it isn’t possible to be anymore behind on life

Which is why, of course, I’m blogging right now, but in the meantime, check out this series of posts on abolishing grades in education.

While this applies more to secondary ed than higher ed, I’ve often (fruitlessly) toyed with the idea myself, as I believe in my heart of hearts that education is its own reward and that grades and grading rubrics, especially in Composition & Rhetoric, are subjective and often arbitrary.  For the sake of helping students improve, there would need to be some sort of general rubric in place so that they could self-assess and continue to grow, but the A-F system has troubled me for years.  Pass/Fail seems to be the only alternative in higher ed, but this system can also bite you in the ass when it comes time to apply for graduate school or other areas that require a GPA.  Joe Bower presents several compelling reasons to shift away from the traditional model of learning-for-grades in secondary ed, and I wonder how many of these could be modified to work in a college classroom, as initial feedback on drafts, in my classroom anyway, fits with this model to begin with.

Of course, to some extent this is a pipe dream: it’s not like you can abolish grades without the total consent of the department, dean, university, and so on, and God help you if you float this idea as an adjunct (goodbye, job; hello, unemployment).  But it’s interesting to consider as an experiment.  Perhaps something could be secretly implemented in college—especially if your department isn’t constantly on your ass—where the “mark on the report card” is the only concrete traditional grade, and learning occurs for the sake of learning up until a standard midterm and/or final grade.  

Someday, if/when I’m permanent faculty anywhere, I’m going to figure out how to implement labor-based grading.

rhetorical analysis and reinterpretation


Gurren Lagann, practically every episode

If you aren’t a Gurren Lagann fan or 4channer, you likely have no idea what that means, so let me enlighten you: it’s a rap lyric from the main “theme” of the show, “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii” etc. The Engrish isn’t terrible, though the lyrics are somewhat hilarious (particularly the refrain, “row, row, fight the powah,” which has achieved meme status all by itself).

As my brain slowly pieced itself together following illness, I was rewatching the Gurren Lagann Parallel Works videos—sort of like official anime music videos (AMVs) created by the production company Gainax and set to different musical tracks from the show—and it occurred to me that much of the music is comprised of different versions of the main theme. We are given the same lyrics set against different background tracks, ranging from electronica/hip-hop (“Rap wa Kan no Tamashii… Datta… yo…”) to orchestral/operatic arrangement (“‘Libera me’ from hell”) to “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii da! … Kamina-sama no Theme [etc.],” which has a funky, casual aura with its twangy guitar and its beat, whereas the piano-accompanied beat of “‘Libera me’” and the crash of opera vocals gives us a sense of build-up, of imminent danger, perhaps warns us that something tragic will happen, that there will be survivors who will overcome regardless. This is, incidentally, how the track is used toward the end of the show. Each background track evokes a particular response in us, whether we’ve seen the show or not, and when embedded in its visual context, the meaning of the lyrics accumulates significant meaning.

And yeah, I listened to the full soundtrack before watching the whole show.

Continue reading

q&a: why analyze things like there’s always a deeper meaning?

Posed by more than 50% of my class almost 100% of the time. This time, the particular unit was themed around fairytales, folktales, and myth, and on this particular day we were discussing a few versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”: Grimm, Perrault, Carter, and Gaiman (excerpted from Sandman: The Doll’s House). It was an uphill struggle to get them to see how each of the stories contained different messages about gender roles, sexuality, and the dangers of female independence, and they completely balked at discussing what the wolf could symbolize. It isn’t the first time I’ve come up against this question in a literature class, and students really do need to be convinced of why it’s important to read more deeply into things, especially since we are inundated with messages encoded into pop culture, particularly around identity construction.

Here, more or less, was my response.

Continue reading

authenticity and approaching literature

I’ve been thinking about the question that I brought up in class on Monday, about the impact of fiction versus nonfiction, and how genre shapes our reaction to a given piece of literature.  I have to say I was surprised at the prevailing sentiment that nonfiction delivers more of an emotional “punch,” if you will, than fiction—but then, this is the most common approach to the issue of genre.  So why was I surprised?

Continue reading

thinking exercises to bookend the semester.

I’m a big fan of thinking exercises: short activities that model (in familiar forms) the kinds of thinking students need to be doing when it comes to critical reading and writing. I had astonishing success this semester with two such exercises, one recently which I used on the last day of classes, and one mid-semester which I plan to use in the future as an introductory exercise at the beginning of the course. For all we talk about pedagogy in the academy, I feel we don’t share enough of our classroom successes and failures—why reinvent the wheel, for instance, when you can borrow or modify someone else’s vehicle? Thus, procedures for these thinking exercises after the jump.

Continue reading

“what’s the point of literature?”

So I had my first-year writing literature classes read excerpts from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. And my students had a difficult time understanding the content as well as its arrangement. The most common initial responses to the reading were “What’s the point?” or “Why did she even write this?” I tackled this in class, but since it came up towards the end, I tried to wrap up the discussion online in the following post. This was drafted in 30 minutes on the NJ Transit train, so it’s less polished than I would have liked, though it did end up modeling the kind of writing I encourage in their Zero Drafts.

Continue reading