From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Syllabic Cycles—Introduction (b)

One year ago on Round and Square (24 November 2011)—Kanji Mastery: Radical 148 (Horn)
[a] Towering RF
This is a multi-part introduction to the series "Syllabic Cycles." Click here for the other posts:
Syllabic 1               Syllabic 2               Syllabic 3               Syllabic 4

We left things yesterday with a little snippet of autobiographical detail. People sometimes write to me (not always with even a polite veneer over their e-mail rhetoric) to remonstrate on behalf of my poor students, who sometimes get syllabuses with twelve, thirteen, fourteen, or even more, books. A book a week is not unusual, depending on the class, the time of the term, and the course topic.  

The critique usually goes something like this:

          How arrogant you must be to think that your courses are the only things 
          going on in your students' lives; how dare you take up all of their time with 
          just your readings—these must take twenty hours a week.They have 
          other classes, you know.
[b] Full array RF

The funny thing about the matter is that the students tend to see it quite a bit differently. This is because they actually know what is going on in the course. To be sure, more than a few have been startled to see the book list at the beginning of the term, and some panic before I can begin to talk them off the drop/add ledge and consider the full array of course expectations before doing something rash (like taking Microeconomic Theory or Organic Chemistry...just because there is a lot less reading.

Once things get clicking, I give assurance that many hundreds of students have taken in just these classes over the last twenty years. Among the handful of people who have not done well, most decidedfor one reason or anotherthat the high dose reading experiment was not worth undertaking. Among those who say "I quit," the smart ones actually filled out the paperwork and dropped the class. The less perspicacious ones stayed in, telling themselves that they couldn't do it (and backing that up with lack of class attendance and almost no reading). Even among this small group, a few reconsidered late in the semester and wanted to make good. We almost always work out a plan that salvages at least a bit of a term that began with high hopes for reading formidable quantities of prose and producing formidable qualities of writing.

You see, I am on a mission—a Mission Improbable.

Cue the disintegrating tape

The mission I have chosen to accept is to teach students real life lessons, even in the geeky haze of classes with titles such as "Social and Cultural Theory," "Japanese History and Culture," and "—graphy." The explanation boils down to a sequenced pair of nonverbal actions, repeated over-and-over during every class, every semester, and every year. 

It goes something like this. I hold out my arms, as though to put them around a sizable load—something along the lines of a yard (or meter) wide—in front of the center-right side of my body. I hold the pose for a few seconds, looking at "the load" with a stern gaze. I then move to the next segment. Crossing over to the space at center-left in front of me, I narrow the arm-width to just a foot or so. Again I hold it, emphasizing with arms and gaze the dramatic difference.
[c] Frame RF

Wide on the right; narrow on the left. Lots of work; (relatively) little time. Big difference.

What's that about? I only need to put it into words at the beginning. After that, the actions take care of themselves. Everyone knows the interpretation. It goes something like this. Like life, the right side "large-load" represents the work that needs to be done. In life, that will be everything from job to family to activities beyond both (like running or skiing or evening bowling). In the academic course students have begun, it can be represented by a dump truck load of reading and writing. Yup, big ol' piles of way too much to do.

Life is like this. 

The other side represents time. There is less of that, and this fact, too, is a lot like life. Somehow, the eighteen-wheeler containing all of the work you need to do has to fit into a standard two-car garage (or 168-hour week). It is structural, people, and no amount of fine-tuning can give you more than 168 hours in seven days. You need to fit that big, fresh moose carcass into your little dorm-room refrigerator, or the jumbo frank into a kiddie bun. Directly to the point, you need to fit that new book on the syllabus each week into a six-to-eight hour time frame. eight? What about the twenty or more that you are sure it will take?

Let's get back to the nonverbal images. Big armload on the right; smaller armload on the left. The big armloadsomehow, someway—must be forced into the little one. So let's get back on-track here. If you think that this is your (grand)father's reading load (check the link), you haven't been paying attention. No, I tell every student in a 100-level class that I expect six hours of reading a week (ninety minutes for every hour in class). In 200-level classes, I expect eight hours of reading (two hours for every hour in class). In high-level, "capstone" classes, the number goes up to twelve, but that is for a very special kind of class meant to tie together all sorts of intersecting themes in three or four years of college coursework.
[d] Other quads RF

In other words, the syllabuses you will see in these posts assume good use of six, seven, or eight hours of reading. This workload expectation is so standard in higher education as to be completely unexceptionable. The part that trips up interpreters is the amount of reading on the syllabus...and this is the entire key to learning the hardest (and most useful) lessons life has to offer. 

Let me say just one more thing before closing today (we'll go one more round tomorrow before wrapping up this introduction). The reading load is heavy. The writing expectations are ambitious, but quite realistic (for example, a brief essay in the fifth week, a midterm essay in the ninth week, and a final paper at the end of the term. No, it's not the writing load that scares people. 

It's all that reading.

We'll address that directly in part three of our introduction...tomorrow. 

This is a multi-part introduction to the series "Syllabic Cycles." Click here for the other posts:
Syllabic 1               Syllabic 2               Syllabic 3               Syllabic 4

[e] Reading RF

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