Link to my Angelaki Article

Posted by Natalie Strobach on January 16, 2014
Publications / No Comments

Very excited to share this! It was such a wonderful journal to work with!

Here is my article.

 

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2014 MLA Recap from an MLA First-timer

Posted by Natalie Strobach on January 15, 2014
Conferences / 3 Comments

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After a ten-year hiatus, I moved back to Chicago a few months ago to finish up the duration of my fellowship. One of the things I was most looking forward to was the 2014 MLA hosted in a cluster of downtown hotels. More than anything, I was glad to have a chance to see and present at the MLA a solid year before being on the market at MLA 2015. That said, I’ve heard enough MLA horror stories, even in my undergrad years, to leave me shaking in my boots. Then we also have the fact that Twitter imploded with MLA rage in the months leading up to this year’s convention. The first that I caught wind of the issues on Twitter was when I became wrapped up in tweets about the UC Riverside less-than-a-week’s-notice-to-interview debacle. I am sure most of us would be miffed to have such short notice for any cross-country interview. I’m not going to enter into the debate here (you can see a few different angles by following the link) aside from saying that I feel genuinely sorry for anyone faced with such steep last-minute, quite possibly insurmountable costs.

The debate over the interview notice led to a plethora of MLA horror stories ranging from the general advice not to wear one’s wedding ring to the more unusual advice not to be seen in a winter coat (for fear the coat might be frumpy? I’m not sure I can even begin to follow that one…). Many were filled with dread for the famed MLA elevator talk and even more hearts filled with dread over name-tag glancing (having difficulty filtering the affiliation judgements from genuine curiosity). In the end there were even some productive discussions about universities switching to Skype for interviews (as is protocol in several other disciplines) and allowing the MLA to move from meat market to ordinary (though quite large) conference. There was also a very informative MLA history on Facebook by MLA’s former president Michael Bérubé that showed support for moving away from MLA interviews, but also urged us not to be so nostalgic about the MLA being perfect before the interview system (given that jobs were previously shared through a Good Ol’ Boy network): “Some Stuff About the MLA Convention Just in Time for the MLA Convention.” 

All in all, I headed into the conference as leery as I was excited. My heart belongs to the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) because their multi-day panel layout allows for some of the richest discussions I’ve ever been apart of at any conference, but I’m a general lover of conferences. I (or rather my paper) was once heavily grilled at the 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, but it ended well and left me with a true feeling of being able to land on my feet and defend my work. I was also there away from my usual comparatist colleagues, which is always unfortunate given what a joy the conference reunion provides, but even without the usual comforts (not to mention a horrible bout of food poisoning from a San Francisco Indian restaurant), once again, it was a success. I really went into the MLA expecting nothing but the best.

And I got the best–the best an enormous meat-markety conference full of terrified meat could provide. No, really, it wasn’t bad in the slightest. The elevator experience was pretty normal–walk in, smile, turn and face the front, walk out. I can handle that. I tried to look at a few name tags, but then I realized my eyes were squinty trying to make out the tiny font and maybe my face looked scrunched and angry, so I looked away and smiled. I wondered if everyone on Twitter thought everyone was scowling at them because everyone was just a bunch of four-eyed vision-impaired dorks like me, uh oh.

One thing that was kind of an MLA fail for me was the MLA bouncers checking badges to go into conference rooms. I thought this was kind of a ridiculous waste of manpower. Plus, I had my badge in my pocket and a pile of stuff in my arms, so it was just a huge hassle and made me feel like I was going through customs. I’ve never ever experienced a bouncer at a conference before. I wondered what he would do if I just continued to push past…would I be MLA-tackled? I like to really push things time-wise (read, I’m always ten minutes behind), so running down the hall to put things on a table to find a badge to run back to the guy to get in (terrified maybe my badge wasn’t in my bag–what if I forgot it at lunch!?) left me a little terrified and more frazzled than I needed to be before giving a paper.

I really honestly can’t even believe the MLA elevator is such a big issue but no one had warned me about the MLA bouncers. I certainly feel like if there is a broke grad student out there trying to get into the MLA, they should just be able to sneak in. I mean, participants must register and usually that’s the bulk of a conference, so I don’t generally see the need for a bouncer. Plus, in my panel there were about 20-30 people and another dozen or so empty seats, from my experience at MLA 2014, there was a lot of room to spare. Honestly, I don’t know what the bouncers get paid or how that works but if there are dozens of rooms being guarded for four days for eight or ten hours a day and, as I imagine it, the MLA bouncer is paid $8 to $15 bucks an hour, then that’s definitely some money that should just immediately be redirected to the graduate student travel funds. I am, of course, making all of these numbers up, but you get the gist.

Alright, on to my panel. I admit, I had enormous fantasies. I was presenting on Cixous and I was really hoping that some Cixous Allstars would appear. I desperately hoped that I would recognize them from their blurry vintage university photos. Then, of course, they would love the paper and I’d get to bypass the MLA meat market altogether because they would just pull money off of the giving tree and hand over a tenure-track job at Awesome University. Daydreams are important, people, important!

But really, it was great. Presenting a paper at the MLA is actually exactly like presenting a paper everywhere else. People were kind. They clapped for each of the people on the panel with me. My co-panelists chatted with me right before everything started and they were super nice too. We didn’t have that long for a discussion (and this was even with our fourth panelist absent), but everything that needed to be asked was asked. There was more lingering and chatting in the hallway. Then the panelists and our organizers (and eventually friends of various panelists) met at the bar for drinks. I made one Twitter friend and one Facebook friend. It was a hit by all means. This seemed to be the norm across panels. I didn’t witness any abuses.

If there were one single thing I’d change (alright, aside from the bouncer) it would be the layout of the panels. The ACLA usually goes across three days for a single panel (12 participants total, four per day, short discussion daily). This allows for such deep and engaging conversation. It allows you to go home at night and ponder a paper and come back the next day and inquire about something. It allows you to ease into a relationship with even more co-panelists. It’s just the perfect layout. I couldn’t recommend it more.

I think, all in all, if you want the MLA to be a success you need to remember a few key things. First off, just worry about your own interviews or your own paper. Someone is going to always have more interviews. Someone is always going to have written their paper ages ago then had it edited by G-d himself (they will likely also feel the need to tell you that). Just worry about yourself. If you really compared yourself to others all the time as much as people compare themselves to others at the MLA, well, you wouldn’t be able to buy anything at the grocery store because your cart would never be perfect enough looking. Don’t psych yourself out. Secondly, people are superficial. It’s not awesome or ideal, but it’s a fact. I have no idea why people like to believe academics, academics in the humanities, are going to be different. Look your best and feel confident; that’s really all you can ever do.

I’m not saying worrying about how you look won’t turn your stomach; I woke up at the crack of dawn to make sure I would have time to curl my hair properly, but that is also the nature of the beast. No one else in my family is in the academy and I know they would prep the same for job interviews and big work meetings. I’m also not saying to spend a fortune (even if it’s a graduate student fortune) on your clothes. I wore a dress from Walmart to my college graduation. No one knew. It was something like $12 and looked fantastic. Work with what you have. Most people, even if they are judging you based on your clothes, aren’t actually able to judge where they come from or how expensive they are. They are just looking for a polished look.

Lastly, smile. If you’re in a room with a pile of other tense people, why make it more tense? Even when we went for drinks after my panel, even when my co-panelists were all breathing a sigh of relief, we were still in a very formal place, a place of residual I-just-presented-at-a-big-conference-I’m-travel-weary tension. So, I tried to break the ice by asking what city people wanted to live out their days in (read, die in). It led to some interesting answers which in turn led to more interesting tidbits and it got us laughing. I probably could have or even should have remained in super pro mode and kept talking about books and theorists, but sometimes displaying your sense of humor is as or even more important than displaying your wits.

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Site Maintenance: Self Maintenance

Posted by Natalie Strobach on January 13, 2013
Teaching / No Comments

I haven’t posted in a bit, but I was busy utilizing the first quarter of my fellowship and delving into my research. As we turn the corner into 2013 and the requests to revise the personal statements of former students begin to fade, I’m wondering how to capitalize on this new year. What patterns should change? What should remain?  I had a curious experience recently when my computer screen went in for repairs–at first I was utterly panicked. How could I write? How far behind would I fall? So on and so forth… Then suddenly, I just felt relief. The Apple Store inadvertently gave me two weeks to regroup and crave writing again. It’s so cliche, but once I couldn’t do my work–it was all I wanted. With any projects that we have (seminar papers, application essays, home repair) our focus can become smaller and smaller until it is nearly suffocating.

I’ve found over and over again in graduate school that neither my colleagues nor my students have any way to tell the days of the week–aside from which classroom they should be sitting in or job they are working. Everything becomes a bit too rhythmic. So, I want you to be still for a moment in the early part of this quarter or semester–before you’ve committed your schedule to memory–and schedule more breaks (or computer repairs as the case may be).

When I work with incoming transfer students for McNair, I give them all a new planner at orientation. Very quickly, they all scribble in their classes and jobs. Then they carve out time for helping their parents babysit or getting a friend moved to a new apartment. No one ever just carves out a few days for fun and rest. You need to. For the sake of your sanity, you absolutely need to. Even after years and years of talking to students about prioritizing and scheduling, I still sometimes forget to schedule my own me time. I came across a fashion blogger who mentioned that in January you should schedule all of your hair appointments and manicures and whatnot–well, I’m not sure about all of that, but I thought yes–just schedule down time.

I immediately went on line and registered for four 5ks spaced out across the spring. This was a perfect option for me; it helped me meet fitness goals, it brought me away from the computer and work, and it will help me de-stress. Having this scheduled off time always makes it so much easier to stick to the scheduled work. When the students I mentor have a hike or a trip to the movies jotted down for Saturday afternoon, they are a lot less likely to get frustrated Thursday, go out late with friends, and skip class Thursday. Those with scheduled down time know they are only 48 hours from relaxation; they know they can make it. Make sure you have that.

Just start small and schedule a monthly or bi-weekly break (after all, you don’t want a daily yoga class to become yet another thing you HAVE to do). As a first-generation student and having mentored disadvantaged students for years, I’ve seen such a pattern of self denial. My students never think they deserve a vacation–they have often never taken a vacation. Let us, in the new year, break this pattern. The love for your craft, as for any love, will grow with a smidgin of distance. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive–it could be as simple as penciling in an old RomCom on a Saturday–but it does have to happen.

Tip: If you’re enjoying those bi-weekly or monthly breaks, then move on to more frequent breaks. Avoid cram sessions by regularly scheduling two or three hours of straight studying daily with an hour of internet browsing or meditation. Just let yourself trust that you can achieve goals and get rest.

 

 

 

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A Very Quick Tip for Personal Statements

Posted by Natalie Strobach on July 11, 2012
Teaching / No Comments

I have been teaching for the McNair Scholars Program at UC Davis for five years (that’s every quarter and every summer without a break). I run through everything from basic essay writing to writing for the GRE to the much-feared personal statement for graduate school applications. The McNair Scholars program is a federally-funded two-year long research internship (paid!) that helps low-income, under-represented, first-generation college students prepare for doctoral study. It’s am amazing program; I myself was a McNair Scholar.

The summer after the junior year is the most intense time in the program and this week my students are scratching out their personal statements. Some will also have to write letters of intent. We try to shoot for about 500-1000 words and I try to emphasize flexibility since every program will want something slightly different. It’s probably the most difficult essay my “McNuggets” will write. I give them a heads up that they will probably cry. Hell, sometimes I cry. I’ve worked with students writing about escaping ethnic cleansing, Sierra Leone diamond minds, and unbearable poverty. They are also students who are in 15 clubs, honors programs, volunteer groups, and all while taking graduate courses as undergraduates. They are pretty much the best students you will find and they can’t really fit it in to 500-1000 words. So when we get started I share my own personal statement. (No, I’m not sharing it here! Daughter of a German immigrant, first-generation to college, etc. It still makes me cry!) You can Google myriad samples in any number of fields. They need to have a general idea of how it 1) explains how your experience made you a Comparatist/Sociologist/Immunologist (your academic history), then it 2) explains what you will continue to contribute to your field (specializations, lab work to be done, discourses to enter into, etc). Then, I tell them to list the top ten things their graduate school programs need to know about them.

This little list is key to conquering this monster of an essay. Nothing on the list is to be longer than one brief sentence (they will try to write entire paragraphs otherwise).

The next point is key–arrange the ten points in order from 1 being the most important to 10 being the least important. This step will take a ridiculously long time (20-30 minutes). I think they sense what comes next…

Cut the bottom five. Cut them and plan on not being able to mention them in your personal statement at all.
It is truly like making them cut their limbs off–I assuage their fears by assuring them that most of these things will appear in their C.V.

Getting down to the five most academically-important things about you is pretty amazing. It absolutely bars them from the parent-centered personal statement (the personal statement focused on how much they overcame–through their parent’s immigration, while never actually explaining anything they’ve done, which might just leave your graduate school wishing mom and dad had applied instead of you). It keeps them from wandering aimlessly from achievement to achievement like it’s a long-form C.V. It helps them find the next most important thing–the frame to their stories.

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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=https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1359907001/ill-drown-my-book-conceptual-writing-by-women /]

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.
Saboteur,
Kamikaze man —-

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Babushka
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.

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

Posted by Natalie Strobach on June 01, 2012
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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: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/routledge/0969725x.html. It’s a wonderful journal published by Routledge.