Reflection

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 6

So the last time I updated y’all on my dissertation progress, I’d met with my advisor a couple of times to talk about my first (extremely long) draft of my first chapter, and I’d started watching Beverly Hills, 90210 because that was originally supposed to be part of my second chapter. This was at the beginning of November.

A few weeks after that post though, I started to see my dissertation a bit differently than I’d originally planned. This makes sense because when you make a dissertation prospectus, you literally have no idea what you’re doing (at least, I didn’t lol), then you start writing the thing, and then it starts to become a different thing entirely.

So my original plan had been three chapters, each of which focused on analysis of a few different shows that shared some sort of structural similarity. That first chapter draft had, for example, focused on three shows that would be classified as remakes (in the most basic sense). But I realized a couple of things through this initial process of drafting. First, I was trying to write about too many shows (#TVScholarStruggles), and while I think my advisor would be totally fine with me writing a 300-page diss, I am not haha. Also though, I started to realize that the structural similarities of the shows wasn’t really an organizing principle that I was interested in.

And so, I needed to rethink my organizational structure. In thinking about what I’d written so far, and based on some of the feedback I’d received from folks who’d seen bits of that, I realized that I’d sort of written myself into focus that I never would have really thought of when I was writing the prospectus. Such is the way, I suppose. Once I figured that out, I realized that the chapters really only needed to focus on single shows because each of those shows (and their associated genres, productions, and networks) approaches the particular problem I’m exploring differently.

So then, I basically tossed the old structure and started to craft a new one. My advisor and I talked about which shows would actually make the cut and which ones I would let go.

(This is when I tell y’all that, sadly, 90210 did not make the cut. Steve Sanders is still the worst though because I didn’t make it to the Ray Pruitt years in this rewatch)

As I waited for some feedback from my advisor, I went on a dissertation writing retreat offered by my university. If you have the chance to do something like that, I highly recommend it. Having dedicated time to focus on your writing without having to worry about anything else can make one quite productive. During the weekend that I was retreating, I went through all of the pages I’d written, made some revisions, wrote out the outline for my new structure, and determined what research I needed to do next. ‘Twas greatly beneficial for me.

My advisor and I met again yesterday to hash out the details of this new structure, and he and I both feel pretty good about where I’m at right now (both with the diss and for going on the job market this fall 😬). There are still some strands that will need to be pulled together more tightly as I progress, but the direction I’m moving toward is much more clear now.

So next steps? I’m (a) revising the chunks I’ve already written, (b) working on various other projects because academia, and (c) in the midst of completing research for the next chapter, which naturally means I’m watching another show.

Which one?

Well…

Season 4 Boy Meets World cast photo

#youths

 

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Local Flavor

TIL none of my students have seen the movie Soul Food 😳
Ahmad from the movie Soul Food

Ahmad is displeased by this revelation.

*more on that momentarily*

For today’s class, we had a reading about how Black chefs have shaped American cuisine throughout history and a reading about the similarities and differences between “Southern Food” and “Soul Food” and the power dynamics between those distinctions.

After going over some of the key details in the readings, I pulled up Yelp searches I’d done for the highest rated restaurants in Columbus categorized as “Southern Food” and the highest rated restaurants categorized as “Soul Food.” I pointed out how there was some overlap, but most of the restaurants at the top of the list for the former have White owners and a lot of the ones at the top of the list for the latter have Black owners.

I asked them if they could see any other differences between the lists, and this is what they noticed:
-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” tended to have images that showed more “stylish” or “upscale” plating
-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” tended to be more expensive
-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” tended to have many more reviews

-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” were more centrally located within the city, whereas restaurants labeled as “Soul Food” were pushed out to the perimeter

And we talked briefly about what all of this might mean: about stereotyping, about power, about who can afford rent where, about segregation in Columbus, etc.

What I’m finding with this particular theme is that it’s really easy to make connections to our local community (for example, in Monday’s class, we analyzed images from a local coffee shop’s website as part of a discussion about the ethics of craft culture). And I think that *maybe* these things might stick in their minds better (time will tell) than more abstract or distant examples. One of the things I’m trying to do is highlight how rhetoric, analysis, and rhetorical analysis factor into more than just the essays they write for me.

Toward the end of class, we shifted to analyzing the trailer for Soul Food. Hence, the above revelation haha. Their next essay requires them to choose a food-related artifact (such as a commercial, a print ad, a movie trailer, etc) and analyze the messages its conveying. I’m a big proponent of in-class practice and modeling. I want them to see what I mean when I say analysis and to ask questions if they don’t understand something. So today, we went through some of the first steps of notetaking for analytical purposes with the trailer. We talked about what details you might look for in something you’re analyzing, how you would then identify the meanings conveyed by those details, and you would ultimately think about the significance of those meanings. I try to model my responses to them on this process. So someone might say, “I noticed x detail,” and I might ask “Ok, what do you think that means?” Or someone might say, “I think this means x,” and I might ask, “Ok, why is that important?”

Ideally, they’ll keep asking questions as well.

Incorporating Student Feedback from the Start

The new semester started at my university this week, and I’m teaching First Year Writing for the first time in a couple of years. Our First Year Writing classes are themed, and they focus on analytical writing. I decided to have my section be themed “Representations of Food in Culture” because I’ve been wanting to teach a class about food for a long time and because I knew it’d be fairly accessible to the entire class.

This is my second time teaching First Year Writing here. As I prepared for the new semester, I found that I really wanted to slow down the process, and I wanted to make sure there was some solid foundation before we get to working on the bigger assignments.

As such, we’ve spent most of this week on topics like using your voice, how to read for college, how to take notes, what we know about writing, etc. We’ve had one reading related to the theme, and we talked about their first essay today, but beyond that, we’ve been taking our time to get established. Thus far, I’m enjoying this approach. I’m one of those people who gets REALLY into course prep, and I’m susceptible to the impulse to DO ALL THE THINGS. But I think that sometimes less really is more. There’s more breathing room and more time for things to marinate.

Over the years, I’ve done various things to get feedback from students, such as mid-semester evaluations and course blogs. I don’t generally like to wait until end-of-semester evaluations comes because (a) we should all know by now that those evals can be #problematic and (b) while that feedback is useful for future classes, getting feedback earlier is more useful to the current students.

Thus, I’ve decided to incorporate various reflective and metacognitive activities into the course this semester. One such activity is the Minute Paper. I’m sure a fair amount of you are familiar with the activity (or something similar). Essentially, at the end of class, you have students turn in a short response noting something they learned and a question they have. You could do this at the end of every class session, but I’m having my students submit it once a week.

What I like about this, besides the fact that it allows me to make changes/tailor future sessions as needed, is that students will write things they would probably never say to me directly. This opens up a line of communication between me and them that might not exist otherwise. It also allows me to check and make sure that the messages I’m trying to convey are coming across clearly. Here are some things they found important this week:

  • “The most important thing I learned is that you value the writing portion of the class more than the grades, which I appreciate”
  • “The most important thing I’ve learned this week is that writing doesn’t have to be so structured and put-together, which basically throws everything I’ve ever learned about writing out the window”
  • “The most important thing I learned this week is that you are encouraged to tell your own story and not simply conform to ‘normal English rules.'”
  • “Most important: speak truthfully and with purpose. Write the same way.”
  • “The most important thing I learned all week was how to approach academic readings. The excerpt we read the first night was very helpful.”
  • “I learned that there are not as many limitations to writing. It’s just how, when, and where these limitations can be applied. Writing can be whatever the writer wants it to be.”

When I look at these I responses, I feel reasonably confident that they got what I wanted them to get out of this first week. When we have class again next week, I’ll respond to some of their questions. All in all, I think this is turning out to be a much appreciated addition to my teaching repertoire.

About Classroom Participation…

I have a problem with classroom participation.

Well.

I have a problem with grading classroom participation.

This problem has been brewing for a long time. Even back when I was in undergrad, I found it a bit strange to be graded on participation. And once I began teaching (first at the secondary level and then the college level), I incorporated participation into the assessment because it was something I believed I was supposed to do, not because it was something I actually knew I wanted to do.

To me, it’s always seemed bit fuzzy (even when you provide specific things you’re looking for), and I have a hard time making it fit in my head next to student work when I think about the learning that takes place in the classroom. I also know that my perception of what “good” participation looks like is somewhat colored by my own behavior as a student as well as the types of student behaviors typically privileged by the educational system.

(Sup, fellow extroverts?)

In the past few semesters, I’ve actively started to pull away from more traditional methods of assessing participation. Last fall, I had my students complete participation logs, which I mostly liked because they allowed students to take the opportunity to be thoughtful about their experiences. And they gave me an insight into things I may not have recognized. In the spring semester of this year, I didn’t grade participation at all, and in case anybody is wonder, I didn’t notice any discernible difference in how much students participated (lol) in the class.

This semester, I taught Intro to Film, which is a big lecture class here. The lecture meets twice a week, and then recitations (discussion sections) are taught by grad students on Fridays. This was my second time teaching the class, and one of the things I knew going in this time is that it can be quite difficult to foster community when you only see each other for 55 minutes per week. And without that community foundation, typically important elements that folks designate to participation, like discussion, become even more challenging.

The course’s professor included participation in the assessment, and so I spent some time thinking about what I could do with that this semester. Of course, I’m always observing them throughout the class, but I wanted to hear more from them about participation. But I knew that our recitation meetings wouldn’t necessarily afford the same level of detail as what students pulled out in the course in which I used that method. So this time, I decided I’d just have students complete a relatively simple form at the end of the semester that would give me a sense of how they understand “participation” and how they saw themselves participating in the class. Here’s what I asked them to respond to:

  1. Describe what “participation” means to you within the context of the class.
  2. Describe how you participated in lecture throughout the course of the semester.
  3. Describe how you participated in recitation throughout the semester.
  4. Describe ways that you think you could have participated more effectively in the course throughout the semester.
  5. Are there any other factors or details related to your ability to participate in the class that you think I should know?
  6. If you were responsible for giving yourself a letter grade for your participation in this course, what would it be and why?

While these produced an assortment of interesting responses, I think the most useful to me came in response to #1 and #5. Regardless of what we might perceive, students know what participation is generally expected to look like. Responses to #1 included points such as, read/watch the material before class, answer questions, pay attention (which is a whole other soapbox I have, but I’ll leave that one for another day), complete work on time, etc. I don’t think any of these responses are bad, but when I read them together, they make me feel pretty…blah.

Now there were some responses to that question that I thought hit on really important points like developing your understanding, knowing that your answer doesn’t have to be “good” or “correct,” being generous while listening to other people sharing, and thinking critically. Some of these items are not the easiest to measure, but if I think about why participation might be important, these are things I care more about.

For #5, students often to took the opportunity to explain why they might not have participated much (in the conventional sense). Many students expressed shyness and anxiety, some noted depression, some pointed out that sometimes they literally just didn’t have anything to say, some felt more inclined to discuss material they felt strongly connected to, some felt that my choice to ask specific questions made them more likely to speak up, and some noted that since this was their first film class, they would much rather listen to what others had to say.

There’s a lot going on here, but my key takeaway is that there are several factors intersecting with a student’s participation. And if participation doesn’t look the way you think it should, maybe it’d be worthwhile to think about some of those factors and ways to work with them. I didn’t do a midterm eval for this class (that’s my bad), but if I did, I think I could have addressed some of these issues earlier.

But do you want to know what at least half of the students noted as something that made them more likely to participate?

Small group work.

I think a lot of us already believed this, but it was nice to hear it from the students. I often incorporate such work into my teaching, and I will continue to do so going forward.

(even when I fully stop grading participation :D)

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 5

Today, I had my second meeting with my advisor to discuss my first draft of my chapter. Across the two meetings, he gave me a lot of questions and angles to consider as I continue to revise the chapter and as I work toward the second chapter. He also asked me about my process, which was, I think, just curiosity on his part, but I liked being able to talk about it a bit. It’s a really long draft, longer than I’d intended, and I’d expected him to tell me to cut something. But actually, he wants me to expand one of the parts.

So.

There’s that.

Haha.

More than most other things I’ve written in graduate school, I feel like the dissertation that has a really vague shape to me. I’m the type of person that often looks at samples when I’m writing something I’m unfamiliar with, but dissertations are all over the place and non-specific in terms of what they’re supposed to be doing (at least from what I’ve seen). As a result, I’d told my advisor that I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be, and he said, in reference to the draft, “It looks like a dissertation chapter,” which is to say, that even though I have things to work on, I’m apparently on the right track. I have a couple other streams via which I’m getting feedback, so it’ll be interesting to see what other people see/think, but I’m glad to know that I’m in the correct vicinity.

So the way I have my schedule laid out for the rest of the semester is to continue researching for the chapter two as I’ve been doing for the past couple weeks while also doing some revision of the first chapter on one day per week. My advisor said I could wait until I finished a draft of chapter two before going back to chapter one, but I don’t think my brain will allow it lol.

Speaking of chapter two, this is what I’m wrapped up in right now:

Beverly Hills, 90210 cast photo

Oh Scott…

So unlike some of the other series I’m writing about, I’ve watched this series in its entirety on more than one occasion (shout out to FX). But I last watched it circa 2003. And wow, I have a lot of things to say about this show now like STEVE SANDERS IS THE WORST. My advisor told me that the process of doing chapter one would make certain things stand out more easily in subsequent chapters, and I think that’s definitely right. And I feel like going into actually writing this second chapter, I have better sense of what it can/should be.

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 4

Just a few moments ago, I sent my advisor my first full chapter draft (along w/ a message containing several concerns that I have about it haha). Remember how I was talking about my ever-changing deadline before? Well, this last go-’round, I set it for the end of Fall Break, and I actually made it this time. Huzzah! I know that there’s still a long road ahead with this, but I’m glad to have gotten past one particular hurdle, and I’m (almost) ready to start tackling the next one.

In other news, it’s approximately the middle of the semester. My students had midterms/essays due last week, which means I have a nice chunk of grading on my desk. Part of why I really wanted to get this draft done is so I can focus on that. I hate feeling like I’m shortchanging students, and I always want to try to get work back to them as soon as possible, especially if they have more things to turn in.

(Because what’s the point of feedback if a person doesn’t have it in enough time to actually use it?)

This balancing act is tricky, but I think my already embedded practice of scheduling my life in grad school helps. Back when I taught middle school, there were definitely times where I let the prep and grading bowl me over. There are so many ways in which, even with a degree in English Ed, I wasn’t ready yet. I was exhausted on the daily and not making the progress I wanted/needed to make. I’m better equipped now, thankfully. I just wish I could go back in time and help out 24 year old Jacinta.

(Though that’d likely throw off the time-space continuum, which is probably not a good idea)

A picture of the doctor from Back to the Future

#WritingLife

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 3

It’s been almost two months since my last update, which was not at all intentional. But life and politics and school starting and the diss…

You get the picture.

At any rate, as mentioned previously, I spent most of the summer doing research for my first dissertation chapter. Last month, I dug in and started writing (I’d been writing informally while doing research, but now I’m into the more structured stuff). It’s been going well…ish? I posted this on a writing group I’m in a couple weeks ago:

Post about the arbitrariness of dissertation deadlines

Shout out to dissertation humor.

This is only slightly written for comic effect. My initial (HIGHLY ASPIRATIONAL) goal when I began working on the diss in May was to have a chapter draft done by the end of July, then it became beginning of August, then end of August, then end of September, and it’s currently mid-October.

And the thing about it is that I am working. I’ve been writing pretty consistently every week. I have hella pages, but this chapter needs more content (and yeah, this is before revision, which I’m very much trying not to think about right now, thank you very much). I have a good sense of the things I want to say, but what I’ve come to realize is that writing all those words down takes much more time than I’d initially planned for.

I made a timeline for the whole project when I started to give myself some structure because there isn’t really much when you get to the dissertation except “get out before they take your money” haha. And I’ve had to reconfigure that schedule some during this first chapter process. When I look at it, I can see my inner overachiever wreaking havoc. Last semester, somebody on my committee told me ahead in the process. I don’t think I *technically* am, but I do have a tendency to push myself (mostly within reason) to get things done. I’m trying to get myself to a place where I can go on the job market next fall, which should still be reasonable with the timeline I’ve laid out for myself, but even knowing that, I still have a bit of inner turmoil every time I push it back.

That being said, I’m getting better at it (*I think*).

P.S. Everybody responsible for dissertation formatting needs to look at their lives and their choices because these fights y’all are making me have with Word are not cute.