Thursday, April 29, 2010

running thoughts at cafe dí bartolo

10:35am. Today I thought I'd be going over to Woody's but it turned out to be a further walk than I had bargained for. Ended up on Grand Avenue, crossed over to the shady side of the street and entered a space that made me think first and foremost of...a mountain lodge. It's all about the smoky smell in the air, like wood burning somewhere. Which is funny, because although there are wood rafters twenty feet up (love those tall ceilings!) one wall is brick and the other side is plaster.

Though, come to look more closely at it, there are paintings of wolves on the wall...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

some transcaffeinated techniques of disciplinary marking

Here the title of the post makes a promise that the body won't be able to deliver; that much I know. I'm sitting marking papers for a Berkeley class on Language & Power, and as I work my way through the stack I'm starting to notice some--what shall I call them--eccentricities in my grading tendencies.

Perhaps you've experienced this, too, if you have a job that is composed of repeating the same procedure a discrete number of times, each of which seems like a job unto itself, the completion of which seems deserving of celebration, taking a break and, yes, procrastinating from the next one by starting on a blog post.

In the class, we've been reading Deborah Cameron's Good to Talk?, where she decries the way that language has become commoditized and made into a tool of worker empowerment and self-realization, corporate branding, and object of therapeutic intervention: learn to talk better, and you'll be more in touch with yourself and more able to smooth out any 'misunderstandings' that might be plaguing you in your home and work life. And students are being asked to relate this back to Foucault, whose notions of discipline as a socially normalizing force that is internalized and exercised by individuals upon themselves, from Discipline and Punish, are key for thinking about how language is being used.

But actually, as I sit here plowing through a pile of papers (sorry, kiddies, I luv u just the same! :), I'm thinking more about Foucault's invocation of Borges' bizarre taxonomy that he calls the "Chinese encyclopedia"--an example of the kind of assemblages of radically different kinds of things into a single list or category or other form of association, for reasons that are totally befuddling to the outside observer.

What spurred this thought? Well, as embarrassing as this may be, I guess I'll just have to go ahead and write some of the things going through my mind as I'm grading, deciding not what grade to give on a certain student response (although I'm thinking about that too, but that's work), but which paper to grade next, and just how much progress I'm making (or not) as I grade.

Now, I present a procedure for grading a stack of papers, foregrounding principles of logic and efficiency. That is, basically a taxonomy of random thoughts that, together, help me make it through the pile:
  1. First grade those papers that are not stapled together, so as to remove them and their potential for decomposition and confusion from the pile. Try not to blame the student for not having a stapler or access to a stapler (though I'd be lying if I said that thoughts like this didn't float through the mind on a subconscious level)
  2. Then grade those papers in which students have not written the question prompts for their paragraph responses; these require more work as you have to refer back and forth to a printed copy of the questions, or, to save time, another 'more diligent' student's response sheet with said questions written down.
  3. Count papers frequently, preferably after each is graded, to make triple sure that you haven't over-estimated in your mind the number of papers remaining to be graded. Arrange them all in a neat stack after counting. 
  4. Extending point #2, give slight preference to those papers where students have put the question prompts in bold (better) or italics (still good).
  5. Give slight preference to non-Times New Roman fonts. Such papers give the impression of being attended to more carefully than those with the default, though this is a theory that is often disproved. The point, though, is that there's a curiosity that goes along with discovering whether the student has unusually witty responses, that makes the task of grading somewhat more tolerable.
  6. Try not to look back at the stack of papers too frequently. But do feel the pile of completed papers as it grows. For added pleasure, pick up the pile frequently in your hand. Weight = accomplishment. 
  7. Save for last those papers that are printed only on one side with double spacing; they are thickest, quickest to read, leading to a rapid sense of progress as the pages can be turned more quickly and the stack of papers depleted.
  8. No definitive statements can be made about papers that are longer or shorter, all other things being equal. Shorter responses often take longer to grade and, more often than not, require marginal comments. A definite timesink.
  9. Whatever you do, reward yourself frequently: stretching is nice. Checking email or Facebook updates is another option. But when things are really getting tough, you need to resort to ingestion. This post, for example, and the work that has gone into grading this pile of papers, has drawn on at least 2 pastries and 4 caffeinated beverages, from Strada, Local 123, and probably somewhere else too. But I'm repressing that thought now, because I still have 6 papers to go. I'll see if I can make it on this cappuccino...

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    sitting ducks

    Thanks to Sarah and Jeff for passing this news along, about a few recent thefts of computers from cafe-goers in the East Bay. From the Oakland Tribune: "Alameda: Teen pepper sprays woman inside Peet's coffee shop".

    Scary and maddening stuff, and I have a pretty visceral response to news like this, having had my Samsung netbook housed not too long ago from a computer lab on the Berkeley campus......what can we do to protect ourselves? Just stay at home? Chain ourselves to our machines?

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    red bike in the morning

    8:10 a.m. It’s a nice vibe. For starters, it’s right on the corner, and you know that cafes on the cor—wait a minute, that’s not starters. Starters is the mere fact that it’s about biking and bikes. First impression: is that a rouge bicycle hanging from in front, above the door. Second impression: that’s a pretty, uh, striking curly-fry-style bike rack in front. Third impression: nice, they have Chimay.

    8:25 a.m. About to get my fourth impression when I walk over to the counter to get a few napkins and notice this:

    And that's all, folks, for blogging today!