Sunday, September 23, 2012

Productivity Tips for Academics

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran a series of articles on academic productivity. Unfortunately, most of them are behind a paywall, and all I saved are the bits I highlighted on my e-reader:
"No one employed in the professoriate today was forced into the career, and anyone who plays victim while holding a tenured or tenure-track position should be ashamed. We are distracted only when we allow ourselves to be so." 
"Andrew Mozina, an associate professor of English at Kalamazoo, uses a stopwatch to reserve time for crucial tasks. “I will say: OK, for the next hour, you will not check your e-mail, you will just grade papers.” This summer he’s working on writing a collection of short stories and a novel about a harpist preparing for a symphony audition. He sets the stopwatch for three hours each day so he can write." 
For her part, Marybeth Gasman, "tries to set aside six hours a day for writing, an enormous chunk by most academic standards." Indeed.
The quotations apparently come from this issue of the Chronicle, for those who have access to it.

In a slightly different vein, here is a commendation of the "Long, Slow, Constant, Mindful Writing Life":
The frenetic pace of academic writing these days has costs. The adage “quality over quantity” has been cast aside. As a result, we devalue the person who might take many years to make her own contribution to a field, as compared with someone who churns out an argument a week. This devaluing is intellectually unhealthy....[W]e must teach our students to balance their career aspirations with a care and deliberateness about their intellectual development, and an understanding that the dissertation is only the first project, the beginning of a learning process will take longer, probably a lifetime. Being a scholar is a life practice of reading, thinking, and writing, which, ideally, will lead to one or some (or many) meaningful works. Scholarship is not the mechanical pursuit of written products." - Imani Perry
Enough procrastination. Time to get to work.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Class Policy on Electronic Devices

My syllabi typically include the following statement of policy:
The use of electronic devices of any kind (including cell phones and laptops) is forbidden in this class unless prior approval has been obtained from the course instructor.
I know there are all sorts of ways that technology contributes to learning, but in my experience the potential distractions outweigh the benefits in a college classroom setting. This is how I put it this year:
There are other important events, like funerals, where you turn off your phone as a matter of common courtesy. This is one of them. We are paying attention to the message of the text. The text message can wait until after class.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Peckett on the "Direct Method" of Teaching Latin and Greek

"The Classics...need not to be defended, but to be taught. And, in these days, the way they are taught is all-important. It must be a way which helps pupils to understand deeply their beauty....It is, after all, the pupil and not the teacher or the parent who decides what he will learn, and he will learn what is taught attractively..."

"[T]he best way to learn any language is the way one learns one's own, by mother-wit; and the best way to remember a language is by using it, even though it has been falsely called 'dead.'"

"[The Direct Method] is not, as some have supposed, a panacea. It will help to make a good pupil brilliant, and the mediocre ones enthusiastic; but it will not turn a numbskull into a scholar or banish hard work either for teacher or pupil. It is not personal magic, as some who have seen demonstrations suppose. As that wise man Quiller Couch said, 'Any teacher with the gift to teach, and any pupil with an innate curiosity to learn, can play skittles equally with any theory'; and again, 'The teacher's personal fire is the beginning and end of the art, and most of its middle.'"

"The Direct Method assumes that a language is meant to be spoken and we can best learn it by speaking it. Latin and Greek were specially meant for oral delivery. Cicero at a banquet did not take out his tablets,
write on them with a stylus "Da mihi sal" and pass them to his neighbour in silence, but turned to him and spoke up like a man. The method has been called 'direct' because it seeks to connect, in the pupil's mind, the
word or phrase directly with the object it describes, avoiding the intervening obstacles of grammar and translation. Translation is after all only a magnificent treachery, and an exercise for Sixth Formers in the use of their own language. It is not worth all the trouble."

"The Direct Method aims at teaching the pupil to think in a foreign language. Most of those who have not been taught in this way say that this cannot be done. All those who have been taught this way know that nothing is simpler."

- Quotations from C.W.E. Peckett, "Direct Method and the Classics," The Classical Journal 46.7 (April 1951), 331-4, 336-7.