Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews

As a short follow-up to Bridget Brown’s post from last week about student evaluations, here’s an  interactive chart developed by Benjamin M. Schmidt (an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University), which allows one to see trends in the use of language on RateMyProfessor,com reviews.

As the description on the page says, Schmidt’s chart allows users to enter words or two-word phrases and then displays their prevalence “per million words of text (normalized against gender and field).” One can also limit the results to only negative or only positive reviews.

Here it is.

Take a look, try out some terms, and see what you come up with.

I’m curious to hear if the results correlate (or don’t) with people’s initial assumptions about such data. I’m also interested to hear what people think such data might indicate and, for that matter, what it might hide. I think it’s also worth considering what the flaws/limitations in the methodology of such a study/tool are.

Student Evaluations: Reading Them, Reading Us

I’ve just completed my semi-annual Reading of the Student Evaluations. During the Fall 2014 semester, I had one section that was a joy to meet with, one that seemed to be happy and engaged and learning well enough, and one that was a bit of a disaster (due in large part to one difficult, challenging student).

As usual, there’s good news and bad news.

First, the good news: Perhaps not surprisingly, the class that was a joy to meet with mostly gave me very positive evaluations:

“Everything was well taught and explained.”

“I enjoyed how the instructor asked us to write about topics we could relate to such as social media and celebrities.”

“The professor helped me better my writing significantly.”

Something worked in this class. As I understand it, my goals for the class, and my idea of myself as an instructor aligned with their expectations of the class, and their perception of me as a teacher. Yay me! Continue reading

Grading class participation

Following on recent discussions with a couple of people about how we grade participation, I thought I would post my approach, because I get the (possibly inaccurate) impression that it is a little idiosyncratic, and in hopes that it may spark some discussion about others’ approaches and philosophy to participation.

I emphasize participation heavily in my courses and always have, whether teaching first-year writing or a literature survey or a graduate course. I normally weight it at about 20% of the total, as one of the various ways that I incentivize student participation. Since participation both matters significantly to student performance in my courses and is the most nebulous of the various elements that I grade, I have always sought to grade it as objectively as possible. In the interests of not relying purely (or even somewhat) on my feel for a student’s participation, and because I like playing with numbers (yes, I know!), I came up with a system that makes the process much more mechanical and, in my estimation, significantly more efficient than relying simply on my sense of what a student deserves. Here’s how it works: Continue reading

Question of the day: What do you do on the last day of class?

Here’s a question (or a set of related questions) that should be particularly relevant for all of us at this point in the semester:

What do you do on the last day of class? What do you do during the mandatory exam period? Is there anything you have tried that has worked particularly well (or gone really poorly)?

Inquiring minds want to know. Please comment below.

Question of the day: When students don’t read

Since it’s been a month since the last one, here’s a Question of the Day that pertains to something presumably all of us have experienced:

“What do you do when the majority of your class (or all of them!) have not done the reading for the day, especially when all your activities were planned around working with the reading(s)?  Do you switch to something else? Try to work with it nevertheless? Yell at them?”

Please respond below…

On the “Edge” of Writing: Embodiment in Writing Practice


When I think about writing in my classroom, I often imagine the figure illustrated above: a head for “thinking” and arms for “writing.” But writing is a physical act; our bodies make writing possible. Our bodies are sources of knowledge, containers of collected memory. Our bodies think. Our bodies feel. So why does the body feel noticeably absent when we “think” about writing?

This is something I’ve been wondering about a lot lately. I come to these questions not only as someone who teaches First Year Writing, but also as a theater-maker (with an interest in the body, training, and performance), a student exploring the Feldenkrais Method (an “approach to human movement, learning and change”), and as a recreational runner (The Feldenkrais Institute). All of these practices rely on, develop, or question the use of the body in action. So I wonder, by extrapolation, if writing can’t be part of this conversation, too. Can we borrow from the performance and athletic fields and incorporate embodied knowledge into our teaching and writing practices? Is it possible that we could become more dynamic, deliberate and effective writers and teachers if we learned how to utilize our senses and sensations, if we allowed writing to be an embodied experience? My purpose is to put forward the questions in the hopes that we can start a conversation together, and begin to explore the “spaces in between” thinking, sensing, and writing. Continue reading

Combating Student Apathy workshop

For those of you who couldn’t make it to yesterday’s workshop on Combating Student Apathy, here’s a copy of the handout that Erica Dolson and I put together for it.

We had a great discussion, with the attendees coming up with a number of excellent suggestions, ideas and activities that I am planning to try out, so I hope some of them will share in the comments below.

Combating Student Apathy
There is, of course, no one way to combat student apathy, because there is no single type of apathetic student or individual situation where one deals with it. These strategies, tactics and approaches are only some ways in which one can attempt to prevent its appearance or deal with it when it manifests.

Pre-emptive moves: Continue reading