Teach a man to find correlations, he posts them for a lifetime

Aphorism showing its age aside, this post is designed for both men and women who use Canvas and are curious about statistics that may be hiding in their classes’ grades.

I have my own data to share about this semester’s classes, but first, here is a tool that you can use to do the same:

Stat sheet for grades 1.1

And an explanation of how to use it:

On to what I found.

I had 4 classes this semester – 2 Oral Language classes and 2 Written Language classes, both in the 2nd to last term of my university’s IEP. My university’s IEP works a bit unusually – my 4 classes were just 2 groups of people meeting for 4.5 hours a day 4 days a week, about half of which was “Oral Language” and half of which was “Written Language”. The first group of people were my students for the first “term” (=half of a semester), and the second group were mine for the second term. All told, I still had 4 gradebooks on Canvas to export and fiddle with. Between the 4 of them, I found these interesting statistical tidbits:

Scores of 0 are more predictive of final grades than full scores are

One would expect the number of 0s on assignments to negatively correlate with final grades, and the number of full scores to do the opposite. That is, thankfully, true. However, they correlate at different rates – across all my classes, on average, 0s are more (negatively) correlated with final grades than full scores are (positively) correlated. The reason for this is that full scores were more evenly distributed among all students than 0 scores, which were concentrated among a few students. The one class for which this was not true was the one that I changed my late work policy and started giving 1/2 credit for certain late assignments.

This would not be a cause for any particular change except for 2 reasons: 1) as shown by the last class, many of the 0s that students were getting were from late work rather than unsubmitted work, and 2) we have a fairly strict policy about grading by SLOs (student learning outcomes, one of the first abbreviations I had to learn upon my return to the USA after years in Japan), and nowhere in our SLOs does it say that students should learn the sometimes-merciless grading policies that one may encounter at university.

Therefore, I should really make the “late work gets partial credit” policy permanent. I should also probably give fewer full scores.

5% 0s is a line in the sand

I enjoy running t-tests to see what values in what grade categories produce statistically significant differences (p=0.01) in my students’ final grades. One t-test I ran (on the “other stats” sheet in the file linked above) was seeing if students who missed 5% of assignments were different in statistically significant ways from those who didn’t. It turns out that they are, in all 4 of my classes this semester. On the other hand, those who missed 2% of assignments weren’t. Perhaps I should give an opportunity to make up homework on about 2% of assignments (as I already do for classwork).

I’m hoping that my future classes have grades that reflect the average quality of their work, which in turn reflects their ability to do academic work in English, rather than their tendency to check due dates and read rubrics thoroughly on Canvas. These are important skills, but I won’t want to make them a bottleneck through which every grade must pass.

RDs need a bump, FDs need a nerf

Across 4 essays in both Written Language classes, the average correlation of rough draft scores with final grades was 0.70. The average correlation of final draft scores with final grades was 0.76. Since final drafts are worth at least twice as many points as rough drafts, this is rather surprising – even moreso because for 3 of the 4 essays, the rough drafts’ correlations are actually higher than the final drafts’ (the last had a very low correlation for the rough drafts).

I’ve been making changes to my writing process over the last few semesters, and it seems I need to make a few more. I think part of the comparitively low correlations that final drafts have is due to my grading practices – I think I take it easier on final drafts precisely because they’re so many points. My average scores for final drafts are higher than for rough drafts, and the standard deviations as lower – roughly 62%-95% with an average of 78% for rough drafts and 65%-95% with an average of 80% for final drafts. It’s not a huge difference, but looking back at the scores now they don’t seem to reflect the range in quality of the essays. Part of the high correlations for the rough drafts is also due to the skills that are involved in producing a first draft – planning, reading, responding to a prompt, and a bit of grammar – that are assessed in a lot of other assignments as well. Final drafts, meanwhile, assess (in addition to the same things that first drafts assess, but less directly) responding to criticism and editing, which don’t figure largely in many other assignments. Seeing how first drafts track more of the skills that I care about, and I seem to grade them with less of a high-stakes mentality, I should probably weight them more. On the other hand, since final drafts have a somewhat narrow range of skills that they assess, I should weight them less, or even separate my grades for final drafts into smaller sub-assignments like the COCA assignments I currently use, but also a written response to criticism and proof of visiting tutors instead of trying to indirectly read those things into the final draft.

I need to keep in mind too that I’m not necessarily serving my students well if I introduce them into a writing process that none of their psychology, history, or any other professors will use – I hear that most papers turned in for any class other than English are just the final drafts, already assumed to be revised and polished to a sheen. Maybe having one paper like this per term is also justifiable just in terms of preparing students for being taught by PhDs who know more than anyone else in the world about the behavior of certain species of field mice under certain conditions but have never studied pedagogy.

Look forward to more like this same time next semester, and let me know if you find the sheets useful for your own classes.

Review: Interchange (13th ed.)

The Interchange (formerly New Interchange) series is a mainstay of ELT worldwide, used in contexts as diverse as “cottage industry” (Nagatomo, 2013) private language academies to institutions of higher education. The series has undergone significant changes with its 13th edition that warrant fresh review.

Image result for interchange richards
A former edition

To begin with, significant revisions have been made to the content and layout of every chapter, in the words of the publisher, to “bring our content and delivery into alignment with the norms of the 2050s”. To this end, many chapters have been struck entirely or completely rewritten. The section on ethnic foods from book 2, unit 4, for example, is not only gone (a welcome change) but replaced with a pre-activity on the meaning of “tradition” that is more postmodern than many will find in their own Zones of Proximal Development.

None of this would be significant, however, without the accompanying revisions to grammar presentation and newfound focus on project-based learning. The new edition of Interchange changes its fundamental teaching strategy so much as to be unrecognizable compared to earlier versions, both in method and in geopolitical consequences.

Indeed, the methods are so innovative and the learning so efficient that within one semester students display 4-skills competence indistinguishable from native English speakers – at least the somewhat more stilted types of native speakers that populate English textbooks. The new student-centered activities sections have also made learners egocentric, hedonistic devotees of an urbane, bourgeois lifestyle often completely at odds with those of their surrounding cultures. In fact, students seem so transformed by their exposure to this textbook that their former linguistic and cultural identities completely disappear. Students leave classes having conversations about “their hobbies” or “their weekend plans” apparently never reverting to their former Spanish, Chinese, or Qatari selves, becoming strangers to their families and neighbors. Putting aside the decimation of local communities, the new presentation of language items is much improved. At least in municipialities where the new Interchange books have been used, few among the educated classes speak any language than Standard American English.

As one can imagine, the local and national governments of these areas have taken steps to discourage (to put it delicately) the use of the new, unprecedentedly effective Interchange books. Indonesia has taken an early lead in this regard, suspending visas for foreign English teachers and confiscating all (even previous editions of) Interchange. Police are being trained to conduct interrogations in Standard American English (“Excuse me, / I was wondering if / you would mind / telling me your political affiliations”). There are stories of language store owners being detained by paramilitary groups, although not with an official government mandate as yet (Liong, in publication). As if in anticipation of these events, Cambridge University Press made the electronic edition of Interchange purchasable with a variety of virtual currencies and viewable from within a browser window on any phone. The spread of Interchange 13th ed. and its devastating research-based methodology has therefore been impossible to stem.

An explosive rise in vigilantism has been another effect of the pedagogic success of Interchange. With the mitigation of distinct linguistic and cultural identities, societies have seen rising racism and other quasi-biological ideologies of difference that seek to reify formerly “obvious” national and ethnic borders. Informal communities of practice, usually composed of young men (although posses might be a better word) roam city blocks like the home of this publication in Tokyo, seeking to enforce ethnic unity on a purely physical basis – length of nasal bridge, eye color, hair texture, attached earlobe, etc. and interrogating those who deviate in impeccable textbook English (“Oh, my! Just have a look at his nose, will you? It seems quite wide for a Han, doesn’t it?”). Pre-existing ideologies of racial difference, present if marginal in many societies, have been used as historical justification for what amounts to racial terror. Because language use, especially in the age of Interchange 13th ed., does not reliably correlate with racial characteristics, this phenomenon has not directly victimized English speakers, but rather visible minorities of any language background. As such, it is better seen as a side effect of the extreme English fluency brought about by Interchange than as a countervailing force.

Foreign English teachers like this writer find themselves trapped between governments’ anti-English programs on one hand and paramilitary groups’ informal efforts at racial homogenization on the other. One hopes that this review, and further revisions to the Interchange series, help to reverse current deleterious trends in geopolitics even at the expense of the rapid and effortless English mastery present in its current edition.


Liong, W. (2058). Governmental and non-governmental revanchist efforts in linguistically flattened societies. The Language Teacher, 82(3), 45-59.

Nagatomo, D. H. (2013). The advantages and disadvantages faced by housewife English teachers in the cottage industry Eikaiwa business. The Language Teacher, 37(1), 3-7.

A taxonomy of comma splices

Working in academic ESL, I see all manner of comma splices – ones that immediately strike me as non-native, ones that seem to reflect English acquired via Facebook, and ones that could be made by professional writers. I’m 90% sure I saw some in the David Sedaris book I just finished, a COCA search finds a bunch under every genre (try the search terms “, _nn* [be] .”), and as a few survey respondents have pointed out, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities begins with a Guinness-worthy streak of them.

I set out trying to separate the types of comma splices I was seeing, assuming that they had some kind of logic to them. After all, all of the people I’ve seen splicing with commas know that periods (full stops) exist and are presumably using commas for some reason. What follows below is a list of the categories of comma splice that I saw with examples written by me, followed by the results of a survey I did in an attempt to figure out which type of comma splice is the least offensive. My Twitter followers are mostly language teachers (as are the LinkedIn groups that I posted the survey in), so their reactions ought to be interesting.

For the record, and just to show that I’m not just asking my Twitter followers to figure out what a comma splice is, a comma splice is two independent clauses separated by a comma and only a comma. Take out the comma and it’s a run-on, an error that probably deserves its own survey. You can fix comma splices in three ways:

  1. Add a conjunction (preferably and, so, or but – many teachers use the acronym FANBOYS, but honestly, how often do you see “for” as a conjunction?)
  2. Change the comma to a semicolon, or
  3. Change the comma to a period.

See? Here are the categories.

Elaborative comma splices

The price does not reflect the cost of production, it reflects supply and demand.

Similar to the corrective comma splices below, this type of comma splice seeks to add information to the previous independent clause, in this case by adding information. I flubbed the writing of this one a bit by leaving out the word “just”; feel free to ignore this item. Run your own survey if you like.

Explanatory comma splices

The chain went bankrupt, its sales had been falling for years.

Here, the independent clause after the comma explains the one before; it gives a reason. Anecdotally, these are very common among ELLs.

Juxtapositional comma splices

Dogs are descended from wolves, house cats came from feral cats.

Here, the comma separates two independent clauses that are meant as opposites of each other. In style manuals, cases like these would call for a coordinating conjunction like “but” or “yet”, or a subordinating conjunction like “while” or “although”. Many readers, not to mention writers, seem to find them unobjectionable with no conjunction at all.

Corrective comma splices

Richards was not the director, Denton was.

Here, the second clause supplies the correct information whose existence is implied in the first.

Incidentally, the range of relationships between clauses that one sees in comma splices makes one feel the poverty of meanings in the English palette of conjunctions, and particularly the coordinating conjunctions.

Chronological comma splices

The new phone model came out, planning for the next model began soon after.

In this comma splice, the connection between the clauses is chronological; the first precedes the second.

I may have tripped an additional wire in readers’ minds here by making the subject of the second clause a gerund, which could be interpreted as the start of a participial phrase, triggering a garden path (see below). This wouldn’t be a graceful participial phrase, but of course people don’t always respect “the rules” as those go either.

Non-sequitur comma splices

The air is thick with moisture, the office has a meeting at noon.

Not much to say except that this sentence was as unpopular as you might imagine.

Appositive comma spices

The article was written by Malcolm Gladwell, he is a Canadian journalist.

Here, the second clause also supplies more information about something in the first clause by defining a noun. I’m calling them appositive comma splices because without a subject or verb they would simply be appositive phrases.

Conjunctive adverb comma splices

There is a water shortage, therefore citizens are being asked to take shorter showers.

Here, the comma comes before a word with a similar meaning to a conjunction but in a different grammatical class. Called “linking words”, “transitions”, or “conjunctive adverbs” by writing teachers, these words most commonly come at the start of a complete sentence or between commas, as with some other adverbials, in the middle of an independent clause set apart by commas. To illustrate what I understand is the conventional usage of these words:

  • There is a water shortage. Therefore, citizens are being asked to take shorter showers.
  • There is a water shortage; therefore, citizens are being asked to take shorter showers.
  • There is a water shortage. Citizens, therefore, are being asked to take shorter showers.

As an academic writing teacher, my radar is always up for comma splices with these words (which we usually teach explicitly as a counterpart to coordinating and subordinating conjunctions), and to be honest I’m a bit disappointed that so many people disagree with me. Being a responsible writing teacher, though, I need to respect the vox populii. My job is not to make my ELLs the most comma splice-averse people on campus.

Quasi-participial phrase comma splices

The customers are waiting in line, they are holding their baskets.

Like the appositive comma splice above, the second independent clause could easily be reduced down to a familiar and well-accepted construction, the participial phrase.

(side note: I absolutely hate the term “reduced adjective clause” for participial phrases. I don’t think the term bootstraps learners’ understanding enough to justify the additional metalanguage and I don’t think it captures at all how fluent speakers think of them.)

Rephrasing comma splices

It is wasteful, it is inefficient.

Here, the second phrase is semantically very similar to the first. Anecdotally, I don’t see these very much in academic writing classes.

Garden path comma splices

The manager adjourned the meeting, switching off the projector caused the room to go dark.

This is the least comfortable for me to read, and is the reason that, if I remember correctly, Steven Pinker rejects any emails written with comma splices. Here, the comma splice encourages a misprediction by the reader as to how the sentence will proceed – the reader imagines that the manager adjourned the meeting by or while switching off the projector, only to trip over another finite verb in “caused”, which forces them to reappraise “switching” as a gerund instead of as a present participle, leading them up the garden path, so to speak.


The above were presented to anyone who followed my link (mostly Twitter followers, who are mostly language teachers) with a 1-5 Likert-like scale of acceptability, 1=totally unacceptable, 3=don’t know/can’t decide, 5=totally acceptable. The following blurb was presented as well:

The following are all examples of comma splices. Please rate their acceptability as if you were a college writing teacher and they were produced by freshman writing students for a take-home writing assignment that has a grading rubric that includes grammatical accuracy.
For “totally unacceptable” answers, there would be a penalty in points for the error in question. For “totally acceptable” answers, the sentence in question could stand as an example of correct usage and could be recommended to other students.

46 people answered the survey, which again makes me wish I’d had Twitter when I was doing my MA research.

First major result

People vary widely in how they view the comma splices above. The mean score across all items was 2.33, slightly disapproving, and the mean standard deviation was 1.26. The median across all answers was 2 and the mode (most common answer) across all answers was 1.

Second major result

People who accept one of the sentences above tend to accept others as well; people who don’t don’t. All items are positively correlated with all other items, although some more than others. The average correlation of every item with every item (including itself) was 0.407.

Other results


The mean scores were:

  1. The price does not reflect the cost of production, it reflects supply and demand. (elaborative, but reads like corrective) Mean: 3.20, Median 4, Stdev 1.55; notably correlated with #2 (explanatory) and #3 (juxtapositional) at about 0.51 each, and #4 (corrective) at 0.59. This is one of 3 of my sentences that scored above 3, i.e. more accepted than not. 2 of them, this one and #4, have the same “not A, B” structure (although I didn’t intend for this one to), making that an early candidate for a characteristic of “acceptable” comma splices. It is probably good news that these two are more correlated with each other than most.
  2. The chain went bankrupt, its sales had been falling for years. (explanatory) Mean 1.84, Median 2, Stdev 1.09; notably correlated with #1. Early on, when I only had about 20 respondents, this one was correlated with #5 (chronological), #7 (appositive), #9 (quasi-participial phrase), and #11 (garden path). I guessed that people who accept (or not) one type of comma splice tend to accept (or not) others as well, and these hills in the correlations might even out with more survey participants. It turns out that is what happened.
  3. Dogs are descended from wolves, house cats came from feral cats. (juxtapositional) Mean 2.40, Median 2, Stdev 1.48; notably correlated with #1. This one fell slightly under mean acceptability. I suppose it screams a bit too strongly for a semicolon.
  4. Richards was not the director, Denton was. (corrective) Mean 3.71, Median 4, Stdev 1.41; notably correlated with only #1, which shares its “not A, B” structure. This one had the highest score overall and was one of 3 (#1, this one, and #8) that had a mode of 5, “totally acceptable”.
  5. The new phone model came out, planning for the next model began soon after. (chronological) Mean 1.96, Median 2, Stdev 1.17; notably correlated with #6 at 0.654 (see below).
  6. The air is thick with moisture, the office has a meeting at noon. (non-sequitur) Mean 1.38, Median 1, Stdev 0.89; notably correlated with #5. This one had the lowest score, as one would expect. It seems that chronological comma splices are disapproved of by the same people who disapprove of comma splices whose clauses are completely unrelated.
  7. The article was written by Malcolm Gladwell, he is a Canadian journalist. (appositive) Mean 1.66, Median 1, Stdev 1.16; not notably correlated with any other item.
  8. There is a water shortage, therefore citizens are being asked to take shorter showers. (conjunctive adverb) Mean 3.25, Median 4, Stdev 1.60; notably correlated with #9 at 0.557. I’m not sure what makes people who accept this sentence also accept the next (and vice versa), as their clauses have very different relationships with each other. To me, this item is unique in that the relationship between the two clauses is actually transparent and given literally by a conjunction-like word (therefore). I don’t see a connection between this item and any other, but it seems that some people do.
  9. The customers are waiting in line, they are holding their baskets. (quasi-participial phrase) Mean 1.93, Median 2, Stdev 1.08; notably correlated with #8 (0.557) and #10 (0.516). Even more mysterious than the lack of relationship (at least to me) with these two items is the fact that this item is much less accepted than either of them.
  10. It is wasteful, it is inefficient. (rephrasing) Mean 2.68, Median 2, Stdev 1.55; notably correlated with #9. This is one where respondents might also be reacting to the redundancy in the two clauses. I said in my blurb to treat the assignment as a first-year college English assignment, and respodents might have struggled with thinking of a college writing assignment where saying the same thing twice, even with orthodox correct grammar, would be acceptable.
  11. The manager adjourned the meeting, switching off the projector caused the room to go dark. (garden path) Mean 1.57, Median 1, Stdev 0.93. I would actually be worried if this one were approved of by most people.

Last, the item with the highest average correlations with the other items overall is #3 (chronological) at 0.469, followed closely by #9 (quasi-partipial phrase) at 0.462. In a nutshell, if someone accepts #3 or #9, he or she will probably be willing to accept other comma splices too, and vice versa – someone who rejects #3 or #9 probably rejects others.

Unsurprisingly, a comma splice in which the two clauses appear to have nothing to do with one another (#6) strikes almost everyone as wrong. The fact that this one scored lower when all of them are “technically” wrong is interesting, showing that semantic or discursive rather than grammatical congruence determines acceptability for most people. As is the premise of this entire project, all of these are equally wrong for exactly the same reason, at least according to the rules of grammar most of us use when giving feedback on student writing. If my Twitter followers are a sign of the attitudes that most grammatically-minded people take toward comma splices, then corrective comma splices may be bordering on safe for beginning writing students, and at least some conjunctive adverbs like therefore might be heading toward acceptability in the grammatical role usually reserved for conjunctions.


There was a space at the end for respondents to leave qualitative comments on what makes a comma splice acceptable or not. Here are some of them:

It seems that if the topics of the two parts are more closely aligned the error doesn’t seem quite as wrong. [That’s probably exactly what my students think]

It seems to me like if the comma could be replaced by a semi-colon or a colon it “sounds” more acceptable.

Something about rhetorical effect and whether the subject has changed. Dickens and the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities set some kind of precedent of acceptability.

Most of them should just be periods; some could be semicolons. [When you do a survey of different sentences which make the same language-related mistake in different ways, you always get a few respondents who refuse to look past the issue that is the baseline for the entire exploration. Ah well, uncovering this attitude is part of the purpose of a survey like this]

I love them all

I wish there was a little more info on the type of assignment. Going by the statement that there’s a grammar rubric, I’m thinking it’s straight up conventional rules, and they’re all “wrong” in that case. If it was at all a creative writing assignment, I’d give some of the ones that imply a series more leeway, like the wasteful/inefficient one. I think even more so if there was a third clause: It is wasteful, it is inefficient, it is wrong. [A very useful point!]

Super interesting survey! They’re more acceptable when the second clause describes the first clause of adds more information, e.g., Gladwell question. [Interestingly, most respondents disagreed.]

These are all independent clauses [See above]

There were all unacceptable …

I guess it might sound more acceptable if the second sentence seemed to be tacked on as an afterthought, like in the Denton example.

Continuation of a idea- more like an a positive. Or listing.

I think if one of the clauses is made unequal either by shortening it or using a pronoun, a comma splice might be acceptable. For e.g. “dogs are descended from wolves, house cats from feral cats.” (But in this case would it still be a comma splice?) [Not according to my sense of grammar orthodoxy since the second phrase lacks a verb]

As with anything in language matters, conventions are merely an agreement of that languages speakers. They are subject to change with each generation. If a new generation agrees that they should change conventions, then the convention will be changed. It appears that normally 75% agreement is a threshold for introducing the new convention. It would seem to me that young writers at the threshold percentage have changed the convention of the use of the comma, especially in the case of what traditionalists now call comma splices. [Curious where the 75% number comes from]

Thanks for reading! Feel free to share these results over Thanksgiving dinner.

Participial adjectives and the nouns that love them

At the request of Mr. Mark Brierley after the last post on participial adjectives, I’ve tried to come up with a few tests of my ambiguously defined “association” between participial adjectives and the verbs that they bear some family relation to. These tests probably have very little validity (bearing in mind that I never really defined “close” to begin with), but they do come in legitimate-looking tables.

All of them here are variations on what I call the “shared subject/object” test. Basically, if a participial adjective like “interesting” often has the same subject that a verb like “interest” does, or a participial adjective like “interested” often has the same subject that a verb like “interest” takes as an object, we can call them “close”.

I only did these searches for 5 verb/adjective sets, because until my institution pays for BYU corpora membership, I can only do so many searches a day. Also, this many searches on the iWeb corpus is already quite unhealthy.

So first, some raw numbers.

verb subjpres adj subj

These are the numbers of subjects of these verbs and their present participial adjectives which are pronouns and nouns respectively, followed by the percent of the total number of subjects that are pronouns. As you can see, the verb “annoy” comes with a pronoun subject (usually “it”) 86.57% of the time, while the adjective “annoying” has a pronoun subject even more often (also usually “it”). I didn’t keep track of how many of these are the dummy “it” seen in sentences like “it annoys me that robo-callers always spoof numbers from your own area code”, but I suspect it is a lot.

Next we have the differences between those rates of pronoun subjects:


According to this probably unscientific measure, the verb “overwhelm” is “closer” to its present participial adjective “overwhelming” than “excite” is to “exciting”.

Let’s make this a little easier to visualize. On this test of “closeness”, the rankings are:

Test #1 ranking

Here is the same data for past participial adjectives. Because past participial adjectives are related to the passive voice of transitive verbs (e.g. “it excites me” is similar in meaning to “I am excited” rather than “it is excited”), I compared the rates of pronouns as the objects of verbs rather than subjects.

verb objpast adj subj

This time, “excite” seems “closer” to “excited” than “overwhelm” is to “overwhelmed”, but there is a problem that invalidates most if not all of what I think I can learn from this particular group of searches. The searches that I used to get these results were overwhelms _nn*, overwhelms _p*, _nn* [be] overwhelmed_j* and _p* [be] overwhelmed_j*. Do you see the problem? If you do, you probably use the BYU corpora as much as I do (seek help!). When you search for _nn* [be] overwhelmed_j*, you will get back a lot of noun phrases that happen to end with a noun, for example “the man in the back row was overwhelmed“, but not so for overwhelms _nn*, which requires the first word after “overwhelms” to be a noun to return anything. English noun phrases being what they are, a lot of perfectly good noun phrases that start with articles or adjectives are not being detected by my search. That is, “overwhelms people” comes back as a hit, but “overwhelms a person” does not. In short, my searches for the relative frequencies of subjects and objects are not very valid – at best they tell me that pronouns are fairly common (pronoun searches do not suffer from the problem above since they don’t follow articles or adjectives). The same search problem vitiates all of my verb/past participial adjective searches, so take them all with grains of salt. I’m not going to give rankings to these due to the Sochi-like untrustworthiness of the results.

Now for something a bit more concrete: What specifically are the nouns that come with these verbs and adjectives?

verb subj #1#2#3pres adj subj #1#2#3

Here we see some interesting things – the top 3 subjects for both verbs and present participial adjectives are the same for “annoy”/”annoying”, and 2 of the three are the same for “inspire”/”inspiring”. Here is an update ranking of “closeness”:

Test #1 rankingTest #2 ranking
excite53 (tie)
overwhelm13 (tie)
amaze43 (tie)

verb obj #1#2#3past adj subj #1#2#3
excitepeople electronsstudentsteampeoplecompany
annoypeople usersotherspeoplefansothers
overwhelmpeople studentsvisitorsheartsystemclinics
inspirepeople confidenceotherspostporkowl-ways
amazepeople visitorsaudiencespeopledoctorskids

First of all, the #1 object for all of the verbs is “people”, as in “it excites people” or “it inspires people”. There is more variety in the subjects of past participial adjectives, but 2 of the top hits are still “people” – “people are annoyed” and “people are amazed”. The objects suffer from the same validity problem outlined earlier, so take this with even more salt, but we can say at least that “people” is a common object for verbs whose past participial adjective counterparts have the subject “people”.

Last but not least, the #1 hits as a percent of the total hits. The first column is the #1 subject for the verb as a % of the hits for that verb, and the second column is the #1 subject for that adjective as % of the hits for that verb. The 3rd column is the 1st divided by the 2nd – the closer to 1 that number is, the more similar the proportion of those two words in the hits.

verb subj #1 as % of totalpres part adj #1 as % of totalratiopres adj subjverb subj as % of totalratio

Based on the above, “annoy” and “annoying” are quite “close”, but “overwhelm” and “overwhelming” are not. This is the last test to count toward official rankings:

Test #1 rankingTest #2 rankingTest #3 ranking
excite53 (tie)4
overwhelm13 (tie)5
amaze43 (tie)3

That gives us an idea of which of the verb/present participial adjective pairs is “closest” according to all of the tests I ran. But first, the same results for verbs/past participial adjectives:

verb obj #1 as % of total past part adj #1 as % of total #1 as % of total past adj subjverb obj #1 as % of totaltotal nouns
overwhelm0.2860.000Div 00.1300.0433.000
inspire0.1490.000Div 00.0410.000Div 0

Likewise for verbs and past participial adjectives – “annoy” and “inspire” are closer to “annoyed” and “inspired” than “overwhelm” is to “overwhelmed”.

So to close this post, here are the final overall rankings for “closeness” of verbs and present participial adjectives:

Test #1 rankingTest #2 rankingTest #3 rankingOverall
excite53 (tie)45
overwhelm13 (tie)53
amaze43 (tie)34

“Annoy” is the clear winner, followed not too distantly by “inspire”.

Since I still have the data that I used in the last post, I can tell you that these rankings correlate with the % of uses that were verbs at -0.51 (that is, numerically higher rankings, i.e. 4 and 5, tended to be used as verbs less than as adjectives). That says to me that the words that have a fully established independent life as adjectives tend to have less in common collocation-wise with their verb parents. This makes sense – the average child hears the adjective “exciting” applied to all kinds of activities before he ever learns that light “excites” electrons and has to form the relationship between those two words post hoc. I guess, although I don’t know, that “inspire” and “inspiring” might tend to be acquired much closer to the same time in a child’s life and in more similar situations.

As always, further research is required! Who has a paid BYU corpora membership?

The black box of take-home writing

This semester I’m trying something new in my writing classes: trying to eliminate the interference of “writing enhancement” software, along with all other potential sources of noise between the students’ brains and the page, from my take-home essays. This is because as an ESL teacher, I need to maintain the validity of the “grammar” scores on writing assignments that I give, assuming that I need grammar scores at all, and of course I need to know that whatever students are turning in is a product of their own thought processes. To that end, I’m changing the planning and drafting processes and part of my grading rubrics.

For comparison, the writing process that I used to use looked like this:

  1. Outline: 5 points in the “homework” grade category
  2. Draft 1: 1 point of the total essay score
    1. typed or handwritten at home
    2. Peer-reviewed only
  3. Draft 2: 9 points of the total essay score
    1. typed
    2. Gets detailed feedback on content, structure, and grammar from me
  4. Final draft: 90 points of the total essay score

And a typical rubric for the final draft looked like this (initially adapted from a few coworkers’ rubrics):


The essay has a well-focused thesis.

15The writer supports this thesis in the body paragraphs.

15Sources are utilized well and integrated into the argument.

40Total for content

5The introduction paragraph(s) captures the reader’s attention and introduces the sources and background enough so that the thesis is understandable to a unknown reader.

15The body paragraphs show clear and effective organization, and have clear idea progression and relationship between paragraphs. The point of each body paragraph is always clear.

5The concluding paragraph readdresses the thesis nicely, does not exactly repeat it, and gives the reader a reason to care.

25Total for organization

20The essay has sophisticated, well-chosen sentence structures. The language errors do not interfere with communication. In particular, there should be no errors with noun clauses, comma splices/run-on sentences, hedging, or hypotheticals.

20Total for grammar/language
Format/Writing Process

5Effective use of MLA format including a Work Cited Page.

5Total for format & writing process.


Total points

The problems with this approach were 1) a lot of more feedback was given than was actually used for revision, 2) the first draft scores (out of 1) were consistently found to be very predictive of final course grades but were worth very little on their own and 3) I could not tell when the grammar scores I was giving were valid and when I was basically giving Google Translate an A.

Outside of our classrooms, an arms race is being waged between smarter and harder-to-detect ways of generating papers through AI on one side and software designed to detect plagiarism on the other. Copying and pasting still happens (and is the easiest to catch, even without Turnitin.com), but a minimally savvy plagiarist can direct a writing “assistant” generate an essay (Google “generate essays” for examples) or a summary, as I found on a recent podcast episode. At least for the moment, automatic plagiarism-checking software doesn’t catch AI-generated text, whether it comes from Google Translate or Ultron. An add-on to Chrome called Draftback can play back each keystroke in the creation of an essay (or any other Google Doc), potentially catching copying and pasting from AI sources (as copied and pasted text appears all at once as opposed to one letter at a time), but can’t tell who’s sitting in the chair typing text that is entered manually. When I see grammaticality, vocabulary and idiomaticity that is conspicuously improved, I have no way of knowing whether it comes from hard work and scrupulous proofreading or from the magic of smartphones:

I thought English/ESL departments might be some of the first to notice the black box of take-home writing, but others are even more on the cliff’s edge. The transition described in this post was also partly spurred by a conversation that I had in the adjunct work room at one of my community colleges in California, in which a Philosophy professor decried the amount of plagiarism going on in his and others’ classes and told me that he had on good word that UCLA’s Philosophy department no longer gave take-home writing at all. There is, after all, several hundred years’ worth of plagiarizable text on Plato’s Cave.

At my new job I’ve had the chance to talk to a few professors in different departments, and when it comes up, I’m often surprised at how large a portion of their writing assignments has also moved from students’ homes on the weekend to labs on campus during class hours. The reasons stated are usually a combination of wanting to help the students build good writing habits more actively and also simply having no ability to trust what you are getting when an assignment leaves your classroom doors. Some have also said that they dislike the for-profit model of services like Turnitin and Unicheck as well as the message of distrust that they send to students, preferring to keep writing to class hours where at least the pretense of benevolent watchfulness instead of red-pen-policing can be maintained.

I realized that there was a way to kill all of these birds with one stone as well as emphasize the “ideas” part of essays by radically changing my writing process.

The new process looks like this for a non-research essay based on a book or article:

  1. Outline: 10 points of the total essay score
    1. Peer review and instructor feedback on the outline
    2. Done in Google Classroom
    3. Many activities to build robust outlines before Draft 1
  2. Draft 1: 30 points of the total essay score
    1. In-class in a computer lab with only the outline and one page of notes (the outline has whatever quotes they’ve chosen to use)
    2. Typed into the same document as the outline with no other websites or software allowed
    3. Peer review and instructor feedback
      1. Grammar feedback is only on the first 2 paragraphs, and after that only in the form of the COCA tag
      2. All other feedback is on higher-order issues
  3. Draft 2: 60 points of the total essay score
    1. Revised at home and turned in
    2. Accompanied by separate grammar assignments based on Draft 1

What has changed is that:

  • weights for all 3 parts of the writing process are distributed more equally
  • only Draft 1 has a grammar score
  • Draft 2 has grammar assignments in place of a grammar score
  • There are only 2 drafts

Both Drafts 1 and 2 have most of their points given to Content, a bit less for Structure, and a tiny bit for Format/Mechanics. Overall, compared to my old writing process and rubric, more time and more points are given to Content.

(I should also point out that I’m working with a shorter time limit now than I used to – 7-week terms instead of 16-week semesters. Still, I think the important parts don’t suffer much from the eliding of one draft.)

The grammar assignments that I give now in place of a grammar score for Draft 2 are all COCA-derived, and students use my COCA tags in their Draft 1 to know what to look up. This was actually the topic of a talk I gave at ITESOL last month (titled “Using COCA to Simplify Your Correction Codes”), and even if I find reasons to change the 2-draft model outlined above, I will almost certainly be keeping COCA in place of grammar on my rubrics. The assignments are short but open-ended in both the problem (something from their Draft 1) and the solutions.

In addition to changing the process, I try to have prompts that discourage ghostwriting or copying – a combination of new or unusual source texts (Digital Minimalism being a recent example), personalization (the DM essay required screenshots from the students’ own smartphones), and just topics that students want to write about (again, smartphones).

A lot of my former and current colleagues have described moving to a “studio” model of teaching academic writing – lab co-reqs at my last community college, 5-unit plus-sized courses at my current one. Who knows how the proliferation of text-generating technology will affect the “academic essay” in future writing classes?

I joke about this in class, but it’s probably not too far off that we’ll be asking students to turn off their retinal implants before doing anything in class (or generating class content by AI ourselves).

Participial adjectives, very ranked

After not posting for a full month, I have a post that has been on the back burner for at least a year as an idea and half a year as a draft. It definitely falls under the “somebody should have already done this, and nobody has, so I will” category of research, like my THE/hensachi comparison that continues to be the most-read blog post I’ve ever written. In this case, I’m taking another look at a type of word that has interested me for a long time, the participial adjective, adjectives formed from the present or past participles of verbs, like interest/interesting/interested.

The relationship between verbs and adjectives, lightly questioned

It’s tempting to explain both the meanings and grammar of participial adjectives with reference to the verbs that form their bases. The question is, in the mind of a fluent speaker in 2019, are verbs still the bases of participial adjectives? My intuition is that they aren’t, that adjectives like “interesting” enter the lexicon of a typical speaker long before the verb “interest”, and only after much experience of similar words and/or explicit teaching does the relationship between the two become clear and productive.

If my intuition is correct and these are adjectives first and verb derivatives only after some reflection, there are implications for usage and teaching.

On usage, as came up recently in a Twitter discussion with @LinguisticsGirl, the closeness of the relationship between past participial adjectives (e.g. “interested”) to the passive voice of verbs like “interest” has implications for the meanings and grammar of these words.

On meaning, because a passive verb phrase (e.g. “is eaten”) has a patient (the subject) and an implied but sometimes unspecified agent (the object of the preposition “by”), an adjective based on that verb phrase could be thought to also have a patient and an agent. That is, if speakers are actively aware of the relationship between the passive verb phrase “be interested” (where “interested” is a verb) and the participial adjective “interested”, they may believe that the adjective “interested” also has an implied agent, the one who “interests” the subject. To illustrate:

Music bores Sam.

Here, “bore” is verb with an agent (“music”) and a patient (“Sam”).

Sam is bored by music.

Here, the same relationship between agent and patient is rendered with a passive verb phrase- a be-verb and the past participle of “bore”, plus the optional prepositional phrase indicating the agent.

Sam is very bored.

And a be-verb plus adjective. Does the average reader imagine that there must be an agent causing Sam’s current state, as they probably would if the sentence were “Sam is eaten”? To use the example that I used on Twitter, does one assume that “broken rocks” must have been broken by someone or something, or is “broken” just how the rocks are, with no implied cause?

On grammar, we already know that participial adjectives have a variety of prepositions instead of the expected “by” denoting the… let’s just call it the quasi-agent.

100+ Useful Adjective Preposition Collocations 1

This seems to be evidence of the looseness of the relationship between participial adjectives and the passive verb phrases that they resemble. Clearly, at the very least, participial adjectives have some options for prepositions that passive verb phrases don’t. It is tempting to think that the number of possible prepositions after a given participial adjective is related to its prevalence in corpora as an adjective vs. as a verb. More on that at the bottom.

The implications of the relationship between participial adjectives and verbs for teaching seem to be in the approach that one would take if the relationship were strong or weak. If most fluent speakers keep the relationships between verbs like “disturb” and adjectives like “disturbing” active in their minds and use both with similar meanings and at similar rates, it could be more advantageous to teach the verbs along with the rules for generating adjectives more, as the rules could be counted on to be fairly regular, productive, and useful. On the other hand, if speakers keep “disturb” and “disturbing” separate in their minds, use them at very different rates and with different meanings, it could be more useful to ignore or downplay the relationship between the two and focus on statistical fluency and input, encouraging students to see them simply as separate words as input dictates.

The verbs, totally listed

Below, I have some contributions to our understanding of participial adjectives to make. First, here’s a big glob of data, and a bit of explanation afterward.

Verb baseVerb – 3sAdj – presAdj – pastv/total

All of this data came from the iWeb corpus over the spring and summer of 2019, basically built up over time whenever I had a spare 20 minutes or so to look up some words. In most cases, I just thought of a word that I noticed was both a verb and a participial adjective and did the search right away. There was no method to how I settled on words to search for.

The columns are:

  • Verb base: Exactly what you think it is.
  • verb 3s: the number of hits for that verb with its 3rd person singular “s” attached and the verb.3SG tag _v?z*, e.g. dismays_v?z*
  • adj – pres: the number of hits for that verb in its present participle form and the adj.ALL tag _j*, e.g. dismaying_j*
  • adj – past: the number of hits for that verb in its past participle form and the adj.ALL tag _j*, e.g. dismayed_j*
  • v/total: the number of verb 3s hits divided by the number of hits in all 3 categories. I.e., the % of hits that were adjectives instead of verbs.

The reasons that I searched for these categories were related to the limitations of the concordancer. The iWeb corpus (along with COCA and the other BYU-hosted corpora) reliably confuses grammatical categories, for example returning this sentence as an example of interest_v* (“interest” as a verb):

…James and Vugo is that they really have drivers best interest in hand.

I found that the verb form least likely to result in a misclassification of this kind was the third person singular, i.e. “interests” or “dismays”. Note that this reduces but does not eliminate misclassifications (try searching for interests_v* yourself to see). Likewise, interesting_j* and interested_j* reduce but do not eliminate misclassifications of these words as adjectives – it is possible, as is the entire premise of this post, that readers both human and computer get confused as to which uses of “am interested” are passive verb phrases and which ones are adjectives. It is probably less likely that the concordancer gets confused about present participle adjectives, as I certainly have never heard a sentence like “it is interesting me”, but for some verbs like “terrify” confusion is still possible – “terrifying me” does occur in iWeb 68 times.

Results, partly discussed

As a result of the accommodations to the limitations of the concordancer described above, the results have to be taken as ballpark estimates of the relative frequencies of the words in question as verbs or adjectives. The high ranking of “dismay” above gives us a sense that the adjectives “dismaying” and “dismayed” are more common than the verb “dismay”, and that “dismayed” is more common than “dismaying”, but it’s still not clear exactly how much more common in either case.

In the list above, the words are listed in order of v/total. That is, the highest ratios of adjectives are at the top of the list, and the lowest are at the bottom.

The data gives some support to the idea that at least for certain participial adjectives, their uses as adjectives far outnumber their uses as verbs. These participial adjectives include conversation and coursebook staples like “amazing” and “embarrassed”, but also some oddballs like “hearten” and “enthrall”. At the low end are words like “consider” whose main life is still as a verb and is only rarely used as an adjective (e.g. “in my considered opinion”) and last-minute addition “trigger”, which at the moment has no present participle adjective hits but is sure to change in the coming years.

It’s hard to extrapolate this data to answer the question, “how close is the relationship between ‘disturb’ and ‘disturbing’ in the average speaker’s brain?”, but it certainly seems compatible with my hypothesis that at least in the case of words like “amazing”, the adjective is capable of surviving on its own without analogy to the verb “amaze”. It stands to reason that a word that outnumbers another word 133:1 in frequency, as “amazing” does with “amazes”, probably can afford to pay its own rent, so to speak. And yes, I am using obtuse metaphors as a way of avoiding questions of psycholinguistics or neurolinguistics which I have absolutely no right to pretend to be able to answer.

The iWeb corpus an other corpora are less useful for semantic analysis, but it seems to me that many of the words high on the list here have gaps between the meanings of the verbs and their related adjectives – “disturb” doesn’t have all the same nuances as “disturbing” or “disturbed”, and “amaze” certainly doesn’t have the Kardashian-like connotations of “amazing”.

(At this point in the post, I vanished for at least 15 minutes unfruitfully searching for a clip of Dong Nguyen from Kimmy Schmidt saying “amaaazing”.)

In closing, the reader is invited to take from the data what lessons they will. I humbly suggest that one lesson that is not compatible with the data is that for all participial adjectives, the relationships between the adjectives and the verbs that they are based on are obvious and productive.

The same data, differently manipulated

For kicks, here is the same list, but in order of ratio of present participle adjectives to all adjectives:

Verb baseadj – presadj – past% pres

According to this list, these sentences should sound extremely wrong to you:

“The news was just flooring.”

“Critics are highly rating of that movie.”

“The President was totally rationalizing of his behavior.”

Again, I will mostly leave the implications to you, but I count this as at least compatible with the idea of letting input address at least the less common ones and only explicitly teaching the most common/most equally distributed.

Preposition options, negatively correlated

Last, to test my dropped breadcrumb from earlier about non-“by” prepositional complements, I added up all the hits for all prepositions following the word in its past participle form, but without a verb or adjective tag, i.e. dismayed _i*. I then divided the number of hits for “by” by the total number of preposition hits, giving me a sense of how often the preposition following the past participle of that verb is “by”. For verbs that are interpreted only as verbs and never as adjectives, we would expect a higher number, because “Salads are eaten by yoga practitioners” but not “Salads are eaten of yoga practitioners” grammatically describes the relationship between the patient and agent for “eaten”. On the other hand, we expect a bit of noise in these results, as “Salads are eaten at restaurants” remains possible, as does “Salads were eaten up“. Indeed, only 33% of prepositions following “eaten” are “by”, although “by” is indeed the top hit.

The following are (is?) a random group of 11 words from the earlier list that I did the above search for:

Verb basev/adjs% of prep results that are “by”

Interestingly, the ratio of non-“by” prepositions after a given word did correlate with its ratio of hits as adjective to verb at -0.65. That is, the more often a word was used as an adjective vs. a verb, the more often it had prepositions other than “by” following it. Verbs marked with an asterisk had prepositions other than “by” as their top hit (“bored” had two prepositions above “by”, “of” and “with”).

Again, this speaks the possibility that in the minds of most fluent speakers, these participial adjectives are not explicitly or actively related to the verbs that etymologically form their bases. It stands to reason, although it isn’t proved here, that on other issues including the implied existence of an agent and the semantic relationship between the passive voice and the past participle adjective are less close than some casual linguists, language teachers, and coursebooks seem to assume.

Did I mention that my university has a half-term break right now? Don’t expect another post like this until at least December.

Addendum, just added

On the “close relationship” between participial adjectives and verbs, some readers have pointed out that I could have been more precise in what I meant. Here, I hope to flesh out some of the various ways that the two could be “related” without, again, treading too hard on territory outside my expertise with phrases like “instantiated in the brain” or “sharing an entry in the mental lexicon”.

Semantic relationships

I can think of 3 ways that these verbs and adjectives might be semantically related: number of meanings, state/action, and degree.

On meaning specifically, consider these three definitions from dictionary.com:

  • disturb
  • verb (used with object)
  • to interrupt the quiet, rest, peace, or order of; unsettle.
  • to interfere with; interrupt; hinder:
    • Please do not disturb me when I’m working.
  • to interfere with the arrangement, order, or harmony of; disarrange:
    • to disturb the papers on her desk.
  • to perplex; trouble:
    • to be disturbed by strange behavior.
  • disturbing
  • adjective
  • upsetting or disquieting; dismaying:
    • a disturbing increase in the crime rate.
  • disturbed
  • adjective
  • marked by symptoms of mental illness:
    • a disturbed personality.

Notice that only one of the meanings listed for the verb is similar to the present participle adjective, and none are similar to that of the past participle adjective (except metaphorpically). Even a grammatically ambiguous sentence can be interpreted as clearly a verb or clearly and adjective based on meaning:

The “do not disturb” sign is out, but clearly we’re being disturbed.

His collection of loose toenails is disturbing.

He’s clearly disturbed, judging by his interest in feet.

Based on these examples, “disturb” has a loose relationship to its participial adjectives. If you do a similar search to that I did above, but for “amaze”, you will see that some verbs and participial adjectives retain very similar meanings. I don’t have any quantitative way to refer to this, but let’s just say the fewer meanings are the same or similar, the less close the relationship.

Perception as a state or action is usually more of a difference between verbs and adjectives as grammatical categories, but my verbs are mostly stative – that is, they refer to a state of being rather than a discrete action, and therefore collocate more than adverbs of intensity than adverbs of frequency, just like adjectives. However, for at least some of the verbs above, there will be an option for an action rather than state meaning:

  • He disturbs me at work every day, and he is disturbing me right now. (action)
  • Your lack of faith disturbs me. (state, verb)
  • Your lack of faith is disturbing. (state, adjective)

Clearly, the action meaning is unavailable for the adjectives. What this means for “closeness” of verbs and adjectives is that if a verb has a possible meaning as an action verb, it could be said to be less close to its participial adjectives, which naturally don’t.

Last, for degree, adjectives unlike verbs are usually perceived as gradable – attributing some quality to nouns to varying degrees, as specified by adverbs like “a little” or “very”. There are exceptions like “unique” (at least according to some) or “freezing”, but the key area of interest for us is the extent to which verbs share these qualities with their participial adjectives, regardless of what those particular qualities are. For example, the verb “amaze” seems to have the same ungradability as its adjectives “amazing” and “amazed”:

  • It absolutely amazes me.
  • I am absolutely amazed.
  • It’s absolutely amazing.

But “compel” seems not to be not as gradable, or not gradable in the same ways, as “compelling” or “compelled”:

  • Δ It doesn’t compel me very much.
  • It’s not very compelling.
  • Δ I’m not very compelled.

Curiously, “compel” as a verb and “compelled” as an adjective seem less gradable than “compelling” as an adjective, perhaps because interpretation of “compel” is so closely tied to the completion of the verb that it usually takes as an infinitive complement. That is, if I “compel” you to wash the dishes, you almost definitely wash the dishes, but if I’m just “compelling” in general, my status as “compelling” doesn’t have a binary on-off status tied to the completion of anything in particular.

I believe that when verbs and adjectives differ in their ability to be seen as gradable or in degrees, they can be said to have a more distant relationship. When they are the same in these respects, their relationship can be described as “close”.

Any other forms of “closeness” will have to wait for another day.

Addendum, added again

Here are some charts showing the relative frequencies of the verb (with the caveats above), the present participle adjective, and the past participle adjective for the top 20 most frequent words in the list (as of this update, at least).

Top 10
Second 10

Since I’m at it, I thought I’d provide a bit of the opposite of what I did in my last addendum – signs of “distance” between verbs and the participial adjectives that come from them.

Date of first use

First, not every participial adjective in this list has a unique dictionary entry at all – devastated, for example, appears in neither dictionary.com nor etymonline.com, although its partners devastating and devastate do. Of those that do, often the first recorded use with a particular meaning is noted, for example “Meaning “dejected, lowered in spirits” is from 1620s.” for depressed from etymonline.com. An older first use as an adjective, particularly with a distinct meaning, could speak to a meaning as distinct as ice and cream have to ice-cream (1744).

Age of first use

This is opening an issue that begs for actual data that I don’t have, but if it could be shown that people begin using amaze and amazing at different ages, it could also speak to greater “distance” between these words. On the other hand, if both begin appearing in speech at about the same time, one could simply be a true morphological derivation of the other, formed by rules analogous to a wug test. I believe we are seeing this process of derivation in real time with the birth of the adjective triggered. If future generations of children start using sentences like “He was so triggered” years before they say “The video triggered him”, we can assume that these are distinct words, not just morphologically derived variations on the verb.

Charts, very framed

Last, here are two super handy charts for you to print, frame, and finally replace that picture of your niece with:

<– most likely to be used as an adjective most likely to be used as a verb –>
<– past participle adjectives more common present participle adjectives more common –>

Goodbye to California, pt. 1

Shortly after my acquiescent post on the constant rejection one faces applying for full-time ESL jobs, I got an email curiously positive in nature and free of formulaic boilerplate. I had gotten so used to rejection that I almost didn’t comprehend it at first – but it was an invitation to interview, something I had gotten just a few times in the years since my MA. And after that first interview on Skype, I got another such email from the same place, inviting me for a campus visit. When the date came in late May, after I made sure my grading for the weekend was already done, I boarded a plane at John Wayne Airport at 4 AM and spent the whole day in a state besides the one that I have lived in since returning to the US in 2016.

Now, I was breathing such rarefied air at this point that I felt zero pressure to succeed, happy to plant my flag at the “second interview” stage before what I assumed would be a quick descent back down to solid adjunct ground. This was a Monday. I had classes again at my usual schools on Tuesday and plenty of proctoring and grading to do after that to help push the entire episode into the past tense – I was already imagining the conversations I would have in the break room at all the same schools next semester about the time I came this close to getting a full-time position.

But as a call a few days later informed me, I did get it, and very soon after this post goes up, I’ll be starting my first classes there.

By crazy when-it-rains-it-pours coincidence, this was the 2nd full-time job offer I took this year – although the first was a contract only for the summer. That job, which just ended, has given me a bit of a sneak preview of my life as a full-time teacher in a context other than Californian community colleges. I thought I would share a bit of my reflections here, both as a document of my thoughts for myself and as a guide for other adjuncts hoping to do something similar.

Adjunct Goodbyes and Full-time Goodbyes

I’m excited about my new job, but I do have a few regrets about leaving the colleges where I teach now. One of those regrets is that I did many things for the last time at my main schools without realizing they were the last times. I had my last norming meeting (and I enjoy those), my last walk with a student between the classroom and the lab to show them where it is, and my last unexpectedly long pause while the projector warms up, all without knowing that I would never do those things there again. I saw a bunch of people in passing in a hallway or copy room and said some simple words of greeting or an inside joke not realizing that those were the last times I’d be doing that with those people. Not to strike too melodramatic a tone, but for the most part these were the first workplace acquaintances I made in California, and they witnessed my whole process of getting my feet wet, asking silly or obvious questions really politely (“Sorry if this is obvious to everyone here but me, but what is an SLO?”). I will probably like my new coworkers – teachers are usually nice – but they won’t be my first coworkers in the US. I have a lot of words of thanks to go around, but I won’t be specific here. If we spent more than one microwave’s cooking time together, I appreciated it.

There are a few students who had let me know that they wanted to sign up for my fall classes with whom I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. This makes me feel a bit guilty, as does the fact that I won’t be able to wave or chat to former students that I see around campus, but both of these are a bit of an unnatural extension of the teacher-student relationship, which formally has a lifespan of one semester. The same goes for quite a few “single-serving friends” I made in break and copy rooms, for whom the loss isn’t of a deep friendship but just the potential for a longer one of whatever quality it was for 30 minutes a week while we both ate Amy’s frozen burritos. I got some kind words from my now-former coworkers, but of course the definition of an “adjunct” is something inessential to the major workings of whatever it’s part of. At any school with adjuncts, some portion of instructors and students will have the experience of suddenly not having a colleague or teacher on campus anymore every semester. I suppose part of my newbieness that never wore off was expecting to know when that time was coming for me.

(OK, I will single out for thanks 4 people whose initials are G.P., R.B., C.C., and B.W. who saw me at my most newbieish and imparted some very important and well-timed advice. Shucks, also my most frequent collaborators H.L. and D.P.. Also all my SIs.)

On the other hand, at my full-time summer job, we all knew pretty well from at least mid-June that I would be gone, and the program exists solely so that students matriculate out of it and into another program. The goodbyes here had pomp and ritual and lots of tears. People act differently when they know things are ending, and the entire last day of work was dedicated to ceremonial closing of the program, complete with thank-you cards being exchanged, speeches, skits, musical performances by every combination of students and teachers, and a lovely banquet to top it off. It was the best way to conclude a summer program and my time in California, with some really excellent people.

The lesson here, I guess, is to know as much as possible when you’re heading into a round of goodbyes.

More to come later.