Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clarification: JSTOR DOES House Essays that Aren't Peer Reviewed

In the last post, I stated that Google Scholar will include things that aren't peer-reviewed, while JSTOR will not. Thanks to my colleague K8, an informational librarian, this is not necessarily accurate. I never knew that JSTOR housed essays and articles that weren't peer-reviewed, perhaps, because I only look there for things that are peer-reviewed. Thanks K8 for clarifying and reading my blog :0)

I also forgot to mention that while Google Scholar may have a ton of things that are not peer-reviewed, it is more recent than JSTOR. This I also informed my students, so there's a trade off: Students have to weight whether it's more important to look in places where the most recent scholarship exists, or if they should look in places where it is easiest to filter for peer-reviewed publications. Thanks for pointing this out too K8.


My Students Want to Know What Afrocentricity Is

Yesterday in my WRA 125 course, I asked students to conduct a search on the term Afrocentricity. Students were then asked to come to class prepared to discuss their results. Although I did not specify which results they were to discuss, most students chose to record results that gave a working definition for Afrocentricity, so for our class discussion on the search results I asked students to identify 1) what Afrocentricity means, 2) where they searched for the term, and 3) why they chose to search in that particular place. Based on students’ searches, they found the following definitions for Afrocentricity:

  • an intellectual perspective of African people
  • a way to show Africans’ contributions to Western culture
  • something that seeks to discover and interpret info through a diff filter from Eurocentric scholarship
  • a worldview that emphasizes the importance of A people and culture.

The majority of students chose to search in the following electronic locations:

When students were asked why the majority of them chose to search in these locations, they identified the following reasons:
  • Google is easy to use
  • Wikipedia was the first result that came up on Google
  • Wikipedia is a good place to find factual information

After addressing the students’ decisions based on their responses to the previous questions, we had a discussion about how different search engines and databases yield different results, and how some search engines and databases may be more reliable than other engines. For example, after discussing the results students came to class with, I had students conduct a search again for Afrocentricity using Google, Google Scholar, and JSTOR. I then explained how Google Scholar is more reliable than Google because it provides results for academic papers written about Afrocentricity, while Google displays a broad range of results that may or may not be reliably or evaluated by researchers. I then explained that JSTOR is more reliable than Google Scholar because it contains a database of peer-reviewed articles written about Afrocentricity; while Google Scholar also contains peer-reviewed publications, it often does not exclude papers that have not been peer-reviewed by scholars and experts of a particular discipline from its search results.

Based on the results found in scholarly search engines and databases, I had students give new definitions for Afrocentricity. Surprisingly, based on the definitions for which students searched, they found similar results. Most definitions pertained to intellectual perspectives of people of African descent, or African worldviews. I then asked students to highlight words in each of these definitions with which they were less familiar. Students identified intellectual perspective, Eurocentric, and most commonly, worldview, as some of these terms. Because the term worldview is highly abstract, students first needed to identify what that term means. Most students defined worldview as a way of seeing the world, and then determined that Afrocentricity is a way in which Africans and African Americans see the world. This of Afrocentricity definition is still abstract though. As a focus for the rest of the semester, the class posed the following question as a lens for understanding the rest of the intellectual work we seek to accomplish in the course: How do Africans and African Americans see the world? More on students' progress toward understanding the African worldview to come.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day of School/Language Attitudes

As part of my teacher-research study I gave my students a language attitudinal questionnaire asking them to discuss criticisms about their home and school languages. I also included a question written in Ebonics by a male speaker, asking students to discuss whether his use of Ebonics was appropriate for speaking, writing formally, or just writing in composition courses. I then took the same excerpt written in Ebonics and had an audio-recorded version of the speaker saying the same thing. I wanted to see if attitudes toward Ebonics changed depending on whether or not the statement was written in Ebonics or spoken in Ebonics. Here are the results I got:

  • Based on the written statement, 8 students said it was not at all appropriate for a person to speak that way, 13 said it was somewhat appropriate, and 2 said it was definitely appropriate
  • Based on the written statement, 22 said it was not at all appropriate for someone to write this way formally, 1 said it was somewhat appropriate, and 1 said it was definitely appropriate
  • Based on the written statement, 14 said it was not at all appropriate to write this way in class (whether formally or informally), 10 said it was somewhat appropriate, and 2 said definitely appropriate
  • Based on the spoken (audio taped) statement, 7 said it was not at all appropriate, 15 said it was somewhat appropriate, and 3 said definitely appropriate to speak this way in a composition class
  • Based on the spoken (audio taped) statement, 21 said it was not at all appropriate, 1 said it was somewhat appropriate, and 1 said it was definitely appropriate to write this way formally
  • Based on the spoken (audio taped) statement, 13 said it was not at all appropriate, 9 said it was somewhat appropriate, and 1 said it was definitely appropriate to write this way (formally or informally) for class.
Based on this quantitative data, then, is there a significant difference between students' attitudes in my course toward spoken or written Ebonics? Because there was typically a difference of 1 person--and no more that two people--responding differently for each question (eg. 22 said the written version of the Ebonics statement was not appropriate for formal writing, while 21 said the spoken version was not appropriate for formal writing) , I'm guessing there would be no significant difference, unlike what I hypothesized. I thought there students would be less accepting of the written version of Ebonics than the spoken version, but their attitudes were typically the same. To be sure, though, I need to do a statistical test to measure significant differences. I'm not ready to do that just yet with such a small data set. More quantitative data to come. Quantitative analysis hurts!


Friday, August 22, 2008

TA Orientation Done, Summer's Over

The last day of TA orientation's done and I am tired. Collin, Nancy, Steve and the many others who helped out did a fantastic job. A Reader for Writers is in campus bookstores (I think they got my name right on the official copies), and our summer work is over. I have mixed feelings about summer being over though. Although I'm relieved that all the preparatory madness has ended, I must say that I'm gonna miss working in the office with the gang. We had a blast!

I also have mixed feelings about beginning the fall semester. I'm excited to begin collection dissertation data, and I'm excited to meet my new students and be back teaching again, but I'm exhausted and the semester hasn't even begun. I worked all year round and never had any type of break. I co-edited A Reader for Writers, Co-authored the Guidebook for Teaching Tier I Writing at MSU, sent off (or co-authored) four articles (three of which I'm still waiting to hear back from external reviewers), proposed a book chapter that was accepted, took two qualifying exams, and helped on three or so additional departmental/research center projects. Maybe I should have taken a break? People tried to warn me, but I didn't listen. Maybe I'll take a break next year?

Prof PC

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Second Qualifying Exam Submitted!

I just turned in my second qualifying exam (what our R&W Program calls the PhD Concentration exam), an exam that is designed to demonstrate specialized knowledge of the field. I wrote my exam based on the arguments I intend to make in Chapter 1 of my dissertation, "Teacher-Research Don't Die: Pedagogical and Methodological Implications for Those Wishing to Do Afracentric Work." Pheww! I'm already tired just writing the title! But I'm glad to be done and have this out of the way, even though I could've picked a better due date, since I'm helping Nancy, Collin and Steve run new TA orientation for instructors teaching in our Tier I Writing Program this week.

I found this exam to be quite easier than the general field-base exam (what we call the core exam). So hopefully I've done a better job (BTW I did pass the core exam). The next step after the concentration exam is the dissertation prospectus. I'm pleased at my progress though (even though the prospectus isn't due quite yet ) because I've already received IRB approval to begin conducting data prior to my prospectus defense. My fingers are crossed...


Monday, August 18, 2008

Speaking of Misspellings...

The desk copies of our edited reader, A Reader for Writers, arrived and McGraw-Hill misspelled my first name! Arg! I know they tried to rush desk copies for the TAs so that they would have them before courses start. How ironic, especially after my previous posting. Just my friggin' luck! Now I do care if things are spelled correctly, especially if it's my name. *sigh....

Making an 'Arguement' for Misspelling?

I ran across this article about instructors complaining about students' spelling errors in postsecondary settings. Let me just say this: I don't care whether or not students can or can't spell! Yes, I teach writing, yes I understand that the ability to spell correctly is important for writers, and yes I admit this!

Okay (I'm using the African derived spelling), here's why: I'm a phonetic person and can't spell to save my life, even though I was one of the only students in elementary school to win the spelling bee two years in a row. How is that? Not because I can spell, but because I can memorize. Should we be teaching memorization in a first-year writing class? If so, I'm not sure how you teach someone to memorize stuff, even the spelling words we have to memorize in school. Not worth my time to do.

Also, as I mentioned, I'm phonetic (like many native speakers of Ebonics and other languages/language varieties are). English is not necessarily a phonetic language, and there are many exceptions to the rule. So English teachers can't teach the rules without addressing its many exceptions. Do I want to spend a semester going through all these (spelling) rules and exceptions? No, because like many writing pedagogical specialists, there are more pressing things to cover in the 15 or so weeks instructors get with students.

So what happens if I don't know whether or not a word is misspelled? I'm afraid to admit, but I often rely on MS Word. I am NOT suggesting that this always works, and there have been quite a few studies that address problems with MS Word spell checks and grammar checkers, but it can catch some misspelled words. Now, I do teach students that they still have to proofread, since Word can't catch every grammatical and/or spelling mistake (think homophones), but there is some value in using the spell check. That's the best solution I have for teaching/not teaching spelling and while mundane and problematic, that's the best I can think of. Thoughts?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Worst Writing Contest

A large historical debate in writing studies (tho I'm not sure how much rhet/comp scholars continue to debate this in our recent disciplinary scholarship) is the idea about teaching grammar--or any type of writing--in context. Basically most research and scholarship in writing studies calls for the need to teach students to write for real audiences and real purposes (read Because Writing Matters, published by the National Writing Project in 2003), and that grammar should be taught within the contexts of students' own writing or real writing situations.

I stumbled upon this article about the worst writing contest. Participants were asked to submit a horrible opening sentence to novels. Some of these sentences were submitted:

"'Toads of glory, slugs of joy,' sang Groin the dwarf as he trotted jovially down the path before a great dragon ate him because the author knew that this story was a train wreck after he typed the first few words."

"Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater -- love touches you, and marks you forever."
I guess this article could serve as real life example for the importance of not only writing good opening sentences (whatever good means), but also, the significance that grammar plays in people's judgments when we write. I'm not going to take the time and point out the errors--not quite sure if the previous examples are more reflected by issues of stylistic choice than issues of 'error' (if you're that nerdy you can do that yourself), but I will say that using this example of how confusing syntax (and I think it IS confusing) may limit readers' understanding and influence their judgments of a piece. I think using 'real' examples is much better than scribbling 'awk' in the margin.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Foolishness! Prof Moons Judge!

See this link for the story on a professor who is under investigation for mooning. Such foolishness!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I got some fantastic comments from reviewers who reviewed one of the manuscripts I have out for review right now at a fairly well-known journal in our field. The comments were clear, dead-on, and I think will be valuable as I revise. Since this is my first revise/resubmit article, I had to ask for consultation on etiquette with journals when resubmitting a manuscript. Thanks to Radical Transparency, I got some really good advice (also huge shout-outs to her for successfully defending her dissertation). Both Paul Matsuda's Blog and the Chronicle of Higher Education's article on publishing also have some good advice for authors who resubmit manuscripts, also very helpful.

This process puts me back in my earlier student days (as both an undergrad and graduate student), and because of this, I'm a little concerned. If I consider our pedagogical scholarship, many writing teachers make recommended suggestions for students' revision, though students need not necessarily make all of the changes recommended by instructors. But as an author, I still feel that there is this unspoken rule (not quite sure where it comes from) that I must make all of the changes recommended by reviewers. Although most of their recommendations I do believe to need changing, what will happen if I don't follow all of their suggestions? For example, with some of the changes I made, other suggestions become obsolete or less relevant because the focus of the article has shifted based on another suggestion given by reviewers. What happens then? I know that I should probably think that reviewers should understand this, but I'm still concerned about expectations that authors should take all reviewers' suggestions.

I guess this is similar to the idea that many students have when we as instructors offer recommended revisions. If they consider them all and "fix the mistakes", in their mind, they're supposed to get an A, right? If I do everything the reviewers recommend, they'll be more accepting of the article, right? I of course know that things don't work that simply here, and I'm not trying to provide overly simplistic or unsubstantiated claims; however, I'm still suspicious that there might be one reviewer out there who has the expectation that writers address all of their recommendations in the revised manuscript. I have no evidence or justification; it's just my paranoia. Thoughts?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rude Workers and Customers at the Checkout Line

I went to the grocery store today to pick a copy essentials until payday Friday. With Kroger, our church has a gift card partnership; for every dollar spent, the church gets five percent. At the Kroger in East Lansing customers have to load their gift cards at customers service. Well, I loaded mine and then went to the checkout line to pay with the gift card. It didn't work initially b/c it takes a couple additional minutes for the card to update, so when I first swiped it, it didn't go through.

I expected this to happen b/c it always happens. The grocery attendant, who's familiar with me, became annoyed and got pretty crunk with me. She told me next time to load the card as soon as I enter the store. The problem with doing this is that when entering the store, I don't know how much I anticipate spending, especially given the fact that food prices change frequently even if the customer does have a list of items (which I have). And with the price of food going up, it seems less logical to estimate the amount to put on the gift card before getting any groceries. Duh!

What ticked me off more was the customer behind me who started talking smack b/c he had to wait all but an additional two minutes for my card to go through. And for the tens of readers who know my snippy temper and smart mouth, you'll be proud to know that I didn't say a word! It wasn't worth the trouble. I just nodded politely and left the store. I'll keep loading my friggin' card when I feel like it!


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Book Chapter Accepted! W00t!

Some of you are familiar with the Race(ism) in Writing Assessment CFP that's been circulating on several rhet/comp listservs. Well, Nancy and I submitted a proposed chapter in the edited collection and it was accepted! Yay for us! Congrats to my colleague Latoya, whose proposed chapter was also accepted. Latoya is an MA student in our MSU Rhetoric and Writing Program and is definitely a force to be reckoned with; I have no doubt she'll go on to do even greater things. Huge congrats to her.

I'm really surprised at how fast the editors responded to our proposals, especially given the fact that the deadline was August 1, and we submitted ours July 31. Very impressive. What's up with all the early notices? First C's, now this. People are doin' they thang this summer!

We have until Jan 1, 2009 to submit initial drafts, but if you're anything like me and hate procrastination (which you're probably not--LOL!), it feels best to draft in advance (when possible). Those who've worked on any project with me already know that I'm a fast drafter (reeeeeeeally fast) and a slow reviser (reeeeeeally slow). It usually takes a day or two for me to draft an article or essay and then months to revise. That's my writing process; it works for me (as of now). We'll see how much this changes/doesn't change as I'm writing my dissertation.