Oh John Carroll

Category: teaching

More on trigger warnings in the classroom, from Jade E. Davis at Talking Points Memo:

I am not what students expect. I am a medium-tone, shortish black female with natural hair that isn’t quite kinky enough to go into an afro. I am hippy. I come across as sweet, and I push my students in ways that make them uncomfortable. Because I am me, students assume that my teaching about media and popular culture, or media and society at large, will take a very specific trajectory. To an extent, it has to. For many students, realizing that, as the professor, I am the person my students who has knowledge and power over them, is traumatic. For other students, though, it is liberating. This is what the recent article in the New York Times misses.

Jennifer Medina of The New York Times writes about a growing trend at American universities:

The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace. The warnings have been widely debated in intellectual circles and largely criticized in opinion magazines, newspaper editorials and academic email lists.

I hope Philly adjuncts are successful in their attempts to unionize.

Cheating to Learn →

Peter Nonacs describes his innovative twist on his midterm exam:

Gasps filled the room. The students sputtered. They fretted. This must be a joke. I couldn’t possibly mean it. What, they asked, is the catch?

That’s all you get! Go read it.

On Automated Grading →

John Warner writes about automated grading at Inside Higher Ed:

The purpose of writing is to communicate with an audience. In good conscience, we cannot ask students to write something that will not be read. If we cross this threshold, we may as well simply give up on education. I know that I won’t be involved. Let the software “talk” to software. Leave me out of it.

The grade is usually the start of a conversation, not the end of it.

Do Not Call Us ‘Professor’ →

A group of CUNY adjuncts added language to their syllabi describing what exactly an adjunct is:

Adjuncts are not regular members of the faculty; we are paid an hourly rate for time spent in the classroom. We are not paid to advise students, grade papers, or prepare materials or lectures for class. We are paid for one office hour per week for all of the classes we teach. We are not paid to communicate with students outside of class or write letters of recommendation. Out of dedication to our students, adjuncts regularly perform such tasks, but it is essentially volunteer labor.

When I started adjuncting, I was told to have my students address me as Professor Carroll.  And while I was given some good reasons to do this — the biggest benefit being to teach the students how to treat and address their instructors throughout their time as college students — we were also simply being asked to trick our students.  We pretended to be and provide something we weren’t and did not have.


The Classical published a three-part oral history of Fire Joe Morgan — arguably my favorite web site ever — this week.  You should check out each installment: 1, 2, 3.

While I like to joke about how abused the oral history format has been lately, I’ll never pass up a chance to read these guys chatting with each other.  The links enclosed in each part were also a welcome invitation to revisit some Fire Joe Morgan classics, like 12 Minutes of Hell, With Colin Cowherd.

I taught a first-year college writing seminar last Spring, and since its focus was writing about sports, I decided to incorporate Fire Joe Morgan into the syllabus.  It was a wild success: not only my favorite lesson plan of the semester, but also my students’ favorite assignment.  They went out of their way to express how much like they being tasked with responding to writers in this fashion.  In essence, I had found a fun and approachable way of convincing them to outline.

I’d recommend it to my fellow teachers out there — whether you’re Fire Joe Morgan fans or not.  But you should be: your students will think you’re a slightly cooler nerd than you were the day before.

Finger Drills

I had the opportunity this week to see Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein give a lecture on “Demystifying Academic Writing,” and even more fortunate to have the chance to ask them a question during a discussion afterwards.

I was interested in an issue they raised during their lecture, as it’s something I’ve encountered in my own teaching.  In They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing, Graff and Birkenstein provide many templates for argumentative movement.  They encourage student writers to use these templates as needed in their own work — word for word, even.

But in suggesting this, we each run into a number of students who resist even considering such an approach.  They worry that using templates is an affront to their own creativity and individualism.

I asked Graff and Birkenstein why they think students have these negative reactions to very practical and helpful approaches to writing, considering that we, the teachers, are providing a sort of cheat sheet for what we like to see in academic writing.  Is there a problem in the way we teach genius and creativity, or are these conversations natural to have at the University-level?

In replying, Cathy thought it had broader cultural links to our ideas of American exceptionalism.  But in arriving there, I thought she struck on a very simple parallel I hope to use in my own classrooms: Cathy talked about how students, when learning an instrument or sport (among other things), never object to finger drills on a violin, or dribbling drills at a soccer practice.

Frankly, I was disappointed that such a direct and relatable parallel had never occurred to me before.  I don’t think it’s such a stretch to imagine that a majority of students will have some sort of history with a sport, class, hobby or lesson that they consider creative, but is only grasped through the mimicry and interpretation of previous work.

We don’t use templates to avoid creating something new, but to find what it is we wish to build.

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