Friday, May 21, 2021

Small Class Sizes and Course Load

"Time" by Emil
Used with CC License 
As a faculty member, I've always taught composition at colleges and universities with relatively small class sizes. These classes, between 12 and 30 students, are touted as a benefit to students and to faculty. However, small class sizes are only a benefit to those faculty - and their students - who also have a moderate course load. 

Because students in small classes are promised personalized assistance and feedback on assignments, faculty spend much of their time giving that assistance or answering those questions - sometimes by text, email, phone, video conference, or in-person meetings either during or outside their office hours. Some students come to class, some do not. Some students ask questions during class, but many do not.  Faculty who teach 2 or 3 courses a semester might spend 9-12 hours in classes each week, then work with their 60-90 students, plan lessons, create videos, grade 60-90 papers, commit to committee meetings, service responsibilities, write, and complete professional development for around 30-40 hours a week, working a total of between 40-60 hours a week. Much like an iceberg, most of a faculty member's work is completed "below the surface" and "out of sight." The job requires Herculean efforts in time management.

The workload of faculty who teach 2 or 3 of these more personalized courses is reasonable, and when compared to faculty who teach 4 or 5 of those "small" classes, that workload seems dreamy. Faculty who teach 4 or 5 courses might spend 15-20 hours in class each week, and in addition to the "below the surface work" explained above, also work with around 120-150 students each week, giving as much personalized feedback as they can muster - which may not be much given the unreasonable time constraints. The math: 40 hours a week minus 20 in the classroom leaves 20 hours to assist 150 students equals 8 minutes per student and 0 minutes for committees, service, professional development or writing. Those working beyond 40 hours might achieve the minimum productivity levels in their scholarly and professional development, but even the most stalwart faculty need to eat and sleep occasionally, not to mention raise their children, take care of aging parents, and participate in life with their spouses.  

So what's the tradeoff? As faculty teach more and more courses, which equals more and more students - even in increments of 12-30 - time and effort might be "borrowed" from other areas of their "below the surface" work. They stop writing or producing their own professional work. They may stop completing their committee assignments and rely on others to complete the bulk of the work. They, in other words, stop being a scholar, give up working within the academic community, and lack the time to develop their teaching philosophies or even practical pedagogy.  In some cases, they assign less work to students, give less feedback, and their courses might consequently lose any semblance of academic rigor. They might even sacrifice their family's well-being.

More math: Faculty might teach 30 students for 75 minutes, then teach another 30 students the same content or activity for another 75 minutes, back-to-back, and sometimes up to 5 times per week. Teaching the same class only twice, with 60 students in each class, would save the faculty member hours per week, time that could be given back to the students in their classes in the form of personalized assistance or feedback on assignments. The time might also be spent working toward becoming a better teacher, scholar, or mentor.

The lesson here is that both faculty and students should carefully consider the call to teach or take "small classes" because there's so much more involved than simply how many students enroll in each class section. Certainly the discipline matters, as chemistry and composition are taught much differently, but the main consideration to keep in mind is the assigned course load.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Write Outside: Annotated Bibliography Example

Russian Comfrey by Suzanne Schroeter
Russian Comfrey by Suzanne Schroeter
Included under Creative Commons License
An annotated bibliography is a list of sources a writer or research group might potentially wish to use for a research paper or project. An annotated bibliography is more than just a list, however. It includes annotations, or notes, that help the writers capture the qualities and main ideas of a source. The annotated bibliography can be used by writers during the outlining and drafting parts of the writing process as a bank of information from which source content can be pulled.

For writers who've never written an annotated bibliography, the task can seem herculean. Breaking the annotated bibliography entries into their component parts can make it much more achievable. 

Breaking the annotated bibliography into smaller tasks can help beginners learn to cite sources, identify claims and evidence, evaluate the content's rhetorical appeals, and plan their next steps.

Annotated Bibliography Example

The following table in an example entry that's been broken into its component parts on a table. For this example, the research question is "What are the practical and safe medicinal uses of the comfrey I grow in my backyard?" This example table includes the prompts necessary to properly evaluate and annotate an article called "Three Travelers," written by Katherine Yvinskas and published in The Herbarist in 2010. 



Where did you find your source? Provide the complete MLA citation for the source.

I found my first source in the GGC Library databases. I searched for the term “comfrey” in Academic Search Complete. This source was on the third page, and I chose it because I am interested in the medicinal properties of comfrey.

Yvinskas, Katherine. “Three Travelers.” Herbarist, no. 76, Nov. 2010, pp. 16–20. Academic Search Complete,,shib&db=a9h&AN=79329981&site=ehost-live&scope=site&custid=gwin

Research and explain each author’s credentials and authority. If there is no author, provide information about the organization or publisher.

There is a short bio in the article that explains the author’s credentials. Although her main vocation is as an artist, it seems she is also a self-taught herbalist.

“Katherine Yvinskas is a member at large of The Herb Society of America. She is an artist, Master Gardener and herbalist living in New Jersey. She has created many original works inspired by plants and nature. Katherine received her MFA in 1981 from Northern Illinois University and is a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists. Her work has been widely exhibited and published” (20).

Quote or paraphrase the main idea (thesis, enthymeme, or hypothesis and findings).


If there is an abstract, you may also wish to quote it here.

Thesis: I’ve called them “The Three Travelers” in honor of their centuries-old reputation as journeymen having healing abilities that affect the lungs, bones, ears, digestive system, and support wound healing. Imagine seeing comfrey, mullein and coltsfoot standing together, taking on various ailments that come their way. A mighty trio! And they can grow in your own garden, as they do in my home herbal apothecary.

Abstract: “The article offers information on coltsfoot, comfrey and mullein, which are called the three travelers due to their ability to treat diseases. Coltsfood is a spring bloomer and is dubbed Filius ante patrem. It treats coughs, asthma and bronchitis. Comfrey is high in calcium, potassium, phosphorus and other minerals and its leaves are rich in vitamins A and C. Mullein can grow anywhere, was used as toilet paper in the wild, or placed in the holes of shoes or if the feet were tired from walking.”

Summarize or quote each section’s or paragraph’s main idea sentence or main idea (if it’s implied).

Each section describes the three plants and explains their herbal uses. Most relevantly, the article answers my research question on page 19 by saying that comfrey is best used as a healing cream and as a poultice. It is used externally.

Identify the main type of evidence the author(s) used. This could vary by paragraph or section.

The author uses visual descriptions and verifiable, cited facts throughout the article, including in the section on comfrey. The references and bibliography will be very helpful for continuing my research.

Explain how the source does or does not demonstrate each of the three main rhetorical appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos. What will you do to overcome any weaknesses presented in the source’s rhetorical appeals?

Ethos: The lead-in to the article is the author’s narrative about having the plants in her garden, which does establish a level of ethos. Because of the discrepancy between the author being an artist and being a self-taught herbalist, however, I want to find additional information to confirm and validate the information in her article, especially the idea of the herbs being called “three travelers.” Does this originate with her?

Logos: Although the information presented is cited and comes from other credible sources (with a bibliography), none of the  information is timely, so there may be new information available. I will need to look for more up-to-date information.

Pathos: The author has done a good job introducing the article with a narrative that includes positive connotations of the plants without exceeding the limits of a proper use of pathos.


Define unfamiliar words or phrases (up to 10). Include the original sentence from the source that contains the word or phrase. Be sure to attribute the source of the additional information in case you want to use it in your research project. These words may help you learn more about your topic!

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids : “Early leaves or cuttings harvested in the spring will contain high levels of dangerous pyrrolizidine alkaloids whereas the later cuttings and mature leaves have much smaller amounts” (18).

I found more about this phrase in a source called Safety Issues Affecting Foods: Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon (

“Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are of special interest currently because several of them have been shown to cause toxic reactions in humans, primarily veno-occlusive liver disease, when ingested with foods or herbal medicines. Comfrey, a well-known medicinal herb characterized by U.S. FDA researchers as having been ‘one of the most popular herb teas in the world,’ contains PAs that are capable of causing liver damage (10).”


Want to learn more about research and writing?

Annotated Bibliography Assignment for Students

Evaluating Source Content

Write Outside: Outdoor Activities and Writing Prompts for English Composition

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Write Outside: Knowing Fauna Activity and Writing Prompt

A collection of fauna. Images by Amy Lynn Hess

I looked into my garden. I knelt between the plants. I held my cupped hand to my eye to focus my gaze on its smallest details. I saw snails, grasshoppers, ladybugs, caterpillars, and bees. I watched them eat and rest, acknowledge one another, and go about their business. 

In Write Outside: Outdoor Activities and Writing Prompts for English Composition, I begin the section on rhetorical appeals with a chapter explaining the importance of a writer's intended audience. The outdoor activity for the chapter is to collect notes, renderings, or images of fauna. The subsequent writing prompt asks students to explain the symbolic characteristics for one or more of the fauna, and to remain focused on the needs of one specific person throughout the paragraph or essay that emerges. 

Depending on the needs of the specific reader a writer has in mind, this may emerge as a narrative, a concrete description, an expository explanation, or even an argumentative piece of writing. The following are drafts of paragraphs in each of the four modes. Main idea sentences have been underlined.

Sample Narrative Paragraph with Statement of Realization

    I had moved over fifteen times in ten years, and this was the sixteenth move, from Ohio to Georgia after graduate school. It wasn't the first time my car had died during a move, though. The first time my car had died during a move was three years earlier, as I was leaving Mt. Pleasant, Michigan after finishing my undergraduate degree. I'd come a long way during that time. My belongings were now packed in suitcases instead of trash bags, and I'd racked up another degree. My car was a few years newer, and I'd made a few more life-long friends. Yet there I sat, and as I sat at the intersection of I-285 and Roswell Road in Atlanta, Georgia, in a broken-down car full of all my possessions, I couldn't help but feel a bit like a snail with its home slung across its back. If only I'd known how wise a totem the snail would turn out to be for me, I would have embraced it and allowed myself to absorb and appreciate how life was right then instead of restlessly pushing for life to "go, go, go," always forward in a ceaseless state of change. 

Sample Descriptive Paragraph with Dominant Impression

    We walked together along the cobblestone streets of Athens, Ohio. I wore jeans and a military jacket, so I blended into the grey of the sidewalk and sky. I could smell the impending snow. Clouds of breath that emerged from our faces and hung over our heads. It was cold, and there may have been snow, but the salt and traffic turned all of it to dirty slush. You, however, wore a red dress, refusing to be daunted by the cold, the dreary, the depressing mess of winter. It wrapped around your legs in the wind. Instead of huddling inside your black wrap, you let it fly behind you like a cape. You were the ladybug, the ladybird beetle, the coccinella novemnotata, destroyer of the smaller, parasitic insects, the aphids who were sucking all the sweetness from the bars we visited that night. It wasn’t the only time, though, that you took on the persona of that deceptively beautiful warrior. Time and again you donned your red dress, accessorized with black boots and a black rose for your hair, and time and again you protected all of us from the hoards at the bar, like we were your garden and it was your job. The memory of you, Donatella, in your red dress, will always remind me of the ladybird beetle.

Sample Expository Paragraph with Concluding Topic Sentence

    The AMC Hornet was produced between 1970 and 1977. The cars themselves had nothing in common with the insects. They certainly didn't look like hornets. The association was purely symbolic. According to the Spirit Animal Totems web site,  wasps symbolize making a plan and following through on that plan passionately, without the fear of change. The wasp is a reminder to express thoughts freely and for people to "do their own thing." Wendy Jackson relates much the same on a web page called "Wasp Spirit Animal: Meaning, Symbolism, Dream of the Wasp Totem." She adds, however, that a "Wasp, at times, works as a group and, in some instances, work as one," which means they represent both teamwork and independence. If ever there was a totem animal that symbolized the road trip with friends, the hornet or wasp may be it. For people ready for a change of scenery, ready to hop in a car and follow through on a plan to hit the open road with a group of independent, adventurous friends, a car called a Hornet might just be the most sensible choice.

Sample Argumentative Paragraph with Topic Sentence

Aesop got it wrong. In the story of the ant and the grasshopper, one of Aesop's fables, the grasshopper is depicted as lazier than the ant, and deserving of his impending starvation when the enterprising ant refuses to feed the grasshopper. What Aesop's fable fails to recognize, however, is that the grasshopper represents something sometimes far more important than being enterprising: appreciating the life that surrounds us. "Stop and smell the roses," goes the old adage. "Appreciate the moment," people are told again and again: "Live in the present." Instead of socking away seeds all summer and fall, Grasshopper socked away memories, sensory descriptions, and the soulful energy of a thousand observations. For this the grasshopper should not be punished. He was doing what grasshoppers do. Artists, writers, and scientists alike must observe the life around them in order to do the work important to them, to live up to their potential. Aesop got it wrong.

Works Cited

Raven, Silken. "Wasp." Spirit Animal Totems,, Accessed March 2, 2021.

Jackson, Wendy. "Wasp Spirit Animal: Meaning, Symbolism, Dream of the Wasp Totem,", Accessed March 2, 2021.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.