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I also suspect that high school teachers do not publish lesson plans or assignment schedules, so every day is a surprise.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:


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.