Re: Pedagogy, shmedanotteachinganythingverywell, apparently.

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When I stopped and looked at the surveys, I found that A students were excellent at estimating their grades, and F students were terrible, and C students were in the middle.

This more or less universal, is it not? At work, people who are good at their job are better at evaluating their own performance than people who are bad at their job. Bad drivers overestimate their ability more than good drivers. And so on.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:11 AM
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Freshman honors physics in college, first midterm, about thirty students: highest score in the eighties, average score in the low fifties. Graded straight up with anything under sixty an F. I flunked it. Always sucked at proofs. Ended up flunking the class, stupidly not following the dozen or so students who switched to the normal freshman physics course. Turns out that two B's don't compensate for a first midterm in the teens. Thank god for DFH U where F's don't show up on your transcript.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:19 AM
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Wow - a freshman proof-based physics class? That would be so DOA here. But we do have a freshman fractions-based physics class.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:21 AM
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Every problem on the midterms and exam, every problem on the homeworks was proofs. Sometimes algebra, sometimes calc. Not that that made a difference for me. It's the proof thing I couldn't deal with. The official difference between the honors and the normal class was knowledge of calc, but really it was math skills, not knowledge. My poor mathematician dad and physicist mom (turned IT types) were so mortified.

That course and the fact that I happily did all my roommate's history reading and hated studying for physics and math convinced me that maybe taking the classes my parents wanted instead of the ones I was interested in wasn't the best idea.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:30 AM
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Ehh, I've known when my work was B- quality or C+.

I had an English teacher in high school who let students tell him what grade they thought they deserved. He exuded a certain moral quality and was the school's moral compass in many respects. He said that his students always offered lower grades than he would ultimately give them.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:37 AM
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I knew I was done with grad school the day the professor handed out a midterm and I thought, "Who are you to test me? I know what grade I deserve. I've done this for years. I know how much of this I understand. Ask me and I'll tell you. Why are we doing this test bullshit?"

Sadly, I still had two years of school left to go.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:51 AM
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Ehh, I've known when my work was B- quality or C+.

But you are not representative of these kids at all. I get a fairly accurate handle of their attentiveness when I picture myself around 8th-9th grade. Where you have really great intentions in the classroom, and the moment you walk out the door, you don't retain a single thing that just happened.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:55 AM
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I'm exaggerating. The top third of the class is basically pretty mature.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:55 AM
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How _old_ are these students?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:03 AM
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7: I was responding to Ginger Yellow more than to you.

I keep hearing about this research which shows that competent people know that they need to improve and what they need to do.

I've often known that I was totally out of my league, that I wasn't doing a good job and not known how to fix it. In other words, I think at various times I have accurately assessed my incompetence.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:04 AM
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9: 18-20 or so. But we have a ton of kids who are the first in their family to go to college, and who come from appallingly weak high schools.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:05 AM
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I think I always knew how well I would do on anything until I got mid-way through graduate school. Before that the calculus was always pretty simple, however, I had a couple of papers for my "masters" where I genuinely thought I'd written good stuff and where, while I got a comfortable pass mark, the mark I ended up getting didn't reflect my perception of what I'd done at all. Similar things happened with the assessment of my thesis. So clearly my ability to assess my own stuff isn't quite as good as it once was.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:06 AM
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I've often known that I was totally out of my league, that I wasn't doing a good job and not known how to fix it. In other words, I think at various times I have accurately assessed my incompetence.

I think you are a generally competent person who successfully identifies her weak spots, just like the people in the studies. Sure, if you restrict your attention to just the weak spot, you look like the incompetent person who knows they are incompetent, but that's not the way to look at things.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:16 AM
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I knew I was done with grad school the day the professor handed out a midterm and I thought, "Who are you to test me? I know what grade I deserve. I've done this for years..."

I started feeling this way in high school.

I didn't figure out that I was stupid until my 30s.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:21 AM
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... Ended up flunking the class, stupidly not following the dozen or so students who switched to the normal freshman physics course. Turns out that two B's don't compensate for a first midterm in the teens. ...

Scores of F,B,B should not result in flunking the course.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:27 AM
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re: 15

I've taken a course here where the passmark was roughly a B+ and a score of A, A, A, A-, B- was an outright fail. They've tweaked it a bit to allow resits, now, though.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:38 AM
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I keep hearing about this research which shows that competent people know that they need to improve and what they need to do.

If you doubt the story because it sounds like one of those evo-psych, just-so, urban legends, fair enough, but there actually is research on it.

I've often known that I was totally out of my league, that I wasn't doing a good job and not known how to fix it. In other words, I think at various times I have accurately assessed my incompetence.

I can think of two possible explanations for this. First of all, maybe you (and ttaM) are just an exception to the general trend. Maybe a lot of people here are; after all, us Unfoggeders are exceptionally perceptive, right? Or the second explanation is, maybe you're interpreting it too strongly. "Ehh, I've known when my work was B- quality or C+." - but those grades are supposedly average or slightly better than average, right? I mean, grade inflation notwithstanding. Ergo, an average-or-slightly-better student would be expected to accurately self-assess most of the time, like you say, and it's the D and F students who really don't know how clueless they are.

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Scores of F,B,B should not result in flunking the course.

Apparently in Shearer's head, all schools everywhere use the same grading system as the one he is used to. This is fascinating. In the real world, however, pass/fail cutoffs and the numerical values to which letter grades correspond can all vary. Hypothetically, if anything between 80 and 90 percent correct is a B and below a 60 is an F, and if that first test score was 12 ("in the teens") and the following two were both 82, then the student will have failed the class.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:47 AM
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16

I've taken a course here where the passmark was roughly a B+ and a score of A, A, A, A-, B- was an outright fail. They've tweaked it a bit to allow resits, now, though.

Ok, if B is a failing grade then F,B,B should fail the course. I was assuming the letter grades had their usual meaning.

And the bad grade at the end should be worse than the bad grade at the beginning.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:51 AM
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re: 17

I was just saying that I was always pretty good at predicting how I was doing, but at some point the standard changed, and I didn't register it consistently. That's as likely to be because of a combination of fucked up obscurantist practice and inconsistency here than it is any actual deviation on my part from the general "competent people usually know roughly how they are doing" rule.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:53 AM
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I started feeling this way in high school.

I felt like I was smarter than my teachers in high school, but I didn't have much confidence in that feeling, because even then I knew that thinking your smarter than the adults was a stereotype about teenagers.

Then I realized: Most high school teachers are exceptionally dumb. Sure there might be a few smart people there who accept the low pay and miserable working conditions out of idealistic notions of helping people. But the idealists burn out quickly. Most of my teachers in high school were there because they were too stupid to do anything else. It wasn't hubris at all to think I was smarter than them.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:53 AM
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re: 18

The list of letters wasn't supposed to reflect ordering. There were a bunch of marks, all assigned at the same time [this wasn't a continuously assessed course] for a number of papers and pieces of research work. If all but one of your papers massively exceeded the passmark, but one barely failed it, you failed. No compensation, no averaging.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:54 AM
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A "C" is not "average." A "C" is "satisfactory." No one seems to understand that.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:55 AM
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17

Apparently in Shearer's head, all schools everywhere use the same grading system as the one he is used to. This is fascinating. In the real world, however, pass/fail cutoffs and the numerical values to which letter grades correspond can all vary. Hypothetically, if anything between 80 and 90 percent correct is a B and below a 60 is an F, and if that first test score was 12 ("in the teens") and the following two were both 82, then the student will have failed the class.

My claim is not that such grading systems don't exist but that they shouldn't exist. This is assuming the usual case where later tests also test earlier material because the later parts of the course build on the earlier parts. If the three tests are testing completely independent subject matter then perhaps it is justified to require passing all the parts to pass the course.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:58 AM
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22: I've always thought that "C" was supposed to be "average" but had been bastardized over the years. You're saying there was no Golden Era of C?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:58 AM
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In this thread, we are all Pauline Kael.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:04 AM
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The requirement to pass all core courses with a B+ or better does weird things to the grade structure where I am.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:05 AM
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Most high school teachers are exceptionally dumb.

I always thought the dumb ones stood out, and wouldn't have said they were "most". But then again, it's possible we went to different schools.

Few high schools teachers are exceptionally smart (and those that are also stood out, although I'm not sure the exceptionally smart ones were always or even very often exceptionally good teachers, which is a very different thing).

Most were perfectly competent, no more, no less. Like most people in most fields, probably.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:08 AM
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20

Then I realized: Most high school teachers are exceptionally dumb. Sure there might be a few smart people there who accept the low pay and miserable working conditions out of idealistic notions of helping people. But the idealists burn out quickly. Most of my teachers in high school were there because they were too stupid to do anything else. It wasn't hubris at all to think I was smarter than them.

Actually high school teachers as a group are average or slightly above average in intelligence.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:09 AM
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I'm still kind of stunned by the idea of someone showing up for a (reasonably low level) math class, doing the homework reliably, and still not being able to pass the tests. Is there some identifiable piece of the subject matter that they're stuck on (like, the student from last year who didn't understand fractions)?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:11 AM
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I'm still kind of stunned by the idea of someone showing up for a (reasonably low level) math class, doing the homework reliably, and still not being able to pass the tests.

Really? Why?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:12 AM
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On rereading, I guess heebie doesn't say they were doing the homework, just that they were showing up for class. But really, if you're doing the problems successfully at home, while you might not be able to do them perfectly under testing pressure, literally being unable to do them well enough to pass? Seems very weird to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:16 AM
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This is probably an "I don't even own a failing test grade" moment. But on something like math, it just seems that anyone who's actually doing the work should be able to pass the tests, and that a real lack of ability would show up on inability to do the homework first.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:19 AM
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25 to 31.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:19 AM
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31: I'm assuming you were once a student, so your question seems very odd to me, but students doing homework tend to consult one another, consult the relevant sections in the textbook, consult their class notes, etc. Not to mention they're not being timed, and beyond that they're probably not doing all the problems on their homework sets correctly. Muddling through the homework but bombing the tests is incredibly common. (In lots of subjects, right? Not just math.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:21 AM
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32: I wouldn't expect you to own a failing grade. But I'm kind of stunned that you've apparently never known anyone else who owned one, either.


Posted by: Brock Lnaders | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:23 AM
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As Brock says, performing well on homework is often not the same thing _at all_ as performing well in exam conditions. A lot of students in my own subject can write competent enough essays given loads of time and reference material to refer to, but are not really capable of remembering arguments, or coming up with arguments on their own when presented with material under test conditions.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:24 AM
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This may be an artifact of where I went to school. I knew people who essentially quit a class partway through, so who got failing grades (I got a D in Classical Electrodynamics the semester I decided to leave MIT that I was kind of surprised wasn't an F), but I really didn't know anyone like Heebie's students, who was in class and putting the effort in but still in the D-F range. My sense of the bottom of the grade distribution for someone who's really working but just finds a class very difficult is around C.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:27 AM
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36: Yeah, writing under pressure seems different to me -- more susceptible to test-pressure effects.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:29 AM
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You've accidentally repeated the Dunning-Kruger experiment and you've also replicated the results. Write to Justin Kruger and David Dunning at Cornell and tell them.

I'd love to know how you get on with trying to operationalise the Dunning-Kruger effect as part of a course of study. There's probably a paper in that experience.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:29 AM
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re: 37

That does seem quite odd. But then again, I suppose a lot of the people I know of who weren't doing especially well weren't really working THAT hard, either.

But I have taught people who were working really hard, though, but who just weren't going to do well, no matter what. Some people just don't have certain skill-sets, or aren't able to understand/acknowledge what they'd need to do to acquire those skills.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:31 AM
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At Oxbridge, of course, it's theoretically possible to get the equivalent of an F in every single one of your undergrad papers for three years, except for the last two weeks, and still get a first class degree.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:31 AM
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re: 41

Indeed. Not even discouraged, either.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:34 AM
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40: Yeah, come to think of it I'm probably being sheltered by my peer group -- there just weren't a lot of people in either of the schools I went to who didn't have the necessary skills to do at least adequately if they put in a respectable effort.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:36 AM
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37: it's plausible that it's artifact of where I went to school. I'm still not sure how you could be "stunned" that it's not like that everwhere, but I'll take you at your word.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:38 AM
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44: s/b "where you went to school", not where I went.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:38 AM
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Huh. I thought 43 was what you were getting at in 37. I guess 37 was referring instead to your school's grading policies (i.e., essentially no one gets below a C)?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:41 AM
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re: 41

Further to 42, there is something to be said for that, a bit. Less cookie-cutter identical not-very-good-but-not-awful-either by-the-book 'continuous assessment' sorts of essays to read.*

* although with some of the students I tried quite hard to teach them how to produce those kinds of essays, because otherwise, they just weren't going to do that well in the final exams. It's surprising how few students seemed ever to have been taught how to do it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:41 AM
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37

This may be an artifact of where I went to school. I knew people who essentially quit a class partway through, so who got failing grades (I got a D in Classical Electrodynamics the semester I decided to leave MIT that I was kind of surprised wasn't an F), but I really didn't know anyone like Heebie's students, who was in class and putting the effort in but still in the D-F range. My sense of the bottom of the grade distribution for someone who's really working but just finds a class very difficult is around C.

Some people are just bad at math. Not too many of them attend MIT though.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:42 AM
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Haven't caught up in the thread yet, but from 15:

Scores of F,B,B should not result in flunking the course.

I would not fail a student who performed like this, even if it was numerically called for. They've demonstrated that they've gotten a handle on the material by the end of the semester. They'd probably get a C.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:47 AM
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2: Proofs? In physics? I don't understand.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:48 AM
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37: Yeah, but some of them did attend the University of Chicago -- I spent a fair amount of time dragging liberal artsy friends through the core math requirement by the scruffs of their necks. And mostly it was a work/attention/despair problem rather than real inability -- you'd get people claiming to be unable to do something, but if you sat there and said, step by step, "Just do the next bit. Now the next bit. Now the next bit," they'd get through, and do okay on tests. (I did get stymied by the lowest level of the physics core, the "physics for poets" with no math at all. I had a roommate in that, and I talked her into transferring into physics for bio majors because I found physics for poets so confusing I couldn't help her with it.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:49 AM
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LB: My interpretation is that they try to survive the homeworks, not use them as an indication of the material they need to master. Then when they're studying, they look over their notes, look over their homeworks, do some problems, but doggedly avoid the situation where you put away all your books and notes and try to determine your mastery of the material.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:53 AM
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Can you get a sense of what they don't know? Like, are they breaking down on the stuff you're teaching, or are they unable to simplify fractions?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:57 AM
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you'd get people claiming to be unable to do something, but if you sat there and said, step by step, "Just do the next bit. Now the next bit. Now the next bit," they'd get through, and do okay on tests.

This was not my experience the one time I tried to help someone through core math. (Or when I tried to help math majors through real math classes, for that matter, but that's probably because "do the next bit" was much more ill-defined.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:57 AM
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Yeah, I think what's going on here is that my experience really doesn't generalize well -- I'm talking about a sample of four or five people in one school, so not a lot.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:00 AM
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I think Brock hits one of the important points in 34 with "students doing homework tend to consult one another". Homework is rarely the sole work of the person turning it in. Good students will make sure they thoroughly understand the solutions if other people in their study group come up with the answer, but a lot of them probably just copy it down without thinking about it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:01 AM
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Actually high school teachers as a group are average or slightly above average in intelligence.

Average intelligence, sadly enough, is pretty damn dumb.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:03 AM
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Yeah, I think what's going on here is that my experience really doesn't generalize well -- I'm talking about a sample of four or five people in one school, so not a lot.

And that school did not exactly "have a ton of kids who are the first in their family to go to college, and who come from appallingly weak high schools."


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:04 AM
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Can you get a sense of what they don't know? Like, are they breaking down on the stuff you're teaching, or are they unable to simplify fractions?

A lot of small mistakes that reflect not having a solid big picture of the material. The steps "Set the derivative = 0, and solve for x" and "Determine where the derivative fails to exist" are executed very similarly, so if you're coasting on what seems like a likely next step without a big picture understanding, you make a lot of mistakes and royally mangle problems.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:04 AM
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So true, NPH.

When I found out that my visual-spatial performance IQ was slightly below average (some parts, like fine motor skills, were in the seriously impaired), I was devastated. People tried to tell me that I was above average in the verbal sections, and I should be happy about that, but all I could think about was how dumb people of average intelligence so often are. That's not snark.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:08 AM
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Now I'm remembering just how much of my coursework involved meeting small groups of friends to get the homework done. Is this kosher at all schools, or is it a culturally-dependent thing? I could easily imagine that the way we worked would be considered cheating by a sufficiently anal grader. Answers would trickle down from the best students to the worst, losing something along the way, so that the grades accurately reflected who understood the problem.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:08 AM
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That's been kosher everywhere I've ever been, although with a vague, unenforced understanding that what was being shared was 'how to do the problem' (including a check on the calculations) rather than copying someone else's answer symbol for symbol.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:11 AM
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I remember once in particular when a friend came to me, after getting back a graded assignment, saying "my homework says 'see [essear]'s homework for comments on this approach'!"


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:14 AM
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I am delighted if my students work together. Hopefully in encourages them to stick with the problems for longer than they otherwise would, and hopefully they explain stuff to each other.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:17 AM
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This was not my experience the one time I tried to help someone through core math.

Helping people in most levels of core math was okay. My friend in the "math for trees" sequence, not so much, but so far as I could tell that was entirely about dyslexia. I think the most time I spent trying to help non-scientists think through proofs was in intro logic. I loved the class (puzzles!), but my friends were completely stymied by the process of constructing a proof. The whole idea of exploring possible avenues seemed to be alien to them, even though of course they did much the same thing (only with more familiar symbols) every time they sat down to write a paper. I was not a particularly useful teacher: "But how did you know to do that next?" "I don't really, but it feels promising. Let's see if it actually works." How on earth you get people to learn what does and doesn't feel promising, I have no idea.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:34 AM
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I remember being very resentful at the prospect of working on a possible avenue that might not work out. Junior high beat that out of me.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:39 AM
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The problem that I see with working together is that students who don't understand the material rarely pair up with people who do understand the material, or people who complement their own understanding.

Whenever I set up the groups for peer review, I try to make sure to mix it up so every group has one person likely to keep everyone on task, one affable jokester to keep it lively, one person who's really struggling, one person who's particularly nice and helpful, or whatever. That is, it's not just levels of success that get mixed up, but also personality types. Otherwise all the shy ESL kids band together, the smart-asses band together, the serious students band together, etc. No one gets anything done.

When I give exams in British literature, I'm testing to see if they get the "big picture" questions we discussed in class. Do you know what are the defining features of Romantic aesthetics are? Do you understand Pater's intervention in the late Victorian idea of what art is for? Those are way difficult questions. The best students craft their own answers in their own words, using examples from texts we've read. The next level of students spit back exactly what we talked about in class and during the exam review. But Jesus Christ, the students below that give terrible, wrong, really bad answers, and nearly always, I see the same terrible answers on two or more exams, and I think, "All you had to do was pay attention and take notes to get full credit, and instead, you prepped for this exam with someone who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground?"


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:40 AM
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the smart-asses band together

Aka "how to survive high school".


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:43 AM
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55: I actually experienced that a lot when I was teaching. I had several students--mostly girls--who were wildly failing their chemistry tests, despite B--ish grades on homework and complete participation. When I administered the tests orally and gave them aditional information or cues, but just made them focus on one question at a time, without about 1.5x the same amount of time they would have had in a written exam, they scored in the B- range. Every single one of them had been or was eventually diagnosed with some combination of anxiety, ADD and other health condition. The most anxious one turned out to have a serious heart condition. It was an undeniable case of test-anxiety.

I think I was able to sympathize b/c I had had similar experiences in college. I was a reasonable test-taker through most of high school--in fact, I'd say I was a really good one, considering I got into college on the strength of perfect PSAT scores---but in college my test-taking ability slowly crumbled. I'm pretty sure my professors were similarly baffled. One of them actually spent my college graduation evening talking to my mother about how I had tons of potential, if I would only buckle down and "focus." No shit, Sherlock, as if I didn't know that was exactly what I couldn't do. Super nice guy, though.


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 12:00 PM
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I was teaching Spanish at a Jesuit high school, so I often asked reflective questions at the end of the test (the Jesuits are big on reflection). Which sections are you most confident on, which sections did you wish you prepared for more, guesstimate your grade, etc.

I was always adding extra tasks; when let students turn in their exams before everyone was finished, they'd make the students who were still working nervous.

Anyway, the reflection piece was key. I would get things like "I didn't study" or "I looked it over but I didn't actually practice it" etc. I didn't really have to do much brow-beating after that.


Posted by: JP Villanueva | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 12:01 PM
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67: Don't you ever have trouble when you pair the kid who really knows what's going on with the kid who has no idea, and the former sort of mocks the latter, or wastes their time, b/c they can? I guess you have mature college students, but still . . .


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 12:05 PM
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27, 28: Perhaps I am letting my angry, 17 year old self continue to run my brain on this issue when I really shouldn't. I haven't let go of my resentment of the petty authority figures of my youth, and I've never bothered to collect data or first hand experience to contradict my young impressions.

Life will probably change when Caroline and Joey are in HS and their teachers are our allies in keeping the kids healthy and happy.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 12:06 PM
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I do a mid-semester evaluation like that, JP. Write me a letter saying how you feel you're doing so far, what kind of work you've been doing outside of class, how well you feel you're keeping up with the material. Then, what can I do to facilitate this work?

Almost always, the responses from everyone but the top students said, "I guess I haven't really been keeping up very well," and I don't think I ever got anyone asking for me to change what I was doing. But the mood in the class really changes after they write that. A lot of students decide to kick their own butts a bit, ask for help when they need it, etc.

I think what happens is they're sitting there vaguely thinking "Aw crap this class is so much work" and they don't do it and they get a bad attitude, but, forced to reflect, even momentarily, on their efforts thus far, no one ends up saying my expectations are unreasonable.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 12:11 PM
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71: No, I just don't see that. I've had a few very cool students come to me wanting to mock the truly weird student (the one who never showers, or who always raises her hand to interject some bizarre non sequitur), but I smile and urge them to be nice. They don't make fun of students who are having a hard time, though they do get frustrated with people who clearly don't care, or people who try to derail conversations with simple-minded contrarianism.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 12:16 PM
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The truly painful part of teaching are the students that work really hard but just do not have the mental capabilities to get it. You can explain it over and over and they may get pieces of it, but you know they'll never be able to do it without heavy prompting.

It's painful because as one columnist put it "Sturgeon's Law is orthogonal to effort and/or sincerity". Sometimes hard work doesn't pay off.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 1:26 PM
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Almost always, the responses from everyone but the top students said, "I guess I haven't really been keeping up very well," and I don't think I ever got anyone asking for me to change what I was doing. But the mood in the class really changes after they write that. A lot of students decide to kick their own butts a bit, ask for help when they need it, etc.

This reminds the students that although we figure the teacher is viewing the class similar to how we're viewing it (a couple weeks of being well-organized and prepared and doing all the work ahead of time, followed by the inevitable descent into procrastination and doing the minimum work possible, accompanied by shame and frustration), the teacher may in fact be consistently well-organized and prepared throughout the semester. So it may not be impossible for students to do the same.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:12 PM
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50 (in ref to 2): I'm assuming "proof-based" just means "using symbolic manipulation and logic to derive a particular result" rather than "proof" in the math sense. I.e. in opposition to so-called "plug and chug" problems- instead of plugging numbers in to find the repulsive force between two cats' furs, performing an integral to find the magnetic field everywhere in space from two circular loops of radius R carrying current I. No physics prof would use the phrase "proof-based."

I'm currently teaching the dreaded Classical Electrodynamics, as well as an intro "plug and chug" course. Whee!


Posted by: Coutnerfly | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:16 PM
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Heh. I still have the textbook for that one in a box of stuff at my mother's place -- every couple of years I see it and shudder.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:21 PM
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75: So, so true. It's been the real shocker of my first year teaching physics, that no matter how hard I (or the best teacher in my department, for that matter) try, some students just don't have the processor speed (or RAM) to understand the material without heavy, heavy prompting.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:22 PM
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78: Griffiths? Milford & Christy? Lorrain & Corson? They didn't try and inflict the (graduate-level) Jackson on you, did they?


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:22 PM
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Jackson it was.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:25 PM
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That was a bad course to take as a sophomore -- I mistook the 'no prerequisites beyond the freshman physics sequence' to mean 'so there's no reason to put it off until senior year like most people.'


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:27 PM
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Jesus. That's just dumb. I had as advanced a physics curriculum as an undergrad that Berkeley could offer, and they still made me do a year as a junior out of Griffiths, with Jackson as a dubious "optional reference." Jackson is only good when students have had freshman/sophomore E&M tempered by a junior/senior level E&M course: then, maybe, Jackson is a good book.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:29 PM
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I thought I'd be gung-ho and take the advanced freshman physics course first semester at MIT. Did well enough in it but did not appreciate the amount of effort required; however, the professor later won the Nobel, so that was cool in retrospect. (In fact, he published the work right around the time I was in his class.)


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:32 PM
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I occasionally wonder whether I would have ended up working in a technical field if I'd either developed any kind of study habits before college, or had an advisor who,you know, provided any kind of advice on what would have been an even slightly less insane set of courses to take.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:36 PM
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I had a friend who was once slightly traumatized by sharing a shower with Jackson at the RSF; If I remember correctly the trauma was the combination of naked greatness and having his own memories of 210 revisited upon him while in such a wet and soapy state.


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:37 PM
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85- Freshman advising sucked when I was there, or my adviser would have kept me from doing something stupid like taking 8.012 when she realized I hadn't had enough calculus in HS. But thanks to her I did know about the web way before most people, although I failed to invest in Yahoo when it went public.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 2:49 PM
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Back when I was there, sonny, the 'Web' wasn't anything more than a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee's eye.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:01 PM
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88: Wait, I didn't think you were that much older than me.

OK, double-checking my memory, Mosaic came out in '93, so I guess you would have missed it being just 2 years older (and maybe you're 3?).

Of course, technically, the Web went live in '91, but that really was limited to TB-L's circle


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:06 PM
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I started college in 1988 -- I'm 38.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:09 PM
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The Web appeared kind of suddenly while I was out of the country, isolated from American news other than the subscription to Newsweek all the PCVs got. All of a sudden there was this 'ComputerWatch' (or something like that) column with inexplicable tidbits of news that didn't make sense. I was very confused ("Like, Usenet has pictures now?").


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:11 PM
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I remember once in particular when a friend came to me, after getting back a graded assignment, saying "my homework says 'see [essear]'s homework for comments on this approach'!"

I got that on an exam once! It was for an awful awful course in "Rat/onal Dec/sionmaking in Arch/tecture"*, and I neither understood nor cared about it - basically, this guy had gotten tenure by doing research on this topic (decisionmaking was big at CMU in the 80s, possibly related to game theory stuff at GSIA), and so he got to teach a course in it. Ugh. Anyway, the final was open book, so we all just got together at Skibo and worked through it together - not very well, obviously. But we passed.

* Actual quote from the text: "The difficulty with examining rat/onal dec/sionmaking in arch/tecture is that human beings are not rat/onal decis/onmakers."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:17 PM
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90: OK, 2 years, that's hat I thought. AB had almost your 91 experience because she left for Japan in '91 - I don't think she had encountered Usenet or even email at UVA, so while the Web wasn't there yet when she came back, things were changing a lot.

She also basically missed the whole Nirvana/Seattle/alt rock thing. Cultural markers from that period still come up that leave her puzzled.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:19 PM
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This is going to sound silly, but I never really got the hang of the Clinton presidency. By the time I was back from Samoa, it was already in a constant state of scandal, and I couldn't figure out any of what it was all supposed to be about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:23 PM
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Heebie has an almost perfectly symmetrical grade curve here -- it actually looks pretty good to me. More D's and F's than A's and B's is the real problem.

If only students understood that professors *don't like* to flunk them...I never really got that when I was a student.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:24 PM
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I really want to reply to 94, but I know it will come off as far too bitter and humorless.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:28 PM
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This is going to sound silly, but I never really got the hang of the Clinton presidency.

"It must be Thursday. I never quite got the hang of Thursdays."


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:29 PM
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For the record, by the way, I enjoyed Taylor Branch's book about Clinton, but I couldn't recommend it without some reservations. It's slow going in places and, being shaped by the topics that Clinton chose to talk about and focus on it's far from a complete picture.

It certainly gives a good picture of the justifications that Clinton would give for his presidency -- many of them convincing.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:31 PM
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I tore through My Life. Read it in the bathtub. Wept. Loved it.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:34 PM
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The Clinton Era was when the mainstreaming of torture began. They tried it out on Earth First! activists, ascertained that nobody important would kick, and then expanded the practice to Muslims, Arabs, foreigners, and various sorts of leftists. Pretty soon they'll be making reality shows where young women of color who've been caught forging a check will be tortured to death in front of a studio audience for the titillation of pay-per-view subscribers.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:35 PM
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Can you tell that I'm PRETTY FUCKING BITTER about the use of grand juries to clamp down on dissent today?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:35 PM
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|| Thought I'd share this with you folks.|>


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:37 PM
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Grand juries were used to clamp down on dissent today?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:37 PM
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This is going to sound silly, but I never really got the hang of the Clinton presidency.

Me neither. Out of the country from '93 through '95, and didn't really get much news. I missed Hillarycare and Oklahoma City, not to mention Kurt Cobain's death and the start of the OJ Simpson thing. Oh, and during my absence from the country, everyone apparently got together and decided that tap water was not fit for human consumption and buying water in .5L plastic bottle was utterly sensible.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:42 PM
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103:
Twin Cities activists held in contempt


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:43 PM
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99: Me too! Not the bathtub part (I read most of it on a trip to Austria), but the rest.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:44 PM
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It could be worse.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:45 PM
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105: Boy, near as I can tell, activists are held in contempt pretty much everywhere these days.

Sorry, Natilo. I shouldn't be flip.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:47 PM
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The Clinton Era was when the mainstreaming of torture began. They tried it out on Earth First! activists, ascertained that nobody important would kick

You mean the pepper spray incidents in Humboldt? Didn't they finally win that in court and the Humboldt Sheriff stated they would discontinue the tactic?


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 3:47 PM
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If only students understood that professors *don't like* to flunk them...I never really got that when I was a student.

Emphatically doesn't not always follow. I've had everything from super-concerned lecturers who were desperate for everyone to do well and for them to like the subject and who bent over backwards to help, to lecturers who actively wanted to fail as many people as possible because, 'dammit, this stuff is supposed to be hard'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:10 PM
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lecturers who actively wanted to fail as many people as possible because, 'dammit, this stuff is supposed to be hard'.

I fucking hate these people into the ground. If you have zero interest in helping people learn, why do you get out of bed in the morning to teach your classes? Why not just give them a test on the first day and cancel the rest of the semester?

I know this attitude generally exists in the sort of people who say they value research over teaching, but, let's face it--their research usually blows, too. They have nothing at stake in communicating with people who don't already know what they do, other than to make them feel bad about themselves. It makes for shitty conference presentations, shitty writing, shitty relationships with colleagues, shitty administration, shitty advisement. They are bad at their jobs.

Of course, there are people who talk this way to fit in and actually secretly care a lot about education and communication, but they're part of the problem too.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:17 PM
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Also: bragging about how many people drop your classes? When this happened to me once (about 6 drops in the first week), I was ashamed.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:19 PM
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I know this attitude generally exists in the sort of people who say they value research over teaching,

They also view the intro level course as a way to screen for potential protégés who can do the bulk of their research for them and their reputation. Their main goal is to cherry pick good students to major in their field. These people suck balls.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:23 PM
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You can also get whole departments who build this crap attitude. It is easy to get away with if you are a biology department, and you have a world of pre-meds demanding to take your courses. I've seen it also at philosophy departments in schools where people are required to take a lot of philosophy.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:25 PM
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Yes,to a large extent to both 111 and 113, although I've also known a couple who saw themselves (wrongly, of course) as playing some kind of gatekeeping role. Heading the barbarians off at the pass, that sort of thing. Odd, and wrong, but not actually self-serving.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:27 PM
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It also sucks for the other profs in their department. If one prof has a reputation for being a hardass and their classes are only taken by sycophants, masochists, and people who already feel confident with the material, it means all those people who dropped out and feel like losers end up taking classes with someone who gets a reputation for being a "softie." My classes are really difficult, but because I help walk people through the material instead of telling them to fuck themselves, I end up with students who put off my assignments to do the work for the hardasses, or students who ask me for help doing their work for other classes because they know I'll actually listen to them. It's a lot more work for everyone else when a prof does this.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:27 PM
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I've seen it also at philosophy departments in schools where people are required to take a lot of philosophy.

Like both of the places where I've studied philosophy, yeah.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 4:29 PM
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Yeah, I remember one sci/tech teacher at my high school recalling how they talked to the engineering faculty at Big Enormous State U about how to better prepare students, and one teacher of an important lecture class said something to the effect of "I don't really care what you do, my class has a long waiting list, people are always failing and retaking it."


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:02 PM
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112: This shocks me. I've met people (not in my dept! Philosophers!) who delight in how many people they can get to drop after the first class. When someone drops my class I feel half-broken-hearted. (I recognize that this too is ridiculous.)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:10 PM
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The first first year engineering lecture here, apparently the lecturer walks in and says, `o hai! welcome to Concrete University. Half of you are going to fail this course. Look at the guy to your left, and the guy to your right. One of them isn't coming back next year. We aren't your school teachers, and you've got to look after yourself. Now, onto parallelograms of motion!'

(1st year Eng. here is a pretty fucked up course. Death marches all the way and I swear 3/4s of the students end up alkies. Probably all the ones that live at the dorms are. & so many of them seem to be doing it for the money, which is mad. & the gov't gives more $ per eng eft than per sci eft, so the uni has this incentive to keep people in the wrong program. I am so glad I didn't do eng.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:26 PM
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I guess all you guys must be right, but it seems crazy to me. I mean, a good class will probably flunk people, but if your whole class isn't getting it at all that's a big neon sign saying you're not teaching well. I mean, the point of teaching is to help people get it. When I was teaching F's made me wince in pain.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:26 PM
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Apparently I really meant that post.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:27 PM
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I've told my story about being a head TF at Hahv/ahd previously- they have problems at the other extreme (people getting passing grades when they have no clue and don't put in any effort.)


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:44 PM
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When I first started designing my own courses, a friend gave me some really good advice. She said, try to imagine the least prepared student you could reasonably expect to take your class. Design your assignments and activities such that, if that person worked like crazy, did all the assignments, took great notes, studied a lot, and got extra help from the writing center, she could earn a B. This will, of course, not happen, and many of the worst-prepared students will not work very hard, will plagiarize, won't seek extra help, etc., and will fail. But as the teacher, your job is to imagine them at least capable of a B.

That's turned out to be really good advice, I think. It works for upper-level courses, when my expectations are a lot higher (I know they've taken composition, intro to lit, and maybe a few electives), as well as for composition.

As far as actual performance goes, I tend to be happiest when the top quarter are challenged but doing really good work, the middle half are doing passably good work, and the bottom quarter are fighting to pass. If more than a quarter of my students are failing assignments, I have to assume I've done something wrong.

Of course, it doesn't necessarily work with odd groups of students. Right now I have six students in a freshman honors course and all of them are working in the B+/A- range right now. I had this with a wickedly difficult elective last year, too; my ten students all ended up in the B+/A-/A range. Was the course not difficult enough? Unless I'd thrown in a section on differential equations, I'm not sure what I could have done to make it harder. Sometimes you get a group who can basically do anything.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:50 PM
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Yes to 123. In fact, it was much more common for profs to avoid failing people to avoid complaints. If you really want to spend minimal time and effort teaching, give them all the grade they want. Also, this mean bumping all B+s up to A-s.

The folks who want people to fail because it's supposed to be hard are at least proud of the fact that their students have learned something, even if they are despicable for not wanting to help them learn it.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:51 PM
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The folks who want people to fail because it's supposed to be hard are at least proud of the fact that their students have learned something, even if they are despicable for not wanting to help them learn it.

[not esp. relevant anecdote]

Not so much at university level, but at high school I had one particular teacher [Engineering Science] who was a notorious hard-arse disciplinarian, and a really harsh marker. He was a nightmare if you were lazy or at all unprepared. However, he used to come in during his tea breaks and lunch breaks to give extra tuition to the couple of students in the class who were genuinely trying but just not that able.

He definitely took pride in the toughness of his class, and could be a bit of a prat about it, but he was also prepared to really put the work in.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 5:59 PM
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I think "extra tuition" means something different to us Yanks.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:03 PM
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If more than a quarter of my students are failing assignments, I have to assume I've done something wrong.

BTW, this was not to suggest that anything is wrong with Heebie's teaching; she seems to be deeply conscientious about helping students who are bad at math. But it's obvious that she sees the high number of fails as something to be concerned about. Or maybe the numbers work differently in different classes, based on the relative shittiness of various disciplines of high school education.

The one that weirds me out is my Brit lit exam, which almost always results in like a third of the class getting very, very high A's, several 100's, a third B's and C's, and then a third solid F's, like 20's and 30's. They complain the exam is too hard and I am baffled. A LOT of people aced it. The people who got 100's are not super-geniuses.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:03 PM
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126: My high-school pre-calc teacher was like this. When I did poorly on an exam, he actually looked up my schedule and hunted me down while I was in another class to make me do problems with him in the hall. God bless that man.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:05 PM
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126: My eleventh grade English teacher. Notorious hard ass, but if you worked with him, you really would learn something. Best part: he had a very Harry Potteresque name; something like "Mr. Hagadort".


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:13 PM
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I'm not sure high fail rates are always a problem. My introductory computer science class had a notoriously high proportion of failures, not so much because of bad teaching as because a lot of people enrolled in it who really shouldn't have. I suppose you could say it was poor guidance about what the course content was going to be, but I don't think it would make a difference.


Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:22 PM
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I knew someone who taught that paper, and they were not too taken with the teaching. (Not that it was bad, just nothing out-of-this-world.)

I think the universities here let way too many people enrol in first year papers they just aren't up to and then don't follow up with the support they need.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:34 PM
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126: My high-school pre-calc teacher was like this.

My Trig teacher was somewhat like this as well. I occasionally butted heads with him at the time but, in retrospect, he was far and away the best teacher I had in HS.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:37 PM
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120: o hai! welcome to Concrete University. Half of you are going to fail this course. Look at the guy to your left, and the guy to your right. One of them isn't coming back next year. We aren't your school teachers, and you've got to look after yourself.

Wow, this must be some kind of academic line of some sort, which I hadn't realized That, nearly verbatim, was part of a speech freshman at Ha--v--d got, all assembled in their masses. Horrifying.

(Actually the message was more like: a third of you aren't going to make it through, but rest assured that that's not because you don't have what it takes; it will just mean that you didn't get your shit together. So it will be your fault. Can I say how many of us walked away resentful in anticipation?)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 6:57 PM
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Yeah, we had a similar speech when I did first year maths in my brief and abortive period at Edinburgh. To be fair, though, I _did_ fail the course.

I could have passed, but got about half way through the year and stopped putting any work in, and while the course wasn't that hard, it was hard enough that everyone -- ability or no -- had to put a solid amount of time in, and I just didn't.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 7:05 PM
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135: Yeah, oddly, in retrospect, the message was more or less right, but at the time it registered as some kind of sentiment about how we all could -- and should -- be great statesmen and litterateurs and Nobel Prize winners, leaders of our country, and if we didn't turn out to be, well, that was our own damn fault.

Serious ambition pushing. At the time it didn't have the desired effect.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 7:17 PM
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I think that was a line from Patch Adams.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 7:24 PM
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I believe the origin of the "Look to your left, look to your right, one of you three isn't going to make it [. . .]" meme was in a military context.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 7:38 PM
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We aren't your school teachers, and you've got to look after yourself.

Ha! This certainly isn't the case at that institution any more. I have to fill out a multiple-page form to fail a student. Part of the form asks what measures you, the teacher, took to keep the student from failing. It is expected that you will notify the student's resident dean if the student isn't doing well.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 7:57 PM
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too many people enrol in first year

A ploy for tax support. We let everyone in, it's the kid's fault if they fail.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:07 PM
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I have to fill out a multiple-page form to fail a student. Part of the form asks what measures you, the teacher, took to keep the student from failing.

Ugggghhhhhh.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:10 PM
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Same with the form. But by making it such a challenge I'm now proud of the fact that I managed to fail someone who fully deserved it instead of just giving in to the gentleman's D.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:12 PM
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Look to your left, look to your right, one of you three isn't going to make it

I first heard that line during freshman orientation at a showing of Paper Chase. I have no idea if the Obies who scheduled the flick thought of that beforehand.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 8:25 PM
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As I've mentioned before, I'm glad I've never been a student or employee of Har/vard, so that I can maintain my naive affection for the place. (I write from a hotel room in Har/vard Square.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 9:34 PM
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(I write from a hotel room in Har/vard Square.)

Meetup! Right now!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:07 PM
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Um. I need help with a cv.

The position will & I quote `aid the implementation of [institution]'s Peer2Peer and social networking
initiatives'. Is there any way to say: `i spend far too much time commenting on blogs' that isn't going to sound totally stupid?

Also! It's a non-profit, and wants experience in that sort of thing. Is there any way to bring up service as secretary of a branch of the NZ La/bour Party without again sounding stupid?

(It's a horrible part-time volunteery* thing that I rather suspect is utterly immoral and exploitative, but on the other hand it seems like it would be fun in-and-of-itself.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:45 PM
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Is there any way to say: `i spend far too much time commenting on blogs' that isn't going to sound totally stupid?

Probably not. If you have a blog of your own you might be able to spin that as relevant, but I don't think we've reached that point with commenting.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 10:51 PM
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You could maybe argue that the innumerable PAS comments are an awareness of and involvement in the local online landscape, but otherwise it seems like a bit of a stretch. But sounding totally stupid might not be totally stupid here.

That sounds exactly like non-profit experience to me. If there's something else relevant I'd mention it first perhaps.

But it all depends on just how immoral and exploitative we're talking here.


Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:03 PM
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I've had a couple of interviews where it was definitely considered a positive that I was quite familiar with blogs and some amount of social media, because they were into that kind of thing. Actually, I think it might have been held against me in one place if I hadn't at least used "delicious". It was perhaps fortunate that they did not ask about how I acquired such familiarity with blogs.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:22 PM
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I did not bring up the subject of commenting, though, just reading.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:23 PM
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o god the PAS comments: interminable copyright arguments! why chch is a hole! etc. etc.

Yeah, I think I'll stick to just mentioning that I, y'know, read blogs. And such. (I just vaguely feel I should get social media points for, like, thinking TNH was a bit nuts since ages before it was fashionable.)

The NZLP thing is mainly eek, let's not offend anyone.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:37 PM
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But interminable copyright arguments involving multiple Qantas Media Award-winners. Credibility and "social media" both.

That's why I'd foreground something else if you've got it. Otherwise, ehh, what's the problem. It is a non-profit, and they can't (legally) hold it against you. They'll Google you and find out either way, so you may as well mention it when it's relevant.


Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 11-17-09 11:56 PM
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yeah, again, probably a by-the-way sort of thing.

it's neither the most interesting or the most significant thing, it's just the thing with the most impressive job titles involved. (for obvious reasons.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 12:07 AM
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||

This has been a funny day. I had brunch with Ogged's ex and just discovered that I'm related to M/randa J/ly through marriage.

Yeah, that's right -- I had brunch on a Tuesday. Suck it, Calvinists.

|>


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 12:41 AM
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The one that weirds me out is my Brit lit exam, which almost always results in like a third of the class getting very, very high A's, several 100's, a third B's and C's, and then a third solid F's, like 20's and 30's.

How do you get 100 in a literature exam? I mean, at Oxford, a First is 70.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 2:45 AM
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re: 155

Different scaling, I suppose. They experimented with that one year in philosophy when I was at Glsgow. Usually over 65 was enough to secure an exemption or merit certificate [this was in the first two years], and at finals stage, as you say, 70 would have been a first. They decided to use the full marking range, as an experiment [rather than the usual 40 - 70 range]. Swiftly discontinued, though. I think the markers felt really odd handing out the higher [and lower] marks.

The OU uses a wider scale. I can't remember the exact numbers but I think you need to get over 70 (or 75?) just to get a B.

I have no idea how you can get a 100, though. That just seems ... odd. Who writes a perfect essay?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 2:54 AM
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Exactly. Do you write everything there is to say on a subject, with the perfect quotations to support your perfect argument, in the perfect prose style?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 3:06 AM
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It's my exam; I can do what I want to!

But yeah, it's not a graduate-level exam. There's a long multiple-choice section (can you identify characters from the books we read?), a long short-answer section (can you describe various aesthetic movements?), and an essay section that they have the questions for beforehand (though it's still closed-book, closed-note). So although plenty of people biff the exam, there are also plenty who truly do ace it. And no, there's no Nobel-Prize-winning 100 I have in my mind as a reasonable expectation against which I judge all my lit students. If I get a well-structured, lively essay, mechanically flawless, that has an original thesis addressing the question, and supports that thesis with interesting, sufficient, accurate details from texts and explications, I'm giving that full credit.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 4:20 AM
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Also, w/r/t the job thing:

Damn if I didn't get a job this year because I know about blogging and stuff. But! In my case I was hired because no one else around me knows anything about blogging and stuff. So! They're all theoretically interested in becoming bloggers and ask me how to do that.

I start to talk about first engaging yourself in other communities, reading a ton of blogs, commenting, finding styles you like, constructing a writerly persona and a set of ideas or rhetorical demands, considering what kind of comments section you want to have, what kind of audience, blah blah blah, and they say, without fail, "I thought you were going to show me how to blog. Like what buttons to press."

Same thing happened when I gave an academic talk on blogging in my field. It's all stuff about how blogging restructures rhetorical relationships in academia, etc., and one of my audience members raises her hand during my talk to complain that she thought I was going to explain how to blog. Like what buttons to press.

(a) Man, if you can't figure out what fuckin' buttons to press by following the goddamn directions on a screen, you are too dumb to blog. But (b) if you have no interest in thinking about questions of audience, purpose, etc., and are only interested in getting your name out there or whatever, you're going to have a monstrously shitty blog.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 4:28 AM
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I've talked to writers who want to blog in order to "get their stuff out there" but quail at the thought of offering their own writing for free. "No, you have to buy it!" they say. Oh I see, you don't want a blog; you want a store.

Or I get, "I really want to create a community for women where we can talk about issues that really matter to us!" And I say, oh yeah, there are a lot of great blogs that do that. You should read a, b, and c, and see what they're doing. "Oh, I want to create a community online!" Communities exist online. "But I want to..." Listen, you're going to have to come up with an audience more specific than "women."

What I'm realizing drives this is that, in more traditional media, you (a) have to make sure you get paid or publishers will eat you alive, and you (b) have to appeal to the broadest audience possible. There's this weird thing people have to learn about writing for blogs that there is value in being generous with words that is different from getting paid, and that the more specifically you target your audience and recognize what your relationship is to other communities, the more successful you'll be in getting an audience. Right? Am I missing something?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 4:38 AM
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Not really. I think a lot of professional writers (especially of the generation just older than mine - born 1979) are still wary of the whole concept of blogging as a conversation. They see blogs/websites as just another form of de haut en bas publishing, and to the extent that they want to build communities around their output, it's to spread word of mouth or something like that.

Personally, I don't get it. I've previously thought about starting a blog relating to my professional expertise, but a) my company wouldn't pay me to do it or appreciate me spending any work time on it and I'm too lazy to manage a blog on my own time, and more importantly, b) I think I can achieve more by contributing to other people's well trafficked finance blogs.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 5:27 AM
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There are somewhat lower-tier law schools which operate on this principle, though it's partly about giving less "qualified" applicants a chance.

Pacific University's McGeorge school of law is pretty good, but the best students transfer out, and a number of people drop out after the first year.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 7:24 AM
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159

(a) Man, if you can't figure out what fuckin' buttons to press by following the goddamn directions on a screen, you are too dumb to blog. But (b) if you have no interest in thinking about questions of audience, purpose, etc., and are only interested in getting your name out there or whatever, you're going to have a monstrously shitty blog.

I disagree with this. Blogging is the sort of thing you learn by doing. So getting people over the initial hurdle is helpful. And while the mechanics are in fact very simple, many people may not know this and be needlessly scared off.

And I am unconvinced that a lot of thinking about purposes, audience etc. is all that helpful particularly if it replaces actually blogging. This is the sort of thing some people have a talent for and some people don't. The easiest way to find out if you have talent is to try. If your first effort is lousy, so what? You can decide blogging isn't for you. Or you can throw it away and try again with the benefit of experience. Authors often write an unpublishable book or two before getting the hang of it. Of course this means it might be prudent to use a pseudonym to start with.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 9:57 AM
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I had brunch with Ogged's ex

<double take />

What an odd, small world.

I am surprised only because my sense, as a pretty serious reader of this blog, was that very little identifying information about Ogged's ex has been posted, so I was surprised that you would know that you were having brunch with Ogged's ex.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 10:48 AM
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I've had Lizardbreath's exact experience with tutoring math students. But not with everybody.

There are a lot of people failing math courses who you can get up to a solid B or A- just by watching them while they do the homework assignments and offering a little coaching, and most of what you have to do is wait until they freeze up and say, "go ahead, you're on the right track" or "don't try to do it in your head, write all the steps down".

There are also some people for whom this doesn't work.


Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 10:51 AM
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@134

Yes, but it was delivered in such a charming and droll British accent (may he rest in peace) and with genuine fondness. Especially the lines about students coming back home and explaining to their parents that they have discovered that want to study 15th century Argentinian literature rather than a pre-med degree.

@156

I've always thought the British grading scale made way more sense. Of course you're not perfect! Nothing ever is!


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 11:07 AM
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I had brunch with Ogged's ex
<double take />
What an odd, small world.

Wait, aren't there several of those? (Ogged's exes, not small worlds)


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 12:58 PM
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Wait, aren't there several of those? (Ogged's exes, not small worlds)

The two "named" exes that I remember are "ex" and "exbeforelast"


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:10 PM
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Also "Fontana Labs".


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:11 PM
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BPL is an ex.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:23 PM
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Yay, HE'S COMING BACK.

Shit, that sucks.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:24 PM
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170. I'm sorry to hear that. My regards.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:32 PM
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167: philosophers are hard at work quantifying how many worlds small possible worlds comprise.

In some ways, unfogged is ogged's ex.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:33 PM
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172: eh, apo dumped her, not the other way around.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:33 PM
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No, no, he's with someone new. (There was a thread a couple of weeks ago where someone noticed his Flickr account evidencing a current relationship. He's married, with a dog.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:33 PM
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He's married, with a dog.

You can take the boy out of the Bay Area....


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-18-09 1:50 PM
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