Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Copyright Law for Dummies

My New Year's resolution is to be in full compliance with copyright law. And frankly, I've found that it is much more difficult to comply with this law than I ever imagined. I've been sending out dozens of copyright requests all week and crossing my fingers that everything is going to work out for the best. It has me incredibly nervous!

I used to believe that it was okay to copy just about anything as long as I was using it in a classroom and for educational purposes. Unfortunately, that's not true. Like me, I think that a lot of us may potentially be ignorant of how copyright law applies to us as educators, so I thought I'd write a blog entry about this topic in the hopes that we all can be more compliant.

According to my research, use of copyrighted material for educational purposes falls under the category of "fair use" under the copyright law. There are four criteria that must be met in order for something to be considered fair use:

1. Purpose of Use
It is okay to copy something for educational use, but it is only appropriate if the copies are used spontaneously. For example, let's say I decide to copy a copyrighted article to share with my students in the classroom the day before one of my lectures. That is clearly spontaneous. However, if the next semester comes along and I say "Hey, that lesson plan worked great and that article was perfect!", I no longer have the same rights. If I copy that article for my students the next semester, it is no longer spontaneous and I am guilty of copyright infringement. It is okay to use an article temporarily and spontaneously. But an article should not be put into an anthology of any kind or distributed to students for more than one semester until you receive explicit permission from the copyright holder.

2. Nature of the Work
I'm not totally clear on what this means, but it has something to do with whether the work contains well-known facts and ideas (which are not copyright-able, but are part of public domain) vs. how much of it is the author's own insights and expressions in it. This is something I'll probably need a lawyer to explain to me some day.

3. Proportion/Extent of Materials Used
This refers to how much of the work you are using (e.g. what percentage of the work you are using). For example, there was a case where a teacher was found guilty of copyright infringement for copying 11 out of 24 pages from an instructional book. If you copy a paragraph from an article or a book, you're probably okay since it's just a very small portion of the overall work. However, copying a chapter or more from a book becomes questionable and can get you into trouble.

4. The Effect on Marketability
This is by far the most important of the four tests for fair use. If copying and distributing the materials will result in a reduction of sales for the copyright holder, it's illegal. For example, let's say I decide not to use the Allyn and Bacon textbook in my class because I don't feel I use enough of it in my curriculum to justify the expense to my students. If I decide to copy a few graphs or pages from the book and give that to my students, I essentially reduced the sales for the Allyn and Bacon textbook. That could get me into hot water.

One other thing I didn't know is that you must include the copyright notice whenever you copy something for a student. It is not enough to give attribution.

If you want more information, check out this helpful website: A Teacher's Guide to Fair Use and Copyright. Also check out UVU's Course Reserve page to see the copyright laws in action at our school.


Yikes! I don't know about you, but this stuff just floored me when I learned about it a few months ago. This week I've had to send out copyright permissions to: the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Scientific American, the journal Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Disney's Wondertime magazine, and W.W. Norton who publishes They Say/I Say. (By the way, that last one is a long shot, but one can always hope.) I've also rewritten many of my handouts so that they are purely in my own words and using my own original ideas. It's been quite a mammoth task. Wish me luck!

P.S. The image above comes from Gideon Burton's Flickr photostream. I'm pretty sure that since we're friends, he won't sue me for it. :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

True Story

My husband purchased the video game "Uncharted" last week. We made a deal that I would grade every night while he played the game until it was time to go to bed. We did this every evening for a week. The video game took him about 10 hours to complete and that's almost exactly how long it took me to grade my big pile of Exploratory Essays and Final Portfolios. Wow. No wonder I'm exhausted! :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some Links and Some Logical Fallacies

I recently stumbled across a few interesting links that you might find interesting.

First of all, since the WPAs have long proclaimed that English 1010/2010/2020 are about teaching critical thinking, at their core, I thought I would share a fun link on Wikihow entitled How to Think For Yourself. I think it's a good starting place for a discussion about critical thought. Since it's a wiki and since this is something we think a lot about, it might be interesting to see how we as teachers would add or expand to this definition (it is a wiki, after all). I'm sure there's a lot we could add to step #4, in particular.

As for my second link, all I have to say is: I got scooped! I've had the dream of creating a visual graph of logical fallacies for a long time and now the Fallacy Files have beaten me to it. Check out their Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies. It's pretty amazing.

Do you teach logical fallacies in your class? I have a class period devoted to it early on in the semester because I think it's helpful to begin a discussion of sound logic by talking about what is not logical. I actually have a 35+ guide to logical fallacies. It's kind of becoming my magnum opus. I based it on Kip Wheeler's Logical Fallacy Handlist, making heavy edits using additional content and examples from Wikipedia and the afore-mentioned Fallacy Files (among others). All three of these sites grant copyright permission for non-commercial use, which is nice. Normally, I would share my entire guide with all of you, but I'm working on getting some copyright permission for some of the images I use and it makes me nervous to distribute it to anyone but my students right now. However, I might be willing to let you read it just for your own personal reference, if you'd like. Just contact me for the file.

When I teach about logical fallacies, I do a little introduction to Logical Fallacies by reading Max Shulman's "Love is a Fallacy" (with a heavy disclaimer that it's a very chauvinist text) and then I divide them into groups of 3 and assign them 3 logical fallacies to present to the class using my guide.

As a follow-up to the lecture, I have them write online forum posts identifying logical fallacies in 1 of the 4 common film texts they view for my class. I heard an idea for another possible follow up that I used to use, but I stopped doing it because it made my classes run out of time. I got the idea from an Academic Evolution podcast featuring Kathryn Cowley. I still think it's a great idea. Here's the directions I used to use for it:

Now you’ll get to use your creativity to apply your logical fallacy to an argument. Choose one of the two passages on the following pages (Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" or "America Recycles Day"). Your group is going to pick one of the logical fallacies you learned about together and you’re going to "doctor" this piece of writing so that it has your assigned logical fallacy in it. For example:

From a section of Kennedy’s Inaugural Address:
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

Doctored Inaugural Address with the "Ad Hominem" logical fallacy:
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because those stinkin’, lyin’, no good, evil, God-hating Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

I then had them doctor the text of either The Gettysburg Address or an editorial that used to be available on the America Recycles Day website. (You can contact me if you want the text.) Back when I did it, I sometimes got some pretty creative responses. It's a fun activity if you want to give it a try.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Harry Potter and Scholarly Texts

I thought Alyssa's post last week was great and a good way to help our students see the bigger picture of academic research. I just wanted to share an activity that I tried that seemed to go well. First, I did a search of full-text, peer-reviewed articles on Harry Potter in EBSCO. I got about 300 or so hits. I printed off six very different articles from different journals (one was in a law journal about bureaucracy and government in the books, one from a social work journal about parenting in the books, one was about using Harry Potter in the classroom for teaching Latin roots, one was a feminist literary critique of the books, one was from an economics journal about the marketing of the books, and one was about moral education). Actually, since some of the articles were long I just printed the first few pages and the last page or so (for the references). I then divided the students into small groups and gave each one an article to analyze. They had to answer the following questions:

Who is the author of the article and what are his/her credentials?
What is the name of the journal that published the article? What other types of articles do you think might be found in this journal?
Who is the intended audience for this article?
What is the main idea/thesis of the article?
What kinds of sources are listed as references for this text? Based on their titles, what do you think they are about?

After each group had about five minutes to familiarize themselves with their articles, we discussed each one as a class (I had the PDFs on my computer so we could all see them, but that's not necessary). My goals for this were two-fold: first, to familiarize the students with journal articles and how to understand what their main points and context are; second, to help them see how to take a scholarly approach on a subject, even one that was seemingly non-academic like Harry Potter. I think this activity worked really well for my students. They were mostly able to get a feel for what each article was about and who the intended audience was. Many of them also expressed surprise that scholars were discussing Harry Potter in so many different ways, and it helped them understand better what a scholarly approach to a subject is.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One Way to Encourage Students to Engage with Scholarly Articles

I've been spending the last 3-4 weeks in my class discussing how to develop a research strategy, how to conduct library research and how to evaluate sources to determine if they are credible and authoritative.

I thoroughly enjoyed John Goshert's presentation at the beginning of the semester about deepening the level of our students' critical thinking through scholarly articles. I don't want to sound like a brown-noser or anything, but I genuinely thought it was inspiring. As a result, I've made some modifications to my curriculum this semester in order to emphasize scholarly texts a lot more.

I added an extra day to my curriculum to "champion this cause," if you will. Since I taught my lesson about engaging with scholarly texts last Wednesday, I decided to blog about how I approached it in case it could possibly be helpful to you.

I introduced the lesson by showing a brief PowerPoint presentation to kind of get my students thinking about the big picture of why they should do scholarly research. The presentation was based on a blog entry by Matt Might at his blog http://matt.might.net. It is called The Illustrated Guide to a PhD. Might has given permission to reproduce this blog entry for non-profit purposes as long as they give proper attribution to him and follow these requirements. Here's a reproduction of the presentation, with my additional comments in [brackets]:

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge.

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little.

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more.

With a bachelor's degree, you gain a specialty.

A master's degree deepens that specialty.

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge.

[I modify the original text for the above slide to say that reading scholarly articles takes you to the edge of human knowledge. And then I tell them that this is why the English department stresses peer-reviewed, scholarly articles so much. Scholarly articles are where the truly deep, critical thinking is taking place. They're at the edge of human knowledge. So, if you want to improve your critical thinking, you need to read scholarly articles.]

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus.

You push at the boundary for a few years.

Until one day, the boundary gives way.

And that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.

Of course, when you’ve reached this point, the world looks different to you now.

So don’t forget the big picture.

[On the above slide, I talk about how this is the purpose of research and scholarship: to expand the circle of human knowledge. All of us are benefited directly or indirectly by this process. I mention a story I heard on NPR's Planet Money about economist Tim Taylor who asks his students rather they'd prefer to be a middle income American living on $70,000 a year or a super-wealthy person in 1900 living on $70,000 a year. Approximately 2/3 of his students choose to be middle-income Americans because imagine all the things you'd do without: no antibiotics and other important medical procedures, no airplanes for easy travel abroad, no movie theaters or TV or Netflix or iPods, etc. The point is that the circle of human knowledge has expanded quite a bit in the last 100+ years. And we all benefit from those tiny little dents.]

[I then add something which wasn't in the original blog entry, but was a post script. I preface it by saying: "To put it a different way..."]

If you zoom in on the boundary of human knowledge in the direction of genetics, there’s something just outside of humanity’s reach. [The author of this has a son who was born with a rare, fatal genetic disorder. He discusses that he and his wife started funding graduate students after they learned about this.]

So... Keep pushing.


As for the rest of the lesson, I had required my students to bring a scholarly article to class this day and we spent the day talking about how to read scholarly articles, what their format is like, the best methods for reading them, etc. I then gave them about half an hour to read through their article and then we had an in-class discussion in which the students respond to what the experience was like.

For those students who were frustrated with the highly technical language, I go over some strategies for learning how to process what you read in scholarly articles better. (For more of my lecture notes---including strategies---or for the PowerPoint I created with the images above, feel free to email me.)

One of the awesome comments I got in class on Wednesday was from a student who said that reading his article was "surprisingly refreshing." He was reading some of the scholarship about Constitutional law and talked about how it was nice to actually read directly many of the things he hears glossed over in the mainstream media. I used that as a jumping off point for discussing how when you are reading scholarly articles, you're often reading primary research. So you're getting information direct from the source, free from mediating forces that interpret the information for you. You get to make up your own mind about the topic when you read scholarly articles.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you as you work on encouraging your students to engage with scholarly texts! Any pointers you have to share?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Defining Plagiarism

Over the summer our colleague Christopher Bigelow shared a link to an interesting article in the New York Times about plagiarism. If you haven't already, you should check it out. It's about how the Internet is causing students to become confused about exactly what plagiarism is (or at least complicating it).

Tonight I'll be teaching my lesson about how to cite sources in MLA. For the first part of that lesson, I spend some time talking about plagiarism since that's what we're trying to avoid when we cite our sources. I was inspired by this New York Times article to create the following activity for my students. I'm going to put them into groups of 3-4 and hand out the following exercise for them to do together:


What is Plagiarism?

Suppose you wanted to define the concept of "plagiarism." Working in groups or with a partner, try to reach a consensus about whether each of the following cases is an example of plagiarism or not:

1. A student buys a paper online and turns it in as his own work.

2. A student buys a paper online and changes most of the wording so that it is in her own words, then turns it in as her own work.

3. A student is writing a paper about Columbus’s voyage to America. He writes "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492." He does not cite what source he got that fact from.

4. A student is writing a paper about the Great Depression. She used information from Wikipedia in her paper. Because Wikipedia is created by unnamed authors and written by a collective group, the student did not provide a citation for the website in her paper because she thought it counted as common knowledge.

5. A student is writing a paper about homelessness. While researching the topic, he found a website that featured a really good FAQ page about homelessness. He copied and pasted information from this page directly into his paper. The website was anonymous (meaning it did not indicate who wrote the information), so the student did not provide a citation for the website in his paper because he thought it was unnecessary for something anonymous.

6. A student is asked to write her own analysis of a painting for a class. The student consults an analysis about the painting in a textbook written by a Humanities professor. The student uses the essay to spur her own thinking about the topic. She writes the analysis in her own words, using some of the ideas written in the article about the painting.

7. A student is asked to write a research paper for his History class. He realizes that the assignment is very similar to an assignment he did in his English 1010 class and he decides to turn in the old paper he wrote for 1010 for his History assignment.

8. A student is asked to write a research paper for his History class. He realizes that the assignment is very similar to an assignment he did in his English 1010 class. He does some additional research about the topic and makes some revisions to the paper before he turns it in for his History assignment.

9. A student is writing a research paper. Nearly 85% of her paper consists of quotes from other sources about her topic. All of the quotes are cited correctly, meaning that the student clearly identified where each quote came from.

Based on your decisions, create a working definition of "plagiarism." Specify what general criteria you would use in order to determine if something is plagiarized or not.


I'll then have the class share their definitions as a class. We'll use that as a jumping off point to discuss some of the ideas presented in the article and what really counts as plagiarism or not. We can also discuss unconscious vs. conscious plagiarism, since the English Department's policy makes a distinction between those two types of plagiarism.

I figure that this exercise could be helpful because, while some of these examples are clear cut, most of the examples are not. They'll have to debate and engage with each other to figure them out. It can also help them really begin to think about what plagiarism means on a more personal level using real-world examples.(By the way, almost all of these examples are real examples that I've encountered in my own experience---and two of them come directly from the New York Times article.)

Side note: Michael Wesch's lecture An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (given to the Library of Congress) is good supplemental viewing for the New York Times article because it talks about the complications of authorship on the Internet. (And, dang, it's just a really great lecture for its own sake.)

Edited 10-12-10 to add: I wanted to follow-up on how this lesson plan went in my class. I liked it a lot better than what I had done previously (which was just to define plagiarism in a lecture for them). This was much more engaging---in fact, one of my classes ended up having a very robust discussion that lasted 10-15 minutes about this topic. I found that it was helpful to ask them which scenarios they weren't sure about after they gave their definitions and we wrote them all on the board. One thing that surprised me about this activity was that I realized that there is a gap between what the students considered to be plagiarism and what I (or at least other professors) considered to be plagiarism.

For example, most students do not consider #7 to be plagiarism (incidentally, neither do I; I just think it's a little unethical), but I've heard professors at UVU saying that it is plagiarism to re-use an old paper and I thought it was important to let the students know about it. (I encouraged them to talk to their professor before they re-submitted an old paper or to revise it in some way.) Some of the students debated about whether #9 was plagiarism, but I've had a discussion with Psychology professors who feel that it is plagiarism if most of the ideas in your paper are not your own---even if they are cited. Some students thought that #4 or #6 were not plagiarism (and I do think it's plagiarism, even though I think #6 is probably unintentional plagiarism)---but that might have something to do with the way I worded the questions. Anyhow, it was really illuminating. I think it went relatively well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Podcast Resources

Dag... Two blog entries in two days? I'm on fire here! (This is actually the calm before the storm. I'll have many papers to grade in a few days.)

I wanted to write a quick blog entry to share a couple of great resources I've found recently. I'm a big fan of podcasts because they really help the time go by when I'm doing menial household chores. Most of the resources I'm sharing are from some great podcasts.

Last month, my all-time favorite podcast Radiolab put out an hour-long episode called "Words". In the podcast, they explore scientific studies that show the relationship between one's language abilities and one's cognitive abilities. (Hint: there's a really close relationship.) I found it very inspiring because that's exactly what 1010 and 2010 are really about. It's not just about writing; it's about beginning to think in a different way---and language unlocks the door. I'm planning on sharing the story that begins at 43:00 about a school for deaf children in Nicaragua in which scientists were able to watch a new language being born. As the language progresses and becomes more complex, so do the speakers' abilities to process more complex thoughts. It's a short little piece that can be tacked on at the end of the lesson to help students see how learning to write (to better use language) is relevant to their lives. So, check it out! (And then download the rest of their catalogue, because it is seriously that good.)

Skeptoid is another podcast I listen to. It's a weekly podcast in which host Brian Dunning applies scientific logic and critical thinking to disprove a lot of myths in pop culture. Here's a few episodes that might be helpful:

Episode #50 - How to Identify a "Good" Scientific Journal

Episode #73 - A Magical Journey through the Land of Logical Fallacies Part One

Episode #74 - A Magical Journey through the Land of Logical Fallacies Part Two

Episode #217 - Some New Logical Fallacies

Plus, every now and then one of my students picks a (cough) New Age-y type topic and it can be helpful to point students to some of his intelligent discussions about those kinds of topics. It's my polite way of telling them they should probably choose a more academic research topic.

Also, just as an FYI, last semester I discovered that you can hook up an iPod (or other portable music player) directly to the media consoles in the UVU classrooms. All you have to do is get a male to male stereo cable, plug it into the console, and switch the console to "Computer" mode and it will work great. I use a lot of music and sound clips in my class, so it's pretty handy not to have to lug my laptop onto campus with me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lesson Plan: Teaching Summary Writing

WARNING: This blog entry is going to be incredibly long!

I've taught 1010 almost the entire 3 years I've been here at UVU (with only one semester off). And the way I've taught about summary writing (for the Summary/Strong Response paper) has evolved dramatically from semester to semester. My first semester I think I only mentioned summaries briefly on the day I discussed quoting mechanics. (I think I falsely assumed it was a "simple" concept.) Then, I began to realize that my students desperately needed more intense instruction than this. After a whole lot of trial and error (and positive and negative feedback from students), I think I've finally got my lesson plan into the state where I feel good about it. As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of "open source teaching," so I've decided to share it with all of you.

NOTE: In preparation for this lesson, I relied heavily on a chapter entitled "The Art of Summarizing" from the book They Say/I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. I don't use this textbook in my class, but I think it's a great resource nonetheless. I also used some of the teaching ideas on a website called TV411.

ALSO NOTE: I'm using the "Concept-Hook" teaching model that I blogged about earlier this year.

Lesson Preparation

Objective: Students will be able to write effective summaries.

Materials Needed:
-- Several sets of the "Summary versus Details" card game (see details below)
-- Handout: Key Points from Writing Summaries Lecture
-- Handout: Sample Summaries
-- For your reference: Making the Grade

Lesson Directions

Warm-up/Anticipatory Set:

Ask the class: What is a summary? (Basically a shortened, condensed version of the original text.)

This assignment is called the "SUMMARY/Strong Response," so obviously that means that one of the tasks that you need to accomplish in this paper is to provide a summary of the film that you are responding to. The overall summary is typically the very first thing that you put into a response paper such as this one. That’s because it provides an overview of the text that you are going to be discussing. Your summary helps provide a context for the rest of the paper. So, in this paper, the summary is basically your introduction to the paper.

Now, besides this paper, why do you need to know how to write a summary? How are you going to use summaries in the rest of your college career or maybe even in your personal life? Build on student responses to bring out the following:

--You’ll need it in college: it helps with note-taking (because it helps you to process what you've read) and you often integrate it into other papers you’re writing.

--To have conversations with other people, especially if they haven’t read or seen the original text that you’re talking about.

--Demonstrates that you understand a text. That's because summary writing is about READING COMPREHENSION. (Isn’t that sneaky? You thought this class was just about writing, but we snuck in some reading comprehension on you, dangit.)

So, even though summarizing may seem like a simple thing, that’s actually not true. Writing an effective summary actually involves several different tasks. So we’re going to go over what those tasks are today.

NOTE: I provide my students with an overview of my lecture. You can see the handout Key Points from Writing Summaries Lecture to follow along.

Concept #1:

Write on the board "Elements of a Good Summary" and "Skills Involved" on opposite sides of the board:

Under "Elements," write:

1. Good summaries only include the main ideas of the original text; they leave out the details.

Let’s pretend that you walked up to me and asked me how to get from UVU’s campus to the Orem Public Library. What would you do if I answered this way:

Well, first you start out at the UVU campus. Utah Valley University was founded in 1941 as a vocational school. Today it is a full-fledged publicly funded state university offering 58 bachelor degrees, 60 associate degrees and a handful of advanced certificate and master degrees. Then you need to turn left on University Parkway.

You’ll know that you’re headed in the right direction because as you travel down University Parkway, you’ll see the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on your right. Krispy Kreme is part of a national chain of doughnut shops, featuring 15 varieties of doughnuts. This particular shop was opened in the year 2000. It is 4,400 square feet in area and is built around a doughnut-making machine that is capable of making more than 200 doughnuts an hour. For the first several months after it opened, there was at least a half hour wait to get doughnuts.

Next you will want to turn left on State Street at the corner of University Mall. The University Mall was first opened in 1973. It was named because of its location on University Parkway, which is one of the main thoroughfares connecting roads between Orem and Provo. With 1,191,574 square feet or retail space, it is currently the largest shopping mall in the state of Utah.

As you travel on State Street, you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction when you see the SCERA theater. SCERA stands for Sharon’s Cultural, Education Recreational Association. For those of you who don’t know, the city of Orem used to be named Sharon until 1914 when the name was changed to honor Walter C. Orem, a railroad operator in Utah who the citizens hoped they could entice to build a railroad there. The SCERA was a non-profit organization founded during the Great Depression to lift the spirit of the community through the arts. One of the programs they started was to have regular movie nights for families. The popularity of the program led the LDS church to donate land for SCERA to build a movie theater, with the stipulation that they never show movies on Sundays.

A few blocks after the SCERA theater, you’ll come to the Orem Public Library on the right located at Center Street. The Orem Public Library’s Children’s Wing features a beautiful stained-glass window depicting various fairy tale characters and other famous scenes from children’s literature. The stained glass window was commissioned by The Ashton Family Foundation as a tribute to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, which is sponsored by the library and is considered one of the best festivals of its kind in the nation.

Okay, what would you say? (Get student responses. Normally they complain very loudly about having to sit through that. Then I ask them why they had that response.) What you really wanted was a summary:

From the Utah Valley University campus, turn left on University Parkway.

You’ll know you’re going in the right direction if you see a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on your right.

Next turn left on State Street at the corner of University Mall.

As you travel on State Street, you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction when you see the SCERA theater on the right.

A few blocks after the SCERA theater, you’ll come to the Orem Public Library on the right located at Center Street.

Unfortunately, too often students give me the first kind of "summary" rather than the second kind. Students often go into too much detail in their introductory summaries in their papers. You only need to give your readers just enough information to understand the original text so that they can then jump into the meat of your argument where you’ll go into more depth.

So the task involved here is (write on board under "Skills Involved"):

Being able to distinguish between the main ideas and the supporting details.

Next, have students brainstorm an ad-hoc list of how they might distinguish between main ideas and supporting details. I write their ideas up on the board.

Hook for Concept #1:

I then divide students into small groups for a class activity. NOTE: In my class, the students are responding to 1 of 4 possible film texts for the Summary/Strong Response paper, so for this activity, I have them get into groups according to which film they are responding to in their paper. If your students are writing about texts they chose themselves for this paper (as opposed to a common text), you may want to assign them to read a short article before this lecture so that you all have a common text to build from.

Give each group an envelope containing 10 "Summary versus Details" cards. Each card has a statement from their film text and their task is to sort out the main points from the supporting details. Mention that there’s not an equal amount of main ideas to supporting ideas (just like in actual texts). Also tell the groups that when they have finished sorting the cards, they should discuss what criteria they used to make the distinction between main ideas and supporting ideas. What would they add to what we already wrote on the board? What other ways can you use to distinguish between main ideas and supporting details?

Here's an example of the set of cards for the film An Inconvenient Truth:

1. There was a massive study of every scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal written on global warming for the last 10 years. They took a sample of 928 articles. There was not a single article that disagreed with the scientific consensus that we’re causing global warming and that it’s a serious problem. By contrast, a similar study was conducted of articles in the popular press. Of the 623 articles reviewed, 53% cast doubt on the global warming theory.

2. Mosquitoes are one example of disease-carrying pests that are affected by global warming. Many cities were built on mountains because they were just above the mosquito line. As temperatures have increased, the altitude of the mosquito line has climbed. In the United States, mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus have spread across the United States in only 6 years, which is a very short space of time.

3. One of the misconceptions that people have about global warming is that there is not a scientific consensus about whether global warming is real or not. This is not true. This misconception has been deliberately created by a small group of people with financial interests in oil and gas companies.

4. Bark beetles are an example of insects that used to be killed off by cold winters. Because there are fewer colder days, more of them survive. Collectively, they have killed more than 14 million acres of spruce trees in Alaska. The pine beetles in the continental United States have had a similar effect.

5. In the last couple of years, we have seen a lot of big hurricanes. Hurricanes Jeanne, Frances, and Ivan were among them. In the same year we had that same string of hurricanes, we also set an all-time record for tornadoes in the United States (1,717). Japan, again, didn’t get as much attention in our news media, but they set an all-time record for typhoons. The previous record was 7, here are all 10 of the ones they had in 2004. Science textbooks have had to be rewritten because they say that it’s impossible to have a hurricane in the South Atlantic, but this was the same year the first one ever hit Brazil.

6. Global warming has potentially devastating consequences to natural ecosystems because the summer lasts longer and there are less days in which there is frost. Because there is no frost to kill them off, many invasive insects and rodents survive longer than they used to.

7. Recently in Mumbai, India, they received 27 inches of rain in 24 hours, which was an all-time record. Water levels reached 7 feet. The death toll reached 1,000 people.

8. Philip Cooney, an aide for President Bush, deliberately edited a memo from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding Climate Change reports. Although he had no scientific expertise, he made substantial edits to the memo that cast doubt on the facts regarding global warming. When this was discovered, Cooney resigned and went to work for Exxon Mobil.

9. In a study conducted in the Netherlands beginning in 1980 to the present time, it was determined that the average peak arrival date for migratory birds was April 25 in 1980. Their chicks hatched on June 3, which directly corresponded to the time that caterpillars emerged. Today, these caterpillars emerge 2 weeks earlier because of warmer weather. The chicks still hatch on June 3 and more of them are going hungry than is normal, which could significantly reduce the bird population.

10. Warmer temperatures result in storms that are more intense. As a result of the increased temperature in the atmosphere caused by global warming, the number of major storms has increased dramatically.

When finished, give the students the correct answers: the main ideas are numbers 3, 6, and 10. (In one of my classes, students actually did a huge cheer when they found out they were right!)

Have the students talk about how they were able to figure out the difference between a main idea and a supporting detail. Add any additional insights they gained to the list written on the board.

At this point, I also usually mention that when I was preparing this "game" for them, I noticed that main ideas tended to be opinions (e.g. they were debateable) and supporting details tended to be facts.

Concept #2:

Write on the board (under "Elements of a Good Summary"):

2. Good summaries are neutral and unbiased.

From They Say/I Say: "To write a good summary, you must be able to suspend your own beliefs for a time and put yourself in the shoes of someone else. This means playing what the writing theorist Peter Elbow calls the ‘believing game,’ in which you try to inhabit the worldview of those whose conversations you are joining—and whom you are perhaps even disagreeing with—and try to see their argument from their perspective. This ability to temporarily suspend one’s own convictions is a hallmark of good actors, who must convincingly ‘become’ characters who in real life they may actually detest. As a writer, when you play the believing game really well, readers should not be able to tell whether you agree or disagree with the ideas you are summarizing." (29)

Ask the class: Why should a good summary be unbiased and neutral? Build on student responses to bring out the following points from They Say/I Say>:

--"If you cannot or will not suspend your own beliefs in this way, you are likely to produce summaries that are so obviously biased that they undermine your credibility with readers."

--"Readers need to be able to assess the merits of the original text on its own, independent of you." Shows respect.

--"When a writer fails to play the believing game, he or she often falls prey to what we call 'the closet cliche syndrome,' in which what gets summarized is not the view the author in question has actually expressed, but a familiar cliche that the writer mistakes for the author’s view." This is the STRAW MAN FALLACY. (By now my students have learned about logical fallacies, so we review this concept briefly.) "Whenever you enter into a conversation with others in your writing then, it is extremely important that you go back to what others have said, that you study it very closely, and that you not collapse it to something you have already heard or know. Writers who fail to do this end up essentially conversing with themselves—with imaginary others who are really only the products of their own biases and preconceptions."

So there are two tasks involved here (write on board under "Skills Involved"):

Basic reading comprehension and the ability to remain fair-minded.

This is what I mean when I say that summary writing involves good reading comprehension. It means really trying to understand the point of the view of the person making the argument.

Hook for Concept #2:

For this hook, I share a personal story in which I was drastically misquoted/misrepresented in a Daily Herald newspaper article. It's my own story, so I'm not really going to recite it here for everyone else to use. I would just encourage you to go find your own example. There's plenty of examples of the Straw Man Fallacy out there which are humorous and engaging. (See what qualifies as a good "hook" by looking at my earlier blog entry about this topic.)

Concept #3:

Write on the board, under "Elements":

3. Good summaries only include information that is relevant to what you (the writer) want to discuss.

From They Say/I Say: "Even as writing an effective summary requires you to temporarily adopt the worldviews of others, it does not mean ignoring your own views altogether. Paradoxically, at the same time that summarizing another text requires you to represent fairly what it says, it also requires that your own response exert a quiet influence. A good summary, in other words, has a focus or spin that allows the summary to fit with your own overall agenda while still being true to the text you are summarizing." (31-32)

So, the skill involved here is (write on board under "Skills"):

Being able to see the relationship between the main ideas and the focus of your own argument.

Hook for Concept #3

Working with their same groups, students go back to the cards they were given. Besides what was written on the cards, now they need to brainstorm a list of other points (main ideas) that were brought up in the film besides the one on the card. Students have a contest to see who can come up with the most additional "main points." (If you're using a common text, you could also possibly list these points on the board.) One thing that I like about this activity is that sometimes students get caught up discussing the main ideas together that they actually forget about the "contest." I like that they begin engaging with the ideas in the text.

After a certain amount of time, discuss with the class how each of the filmmakers talks about a lot of various subtopics in their argument. I then ask them: do you think you're going to have the time to discuss every single main idea that they brought up in a 4-5 page paper? Of course not! You need to decide what you really want to focus on in your paper. Therefore, you should only include the main ideas that you want to use in your paper. The summary should lead them into what you have to say.

"Writing a good summary means not just representing an author’s view accurately, but doing so in a way that fits your own composition’s larger agenda."

Concept #4

Write on the board, under "Elements":

4. Good summaries are in your words rather than the author’s words.

You need to say it in your own voice. This skill is more important when you’re doing something like a research paper because it helps you to avoid plagiarism, but it’s worth noting here. It also helps you avoid the temptation to quote too much.

So, the skill involved here is (write on board under "Skills"):

Reverse the sentence structure, use synonyms, indicate any direct quotes with quotation marks.


illness = medical problem
exchange views = talk to others
medical topic = medical subject
available to = open to
despite = in spite of
news items = news reports

(In the future, I think I might design an activity to help them brainstorm synonyms for a few terms. It might also work as some sort of competition.)

Some last things to mention:

Parts of a summary
--Introduction – Introduces the text to be summarized (title + author), gives any pertinent background information,

--Gives the topic and the main thesis of the piece. (Different from your thesis.)

--Main points.

--May possibly include one illustration.

A summary is usually about 1/10th the size of the original.

Summaries use the sandwich principle too.


Look at a sample of a poor summary in the handout. (FYI, this is a summary of an article called Making the Grade that you may consider having your students read.) Mine come to it cold.

Have students discuss why this is a poor summary. Build upon the student's observations to bring out the following points:

--Doesn't give the essay context by giving the essay title and the publication that it appeared in.

--Uses the author's original wording a little bit too much.

--Doesn't put quotation marks around the parts that were directly quoted.

--Doesn't use neutral attributive tags.

--Hard to distinguish where the summary is and where the author is interjecting their own opinions.

--Doesn't really capture the essence of the essay. Picks out kind of random stuff to focus on.

--Isn't a really coherent piece of writing anyway.

Then read the improved summary on the next page, talking about why it is better in a discussion with the students.

I then discuss how I grade their summaries in the Summary/Strong Response paper.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Motivating Oneself to Get the Grading Done

There's a lot of research that goes into the relationship between grades and motivation. But what about the motivation to grade? It's something I think about because I honestly hate grading papers. If I were to rank the things I have to do as part of my job in the order from most liked to least liked, grading papers would be at the bottom of the list. It's pure drudgery for me.

It's not because the papers are "bad." (Although I do think my enthusiasm would be slightly higher if I knew that my students were all Jane Tompkins and Malcolm Gladwells in embryo.) It's not because the papers are boring. (On the contrary, I usually learn a few interesting and thought-provoking things I never knew before.) I do know that when the number of papers I have to grade increases, so does my dread in facing the task. But beyond that, I have no idea why I dislike it so much.

With that in mind, I'm wondering if anyone has any helpful strategies for motivating oneself to grade papers. I tend to procrastinate grading until the last possible minute and then pump myself full of caffeine and pull a late-night to get it done. I'm not particularly happy with that strategy. In an ideal world, I would grade the papers the instant I got them and turn them back so quickly my students would all sing praises to me about my remarkable initiative. But even though I fantasize about doing that every single time, I never actually go through with it in the end.

Am I the only one with this problem? Can you commiserate? If so, do you have any additional theories about why it feels like such a joyless task? And on a more practical level, what are your secrets for slogging through the grading? Any tips you have for making it easier on yourself?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Teaching Resource for Angle of Vision & Wallowing

I thought all of you might be interested in something I am doing for my 1010 classes in B block and fall term. To give students an in-depth understanding of angle of vision and wallowing in complexity, I am having them watch the narrative film Vantage Point outside of class. This PG13 film is highly complex and very entertaining. It deals with the vantage points of a handful of people on the shooting of the president of the United States. The angles of vision depend on with where the characters are at the time, what their social and political motivations are for being there, how they respond to the shooting, and the ways they intentionally and inadvertently influence each other’s actions. On top of the angle of vision and wallowing benefits, the movie offers an excellent extended metaphor for the complexities of research and the demands of sorting out old and new as well as reliable and unreliable information.

In my classes, we are spending between a half hour and an hour discussing the film and how it plays into their needs to wallow in complexity and understand angle of vision. We’re also covering the importance of skillful use of source material.

If you choose to do this, you may put Vantage Point, and any other film for that matter, on two-week, electronic reserve in the UVU library, so your students can watch it at home. I have been informed, however, that you must show at least some of the movie in the classroom in order to satisfy requirements stipulated by the provider. The circulation desk can help you sort out the details.

If you decide to use Vantage Point, I’d be interested in feedback, particularly how you chose to implement it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Brain Rule #4 : We don't pay attention to boring things

I'm in the middle of listening to the audio book Brain Rules by John Medina. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist focused on the genes involved in human brain development. His book discussed what he calls the "brain rules" that need to be followed in order to have a better brain, to be a better teacher and a better boss. His book is based on peer-reviewed neuroscience, mostly from the Journal of Applied Neuroscience. It's very accessible and is as entertaining as it is informative.

Rule #4 is: We don't pay attention to boring things. At the end of the chapter about this rule, he gave his formula for getting the brain's attention and keeping it during a standard lecture. Because of this formula, he was named the Hirsch Marion (sp?) Teacher of the Year. I thought it was worth sharing.

The basic principle behind his formula is that, based on proven research, the brain cannot pay attention to something "boring" for more than 10 minutes. Most students tune out of a lecture after that space of time. With that in mind, Medina divides his lectures into discrete 10 minute segments (so a typical college lecture would have 5 segments).

Each segment covers one concept. The concept has to be large, general, and significant. It must be easily explained in 1 minute. The other 9 minutes are used to provide a detailed description of that concept, complete with lots of examples. You need to make sure you explicitly explain how the detail connects to the general concept.

At the end of the 10 minutes, you need to "buy" yourself another 10 by using what he calls a "hook" or an ECS (emotionally competent stimuli). The hook should trigger an emotion of some sort: fear, laughter, happiness, nostalgia, incredulity, etc. Narratives can be especially apropos.

The hook must also be relevant and it needs transition in between the two modules. It can either relate to the previous concept that you just finished explaining or introduce the next concept that you will discuss. You can't just throw in something random or else the audience will begin to distrust your motives (e.g. that you're just trying to entertain them, not inform them) or feel patronized.

He says that he has found it to be wonderfully successful in his own lectures. After a while, he can skip the 4th and 5th hook because the students are still engaged and retain the information much better.

He also mentions that you should explain the lecture plan at the beginning of the class and regularly point out where you are in that plan throughout the lecture. That way the brain doesn't have to "multi-task" (which isn't effective) and try to figure out all the concepts relate to each other while you are speaking.

It's an interesting idea. I think I might try to incorporate the 10 minute principle in my upcoming classes. I would also add that giving the class time to discuss a concept with each other can help to give the brain a rest too.

If you want to know more about the science behind his formula (e.g. why it works), feel free to check out the Brain Rules book. I'm a little more than halfway through and I'd say it's been very worthwhile so far.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A World Without Teacher-Assigned Grades

I'm going to be taking on a heavier course load this Fall and I've been brainstorming possible changes I might make to my course as a result. Up to this point, I've been able to give my students a lot of individual feedback by meeting with them individually to discuss their rough drafts for every major paper. However, I'm not sure whether I will be able to keep up with this intense schedule in the Fall when I take on an extra class.

Another thing that continues to haunt me is Katherine Cowley's idea that the classroom should ideally function as a "proto-public space" in which students become each other's audience (see my earlier blog entry about this subject for more details). This is especially apropos in a writing class. I see a tremendous amount of value in getting students to actively read, respond and engage with the ideas written by the other students. In the real world, writing is motivated by the need to express an idea and the merits of an essay is entirely judged by your peers---not by some arbitrary rubric created by a supervisor.

That's why I was kind of turned on by an article entitled No Grading, More Learning in which a professor at Duke University tested out a system she calls "crowdsourcing" in which all grades were determined purely by the fellow students in the class. The way it worked is the students were required to complete weekly writing assignments and post it to a class blog. The fellow students then "graded" the assignment by determining whether they thought it was satisfactory or not. Basically they gave it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. If the student received a thumbs-down they had an opportunity to rewrite the essay in order to get a thumbs-up from their fellow students. Meanwhile, as the instructor, she made a point to comment on every students' essay and monitor the blog.

Here's what I like about the system:
  • Getting students to honestly evaluate each other's work and respond to each other's ideas.

  • By having to write for a "jury of their peers," they might be more likely to work harder. I like that it kind of gives the peer-review process some teeth, if you will.

Here's some reservations I have about the system:
  • The logistics are difficult. With a larger class of 24 students, they probably aren't going to have time to read every single essay written by their fellow students. Plus, if we're doing longer essays such as the Exploratory Essay, that would also make them take a lot of time reading.

  • I wouldn't be able to do it for every single assignment, but maybe for a small group of assignments.

  • Part of me worries that students would be either too easy or too hard on each other. I also feel like it needs to be anonymous somehow, so that students don't make it a popularity contest. Plus, I'm not a big fan of thumbs-up/thumbs-down critiques since they have the effect of flattening out the worth of an essay.

So, we'll see. I'll let you know if I decide to use this system in my class. If so, I'll report to you about how it goes!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

fall 2010 available and other news

A few pieces of breaking news:

1. Tentative fall 2010 schedules are in your mailboxes. Please pick them up and return the signed portion to Samuel in the front office to confirm. We're making one or more new tenure-track hires and may have the usual schedule movement over the summer, so if you need adjustments, please return your schedule with a note indicating your needs.

2. We may be able to offer additional summer sections, so if you haven't yet sent a summer preference, here's another chance. Please include the following information:

Availability for A block, B block, or both

Time availability: MWF, MW, TR; day or afternoon/evening

For everyone already scheduled for summer, I'll let you know if there's a good fit for a second class. If you do not wish to be assigned to a second class, please let me know.

3. Pay increase for part time faculty begins summer A block. The increase is $250 per 3 hour course, so we should see some additional increase in first year composition compensation. We'd certainly like to see this number grow, but it's a gesture from university administration that indicates their knowledge that adjunct pay is woefully low.

Thanks for your work. See you over the summer or in August for orientation.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fall 2010 preferences, and other news

Attached on the listserv version of this message is a preference form for fall 2010 teaching. You'll see a couple of changes from previous years, including the split between MWF and MW sections. Starting in fall 2010, we're going to try aligning MW afternoon sections with the TR schedule, so beginning at 1pm MW sections will be 75 minutes; 50 minute MWF sections will continue to be held from 7-12. As expected in my previous email, we will not be able to assign fourth sections to any of our part time instructors, so three sections will be the maximum.

Please take a moment to fill out BOTH preferred days/times (middle) and availability (bottom) sections of the form to help us make the best fit between schedule openings and your preferences.

Please return your form by email or to my mailbox by Friday March 5; let me know if you neeed a hard copy to fill out. If you know you won't be returning to teach for English next year, please tell me at your earliest convenience to help us anticipate hiring needs as soon as possible.

On that note, as a reminder, if you know of anyone who is interested in part time instructional work, please encourage them to apply through the HR website or contact me with questions. We're going to try doing most of our fall hiring as we write the first draft of the schedule to avoid undue pressure on last minute hires.

In other news, Meredith told me that she only has spring syllabi from about half of you. I'll try to get a list together this week and start chasing you down--but this can be avoided by simply emailing a copy of your syllabus to Meredith or putting it in her box.

We may be able to hold at least one face to face meeting during spring, probably the April 13 meeting which we had scheduled at orientation. There have been a number of good suggestions for meeting topics over the past few months, and I'm sorry we haven't been able to get to them yet. I'm especially interested in having a discussion, as suggested by one instructor, on dealing with students who depend on arguments of faith/belief in their academic writing courses. We've also had suggestions to address more explicitly concerns of teaching ELL students, defining and dealing with plagiarism, and so on. We may not get to all of these this semester, or have time to only touch on one or more of these issues, but I am trying to keep track of your interests so we can get to them as time allows.

Finally, whether face to face or via the listserv, we will have some news about new 2010/2020 texts, updated assignment sequences, and other important matters later this semester, so please keep your eyes open for notification of that decision and news. Those of you who teach 2010 and/or 2020 should anticipate shifting away from using the Allyn and Bacon Guide and adopting a new text; and we want to give you as much time as possible over the summer to prepare. I'm less sure about the future of Norton Field Guide, but will have more to tell you after deliberation with Grant and Gae Lyn, and your colleagues who are piloting alternative texts this term.

Thanks for your work--see you in the halls.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Copy center codes, and other news

  • A note especially for those of you who are teaching in multiple departments (i.e. English along with Basic Comp, Phil/Hum, Foreign Languages, etc.): please make sure when giving work orders to the copy center in SC to use the copy code that corresponds with each particular job, so that each department gets charged appropriately for its jobs and no other's.

  • We should be able to start on the Fall 2010 schedule soon, so start thinking about your availability. There's a new option in the works to hold classes MW afternoons, during the same periods as TR classes. I believe we'll keep the MWF hourly schedule through early afternoon (like 1pm), then shift over to 75 minute blocks for the remainder of MW afternoons; MW evenings will remain the same as in past semesters. I'll get a revised schedule preference form out once I'm sure of the new schedule system.

  • We'll be interested in hiring new instructors to fill in slots left by instructors who move, go on to graduate programs, and find other employment over the summer. We'll also anticipate continued enrollment growth and the need for opening additional sections. If you know someone who would make a strong first year composition teacher, holds a Masters-level degree (preferably in English or related field), and has some classroom experience, please encourage them to contact me or simply fill out an application through human resources.

  • Some of you have already expressed interest in summer teaching. We're not yet prepared to make assignments, but I'll certainly send out a notice to the list a couple weeks before scheduling so that you can get your preferences in the mix.

  • Amy passed on some documents (attached through the listserv) from a seminar held by FCTE on plagiarism. I've heard good things from a number of our group about the value of these seminars which cover teaching strategies, integrating technology into classes, etc. Contact Anton Tollman if you're interested in attending their events.

  • OK. Keep your eyes on your email for preference forms soon and let me know if there are any questions or concerns in your individual classes.

  • See you in the halls.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Spring 2010: First Week in Review

I hope your first days of class--Wednesday, Thursday, or today--went well.

We finally got the schedule finished Friday the 1st, so thanks to everyone for your continued patience and willingness to accommodate an unusual number of shifting needs for full time faculty as this term came into focus during December.

A couple of notes as we get started:

1. I know that for many of you the logistics of your schedule are less than ideal. As a reminder, the master schedule is produced by articulating class size to room size, with little to no consideration of other factors (like pedagogical needs), so our classes pay for smaller size with smaller (and typically less desirable) rooms.

Second, like many of you, full time faculty members have also been scheduled to rush too far across campus in too little time. I've also spent my first couple of class days figuring out how to get from Trades to LA in 10 minutes; it may take a couple more days, but I think we can all figure out ways to make it work.

Third, there's also the challenge of having to deal with unpredictable resources in the classrooms--like going from a fully wired room in LA to one with a chalkboard and overhead only in Trades. Again, this is a situation that's shared by full time faculty as well (myself included), and we simply have to make do. Please do though try to take advantage of media resources available for checkout in Trades and other more remote campus locations. You can get a key card for the media closet on the 6th floor of Trades from the circulation desk in the library.

2. We were unable to assign any part time instructors to fourth sections. Not only were some of you hoping for that possibility, I was as well, since it's an option that's been instrumental to our successfully completing the schedule in past terms. This change has been burdensome all around, and I hope to see the fourth class option return in future terms.

3. For the time being, we will not be able to offer monthly professional development meetings. I'll be working to get those reinstated some time in the semester though, since I enjoy being able to see you all and I believe the meetings are an essential part of a successful program. In the meantime, we'll use the listserv and blog to distribute information, and I hope more of you will become contributors to the blog. More online participation will help us at least to use that resource to share successes and share strategies for addressing challenges.

4. Please provide Meredith (Meredith.Bennie@uvu.edu) with electronic copies of your syllabi as soon as you can--let's say by the end of the second week of classes. We have to increase the rate of participation, so you'll probably see me more aggressively pursuing you to turn in your materials earlier in the term than in the past.

On that note, the same goes for portfolios. Thanks to those of you who did turn in portfolios from fall 09, and I'm sure that more of you will be able to get your in now that we're all back on campus (there's a drop box on Meredith's desk). We are committed to building a successful assessment instrument for our program, and as Gae Lyn showed last year, the portfolio is, according to the field's best practices, the way to get this started. Please ensure that you will be able to provide end-of-term portfolios for all of your first year writing courses for all students randomly selected. If you need a reminder on required portfolio elements, let me know.

5. Finally, we're expanding the piloting of two possible texts for Engl 2010/2020. We'll keep you informed of the progress of the pilot and the plan for shifting to a new text in the coming academic year.

That's probably enough information for now. My thanks to each of you for all of your work and contributions to the program and the university. See you in the halls.