Monthly Archives: June 2012

Dead Day and I’ll Drown My Book

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 09, 2012
Curated Confections / No Comments

Well, it’s Dead Day at UC Davis. I know I keep saying it, but I can’t believe I’m done teaching French and Comparative Literature here. I was pretty choked up when I said “au revoir” to my French 2 class yesterday. When Spring quarter began, I didn’t yet know that I would win the Provost’s Fellowship and I was busy beginning to organize my COM 4 Great Books course for the fall. My last COM 4 was on perversion and it was a hit, so I was thinking of ways to expand and develop that topic while including more conceptual poetry (à la my obsession with Bergvall). I will post about that stillborn syllabus later, but for now let me share one of the main books I wanted for the class: I’ll Drown My Book, which Caroline Bergvall co-edited with Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody. and Vanessa Place.

My copy just arrived this week and I haven’t been able to put it down. With about 500 pages of the most exquisite poetry coming out today, it is easily my best book purchase this year. I didn’t even know when I first ordered it, but this little baby wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Kickstarter. (Oh how I wish I could go back in time and show my support; I am so grateful for those who funded it.) Check out the video used for the Kickstarter post:

[kickstarter file= /]

And look at this amazing lineup of contributors (!!!):

Kathy Acker, Oana Avasilichioaei & Erin Moure, Dodie Bellamy, Lee Ann Brown, Angela Carr, Monica de la Torre, Danielle Dutton, Renee Gladman, Jen Hofer, Bernadette Mayer, Sharon Mesmer, Laura Mullen, Harryette Mullen, Deborah Richards, Juliana Spahr, Cecilia Vicuna, Wendy Walker, Jen Bervin, Inger Christiansen, Marcella Durand, Katie Degentesh, Nada Gordon, Jennifer Karmin, Mette Moestrup, Yedda Morrison, Anne Portugal, Joan Retallack, Cia Rinne, Giovanni Singleton, Anne Tardos, Hannah Weiner, Christine Wertheim, Norma Cole, Debra Di Blasi, Stacy Doris & Lisa Robertson, Sarah Dowling, Bhanu Kapil, Rachel Levitsky, Laura Moriarty, Redell Olsen, Chus Pato, Julie Patton, Kristin Prevallet, a.rawlings, Ryoko Seikiguchi, Susan M. Schultz, Rosmarie Waldrop, Renee Angle, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Tina Darragh, Judith Goldman, Susan Howe, Maryrose Larkin, Tracie Morris, Sawako Nakayasu, M. NourbeSe Philip, Jena Osman, kathryn l. pringle, Frances Richard, Kim Rosenfeld, and Rachel Zolf.

I’m going to share with you just snippet of one of my favorites (so far), a short piece by Juliana Spahr called “The Remedy.”

Another day, after I was done masturbating, I might see about the delivery of 1,000 sub-machine guns to Liberia along two parallel tracks, one originating in Moldova and the other in Liberia. Then I would divert sub-machine guns to Liberia through an elaborate bate-and-switch scheme that spanned three continents. And at the same time, I might continue to think about how to make collaborative art and suggest to my collaborator that we make a lyrical poem and how in this poem there could be a list of all the cars that drove by the small plot of land in two minutes and how much gas was being consumed by cars as they drove by the small plot of land and that perhaps this poem would then be about both the bourgeois individualism of the lyric and the extremities of consumption that define us. And while thinking about the poem, I might masturbate with a brown, medium-sized dildo and think about my lover or sometimes the small breasts of a woman I knew and then when I came I might say my lover’s name or I might say jesus.

I want so much to teach this alongside Cixous’ The Day I Wasn’t There-drawing out that heavy space, that black hole of a baby gap, that appears in both pieces. Or perhaps it could have just been an entire course about women writing about writing and about masturbating; Spahr’s piece would shine next to “The Laugh of Medusa.” jesus.

Go buy the book, now.

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Notes on Using and Building Rubrics

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 08, 2012
Teaching / No Comments

At last, the rubric post! I have been meaning to get to this forever. A while back I was working with the Center for Excellent in Teaching and Learning (CETL, formerly the Teaching Resource Center) at UC Davis, where I was a researcher for the Spencer and Teagle Foundations Visual Literacy grant through Duke University. One of my tasks was to research how faculty at UC Davis incorporated the visual into their teaching (use of overheads, PowerPoints, etc) and the other task was to create models for evaluating visually-oriented student work (anything from student in-class presentations to a geology student’s engagement with fieldwork). It was a really interesting project that eventually spun into a comparative analysis of UC Davis models for measuring student work—rubrics (read as yet another aspect of visual learning for its ability to visualize a student’s performance).

Here is an excerpt that outlines the goals of the grant:

Schools will be drawn from the American members of the Association of American Universities and will be selected to participate through a competitive RFP. Each participating institution will be granted up to $100,000 to undertake one or two campus-based projects over three years that evaluate and experiment with various pedagogical approaches focused on the development of two core intellectual skills: writing and critical thinking / analytical reasoning. The campus projects will employ a basic A-B-C design for a specific, well-defined experiment. (The A condition is the first step in which the experiment is undertaken and the learning outcome assessed. The B condition is the second step in which modifications of the A condition are made and the learning outcome is again evaluated. The C condition is a modification of the B initiative based on the evaluation of the B condition.)

Interesting, isn’t it? I hadn’t really put much thought into rubrics prior to this project. When I was learning how to grade students I relied on my TA training and on norming sessions. I also often went through my own undergraduate papers and tried to model the excellent feedback I was given. Honestly, my own undergraduate professors always blew me away with the thoroughness and usefulness of their comments; I was rather fortunate in this regard. I had one professor who always included about 3/4ths of a typed page of comments along with a score breakdown for Style, Argument, Grammar, and Support.  I even had one professor, the creative writer Robert Boswell, who gave me 10 single-spaced pages of comments back for one 20-page short story. They were amazing comments–he would take certain characters and rework them five or ten different ways, re-arrange scenes, etc. It was brilliant. The effort of these professors impacted me so positively in my own grading, and when working with Spencer and Teagle, I searched for a way to combine this unique amount of effort with an efficient model for student evaluation.

In our undergraduate Comparative Literature courses where revision is a key element in instruction, useful comments are essential to student success.  UC Davis’ English Department has a similar interest in revision and also had a very strong rubric that had been circulating about, which I took as my starting point. It’s strange, but I can’t find a link to this original at UC Davis (I do hope it’s still in circulation!). I did however find an altered version at another University: here.

This is the version with changes for Comparative Literature: (Essay Grading Rubric)

You can see that one of the major changes was to include a percentage for each sub-category. I like to alter the weight of certain things throughout the quarter to keep the students pushing for new improvements and to allow students to test a new technique out after a writing instruction day (something for another post, but just a quick note–I’m a firm believer in integrating writing instruction within literature courses). It’s very encouraging if students can do well on a paper that is weighted heavily on ideas–this builds a certain level of confidence and as the distribution begins to change, they begin to see what is needed to complement a great idea. Style is of course a much more tricky category for a student to address—many new literature students seem wholly unaware that they have a style until we reach the peer revision stage, so that category usually does not carry much weight until midway through the quarter.

From this rubric, I moved into designing the follow other rubrics:

Visual Text Analysis Rubric:

Multimedia Presentation Rubric:

General In-Class Presentation Rubric:

Online Discussion Section Participation Rubric:

And a sample rubric for a Biology field experiment:

I hope you’ll be able to use these or any combination of these to design your own rubric. I would also like to share a little recipe for rubric design in the event you would like to start from scratch.

10-Minute Recipe for a Rubric

  1. Brainstorm ways to divide your subject into major categories (such as: style, content, field work, or argumentation).
  2.  For each of these categories, come up with a one-sentence description of the requirements for an A, B, C, D, or F grade in that category.
  3. Review the list of grade requirements for each category. Are they descriptive enough and distinct enough for one another that students will be able to understand each grade?
  4.  Measure the grading criteria for each grade against other categories. For example, is it considerably harder to get an B in field work than it is to get a B in reporting?
  5. Arrange those descriptions on a grid with categories on the vertical and letter grades on the horizontal axis.

Final step! Decide whether you wish to weight the categories differently and if so, how much weight each category should be given. For example, if fieldwork is more important, then you may wish to make fieldwork worth 40% of the final grade and reporting 20%. It is always helpful for your students to be aware of this type of distribution!

Please feel free to comment and share any other tips you have for using rubric. I want to end with one last note: I love rubrics, I think it’s a great way for students to evaluate their progress and understand their grades, but I also think it’s crucial that these rubrics act as a complement to our written comments, not a replacement. As a general rule, I try to make 3-5 smaller comments per page along with a half a page of longer comments. This might include anything from ideas on how to re-work the thesis to a brief lesson on run-on sentences (where I’m always careful to include examples). As a literature or writing teacher, you’re one of the few stops left in their life where they can improve their writing and even fall in love with writing–it’s a huge responsibility and it can be enormously successful!


UC Davis Graduate Student Spotlight…Featuring Me!

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 06, 2012
Teaching / No Comments

I’m really excited about an interview I had with graduate studies at UC Davis. One of the undergraduate students I mentor through the UC Davis Graduate Academic Achievement and Advocacy Program (GAAAP) recommended me for a graduate student spotlight. It focused on my interests and experiences teaching and mentoring. Here is a link!


Norming and the Digital World

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 04, 2012
Teaching / No Comments

Dr. Robert Goddard at Clark University

I’ve been mulling over a few posts in The Chronical of Higher Education on the problem of grade inflation. One of the articles, “Too Many A’s? U. of Minnesota Professor’s Plan Would Give Grades More Context” by Dan Berrett discusses the use of statistics on transcripts.

“If, for example, one student out of a class of 20 received a B and it was the highest grade, the transcript would read, “B, 95 to 100.” And, if in another class of the same size, every student received an A, it would read, “A, 0 to 100.”

Sure, there are some problems with this; I’m sure some will be concerned overall by any sort of grade-obsessed evaluation model or the possibility of a student’s success being discredited because they happen to be in a class with several other successful, hardworking students. But those issues aside, I am really intrigued by this idea–especially on the heels of the other Chronicle article on the subject: “A Professor at Louisiana State is Flunked Because of Her Grades” by David Glenn which covers the story of a long-tenured biology professor who was removed from her course (mid-semester) because 60% of her students were failing and there were no As. Certainly it’s a form of a weed course–something we don’t see as much of in the humanities, but to what extent is this an indicator of failed instruction? Right off the bat I should also say that the removal of this professor–with no notice–is appalling.

This certainly could have been a collaborative learning experience for her as well (as it sounds like this course was new to her). I think a more productive approach would have been to bring other faculty in to collaborate on models for a stronger course and better evaluation of the remaining examinations. There are several other options that should have been explored before such measures were taken. I also worry that the department itself will have done little to ensure that this problem will not reemerge at another time–even with another professor. That’s just an unfortunate result of an ill-thought-out and shortsighted solution.

Portrait Parle class, France (LOC)

It’s an interesting problem to address because I see so much support for new graduate student instructors (speaking of my Comparative Literature Department at UC Davis), but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of training updates for professors (and I certainly could just not be on the email list serve for such a thing). Do you have such a thing at your university? I know that professors entering large-lectures for the first time will often observe their colleagues course the quarter before. This is clearly beneficial–and, who wouldn’t want to do that?

Your first year to two years as a UC Davis TA is spent running two discussion sections for these large (150+) lectures and faculty are always involved in norming sessions to make sure that the multiple sections are holding to the same standards. In addition to all the benefits to the students, it is a major stress relief for the obsessive graduate student spending days on end grading their first batch of essays. By the time you have your own course in your third year, you’re well-trained in the standards of your department and the abilities of the UC Davis undergraduate. (There is a slew of other support nestled in between all of this–workshops on difficult texts, TA training between new and advanced TAs, major online database of previous TA materials, etc.)

I know several other schools are working with and building on these same resources and that’s excellent–it certainly made my graduate career significantly more enjoyable. However, are senior faculty supported in this same way? When I think of pedagogical improvements, I always think back to a teaching awards ceremony a few years ago where one of my fellow awardees (a senior faculty member in a STEM field) said that he is adamant about beginning every course by asking how he can improve (even if evals are excellent, even if he has taught it 100 times over 30 years). Such passion for teaching is so motivational! Every time I design a syllabus I now take this moment right when I think its finished to ask myself–what is just one thing I can do to make this even better? I always find a way and that little thought keeps me on my toes.

Will social media (blogging, Twitter, course Facebook pages, etc) help build a stronger network of support for Professors (and TAs alike?). To return to where I began this article–grade inflation–could social media and stronger collaboration help avoid the problem of grade inflation by reenforcing certain standards across not only departments but entire fields–a form of norming on steroids? In a bit, I’m going to post on some tips for designing grading rubrics along with some examples of rubrics. I’ve always had a really ideal grade breakdown and I think these rubrics have been a part of that success. Certainly inflating grades makes work easier for a teacher–you could give a B paper an A grade and a student isn’t going to pester you about that need to have an A for med school, you don’t *need* as many comments to convince them of the grade, but that’s definitely no way for the teacher or the student to live. A rubric can keep a standard while also making it easier to articulate, firmly, why a paper is an 89 and not an A. I find it cuts down on grade complaints while also doing the most important thing–concretely educating a student on how they can improve in their future work. In the follow up post, I’ll talk a bit too about how rubrics can work for more than just essay grading.

In the mean time, please do share your thoughts on those Chronicle articles, on your department’s training techniques, or social media as a norming tool. Thanks!

Have a lovely and relaxing close to Spring Quarter!

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 01, 2012
Curated Confections / No Comments

This is the last weekend of Spring Quarter at the University of California Davis! I have to get through final grading, but after that I will be enjoying a two-week break before teaching my McNair courses Summer Session I and II. It’s hard to believe that this quarter’s French II students are not only my last French students at Davis, but that this was my last quarter of teaching here! I’ll write more later on the fellowship I won for next year, but for now…I’m going to share a little Plath with you.

I can’t exactly pinpoint why the rhythm of this poem makes me certain it is intended for summer. Is it the mention of pink fizz that, as horrific as is the actual reference, only makes me think of cold pink champagne on a stifling summer night? It is, hands down (ha), my favorite Plath poem. Enjoy!

Cut by Sylvia Plath
for Susan O’Neill Roe

What a thrill —-
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian’s axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz. A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they one?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Kamikaze man —-

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Darkens and tarnishes and when
The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump —-
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.


“On Laughter and Other Sacrifices.” Angelaki: The Journal of the Theoretical Humanities

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 01, 2012
Publications / No Comments

I am very excited to announce a forthcoming article in Angelaki! It will be appearing in issue 18.1, in the spring of 2013. The article “On Laughter and Other Sacrifices” comes from the sixth chapter of my dissertation Time of Death: Writing in the Wake of the Moving Image. This chapter  returns to the modern representation of death in those like Cixous and Bergvall, which seeks to restore our relationship with death by building off of the temporality of the moving image as a time of doubleness and of sacrifice. It explores the role of authorship through the biblical figure of Isaac, examining the notion of binding to argue that literature is birthed out of a curious juxtaposition of sacrifice and laughter.

I had the chance to present on earlier components of this paper at the 2012 ACLA as well as at the 20th/21st Century French conference  I will share a link to the journal when everything is printed, but until then–here is the abstract:

This paper unfolds a textual history of laughter and sacrifice through an examination of Hélène Cixous’ figure of Isaac, Caroline Bergvall’s doll-centric poetry in Goan Atom, and Hans Bellmer’s mutilated dolls. In tracing the genealogy of Isaac from Genesis to Cixous’ Déluge to Derrida’s Gift of Death, it becomes evident that the role of author as sacrificer is primal and yet always evolving. By following the trace of Isaac, the text survives its own sacrifice; by examining and contrasting Bergvall and Bellmer’s work, this paper proposes that this form of sacrificial laughter allows a text to move within and against the Enlightenment tradition of linear narrative.

I also want to share my thanks to all of the wonderful people who helped with this article–the comments from my reviewer, Sarah Wood at Kent, were invaluable. She gave me so many wonderful angles to explore! I must also thank Peggy Kamuf at USC for helping me find a journal that was such a perfect fit for this article and for believing in what was essentially a very early draft. And finally, the artist Caroline Bergvall was absolutely delightful to work with. I’ve been such an enormous fan of her work for so long and am so lucky to have had her support of this piece.

I hope you have a chance to read it! Please feel free to share your thoughts or comments. If you would like more information on Angelaki, here is a link: It’s a wonderful journal published by Routledge.

“An End to the Magic Lantern: Proust’s Reconstruction of Memory through Cinema.”

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 01, 2012
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This piece will be the first chapter in a collection coming out by Cambria press  Cinematic Strategies in XX Century Narratives (under contract, spring 2013). The editors are Federico Sabatini and Theresa Prudente. I wont give away the entire breakdown of the book just yet, but to briefly summarize — it traces the influence of cinemagraphic technology across 20th century narrative. My article focuses on Proust’s relationship to cinema and reworks notions of Proust as pre-cinematic to instead, and more specifically, break down the different volumes of In Search of Lost Time across different stages of technological developments in cinema.

I will be sure to link to the Amazon page and post an image of the cover as soon as it is hot off the press!

In the meantime, here is a shot I took last summer of Proust’s bedroom (actual furniture!) in Paris at the Musée Carnavalet…