Socratic dialog at the Writing Center front desk

Me: We don’t have any 40 minute appointments available tomorrow, but we do have some on Wednesday.

Student: I’d rather just get it done tomorrow. Do you have like 10 minutes? It doesn’t matter how long the appointment is. My professor doesn’t care.

Me: Your professor doesn’t care?

Student: Well, I mean, I guess he cares. He wants us to have a full appointment, so I guess 40 minutes, but I guess 10 minutes is ok.

Me: Ten minutes is ok?

Student: Well, I mean, it’s going to have to do, I guess, since it’s all you have tomorrow.

Me: Ten minutes will do?

Student: Well, I’m sure my professor would rather I have a full appointment . . .

Me: Your professor would rather you have a full appointment?

Student: Yeah, because, you know, then we can get more in depth with my paper and  . . .

Me: Your professor wants you to get more in depth with your paper?

Student: Well, yeah, I mean, he wants us to improve our writing.

Me: I see. Your professor wants you to improve your writing. Would you like a 40 minute appointment on Wednesday?

Student: Yeah, that would be great. Because I really do need to improve my writing.




Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Back by popular demand . . . from my old, defunct class blog.

I am happy to write letters of recommendation for students and former students who have impressed me with their intellect, creativity, motivation, leadership, or ability to surmount challenges.

Writing a good letter of recommendation takes some time—time for reflection on the student being recommended, time for a bit of research to refresh my memory of grades earned and/or assignments submitted, time for drafting and revising—so I require at least two weeks notice for writing letters of recommendation.

In addition to at least two weeks notice, I will need the following from you:

  1. Any official form the organization I am recommending you to wants recommenders to complete.
  2. The name by which I should refer to you (for example, I may know you as “Susan,” but Susan may be your middle name and the program you are applying to may know you as Lorraine).
  3. The deadline by which the letter is due.
  4. The address the letter should be sent to.
  5. A copy of your personal essay (if you are applying to a college or for a scholarship). I like to be able to emphasize something you’ve said in your essay in my letter.
  6. Your resume, if you have one. I like to be able to refer to items in your resume if I can.
  7. Information, in writing, about what you plan to major in, what your career goals are, and why you are applying to the college or job or whatever that you want me to recommend you for.

Please give me all of these items at once, if possible, paperclipped together or in a manila folder or attached to the same email.

I will put your letter on MSCD letterhead in a MSCD envelope and will send it via MSCD mail (unless the college/scholarship organization wants the letter in another format), so you do not need to provide envelopes or stamps.

And finally, do let me know if you were accepted to the college or were awarded the scholarship or got the job!

Enabling Usable Student Feedback

I have several frustrations with student evaluations of instruction:

  • the questions or prompts are usually not very useful (such as, “were your assignments graded fairly?” Many student interpret this question as, “did you get the grades you wanted?”)
  • there is no opportunity to discuss the feedback with students for clarification and ideas for implementation
  • the feedback comes too late to have any affect on the teaching the students who gave feedback receive

One of the ways I’ve been able to get valuable feedback that is instantly usable and can be discussed is through Bob Broad & Jerry Savage’s midterm chat. The disadvantages of the midterm chat are that it takes up a big chunk of class time and it usually isn’t scheduled until well into the semester (hence the “midterm” in the name).

I decided to try something new this semester. I set up online surveys through SurveyMonkey for each of my classes. Each survey has just one question: “What do you want Liz to know?” I put a link on the course websites to the survey and mentioned it in class. The link allows students to remain anonymous and give me pretty instant feedback to assignments, class activities, policies, etc.

I’ve already received three pieces of feedback, and all three are useful–none of the griping I thought I might receive. All three pieces are critical in some way, but in carefully thought out and fairly sophisticated ways.

I like having a forum that allows (and even encourages) students to critique my teaching and also gives me a chance to discuss the feedback with the class and, if appropriate, make changes.

I’ll be posting later this week about some of the specific feedback I’ve received and what I’ve done with it.