surgery.)
  3. Handwriting disappears—you tend to forget that you're doing it and concentrate on the actual writing task. After a while you don't think too much about how you're holding the pencil or what kind of paper you're using.
  4. Computers always have other material waiting to distract you—email, Facebook, porn, things to buy on eBay—writing with a pen and paper helps you stay on task.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Adulting Skills

Business people talk about "hard skills" and "soft skills."

Hard skills can be taught with books of instructions—things such as driving a standard shift, using Microsoft Word, or analyzing a blood sample.

Soft skills are such things as showing up on time for work, giving the boss the proper respect, wearing appropriate clothing for the task, and keeping your work area tidy. Many college students figure that the hard skills are all they need, but the hard skills are relatively easy to teach; if you lack soft skills, you will struggle in college and have a lot of trouble finding and keeping a job.

Somewhere in the middle area between these are the adulting skills. People who lack these skills might be able to pass courses, but their time in college will be very difficult. Here are a few you will need—and now is a good time to begin working on them.

  • Doing laundry. Surprised that I put it first? The laundry room is a total mystery to most high school kids, but your mother isn't going to be here to do your laundry. Learn how to do your own. Ask someone.
  • Showering and brushing your teeth. This is mainly a problem for guys. If your hygiene habit is to wait until your mother or girlfriend yells at you, there's a reason people will start avoiding you in the second month of class. Let's put changing your socks and underwear on this list too. There's nothing unmanly about keeping clean, and no amount of body spray will compensate for a lack of hot water and soap.
  • Managing your calendar. You will have at least five different courses, taught by five different instructors who never consult with one another. They won't be yelling at you to get your work done on time either (and your mother isn't here to do the yelling). You need to be ahead of the calendar game, so that two papers due on the same day (which happens to be the day of the big game) will not cause panic.
  • Setting priorities. Everyone will want a piece of you: teachers, coaches, and your romantic partner. Your roommate will want to play cards until 4 AM. Friends will want to go drinking. You shouldn't ditch romance or friendship, but you need to remember that your first A number 1 priority here is being a successful student, and sometimes you need to tell the drinking buddies "Later."
  • Managing money. Invisible money such as the balance on your Eagle Card or the balance on a bank debit card is just too tempting for some students. Get a small notebook and use it to track your running balance. You do not want to run out of money in October just because you like to treat all your friends to pizza every week.
  • Keeping track of your stuff. If you are always losing things, you need to break the habit. When you lose your computer, textbook, Eagle Card, room key, etc., life gets very difficult and expensive. Your answer might be to simplify so there is less to lose. Your answer might be to organize your junk so things do not just land in a heap with all the rest of your possessions.
  • Organizing your living space. If your room at home is a pile of dirty socks, empty pizza boxes, and mysterious collections of grunge, you need to improve your game. You will be living with a roommate who might not appreciate your body odor. You will sometimes need to find—quickly—the assignment sheet and textbook for this afternoon's course. If you accidentally leave your ice cream on your computer keyboard when you go to sleep, disaster awaits you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Keep all those documents

Right now you are signing a lot of documents—loan papers and such. Get one of those accordion file folders, and keep your copy of everything you sign. At tax time you will thank me. You will thank me again and again in five or ten years when you really need to know what those documents said.

By the way, you will want to keep your textbook receipts so you can return the book if you bought the wrong one or your schedule changes.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

More summer reading

Here are three more in addition to the summer reading I have already suggested. (Notice that on Blogger the newest material is at the top.)
  1. Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw: True story of a 21-year-old man who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. You would think this is either grim or greeting-card-sappy, but it's neither. I think what attracted me first was the cover photo of Shane in a wheelchair and the speech balloon coming out of his mouth says "$hi#!" He's really funny, really interesting, and a good writer. I'd love to be his friend.
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: This is fiction set in a future time when the government burns all books (451° is the temperature at which book paper burns) and controls all intellectual content. Real readers and writers are the cultural outcasts, hiding in the forest. I read this when I was in high school. I never recovered.
  3. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome Jerome (Don't you love the name?): Set about 100 years ago, this is a classic. Three young men and their dog set off on a leisurely camping trip down the Thames River. There's no real plot, no moral to the story. It's just a long, fine summer vacation. If nothing else, you'll learn how to make a tea kettle boil when you are using a camp stove. (The trick is to make the kettle believe that nobody wants any hot water. You get over close to it and announce, "I don't want any tea. Does anyone else?" and immediately it will come to a boil.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A bit of college vocabulary

Like any other group, colleges have a lot of specialized words, and if you don't know what they mean, you might get in trouble. I ran into this vocabulary list, and it's a good one. Some of the items on the list do not apply to us (for example "recitation/precept"), but many of these words are used at Ashland.

Don't be offended that it's a list from an LD resource; the material here is good general material. I am also impressed with the material in her "College Students" drop-down menu. Look it over. Here's the list:

Monday, April 17, 2017

Summer Reading

One of the best things you can do for your career as a college student is to become a reader. It doesn't really matter what you read—though quality helps—just reading something will keep your brain working.

When I taught at the University of Akron, they required all the freshmen to read the same book together over the summer. We don't do that at Ashland, but the Akron book selections are good ones. You can get these at any commercial bookstore and most public libraries.
  • The Soloist, by Steve Lopez
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore (That wasn't much of a surprise, was it?)
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Summer reading should be fun, and both the Harry Potter series and the Tolkien "Lord of the Rings" series fall into that category. My own recent reading list includes (in no particular order):
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
  • How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, by Michael Gates Gill
  • Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris
  • Maus: A Survivor's Tale. I. My Father Bleeds History. II. And Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman
This last group is all available from both Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They're not expensive books either.

By the way, one of the best gadgets for the real reader is either the Barnes & Noble nook or the Amazon Kindle e-reader. (I prefer the nook.) The books are cheaper and you can carry a whole library in your pocket. Unfortunately, textbooks have been very slow to come to the e-reader world, but for general reading, they are great.