Sunday, February 13, 2005


I'm always amazed by the scores (mostly low!) on the first quizzes of the semester. The really amazing thing is the number of people who clearly haven't read the assignment and leave the entire quiz blank -- yet they write their names on them and turn them in.

Well, here's hoping they get the message that reading the assignments is not optional and that there WILL be a quiz for each assignment. Here's hoping they also get better at taking notes since these are open-notes quizzes!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Different in the evening

I started out with the same lesson plan in mind and on paper for yesterday's evening class that I had used in the morning class -- but what a different result!

What seemed to work fine in the morning class regarding my second explanation of sentence types (based on the arrangements of clauses) was VERY different with the evening group: They had many, many more questions; many example sentences were needed; I needed to supply much more explanation regarding the different clauses, the signal words for each type of subordinate clause, the punctuation needed and not needed; etc.

Holy smoke! I don't expect the two classes to be absolutely identical, but these two on Wednesday were SO different. I am wondering if it's a different level of curiosity. Perhaps the morning class was able to take in the explanations (and I didn't speed through them!) because they were generally better prepared in high school. Or perhaps they are still pretty sleepy and not quite ready to ask a bunch of questions! Who knows?

Maybe I'll figure it out as the semester goes on! We'll see.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Early morning class

I think I'm going to LOVE this early-morning class. I can't believe I'm actually thinking and writing that, but it's true! They come in on time (7:15 am or earlier, for heaven's sake!); they take notes and are attentive; they participate when I ask whole-class questions and when they work in small groups.

Today we did two things that are usually difficult to get through, much less to even hope that over 50% of the students understand --
  • continuing to analyze sentences I've put on an overhead: find the subject(s) and verb(s), identify the clauses, tell whether the clauses are independent or subordinate, and then identify the type of sentence it is so that punctuation can be determined;
  • read over an incompletely developed paragraph, understand that ALL of the sentences after the topic sentence are straight fact (detail sentences), understand that commentary (analysis, interpretation, etc., of those detail sentences) needs to be added, then add true commentary (not just additional detail) sentences.

I know it's just a beginning -- and that if I think everyone in the class now magically understands all this, I'm kidding myself. But to even get this far this early in the course and see this many heads nodding (even when they don't realize it) is amazing! I can't tell if they, as a group, are just better prepared than what I'm used to or if my explanation of these concepts is getting better each semester or what. But whatever's happening, I like it!!

Now to work on duplicating all that in the afternoon class!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

First quiz!

This never fails to amaze me! It shouldn't, but it does!

My syllabus is both printed and distributed to students, as well as available online: (Click on English 1A and then on Syllabus.) I think it's very clear what reading is to be completed before each class meeting, and I even go over how to read the syllabus, including assignments, during the first two classes. Yet it never fails: The first day I give a quiz on the stated reading assignments, there are several who let me know that they hadn't read it! Needless to say, they take a zero on the quiz, and if they have any smarts at all, they always do the reading from then on. But I still think it's sad that anyone in a college class thinks it's all right NOT to do the assignments.

By May 23rd, this one quiz grade will amount to about 0.1% of the total grade, but right now, with so few grades posted, it's a huge zero! And if they can get their time commitments under control early in the semester, they should be fine. That seems to be a big if, though. I'm hoping the time management part of my lessons will pay off for many if not all of them.

I'm also drumming in the terms phrase, clause, independent clause, dependent (subordinate) clause, and the four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. They have the definitions; they have the references in their English handbook for further definitions and examples; and we will be analyzing a couple of student-written sentences during each class. We cannot begin to talk intelligently about comma usage, as well as semicolons, colons, etc., without their understanding these terms and being able to recognize these types of sentences. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, February 05, 2005


It's always hard for me at this point to decide what I'm going to do next, even though I have a syllabus with my plans as they were in December. My first thought is to stick with the syllabus's sequence so the students don't get confused; my other thought is to move up the time management and study skills stuff -- maybe there won't be so many who drop out if they learn how to construct a study schedule to fit into their lives, if they learn one or two study skills they hadn't thought of before, if they understand that the road to a degree is just as much perseverence as it is the gaining of knowledge and skills.

I've tried different things each semester, but nothing has seemed to make much difference. Each semester I lose between 40% and 50% of the original enrollees. Right now, each class is still showing 34 enrolled. If the worst happens, I'll end up with 17 in each class. Now that's a teacher's dream, in a way, such nice small classes -- could be conducted as tutorials! But in reality that means 34 people have paid nearly $250 for the tuition and books for just this one class -- yet they gave up.

So I need to keep thinking of new things, I guess. Even though it makes a heavy paper-grading load on me if they all persevere, it's better for them individually and for society in general if they don't quit.

Thinking, thinking ...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Settling down

The deadline to register and pay for this semester's classes is this coming Monday, so the class rosters are beginning to settle down some. I'm still waiting to see three students' names show up on my rosters on the college's website -- students who have been showing up to class, doing the work, gotten the paperwork signed, but haven't made it over to the admissions office yet, I guess. Anyway, including those three, there are 34 enrolled in each of my classes. Uh-oh! I sure hope the average of 40-50% attrition doesn't happen this semester.

The diagnostic essays are always interesting. This time I gave them a short article to read and instructions to write an essay in which they at least address two questions; they could add anything else they wanted that was pertinent. Lots of papers without any introductions; lots of papers in which only one or the other of the questions was addressed, but plenty of other ideas were added; some papers that are pretty well done; few papers that demonstrate any pre-writing (thinking, brainstorming, planning...). Oh, well. That's what this course is for -- to drill it into them that they need to go through those steps in order to write controlled papers, to prepare themselves for further college courses -- and eventually grad school for some of them, I hope.

I'm going to put my house on the market, which means I have to figure out a system for keeping all these stacks of printed papers handy (to take with me when needed for one class or the other) and yet to keep this computer room more than half-way presentable! Now this will be a challenge, for sure! The rest of the house is fine; this room is the only one that gives me fits.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The first classes

Yesterday's first class meetings went well. I'm still amazed that so many people enroll in a class that starts at 7:15 am! And there were even some "crashers" who wanted to enroll in this class. There are now 35 students in that class on paper, but three of them are no-shows.

The late-afternoon class was predictable. Stuffed to the gills! There are now 43 students on paper, with two drops and three no-shows. And there are four students in there who have been in prior classes with me -- one from last semester's English 51 class and three who either withdrew from or got a D or F from one of my previous English 1A classes. Interesting!

The first classes are tough to get through -- it's too easy to spend the entire two hours just on the syllabus and introducing students to the first novel. But I usually rush through most of that because I want at least an hour for them to write a diagnostic essay for me in class before they leave. Some of the students actually ask, "What? We have to write this in class?" And my response is, "Mmm-hmmmm! This is a writing class, after all!"

On to read some of the papers they wrote yesterday ...