Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dear Blogger, why do you not support audio!

Because language classes here do not meet five days a week as they should, this semester I am teaching an odd supplemental Arabic class, which gives two extra hours to some students in 101. As you might imagine, the students who sign up for extra classes are already the most motivated, and having two extra hours mostly exacerbates the gap between them and the other students, however, that is not my complaint for now.

Rather, it has to do with my brilliant portfolio idea, that thanks to blogger's lack of audio support became considerably less brilliant. Each week, I have been having students write or record themselves in Arabic. For the final project, I thought it would be nice to have all of the portfolio pieces together on a blog, and they could comment on their improvement.

Alas, it turns out that neither blogger nor free Wordpress accounts allow for the uploading of audio files, only video files (WTF!!!!). You can put audio files on your blog that are hosted elsewhere, but this is more complicated. And you can call my students digital natives, but they are not all that tech savvy.

So first, I tried converting the files with QuickTime, only to discover that even though I saved as "mov" and it said "movie" there are both audio and video "mov" files, and mine were the former. Grrr!

So, I then had to make all of these damn audio files into fake movies by assigning them as the soundtrack to a still image in iMovie. Now, they are "movies".

And of course this was further complicated by the fact that the textbook website will only let you listen online, so I had to "download" all of those recordings by recording them as they played on my computer, which did not do much for their sound quality.

6uzz fiiki ya taknolojiyya!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tattoos and Text Messages

'Tis the season of stressed out students, seemingly endless grading, and hours spent searching for appropriate reading and listening material for the final exam.

However, there are lighter moments. First, there was the student who came to me asking to translate a text message from her Arab friend. It said: "Your voice is tender, soft, and sexy." Today, another student (not enrolled in Arabic) came asking for translations of phrases for a tattoo. The phrases themselves were pretty awful, but since she said she didn't want to rely on Google Translate, and I have seen so many bad Arabic tattoos with the letters disconnected and/or reversed, I was happy to oblige.

Now, back to that final exam!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Phone Blogging

Although I have now had an iPhone for a year, I have never been much for commenting or blogging on it (I do read a lot on it in google reader). For blogging, I found it hard to deal with the website on the tiny screen. For commenting, I find I can't revise my comments in the comment box, which is annoying.

However, since I am waiting for an airport pickup from a conference, and will be on on another airplane in less than 24 hours after teaching two classes tomorrow morning, and I am very tired, I thought I would give it a try as my brain feels as though it can handle little else.

It turns out blogger has an app! Probably it has had an app for a while, I just never knew. It is much easier than dealing with the website, although I have so far had one issue with not being able to see text while typing.

This is promising though, not only for the return of my own blogging, but also for several teaching/research projects I have planned. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ustaaza, is that an ashtray on the table?

The Arabic textbook I use has a series of short video scenes designed to introduce students to basic cultural behavior in greetings, introductions, and other short conversations.  Generally, I am able to predict what cultural behaviors students will pick up on (like two male friends hugging and kissing on the cheek).  However, there are always surprises like the following:

1) In a scene focusing on a professor going into the department head's office, the following question: "Ustaaza, is that an ashtray on the table?"

2) In another scene, showing two friends in a cafe: "Ustaaza, are they smoking indoors?"

To me, these references to smoking were unremarkable, not so much because I have lived in Egypt (the scene of the videos, but where smoking spaces have also changed dramatically in recent years) but because I remember a time in which it was not unusual to smoke indoors, or have an ashtray on a table. 

Yet I do remember, my first time in Egypt, being surprised to see people smoking in elevators (this is much less common now).  I told my mother, and she was not surprised, telling me how students and professors used to smoke in class when she was in college.  I remember thinking this was unimaginable, as classrooms, like elevators, were spaces in which I could not imagine smoking.  Eleven years later, it seems that offices and cafes are just as unimaginable spaces for my students.  


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pretty Charts of Academic Productivity

A weakness of mine I discovered while analyzing data for my Masters thesis is my love of using spreadsheet programs to make pretty charts that are rather more illuminating to me than to others.  More recently, I have been using this to track my academic work, or rather to see how close I am getting to the 40-40-20 balance I am supposed to have, and what areas I need to work on.

To keep track of my time, I am using my own version of the Pomodoro method, which is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break.  Since I often have something like 45 minutes between classes, or meetings, or whatever, I use a timer that I can pause (for example, I would do 25 minutes, break, 10 minutes, pause time, and finish the 25 when I get back).  I think this is against the method, but it works for my in terms of tracking things in 25 minute implement.

Then I enter each completed Pomodoro (25 minutes) in a Google Spreadsheet according to the activity. At the end of the month, I can make pretty charts.  Here is September's chart for Research, Teaching, and Service (or half of September, since I only came up with this system halfway through)


As you can see, I am spending more time on teaching, but I am getting research in.  I am also spending less time on service, but this is partially because my heavier service assignments occurred before I started keeping track.  Here is a nifty pie chart for the whole half month:

As you can see from this chart, rather than 40-40-20, I am at more like 36-62-1.  Of course, I am teaching an extra class and not expected to do much service, so this may be a bit more accurate of a percentage.  If you look at the first chart, the major culprit in this imbalance is that I have been spending all day Fridays on teaching, in order to get all my classes prepped for the next week, which allows me to relax on the weekend.  This is actually an improvement the last two weeks over not finishing on Friday and spending Saturday doing this.  This week, my goal is to get at least some research in on Friday.  Given the surprised and delighted look my chair had today when I told him I spent 2-3 hours a day on research though, I think I am doing okay though.  

Since two charts are clearly not enough, I've also been keeping track of my research activities.  For me, this is writing, data analysis, organizing my sources, and reading.  Writing and reading are the only ones of these I really like, so doing the actual Pomodoro method (no pauses) is helpful to get me through the others.  My minimum goal is one writing and three data analysis sessions each day.  So far, except for Fridays, I've mostly been able to meet this.  I've never tried the writing every day for short periods thing, but it is kind of nice.  I use it as a reward after doing all my teaching prep in the morning.  So, here is my pretty chart of research activities.  


I mostly read in the evenings and weekends (last weekend I really wanted to finish the theoretical book I've been slogging through, so I put in extra time).  I do the writing as my first research activity, followed by data analysis, and organizing my sources in Bookends (a bibliography program).  This last activity is pretty boring, and I go up and down on its usefulness, but I think it will work out in the end.  I'm also a bit tempted to just spend a weekend fixing the chaos that ensued with my source collection during dissertating, but it is such a tedious activity that I don't really want to dedicate a weekend to this.  So, I'll continue with the Pomodoro or two a day for now.  I'm also considering bumping the writing up to two sessions, as I usually don't want to stop, but if I keep writing then I may not fit in my other activities.  

So for October, I think I am going to try to get research in on Fridays, and perhaps more writing or organizing sessions.  I'll reevaluate at the end of next month, but so far I am liking this method of keeping track, especially at the end of the month when I can make pretty charts!




Sunday, September 16, 2012

Summer Pie


It is no longer summer, but here are two of my favorite summer pies as a nostalgic reminder.  On the left, berry pie full of fresh berries, and on the right the magically tart combination of strawberry and rhubarb.  Yum!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Academic Accessories: Book Gem

In my ideal world, all academic books would be available in digital format.  This makes it so much easier to take notes, highlight, and transfer to my computer for writing via various wonderful apps and technologies (specifically iPad, iAnnotate, Kindle, and Kindle apps).  Alas, this is not the case, and from time to time I must read a book in paper format.  Of course, I then want to take my notes digitally so at least I don't have to type them up.  Since balancing iPad and book and potentially a cat or two on my lap was starting to get a bit precarious, I decided to look into book holders, and settled for one called the Book Gem.  Behold, I can read and type while lying on the sofa!


Even better, the Book Gem proved itself worthy of handling reading, typing, and cat petting all at once!


Fluffy Basha even took an interest in my work!



Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making the pedagogy explicit

Something I am trying very consciously to do this semester is make my language teaching pedagogy explicit to my students.  I have very specific ideas about what constitutes good language teaching  (and I also have a PhD in this field) and in order for this pedagogy to succeed in the classrom, students need to be socialized into it.  In first year, this isn't so much a problem, but there are several problematic assumptions I've encountered thus far that need correcting, as well as some points I want to drive home before they hit second year and third year and it's too late to resocialize at the right level.  Specifically, here is what I want to counter:

1) Homework is for practicing what we do in class.  Um, no.  Homework is for learning material for the first time, which we will activate in class.  Preparation is essential, or you will not be able to keep up.  Worse, you will hold back your peers in groupwork, which is 75% of our class.

2) Class is when you explain Arabic to us.  See above.  You read the explanation at home and work with is, we activate in class.

3) If I do the assigned homework drills, that's enough preparation.  Nope.  The assigned homework drills will probably take 1-1.5 hours.  You should be putting in 2-3 hours for each class session.  There's no such thing as too much practice.    

4) I don't have 2-3 hours to spend on this.  Sure you do.  You have ten minutes between each class, and 4-5 classes? Put the textbook mp3s on your phone, mp3 player whatever, and listen.  That's 40-50 minutes right there.  Add in walking to and from your dorm, and you're at an hour.

5) I can't learn this on my own outside of class.  Then get help.  You have office hours, your classmates, free Arabic tutoring in the language lab, language partners, your classmates.  Especially your classmates.  Don't be afraid to ask them for help, as explaining it to you will make them understand it better, so they should be grateful you asked!

6) I won't understand if you speak only in Arabic.  Sure you will.  You don't have to understand every word I say, just what I'm asking you to do.  If you understood every word, you wouldn't need to take this class.  Concentrate on my actions, gestures, and the words you do know.  Being comfortable with not understanding every word is one of the most important language learning skills you can learn.

To get these points across, I have:

1) Put them in the syllabus (rather more gently than here :-))
2) Had a syllabus discussion (in English, alas, but it is 101) the second day of class, where I modeled the type of group work we'll do in the future in Arabic--you read the syllabus, now find these answers with your peers.  I'm here to direct you, not give you the answer.
3) Answered direct questions: Why was this homework when we didn't do it in class beforehand?
4) Modeled it: Here are my directions in Arabic, oh, look, you did get what I wanted you to do, even though you don't know any of those words--see?
5) Modeled it again: You aren't prepared for class? Okay, today you will be a partner to this student who did prepare and you can listen.  I won't explain things to you, but they can.
6) Gone over these points again in 30-60 seconds in the announcements part (English again for now): how are you going to fit that extra hour of listening in again? In your car, aywa, walking to class, aywa, with your friends, aywa,  mumtaaz).

So far this is working great.  More and more students are prepared for class.  They are excited, energetic, and entertaining, which makes me love my job.  They are coming up with their own study groups and ways to practice outside of class.  I'm super excited to get finished with the alphabet and be fully 3arabiyya miyya miyya!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Yom 1

Last week was full of interminable ice tea fueled meetings, the low point of which was being read aloud to from the online faculty handbook, and the high point of which was a useful discussion about lower division language assessments.  The weekend was full of scheduling, as I've found it's better to plan out my daily homework schedule ahead of time before I get too caught up in the semester.  It also involved some serious struggles with the course management software grade book (what the hell kind of grade book doesn't have grade categories?! Blackboard and Angel, I am so sorry I ever complained about you).

Today was the first day of classes here at Andalus U*, which feels more like my official debut as Ostaza Shedding.  I'm teaching Arabic 101, which I haven't taught for a while, and I'd forgotten how lovely and enthusiastic 101 students are, when they are just really excited about Arabic and no frustration has set in.  In fact, I'm still hyped up from their energy, despite last night's insomnia (I can never sleep the night before classes start) and an evening dance practice.

Of course, the downside of 101 is having to explain to native speakers (not heritage speakers) that no, they can't take 101 to raise their GPA.  No, 101 is not just tests you can take, and in reality you will probably die of boredom (or at least fail the homework) if you have to spend an hour clicking through alphabet drills in your native language.  Yes, I know you have to take a second language, but Arabic is not a second language for you, and thus it doesn't fulfill the requirement.  Also, it's probably not a good idea to tell someone you want to take her class to raise your GPA.

Speaking of boring alphabet drills, I'm also quite excited that the Arabic textbooks now have a companion site where students can complete the drills online and thus save me from grading piles of mind-numbing drills where they need to listen and distinguish between haa and 7aa or taa and 6aa.  Pedagogically, this is also of great benefit, as the students get instant feedback on their work, rather than waiting until I correct it, at which point they never go back to listen again.  Things have come a long way since I went through these same books on cassette tapes . . .



* Yeah, I couldn't resist.  I mean, the fountain in my apartment courtyard is an Arab star.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And it all starts bokra

Tommorrow is the first official day of my contract, as well as the first day of new faculty orientation.  Between all the orientations (university, college, department) I am pretty much booked solid until Friday.  As in I had to set up an 8am meeting with a TA because that is the only time possible in the schedule.

So, I have been working on completing my syllabi and submitting a conference abstract that has a deadline next week.  The syllabi are going well, and I am basically super-excited that I am in charge, which means I get to actually implement modern and sociolinguistically appropriate pedagogy (proficiency-based assessments! 3ammiyya! yay!!!).  I'm teaching two sections of 101 and a supplemental 101 class.  Technically, this is a one-class overload (3 classes), but since in my world any beginning language class worth its salt meets five days a week, it only seems like 1 3/5 classes.

What has been more difficult is condensing a 95-page dissertation chapter into a conference abstract.  I'm basically focusing on the application of the theory to my data.  To me, this is very interesting.  However, my dissertation topic datawise belongs to a strand of SLA that has traditionally been very focused on post-positivist, quantitative approaches, but is sort of looking for a change.  My theory comes from a strand of SLA that has basically drawn from literature, anthropology, and sociology to toss that type of approach out the window.  I obviously think this is a perfect match.  The question is, who will read my abstract? Someone from the data part? Will they be open to new theoretical approaches, or view this whole field of theory as invalid? Someone from the theory part? Will they agree with my application, since I had to change it a bit for the data? Basically, I'm just really curious what they will think.  I've presented papers at this conference before, but they have all been pretty mainstream.  This one, I'm not sure.

On a totally unrelated note, I discovered the best internet/iphone application of all time, yala.fm.  A little Abdelhalim makes everything easier, and there's a whole section of pop lubnani to look forward to!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

IRB Headache

This morning, I decided to get the paperwork together to open my dissertation study with the IRB at my new university.  I thought, given that I had IRB approval at my old university and I am not longer collecting data, but just analyzing it (but it has identifiers, damn photos!) this would be relatively straightforward.  I should have known that with the IRB, nothing ever is.  

Eight hours and three phone calls to the IRB later (with different answers from different people each time) I think I have all the documents ready to go to my chair to sign and then send on to the IRB.  I also have a headache, and a hipache from too much sitting.  Ugh.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Random Things I have done since last posting


  • Spent 3 hours at the DMV getting a new title and license
  • Attended two weddings on opposite coasts
  • Danced in two competitions (and winning one!)
  • Arranged, and rearranged, and rearranged the teaching schedule for the Fall (I think I know what I'm teaching now? Inshallah?)
  • Attended a demonstration of online language learning software that has real potential if a few things were fixed, but they are not and thus it is crap
  • Visited assorted family and friends on multiple coasts
  • Unpacked an appalling amount of boxes
  • Visited many furniture stores full of hideous furniture
  • Gave up on finding a wardrobe, storage bed, and china cabinet in store 
  • Ordered a garment rack and storage closet online
  • Found a wonderful store selling old trunks, office furniture, and decorative doors (only, but we needed the first two).  It also has a dance floor for Saturday night tango.  
  • Eaten at lots of tasty restaurants
  • Fit in lots of cat-snuggling time
  • Visited a lovely botanic garden
  • Turned 31
  • Found and cooked several tasty dishes, including "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic"
  • Broke up a cat-fight
Meetings start the 13th and classes the 20th, so hopefully I will get my act together in time to blog a bit more regularly!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Random Khawatir, Arrival Edition

After a 25 hour, 3-day drive, Husband, Cats, and I have arrived in New Job City.
--I love, love, love being able to walk two blocks to four delicious restaurants and a coffeeshop that dropped out of San Francisco after living in culinarily-challenged, car-dependent University Town.  Given that the two areas have approximately the same number of people and socio-economic statuses, I will never understand the culinary culture of University Town.  Luckily, I no longer need to.
--While on a shopping expedition, I encountered cat facial wipes in the pet section.  I mocked them, but returned home to find that Cat #1 had buried his face in the dirt on the windowsill, belying his street cat origins, and now I may need to purchase said wipes.  
--Since I have a nice job, we are in the nicest, most modern apartment I have ever lived in.  It has high ceilings, loads of natural light, and hardwood floors.  Since our furniture has not yet arrived, I can use the living room as a dance studio!
--There is green! One of the things I was most worried about moving to a desert was the lack of green.  However, our drive across uninhabited desert lands reveals that there is far more green than I had expected, which means I can live here.  It has also rained twice since our arrival two days ago.  
--It is truly exciting to move to a place without knowing that I will be leaving in X years.  This has not happened to me ever before, and it is a wonderful feeling.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dr. Shedding!

My dissertation got approved by the formatting office, and is now with ProQuest for publishing, so I am officially Dr. Shedding! Unfortunately, my achilles* is preventing me from doing a victory Fling, so I will leave you of this video of some nice dancers doing one instead.  Fittingly, although not exactly randomly, the primary movement in the Highland Fling (side back front back) is called Shedding.




*The tendonitis is back, which is yet another trauma I will blame on the academic job market, since it was just fine until I took three weeks off in March/April to go on back to back campus visits.  It hasn't been the same since, so just when I get the time to dance, I can't :-(

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Old Diary Gems

While sorting through and shredding various diary-like writings, tucked away among the angst over various crushes (with whom, elhamdulilah, I did not end up), I found the following gem from the summer following my college graduation.  It seems especially cute and naive at this point in my life:
I think I need to invent a job for myself that makes use of my language skills, so I retain them, and somehow involves academics, and not a lot of office work, and traveling, and cultural exchange--oh, I have no idea how I'm going to do this.
Turns out, I didn't have to invent a job at all :-).  On the other hand, I still haven't figured this one out, although I have learned that it is one of the things that makes life worth living:
I wish there was something I didn't want to learn about--I'll never have enough time.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Packing and Organizing and Digitizing Memories

With the movers* arriving sometime between July 2 and 5th, I have just a week or so to go in University Town, before heading off to New Job Town**.  In addition to Project Re-Read and movie watching, I am desperately trying to get rid of as many other things as I can, including extraneous clothing and the things filling various junk drawers and a few boxes in my home office.  As the sentimentalist packrat in me battles with the packing minimalist who is tired of dragging around neglected treasures, I must of course turn to the wisdom of the internet for mediation.  As such, here is what I am telling myself:

1) I will be in a well-paid, stable job in the land of plenty.  As such, I don't need to keep things just in case.  If I ever need a leprechaun hat or bandana again, I will find it on the internet and I will have the funds to buy it.  I don't need to keep an old one stashed in a drawer.

2) I am a sentimentalist because I believe in the power of memories, which are the stories we use to narrate our lives***.  As such, I am tempted to hold onto objects and letters because they bring back those memories.  Yet, as the internet explains, a photo will work just as well for bringing back those memories****.  So, I am photographing the letters^ I sent to my summer camp friends and relatives, the magnetic cat lady statue a grad school friend gave me when I insisted this was my goal in life, and the plaid bag my first dance teacher gave me.  Then I will toss/recycle/donate all of this out of my life, and likely never look at the photographs either.  But if I ever wanted to, it's not gone, nor is it in my way.

3) I don't exactly keep a diary, but when I am upset, I tend to scribble my feelings in whatever is available in a rather random fashion.  As such, when I open mostly blank notebooks from my college years or earlier^^, I'm nearly certain to find a page or two of scribbles about relationship misery (or more accurately, the lack thereof).  These bring back bad memories, but I'm still tempted to keep them, as a memory of who I was (see the point above).  This, I've come to realize, is kind of crazy.  I may forget the details, but I will never forget those bad feelings, nor is it especially pleasant to remember them.  On the other, hand, it is quite enjoyable to feed those miserable scribblings into my shredder :-)

4) Prior to realizing that they are rather unflattering on me, I used to wear a lot of t-shirts, and collect them as souvenirs.  When I stopped wearing them, I still wanted them in my life somehow, and thought I could make a t-shirt quilt.  Having enough t-shirts for about four quilts, I started one.  But this is time-consuming, and I would rather do other things, like reading, or dancing, or knitting, or watching movies.  Nor do I especially enjoy the aesthetics of t-shirt quilts or want one on my bed.  So I will save a few of my favorites, to wear at home or decorate my future dance studio, and photograph the rest before they make it to the donation box, and someone who will either wear or enjoy crafting with them.

So, here's to a week of turning physical objects into digital memories!  Or, from the point of view of my cats, a week of lots of exciting new boxes to sit in!

*Movers! I've never had them before, despite twelve years of nearly constant moving.  They are packing and loading, and this is amazing.

**At some point, I will come up with a better name.  I'm sorely tempted to go with Andalusia (since, for example, the "Spanish" Old Town is covered in Arab star fawanees), but that may be tempting fate.  

***What, you're not constantly telling the story of your life to yourself ;-)?

****And contributing to my digital packrat tendencies :-).  But that's not heavy! And I never have to look at the clutter!

^how quaint!

^^Now, of course, I an technologically advanced and scribble these types of things on the various note-taking programs on my computer, iphone, and ipad :-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wine, knitting, and movies

That is how I've been spending my evenings.  In particular, I've discovered that I can download Egyptian movies off YouTube, put them in iTunes, and then watch them on my iPad as I lie on the sofa knitting.  I use software called ClipGrab.  If this sounds overly complicated, keep in mind that we don't have a TV, hence I always watch things on my computer or iPad, and it is easier to balance the iPad in my lap.  If you're wondering why download them when you could just watch them on YouTube, there are several reasons.  One, I can watch them at anytime without waiting for them to stream on YouTube or have internet.  Two, I'm taking notes on clips that I want to use in classes in the future, and I don't want this version to disappear.  In fact, the original reason I was looking to download things off of YouTube was to preserve random clips I've found that I use in class, and who knows how long they will stay on YouTube.  So far, it is an excellent Summer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Anniversary Weekend!

My husband and I celebrated our third anniversary with a weekend trip that had everything I desire in such an expedition:

--a dance competition (which I won, dancing in the special 22 and over group)
--a fancy hotel, complete with in-room whirlpool spa
--a superb dinner, involving softshell crab (for me) and elk (for him)
--a fancy and delicious brunch at a restaurant overlooking the water and decorated like an old Parisian cafe (and the meal involved more crab, plus French cheese and chocolate).
--a stroll along the water on a beautiful Spring day
--a visit to the nearby art museum, which had a special exhibit on French posters, plus exhibits on folk art (a personal favorite of mine)
--catching an NPR* station on the way home that had first a special on the songs of 1962 (which are also the songs of my childhood, despite the fact that I wasn't born until nearly 20 years later) followed by a show on Celtic music

Best of all, this glory was completely unexpected--who knew that Milwaukee, Wisconsin had so much to offer!


*Generally, I dislike NPR on the theory that the special voice cadence of their announcers is designed to make sure I never forget anything I hear on that station, and thus my brain is infiltrated with random NPR stories.  However, I will admit that they are pretty much the only stations that ever play music I really like.

Friday, May 25, 2012

15 minutes of torturous typo-editing, repeat

The only thing that remains between me and an official title of Dr. Shedding is copy-editing my dissertation.  I am tackling this in 15-minute intervals, because this is about all I can handle without dying of boredom.  I'm using a timer, and usually start checking it around the 8-minute mark.  Some people seem to have a natural gift for spotting extra spaces, repeated words, and awkward sentences.  I am not one of them, but perhaps I should look into paying one of them to do this for me in the future . . . Writing about theory and sorting through data make my brain hurt, but even if this keeps me up at night, it is not boring.  This type of editing is.*  Worse, it requires my full concentration to make sure I don't miss a paragraph that is indented .25 instead of .5 or a 2 that should be two.  Then there is the formatting, where I want to scream who the hell cares if my title is in all caps, or bold, or whatever--is anyone really going to confuse my title with my name, or my university, or anything else on that page? The dissertation formatting guidelines say these guidelines are to preserve my dissertation on microfilm.  Who on earth is going to read my dissertation on microfilm?

In my post-defense revisions, I put el-wa7sh on a content diet, and ended up removing 30 pages (I know the length because I pasted them into another document).  I added what I thought was just a bit of analysis, but somehow, el-wa7sh has gained back not only those 30 pages, but an additional 25 since my defense.  I think he's magic.  If only he could magically shed typos.

So how does one get through 371 pages of copyediting? Help!


*Hmm, maybe I can exploit this technique.  When my brain is racing through too much theory and data to sleep, I just need to copy-edit a bit as a cure for insomnia? I must try this in the future and report back.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Project Re-Read

As a child, I was quite the packrat.  Examining my bedroom in my parents' house this winter, I discovered programs from Community College plays I attended as a child, my middle school history notebook (the quantity of my doodles hasn't changed, but their quality has improved), dried leaves from my tree friends (trees I endowed with various names and personalities) and so on.

Since I moved out of my parents' house 12 years ago (and moved every nine months or so since then) I have learned to throw these types of things away, rather than cherish them in hopes of a non-existent future moment I spend reminiscing with them.  I have also become exceptionally good at paring down my clothing and shoes (and of course it helps that I hate shopping for clothes in the first place and stick to "classic" fashions).

The area where I struggle (and I know I'm not alone in this, especially among academics) is books.  I think part of this is rooted in the fact that books were my favorite activity as a child, and not all that easy to get ahold of.  Each book that I was given for my birthday or Christmas became a cherished possession to re-read over and over.  Even if I didn't want to re-read it, I might in the future.  What if I couldn't get ahold of it?

But times have changed.  Between Amazon and interlibrary loan from my university and public libraries (in actual cities, compared to the wandering bookmobile that was my first public library experience), I think I could get virtually any of the books on my shelves if I wanted to re-read them.  The classics are even available free on the internet.  Furthermore, books are heavy.

So in preparation for my upcoming move and in celebration of my wealth of free time, I have decided to pare down my book collection by engaging in Project Re-Read.  I will re-read, or at least start to re-read, the books on my shelves, and decide if they make the cut.  Luckily for me, the majority of my books are still stored at my parents' house or digital (yay Kindle!), so this is still the minority of my books.

There are some books that I will not re-read, and will certainly move (academic references I use often and my favorite childhood books I still re-read).  There are other books I will not re-read, because I remember that I do not want to read them again, and will get rid of (why do I even have these now?).  I may not re-read, but will certainly not get rid of, any Arabic books, because these are still hard to come by.

The rest I will re-read, and decide whether they will make the moving cut.  Will I read them often, or can I rely upon getting them from the library or cheaply from Amazon should I wish to re-read them in the future? My guess is that most books will not make this cut, which will be quite the departure from my previous book-hoarding experience.

I should also note that while giving up books is difficult for me, I have no issues with giving up the physical copies of books.  In fact, most of the books I own are cheap paperbacks, which means they turn yellow and smelly with the years--not something I want to hold onto or attach great sentimental value to.  In fact, if I could magically convert all of my books to digital books, I would have no problems giving up the physical copies.  However, I am too cheap to purchase digital copies of books I own physical copies of to possibly re-read them in the future, so that is also a consideration.

Or perhaps I am just transferring my hoarding tendencies, from physical objects to digital copies, because the latter are so easy to move?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Planning for Summer

Pending filing my dissertation, I have this summer off.  I have not had a summer off since I was 16.   For the last six summers, I have been teaching or taking intensive language classes (of the meet 3-5 hours a day, five days a week, plus extracurriculars variety).  So, having all of this free time to do whatever I want is rather novel, particularly after feeling that I had no time all year as a result of dissertating and job searching.  Now there are probably plenty of things I should be doing in preparation for my job, and I have some trips planned, and some dance events, and there is the dreadful moving and packing business.  But for now, I'm free!




















































































































































Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Adventures on the Job Market: Spousal Hires

I wasn't going to post about this at all, because it still makes me too upset to think about, but the tables have turned in an interesting way . . . To make a long story short, there was a job I really, really wanted. They did a full search, brought me to campus, and hired the spouse of another faculty member (who has been working there as a visiting lecturer). I'm sure he is a great guy, but not the right specialization for how they told me they wanted to expand. Also not done with his PhD as far as I can tell (I just defended).

This was sad enough in itself, but then Dream U kept getting my hopes up:

Two weeks after their decision, when I had a one-year offer:
--We've hired someone, but we're trying to get a second TT position for you--hold on! (they do have rather deep pockets)
--No, we were refused.

A month later:
--Okay, now we have a one-year position, are you interested?
--Um, yes, but only if the rest of my TT searches don't pan out.
--You're still in TT searches? Okay, we're going to ask again.

Two weeks later:
--I have a TT offer. What's up?
--They refused us again for a second TT, but we might be able to hire TT next year.
--No thanks.

So yes, in case seven months of job searching misery aren't enough, let's knock you down and then keep poking to see if you're still alive.

So now, a department at my new university it trying to make a hire, and wants the spouse of the hire employed in my new department, in the section I will be building. He meets what we will be looking for in a very basic way, and I'll be interviewing him in a surprising turn of events for the year. In contrast to Dream school, my new chair is adamant that if he is not satisfactory we won't hire him, no matter what his spouse's department wants. Now, having done long distance with my husband across oceans, I understand as well as anyone how nice it is to be with your spouse. I am also very lucky in that my spouse agreed to move with me to my new job. However, I have to say that these spousal hiring practices give me the creeps, and I just cannot figure out how it is ethical (maybe when two superstar spouse are poached as a team?) I don't know.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dissertation Withdrawal

If I was addicted to my dissertation, can I also suffer withdrawal from it? This is my first free weekend in I can't even remember when (all caught up on grading/prepping, no job stuff, no dissertation hanging over my head) and I don't know what to do with myself.  So far, I have done some cleaning, mailed some forms, read a book of short stories and started another book, and practiced dancing.  This is all lovely, but I have this horrid feeling that I  must be forgetting something really important, because it for so long I felt like I would never catch up!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unreality, or I have a job

After a marathon campus visit/conference tour (traveling 16/19 days, including overseas) I got a job offer from my last visit as I was switching planes to finally make it home.  It is tenure track, at a public R1 in a state I'd never been to, and don't know much about, but seems like a very interesting place to live.

The next day, my dissertation draft went to my committee.  Now, with no el-wa7sh eating at my brain and no job market destroying my nerves, I am at a loss for what to do with myself.  Suddenly, everything is over.  It is unreal.

Even better, when I walked into class today my students were working on composing a sentence on the board using el-maf3uul el-muTlaq (a complicated, yet wonderful grammar point) to express how much they wanted to sleep.  The student writing it got the grammar wrong, and another student corrected, and a discussion of Arabic grammar ensued.  I was delighted.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bunny Cake!

On a happier note, this is how I celebrate Spring/Easter/my husband's birthday . . . bunny cake!  It is carrot cake of course ;-)

Language Teaching Frustrations

I was going to wait until the semester's end to post about this, but after receiving an exam draft this morning from the teacher of the other section of my course that caused me to emit such a howl of frustration that it scared my poor kitty off my lap and caused my husband to inquire if I was okay, I've decided I can't wait.

I am teaching a language class.  I am supposed to coordinate the final exam with the teacher of the other section, and I am in charge of this coordination (which is a little awkward as I am a grad student and she is a lecturer).  We cannot agree, to put it mildly.  I believe it should contain reading, writing, and listening sections (speaking is tested separately).  This is really basic language pedagogy, and ALSO WHAT STUDENTS WILL DO WITH THE LANGUAGE.  Finally, I got her to agree to this, and we decided that I will find the listening texts and write that and the writing section.  She is in charge of the reading (I gave her the choice).  Since the exam is short for the level of our students (long story) the idea is to put the grammar and vocabulary into these sections, having students find and produce the structures TO TRAIN THEM TO DO THIS IN REAL LIFE.  Vocabulary and grammar are the building blocks of language, to use one metaphor, but they are not language itself.  I wrote a similar exam with a different co-teacher (who can actually teach) last semester for the same class and it worked great.

Alas . . . this teacher just doesn't get it.  She keeps submitting drafts that have wonderful questions on them like: "True or False.  People are getting married at a later age these days."  Um, yeah, no need to read the article to answer that one.  This was a mild improvement from the first draft though, where she USED THE SAME DAMN SENTENCE AS IN THE TEXT (only it was negated in the question that was false).  Then there are the multiple choice questions (these are very difficult to write well), the questions that overlap with the writing section, etc.  I told her there needed to be words the students didn't know in the text, and questions where they guessed some of these words based on context, root, and pattern.  She disagrees (again, this is really basic pedagogy) and wrote multiple choice guessing questions WHERE THE WORDS THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO GUESS ARE IN THE VOCABULARY LISTS FROM THIS SEMESTER.  Every single one of them.

I even sent her the exam from last semester as a guide.  She did not appear to look at it.  I have tried to be nice about this, but I am done.  If she sends me one more shitty draft of the reading section, I'm just writing it myself.  This takes a very long time and is very hard work and I have already spent hours coming up with the other sections (but I am, after all, paid to do it).  If only I could have all those hours I spent trying to write nice corrections on her shitty exam back to write my own!

To be fair, this is part of a much larger and more frustrating problem here, which is teachers not using texts in the classroom.  They take the textbook, do the vocab and grammar exercises, and move on, skipping the texts.  I understand that some of the textbook texts may not be the most exciting (although where do they think the textbook is pulling the chapter vocabulary and grammar from?).  Fine, find some other texts.  It's a lot of work to do this well, but it's their choice.  But when they skip texts entirely, or use them but do not properly scaffold them, THEY ARE ROBBING THEIR STUDENTS AND THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PHENOMENON OF THIRD YEAR STUDENTS WHO CANNOT DO ANYTHING IN THE LANGUAGE.

This is what I must sit by and watch professors and lecturers do, as their once enthusiastic students waste their tuition dollars sinking into frustration, and I cannot wait to be out of here in three weeks.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Closer to Freedom

El-wa7sh is with my committee, weighing in at 356 pages.  This is about twice as long as most dissertations in my discipline, although it is el-wa7sh es-sughayyir for some of my committee members who have longer ones to read in other disciplines.

This brings freedom, glorious freedom, and in just three weeks I will be done with the most frustrating academic year of my life, and have lots and lots to say about it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Out of the data dungeon

I submitted my last data chapter today, so that means one more chapter to go biznillah! I thought this was going to be a short chapter, but it ended up 60 pages, so I think el-wa7sh may need to go on a diet.  Of course this is the chapter where I have to get all intellectual and discuss what the theory means for the data and the data for the theory, etc, and yeah, it doesn't really fit like that . . . .into the theory thicket I go! (Can  you tell my brain needs istiraa7a?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dissertation Addiction

Is it possible to be addicted to your dissertation? Because now that the end is in sight, I kind of can't stop working on it.  Even when I know I should be sleeping, my mind is racing through the pages, and when I can't sleep, I'm tempted to just work on it in the middle of the night, although so far I've convinced myself this isn't good.  I get annoyed when I have to stop to teach (and I love teaching!) and it takes me half an hour to comment on a blog, because I open the page, go back to my dissertation, type a sentence, go back to my dissertation, eventually finish the comment, go back to my dissertation, and then post it.  I feel like I could take a break, and still submit my draft on time, but I just want to be done.  But then I'll start something else . . .

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Break Dissertation Writing Complete!

Late last night, I finished the chapter I've been working on all break.  When I pasted it into Mellel to do the final formatting I was surprised to discover that it was 125 pages long (or 39,245 words for those that like it that way).  A lot of that is quotes from my interviews and other data, many of which have to be translated and thus double in size.  I knew it was long, because it took forever to edit, but I didn't quite realize it was longer than some complete dissertations in my program! Thus, my new nickname for my dissertation is الوحش!

In any case, I though I was 1-0 with el-wa7sh, having wrestled him into submission a day before Spring Break ends, which means I would have today for some lesson planning and relaxing.  Alas, el-wa7sh had other plans, and went racing through my brain causing serious insomnia, which meant that when I finally did fall asleep, I slept late, and then there was daylight savings so it's even later, and now I feel like the day's over before it began.  So perhaps the score is 1-1.

But hey, that chapter's done!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spring Break!

I am now officially on Spring Break, with cat in lap, cappuccino next to laptop, and foam on cat tail due to an unfortunate mix between the first two items.  Despite being in school for many years, I think the last time I did something exciting for Spring Break was when I was in high school.  In college, I was on a sports team and always had training, in grad school I was either visiting my husband long distance or doing fieldwork, and this break I will be writing the trickiest chapter of my dissertation.

So far, tricky chapter is coming along well.  Mostly because I have done the majority of the data sorting, and am working on the writing up part, which is much more fun, even if it does involved the ever annoying part of trying to combine right to left and left to right scripts, which can be sent awry with a backspace or return*.

The class I am teaching this semester is also a little time consuming (why didn't your previous teachers make you work on pronunciation, such that I could comprehend your recordings?) although thankfully not as frustrating as last semester (you want us to read texts in Arabic? and like speak in class with our own words? our previous teachers just skipped the texts, and spend class reading the vocab list out loud and having us repeat it).  So, it is nice to have a break from that as well.

* Yes, I could use transcription, but that's a) more time consuming b) harder to read c) ideologically frustrating, as I don't think arabizi transcription would fly :-)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thoughts on the job market

Auuugggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And that's all I have to say.  Or maybe that it's like bleeding to death via pinprick.  Time shall tell.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kindling away the Misery

I didn't get a job I really wanted (after making it to the campus visit stage) so I read six mystery novels in as many days (thank you Kindle!).  Once I reached six, I no longer had any more books to read by this author (Laura Lippman), as I'd read the rest a year ago dealing with revolution/fellowship stress.  Luckily, she seems to write pretty quickly.

As tempting as it is to do this every week, I realized this week why I do not do this, as I tried to catch up on grading (which comes every day in a language class), planning, and writing my dissertation.  I actually enjoy the latter, but I'm less than motivated to go full force on it without a job giving me a finish deadline. Dancing and snuggling with cats on the other hand seem to be getting more and more time these days.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Thoughts on graded literary reading

Today, I opened Facebook during a mad dissertation dash to discover the death of one of my favorite authors, Ibrahim Aslan, Allah yar7amo.  Oddly enough, I just finished a collection of his semi-autobiographical stories (شيء من هذا القبيل) a few days ago, so was thinking about him more than usual.

One of the reasons I was reading this collection was to look for texts for the class I'm teaching next semester.  Something I find frustrating in Arabic teaching (and I'd imagine it exists in other languages too) is the tendency to throw students into canonical but complicated literary texts (ie Naguib Mahfouz) with insufficient linguistic preparation, which leads to excessive frustration and little reading.  In my mind, this can be averted by throwing students into shorter and simpler texts without compromising literary value.  Many of Aslan's short stories are excellent examples of this type of text.

This is hardly a novel idea, but one that I feel is not implemented enough.  The tendency is to take simpler texts without literary value, or use graded readers with appalling language (I'm judging the English ones here, I haven't read the one that exists in Arabic), or just cut straight to Mahfouz, or Tawfiq al-Hakim, without building up literature reading skills.  As far as I can tell, this approach only works for those who end up doing PhDs in Arabic literature.  My expectation is that literature should be read by everyone (although obviously it's not).

Some day, I will design my own sequence of texts, a sort of literary graded reader of authentic texts.  Will it make them enjoy reading, that is the question?