Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reflecting on Students' Voices: What Will They Remember?

Who doesn't love Maya Angelou? She inspires, putting into words what we might instinctively "get" but aren't skillful enough to express. Angelou reminds us of truths we might to avoid. 

One of those truths is that students in my classes often DO NOT feel the same passion for English as I do. They have a gut reaction quite the opposite of mine, coming to class dreading the topic. 

For many, the mere mention of "English" paralyzes, conjures memories of rigid rules, rote memorization, or unpleasant teachers. Many students associate English with distasteful, even painful, feelings - even if they have learned important skills, skill they often cannot name but have actually mastered.

So Angelou's quote about remembering feelings over what someone (teachers) said or did (instruction?) hits home. Shoot, I can't remember which of my teachers taught me what. But I can list whose classes made me feel good. 

This past semester, my co-teacher asked students to discuss in writing what they took away from our learning community. She teaches the Personal Development course linked to my English course. The reflection questions were pretty open, asking about "shining moments" and lessons learned that they expect to remember. I'm glad she had students write their reflections because their words verify the truth of Angelou's words.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Experiments in Making: The "Identity Is" Project

Readers might be curious about the "Bayan Professor" part of this blog's URL. Bayan is Tagalog, a Filipino dialect, for town or municipality. Bayan also connotes family, home - the beloved community. It's the name me and my teaching partner chose for our linked classes, the Bayan Learning Community.

My partner teaches the Personal Development component of our paired classes, the first-year college colloquium, the "how to be a college student" class. I'm the English professor. While Bayan does special outreach to Filipino and Filipino American students, Bayan Scholars don't have to be Filipino. They must, however, be willing to engage Filipino American themes to master Personal Development and English skills.

My co-teacher and I layout our learning objectives and, considering the shared themes, look for intersections, moments where we can leverage the overlaps. We want students to experience how different disciplines actually complement each other, how classes feed into the other. We're also committed to "making,", i.e., having students create as much as they consume. We want our students to see themselves as producers of knowledge, not merely passively taking in information. The "Identity Is" Project was our most ambitious unit this semester.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Anatomy Diagrams as Mentor Texts: Adventures in Procrastination!

Instead of grading finals, I've got Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing on my mind. I've joined a MOOC that assigns me weekly challenges that help me understand an experience Culham's text (see the first two challenge here and here). I am enjoying the process immensely, likely because at least if I'm going to procrastinate, at least I'm being productive.

This week's make-cycle challenge compelled us to become mentor text sleuths (shout out to Thinking Through My Lens for this word gift). We had to investigate the world around us for words, images, signage, basically anything that can be decoded, that could serve as a mentor text. Of course, I had to wait until I saw what other folks on the MOOC found; I would have floundered unless I got to stand on their shoulders.

I didn't actively scavenge, just lived my life, which includes playing around on social media. I follow several folks on Tumblr who post about #BlackLivesMatter and #ICan'tBreath, as well as a whole bunch of social justice bloggers. When one particular post came up on my dash, I knew I'd find my contribution to our MOOC. And I found further justification that playing on using social media serves professional purpose. The Tumblr post that inspire this make is the second image in the clip below. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflecting on Problem-Solving: Six Word Memoirs

A couple days into a challenging project this semester, students  felt confused, unclear. They didn't want guidance or coaching.  They wanted me to tell them exactly what to do. Students wanted, no demanded,  an absolute, singular correct solution to the challenge. 

This push back didn't surprise me. The majority were first-year college students. And returning students also argued for a more mechanistic, formulaic prompt of the worksheet or five-paragraph format variety. More comfortable filling in the blanks or following a rote formula, students froze when given a task calling for higher order thinking.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Writing Thief: Stolen Quotes + Depth of Knowledge

I recently wrote a post about joining a MOOC sponsored by the San Diego Area Writing Project. We're reading Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing, and our second "making project" is to find a quote from her book that resonates with us. Using a digital tool of our choice, we areto bring that quote to life, expressing how Culham's words affect us. The clip above is my contribution. 

I used PowerPoint to recite Culham's words. I didn't list them in order or use the whole passages where the quotes appeared. I sampled them, selecting, repeating, splicing and sequencing her sentences into something a little bit more poetry. 

I wanted to create a meditative, playful effect, taking advantage the images Culham's words conjured for me. I chose the images Flickr's "free-to-use" website. This was my first time using Flicker, and I enjoyed hunting for evocative images. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Story Telling Feedback: Student Voices

I've just finished listening to students' final oral presentations that I wrote about here and here. I promised in my review of this monologue project to get students' feedback about the process. As this was the first time experimenting with this monologue format, I wanted to to collect students' subjective experience of the process. 

Some of that was in a more formal self-evaluation, more cognitive, more about their writing process. I also wanted to know how writers felt about the process, what emotions attended their cognitive processes. I suspect writers would have been a bit apprehensive initially and they would experience a sense of accomplishment upon completing this whole-process project. For many, this was their first sustained whole-process composition. And for many others, it was among the first time they ever shared about themselves in public. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making, MOOCs, and The Writing Thief

Meet Henry Aronson by Slidely Slideshow

I've joined a MOOC, a "Massive Open Online Course, specifically the Connected Learning MOOC sponsored by the San Diego Writing Project. We're studying Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing, hence the name of our Google+ Community: The Writing Thief MOOC. 

As if I'm not busy enough. It's finals week. Grades are due next week Friday. And it's the holiday season. Maybe I'm avoiding work or perhaps (and?) personal issues. Whatever. This is how I have fun.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Story Telling Moments - Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

In a previous post, I wrote about an"aha" moment, specifically the story telling/monologue project we did this semester. Students, for the whole-process project, composed and performed a first-person monologue. This assignment is based on So Say We All's Visual Audio Monologue Performance showcase. 

For this post, I reflect on what worked, what didn't, and how I might approach the project again. Two major threads of commentary follow, Show & Tell and Timing. 

Show &Tell, Part I:  Several veteran VAMP performers showcased their pieces for a couple of my classes. The most successful classroom presentations consisted of two readers sharing their stories followed up by a discussion of what it means to write. Sessions that featured only one monologist or did not include a discussion were less effective. Students got to experience what the final project should look like and received words of wisdom from actual writers, people they trusted more than me! Next time, more of the same, Paired with conferences if possible. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

SWCBlogger Challenge #2: Storytelling Moments

VAMP in the Classroom by Slidely Photo Gallery

It's official! We've named our blog challenge SWCBloggers! Here's my second installment, responding to the prompt:  "Reflect on your teaching week. How did this week go? What "aha" moments did you have?" Here goes: 

One of my biggest challenges and learning curves is developing writing projects that ask students to write for a real audience, that compel students to express meaningful ideas in a public fashion. I experimented this year with monologues, a "hacked" version of public radio story-telling programs (something between  This American Life's Serial and NPR's This I Believe).

I re-purposed the Visual Auditory Monologue Performance Showcase  (VAMP), a storytelling project from the local non-profit creative arts organization So Say We All  (I wrote about my "in-class VAMP" here).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Peer Critiques and Repurposed Fishbowls: Part II

In the first installment of this two-part post, I tried to capture how I used a fishbowl protocol to demonstrate peer critiques. You might want to eyeball what I wrote there first. I ran the demonstration in four separate classes, switching it up a little each time based on the success or weakness of each iteration. I'd like to reflect here on what worked, what didn't, and what I'd do differently. In no particular order, here goes:
  • I gotta do this whole process much, much earlier in the semester - students appreciated observing the process. My verbal description couldn't capture a session. It's all about "showing and telling". Plus, doing this process earlier makes time for separate editing sessions. I want to keep revising and editing as distinct as possible. 
  • The first session, I didn't share the peer critique guidelines with the rest outer circle. Afterwards I quickly crafted a quick version of the guidelines for the remaining three demonstrations We "popcorn red" the guidelines and stems before each of the subsequent demos. Made a huge difference because students had a sense what to observe.
  • During the sessions when students had printed guidelines, I instructed them to take notes on those guidelines as if getting ready to critique the author. This kept them engaged beyond simply listening. After the inner circle finished their process, I asked if anyone in the outer circle wanted to share their comments. Many students volunteered, rehearsing the stems. i could hear how well students "got it" (or not!). 
  • By the third demonstration, I realized it would be good to review key terms of the assignment in addition to reading the peer critique guidelines. In this case, the project was a narrative, so prior to diving into the fishbowl, I had students pair-and-share relevant concepts: action, exposition, thought-shots, flashbacks, transitions, description, explanation, plot, dialogue, etc.

Attitude of Gratitude #29: Inspirational Person

He reminded me of a young Santa Claus, the bearded Kris Kringle character from the Rankin-Bass Christmas special Santa Claus is Coming to Town. While the stop-motion character had red hair, Glen was tow-headed. But his eyes were just as animated. They twinkled. I thought twinkling eyes was a figure of speech, but his eyes glittered when he smiled.  

Those of who knew Glen competed for those smiles. Sometimes his grins indicated gleeful mischief. Other times, the twinkle would be half hidden in a side-eye, signaling an inside-joke, a private message.
 My favorite memories of Glen's smile happened in his office, him in his worn leather office chair, pipe clenched between his teeth, He'd chuckle at something naive I said or beam at me when I said something sharp or witty. I can't smell cherry tobacco without thinking of him.

Glen was my mentor, role-model. His memory continues to inspire me. I worked for him in one of my former incarnations at a non-profit human relations organization that promoted interracial, interreligious, and multicultural dialogue. Dialogue, as we defined it, is the frank and free discussion of we truly believe in an environment of mutual trust and respect. Our charge was to promote discussion between groups separated by significant social distance, groups like race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, age.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #28: Missed Opportunity?

As I get older, I can look back over my life and notice the defining moments, those singular events that seemed random at the time but had huge impact on who and where I am today. A chance meeting with the man who would become my husband, the last minute invitation to a workshop that led to graduate school, taking that random general education course that ignited my passion for literature. What seemed insignificant at the time altered the course of my life.

From my present vantage point, I can also see  other moments that, when they occurred, disappointed me, discouraged me, dashing my hopes and putting my life on hold. Or at least that's what I experienced then. I didn't get what I wanted, that promotion, relationship, or recognition I thought would complete me.

I've slowly come realize that missed opportunities are often than a path to something else more satisfying. Perspective shows me that I often don't know what's best for me.

Today's TeachThought blog challenge prompt asks me to consider that awareness: "Talk about an opportunity that I am grateful in hindsight for having passed me by." For me, that would be not getting hired as a counselor, a job I thought was for me when I took a graduate degree in counseling. I came close to getting hired (twice!), all the way to the final interview. But, twenty-five years later, I'm glad they turned me down. Had I been offered those jobs, I doubt I'd be here today, teaching English. 

Peer Critiques and Repurposed Fishbowls: Part I

This post is the first of a two-parter about using "fishbowls" in an English class. This installment outlines the purpose of the fishbowl protocol and how I used it to demonstrate a peer critique session. In the second post, I discuss what I learned from the process and what I plan to do differently the next time I use the process. 
In my English classes last week, I experimented with a protocol I learned in my counseling graduate program: the "fishbowl." We used the fishbowl technique to model a peer critique session to get ready for actual peer critiques students would do in a subsequent class.

I wanted to do something a little different than the kind of peer revision that relies on checklists. Those protocols are useful, but limited. Often, those revision sessions turn into editing and surface level exercises.  I hoped to facilitate meaningful conversations between students, and I think this process has potential. I did four different fishbowls over a period of three days and met with great success.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

SWCBlogger Challenge #1: Maintaining Focus

TeachThought's  blog challenges have inspired me and a colleague, the blogger behind Eat the Yolk, to start blog challenge for teachers on our campus. Our site occupies over 150 acres of land, serving over 20,000 students, so we face particular structural barriers when it comes to building and sustaining community. So we decided to  replicate the project for our campus.

A handful of faculty, including counselors, from a variety of disciplines decided to join us on our weekly blogging challenge. You'll see links to the other folks in the column titled Connect@SWC bloggers on your right. 

So here goes.

The inaugural prompt for the Connect@SWC blog challenge asks,"What are your strategies for maintaining focus and motivation at the end of the semester?"

This question comes right when my own focus and motivation wanes. It's the day after Thanksgiving weekend, my mind foggy from lack of sleep, my body lethargic from too many calories and carbs. And that doesn't account for the emotional ups and down of family gatherings, traffic, or the fast approaching specter of finals and all that entails. The Turkey day break, grateful as I am for the time off, actually caused  more stress than it alleviated.The same is true for the Spring break.

For me, staying focused means doing my best to exercise, eat well, get enough sleep. and stay connected with loved ones. Whether I actually practice these self-care habits is another question  entirely. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #27: Perfect Day

Today's Attitude of Gratitude blog challenge asks me to imagine a great day: "If you could bottle up the perfect day, what would it look like?" 

This question is harder than I'd expected. I have bits, bytes and notions about the elements of a perfect day - time with my husband, a good book, coffee with a friend, a delicious meal (or three), the buzz after a good work-out (not the work out, just the buzz), 

Teaching didn't make the list that first popped in my head. Yet that's precisely where I invest most of my time and energy, to my husband's chagrin. They say that where you spend your time and energy indicates our true values, the values we live. 

Reminds me of a scene from The Devil Wears Prada where the protagonists' boyfriend points out the gap between her stated and lived values. When Anne Hathaway's character and and her boyfriend Nate argue about her priorities - her job and their relationship - her cell phone starts beeping. After hesitating, she takes the call. Nate sighs,"You know, in case you were wondering - the person whose calls you always take? That's the relationship you're in. I hope you two are very happy together."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #26: Simple Pleasures

I sit here at my make-shift office in my bedroom, before my day has officially begun, nursing a cup of flavored coffee (Torani's, sugar-free raspberry). I've just checked my vitals: work emails, Facebook, Twitter feed. And I've already eyeballed my blogger stats to see if anyone has commented on a post. Seeing the likes, favorites, and comments gives me a kick, almost as strong as the coffee I'm sipping.

I admit it. I'm addicted to attention and caffeine.  Both activities light up my brain's pleasure centers. Like drugs can. Or shopping does. Or hitting it big on the slots. This daily coffee and social media ritual gives me a relatively benign kick to get my day started. 

My morning routine definitely makes the list for today's Attitude of Gratitude blog challenge: "Write about any 3 small pleasures in your life/day." Here are the other two:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #25: Let It Go!

I must be one of very few people who hasn't seen Disney's  Frozen or knows the music from the film. When I told a friend that today's Attitude of Gratitude blog challenge asks about what I'd like to let go of, she joked that I should embed Idina Menzel's rendition of "Let it Go" from the film. Um, no. 

This is an easy challenge. I'd like to let go of insecurity, the sort that plays out in humblebragging and fishing for compliments. I have to be on constant guard against this, with my peers and especially when sharing on social media and blogging. But you already knew that.

I do like sharing. I am social. And I get a lot out of interacting with others, from being a part of and contributing to a community. But insecurity is an ongoing problem, detracting from the good intentions behind sharing. Less so now, but insecurities can flare up like an allergy or fibromyalgia. My insecurity plays out when I think I'm helping someone by sharing ideas or offering suggestions. Often. Unbidden. Relentlessly. Someone will simply share a problem he or she encounters, and I will launch into how I solved that problem, under the guise of being helpful, of course. Eeew. 

Attitude of Gratitude #24: My Dream? Do Away with Grades!

Participating in TeachThought's blogging challenges introduced me to a host of bloggers and education websites. Educators from all over the world share lessons, digital gadgets, philosophies of teaching and learning, and all kinds of learning trends. And I get it all for free, learning on my own schedule, often on my smart phone.  I'm grateful for this new way to stay connected with the field and my colleagues. I'm "getting" what it means to find and nurture my own personal learning network. 

Because of the challenges, I now follow Mark Barnes, the educator and blogger behind Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge, His provocative ideas about assessment, testing, and learning bring me to today's prompt: "What are your dreams for education in the future?" 

Barnes advocates doing away with tests and grades. He's not against evaluating or assessing, but he is against the sort of standardized testing, the sort that privileges teaching for coverage rather than teaching for learning. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #22: Mahjong & Family Traditions

I'm in that camp of folks who don't celebrate the holidays in a traditional way or the way my family  Partly because family is is all around the world. One brother and his family live in New Jersey, my other brother and his family are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my sister and her family stay in Hawaii.

Another reason I don't "do" the holidays has to do with stress of doing those holidays "just right." I get anxiety attacks listening to friends kvetch about decorating their homes holidays, shopping for just the right gift for that hard to please relative, or planning the Food Network Fantasy Feast

All that pressure: blech!

So my answer for the  Attitude of Gratitude blog challenge prompt, "What are your family traditions you are most grateful for?" can't be about any traditional holiday gathering or a command performance of mandated jollity.

For me, the family tradition that makes me feel grateful would be our weekly mahjong games.  My parents would play with my siblings and me when we were kids. We played this Chinese game, a cross between dominoes, poker, and bridge, almost every week when we were preteens. Once we kids got old enough to drive and our peer became more important than our parents, we still played, once a month or so.  We played mahjong the way mt friends played Monopogy or Chutes and Ladders with their parents. 

Reyna Grande and an Acronym for Storytellling

Reyna Grande
Our school had the honor to host a talk by author Reyna Grandea week ago. Our Puente chapter and the Guest Writers' Series (a group of faculty who invite authors to visit our college) co-sponsored her talk. Granda primarily spoke about The Distance Between Us, a memoir that covers her journey from Iguala, Mexico to Los Angeles. 

Grande shared her immigration experiences and spoke poignantly about the difficult choices associated with leaving one's homeland and how those choices divided families. She focused on education, referencing the disappearance and probable murder of the forty-three college students in Guerrero, Mexico and the subsequent protests.  Her words about pursuing one's dreams in the face of struggle inspired students and professors alike. 

The students from my class who went to her talk walked away feeling motivated, particularly because they had analyzed sections of her her memoir prior to her visit. 

I knew that students would enjoy Grande's talk. In fact, those type of activities always inspire students so much. ALWAYS. Most of the students in my classes have never met or heard a published author, so whenever the campus offers a talk like this, I do my best to attend

Because I don't want author talks to feel like an add-on, a supplement, I strive to find ways to do more than simply give extra-credit for attending when the talk isn't scheduled during my classes. When possible, I do what I can to weave in a reading by the authors so the activity becomes an integral part of my calendar. Even though Grande's book wasn't an assigned reading, I found a way to suture her talk into the lesson. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #21: An Inspiring Read

TeachThought's  Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge prompt asks me to name the book I am thankful to have read and discuss how it inspires me to be better at what you do.

Whenever anyone asks me what book inspires me,  I typically answer, the book I'm currently reading. But the question asks what book inspired me, past tense. So of course, all the recent books I've read pop into my mind, fiction and non-fiction both. 

The inspirational book that pops into my head is bell hooks' Teaching To Transgress. Her words knock me out on so many levels. I read it oh, so many years ago when I took a class on how to tutor writing, when I considered pursuing a teaching career. 

It's been so long that it's time to dust it off and reread it, to check how her words resonate today. And perhaps to see how my own mindset about teaching has changed or evolved. Maybe just to get recharged. 

Something to read over Thanksgiving break. Actually, winter break sounds more reasonable. Thanksgiving is for . . . grading! 

What about you? What's a book that inspired you? 

Teaching Text Types: Music & Micro-Lecture on Masculinity

One of the most significant lessons I learned from the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) is the notion of simultaneously teaching two or three different text types about similar topic or theme. What a great way to analyze writing strategies and purposes by comparing and contrasting two compositions.

By text types, I mean one of three categories: narrative, informative, and argumentative, types cribbed from the Common Core. While I'm aware of (and in agreement with) certain criticisms of Common Core, I appreciate the simplicity of three categories. The text book I've used in the past lists nine text types, making the lesson more about memorizing terms than about applying strategies. Three is easier to handle. 

Last week, I asked students to consider two different compositions, an old school hip hop music video and a Youtube "micro-lecture." Both address language, bullying, and masculinity, but one leans more heavily on narrative, the other on informative. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #20: Relearning Life Lessons

According to Colbert, I must be young! 
Today's TeachThought's  Attitude of Gratitude blog challenge prompt makes me cringe. It's one of those questions that force me to be look inward, pushing me to be "mindful." Touch-feely questions raise  my cynicism-hackles. 

The cringe-causing query?  What is one life lesson that you are thankful for having learned? Eeeew. 

My strategy? Read what reflective teachers have to say, hoping their words shake loose ideas hidden in the cobwebby wrinkles of my brain. 

The blogger behind  Eat the Yolk  reminds me that teaching is like a roller coaster, full of uncertainty she can't control. The author of  Middle Management - A Teaching Journey  amplifies the theme, noting she can't manage everything or anyone. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #19: Grateful for Mentors

Today's post responds to the Attitude of Gratitude Challenge prompt: "Tell someone you know how grateful you are for the work they do. Share your story here."
Last night, our college premiered our first monologue program featuring students reading their stories (think This American Life or Story Corps on NPR). Students performed at a local library, packed with students, family, friends, professors, and counselors from school. 

I played a role in the program, and I felt particular pride seeing students from our school shine. I also enjoyed working with a great bunch of faculty who served as writing coaches. [Side note: The program was sponsored by So Say We All, a San Diego creative arts non-profit agency devoted to helping people craft and tell their stories. Amazing stuff.

In the audience, I saw two former colleagues from the college where I used to work. They were the prime movers on their campus, the ones who promoted and organized the storytelling project. I participated, in a small way, and enjoyed the process immensely. I saw how the project invigorated my classroom and helped develop writers and their voices. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #18: Colleagues Keep Me Afloat

My colleague wrote eloquently about the seasonal "Eeyore Days" that happen in November. I, too, experience the malaise she describes, right after Spring Break, too. 

I haven't quite got to the point where I'm so behind that all I want to do is weep, a typical feature of every semester. It's during those time of the year I particularly lean on my peers for support. 

Which brings me to the question for today's attitude of gratitude blog challenge question: What do you appreciate about your colleagues? In a word: Lots!

Knowing I'm not the only one struggling, falling behind on grading, or feeling frustrated with a particular teaching issue reassures me, reduces the social isolation. While I love the autonomy of my own classroom, camaraderie helps to know what I experiencing isn't unique. This collegiality, at least for me, is therapeutic.

My peers' intellectual generosity also energizes me, makes me a better teacher. Not a week goes by when I don't "steal" or hack a lesson plan from a colleague. And the feedback I get on how to solve teaching problems is invaluable. 

Yesterday, three of us ventilated about the ongoing process of balancing our role as gatekeepers (determining if students are ready for the next level of English) and cheerleaders (nurturing and encouraging student voices).  But instead of wallowing or complaining, they came up with the idea to meeting over the break to chat about what we can say in our syllabi and do in our classes to help make that balance more transparent. 

Our goal isn't to devise a rigid, official statement of expectations but to help make clear our role to students. Each group, students and teachers, have different sets assumptions about learning and our respective roles in the learning process. (Sidebar: Yes, I'm cribbing my notes from Rebecca Cox's  The College Fear Factor.)

I'm happy my peers are the kind of folks who'd like to spend time together to solve shared problems. I feel like part of a team. Feels the best times I had in graduate school. 

I'm also grateful for my morning commute with with a colleague/friend, a counselor and professor who teachers personal development. Sharing about learning objectives and what goes on in our classroom with him helps me see with a new set of eyes what I experience. As we spend time sipping coffee and maneuvering traffic, we informally discuss navigating the pitfalls of being educators from our respective departments. I get to take advantage of the lenses his discipline uses to approach teaching and learning. The caffeine and discussion equally invigorate.

How wonderful to know I'm on the same journey with folks in my own departments and those in other divisions. More importantly, how wonderful that we can, if we are willing, depend on each other to become more effective designers of educational experiences.

Intellectual generosity. Therapeutic goodies. Gotta ask the folks at human resources if my insurance covers my peers' billable hours - for services rendered!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #17: What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago, I commuted between two different community colleges. Both campuses fed me professionally. My peers? Phenomenal. Inspirational. But not having my own space, a place to hang my hat, store my books, or meet with students was taxing. Not to mention having to find parking at two different sites a day or navigating the different cultural and bureaucratic norms of two different colleges.

So the obvious answer for today's Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge prompt, "One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for. . . " would be landing a full-time position. 

Love what I get to do. Loved it as an adjunct, too. But I'd be lying if I said the full-time pay, benefits, and security haven't changed my life, dramatically. There have been emotional/psychological changes, too. 

What I've realized post-facto is how being an adjunct messed with my self-esteem and self-worth. I grew up in the era when not having a full-time job or facing joblessness was a sign of a personal failing, a character flaw. I realized just how much of the meritocracy ethos - work  hard, and get rewarded accordingly - I had internalized.

When I began teaching, the latest budget crunch was in full swing, and there were several times my adjunct position was in jeopardy. I faced several summers wondering how I'd pay the rent, and because of the vagaries of different districts' calendars and hiring schedules, I lost priority at one school when I had to accept an offer at another. Jobs were scarce, and I had to take what was offered. 

I'm aware of discussions on education websites, notably the Chronicle of Higher Education, where some have called adjuncts whiners for making, what I believe, are legitimate observations and claims about how their/our work is devalued, how adjuncts should have been wiser about our career choices. 

Perhaps I should have been more practical, less idealistic. But that's not the argument that I'm interested here. 

I'm just saying how funky it was to be find myself on the verge of unemployment for reasons not having to do qualifications, capability, or willingness. My employment situation was up for grabs for reasons out of my control. I became profoundly aware that social, historical, and political situations truly shaped my choices and options. I shouldn't have been surprised to see how agency, to a large degree, is contingent. But I was, and that messed with my sense of self. 

Worse, there I was in the classroom, extolling the virtues of an education to students, arguing that college offers choices and security, when I myself had largely lost both, even with (humble-brag alert) two post-graduate degrees. 

I'm only just realizing how deeply psychologically taxing it was to be a seasonal worker, to be that close to losing work twice and three times a year. So, while the money and benefits are awesome, I am also hella grateful for the peace of mind having a full-time gig affords me. 

Here's to staying grateful for what I've got, and for advocating for adjunct equity. Or better, actual full-time positions for the folks who make it possible for others to have careers. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #16: Connected Educator

TeachThought's  Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge question of the day got me Googling for resources. In order to answer, "What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator? What are you grateful for?" I had to find out exactly what a "connected educator" is.

My cursory research failed to uncover a single, unitary meaning, but a common theme did emerge. Connected learning has to do with leveraging social media, digital technology, and mobile devices to foster connections and collaborations inside and outside the classroom. 

A post in The Learning Network, an online affiliate of the New York Times, says that connected learning has to do with "using technology to build communities and share knowledge." I'm down with that definition. And I am on the path to being connected.

The blog post Ten Tips for Becoming an Connected Educator claims that being a connected educator has to do with habits of the mind and heart. Sure, being connected is about technology. But being connected, according to blogger Elana Leoni of Edutopia, has just as much to do with embracing mistakes, expecting the unexpected, and "just jumping in" as it does with technology. This sounds like me, too. Or at least the "me" when I'm at my best.

In terms of what I use to build community and to share knowledge, Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogger are my three "go-to" social media platforms. In addition to "pushing" content to students via Twitter hash tags, I tweet out to musicians, poets, and scholars who we study. 

We've virtually connected with folks in Colorado, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain, demonstrating how what we study in our corner of the world is of interest to folks on the other side of the planet. Plus, students get a kick out of seeing when someone we are studying favorites or retweets a comment from our class. They've even started to tweet out to people we've studied, too. 

I use Twitter to follow #reflective teachers, #sdawp, #nwp, and #cwp, and a host of other educators and education groups. I also follow journalists, authors, and entertainers. Pinterest is where I go for inspiration and ideas. There's a feed to my tweets and pins in the column on your right. 

I've only been using social media for professional development for a few months. But the effect has been phenomenal. I don't feel so alone. I feel part of a larger community. I have access to so many great resources, ideas, and support from around the world. On my time. And in the short blasts characteristic of tweets, pins, and blogs (that aren't as wordy as mine!). 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Post-Game Wrap Up: Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge

Every major writing project in my classes includes a reflect-on-your-writing component where I ask writers to consider their writing process, explain their approach, and discuss what they've gained. These meta-commentaries are like a "chalk-talk" after a football game or notes after a play's dress-rehearsal. 

It's that reflection after publishing when writers ask themselves, "What were the intentions behind the choices, implicit and explicit, I made?" "What were the consequences, positive and negative, that followed from those decisions?" "What strategies can I revise and build upon next time around?" "Which strategies should I jettison?" 

I used to dread reading notes after high-school drama rehearsals, afraid the voice captain would announce I wasn't cutting it or director would cut me from the cast. 

But no. The best post-rehearsal sessions had to do with reflective revision, about building from our strengths and minimizing weaknesses. I've striven to make the the "post-rehearsal" self-evaluations in my class keep with that spirit, celebrating effort well spent and resolving problems. 

I finished TeachThought's Reflective Teaching 30 Day Blog Challenge a few weeks ago, I figure I need to reflect on my own blogging process, on what I took -away and what I've discovered or rediscovered about myself as teacher. After all, the theme of my blog is to "feel the burn" I expect student writers to experience in my classroom, Here goes. 

I. Got. So. Much. Too much to fit into a single post. 

I agree with my friend and colleague, the blogger behind Eat the Yolk, who talks about the boost, purpose, and inspiration she gains from blogging about teaching. I also concur with what Refranz Davis has to say about blogging in her post on Edutopia, "Reflecting for Change, From Journaling to Blogging."

The most surprising lesson I gleaned from the experience is that I can't look to students to validate me.  I can't expect their reactions to me and my assignments to fill me up. I can't depend on their affection or gratitude. Students don't have to like me. Indeed, if I do my job correctly, students may not. And for sure, students can't appreciate how hard I work or how much energy it takes to prepare lessons and assess their learning.  I can't put too much stock in their opinions about me, at least as far as my own worth is concerned. That's not their charge. 

As the saying goes, "What other people think of me is none of my business." 

I thought I understood that concept. And I did, intellectually.  But it wasn't until I started blogging regularly that I understood on an experiential basis how much I had invested in my students' opinion of me. As I began blogging and reading my peers' posts, I found myself looking to teachers for validation. My colleagues are the only ones who fully appreciate the ups and downs of teaching. They are the only ones who "get it." Placing the burden of "getting it" on my students is close to a boundary violation, expecting more out our relationship than is ethically responsible. 

Reading my colleagues posts, peers from across the nation and around the world, I found richer, more meaningful affirmation than I ever felt from students. I felt a quality of connected to my profession that I hadn't felt before or had only experienced as momentary flashes at staff development programs. At the risk of sounding too much like Sally Field, I began to feel heard, understood. In retrospect, I see how my stress level gradually reduced; I no longer feel on the verge of burning out. 

Nurturing community with teachers, even virtually, mitigates my tendency to depend on my relationships with students for my self-worth.. And without that unspoken expectation of appreciation haunting my interactions with students, classes became relaxed, easier, less taxing.  I didn't need students to like me (at least not as much as I did before). 

Had anyone suggested that I'd make that discovery by blogging, I would have felt insulted, defensive even. I know about boundaries. I know about appropriate relationships. I have a degree in counseling, dammit!

But I've been pleasantly surprised to make this discovery, which is probably less about a single event than it is an unfolding, a gradual learning process. Participating in the San Diego Area Writing Project and getting a full-time position are the two other influential moments that likely spurred this revelation. 

Without the regular, formal  written reflection of blogging, I doubt I'd recognize at an experiential level how much I need a community of peers. I'm not some lone wolf out there on my own. I'm a member of a dedicated, loving, community of professionals with whom I can celebrate my successes and lean on when times get rough. 

Because of TeachThought's  September Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge and the other professional blessings I recently  experienced, I commit to nurturing connections with my professional peers - virtually and in real-time. And I commit to building the kind of teacher-student relationships that foster the healthy learning experiences that students deserve. 

Attitude of Gratitude #15: Tech Tools

Today's Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge question is "What tech tools are you most grateful for? Why? How have they changed what you do?"  These are the first ones that popped into my mind: 

Haiku Deck: I like this free presentation service. Haiku Deck forces me to rely more on visuals than on text. I keep reading how too much text on a slide defeats the purpose of presentations, so this tool has my name written all over it. Super simple. Plus I like the notes function and the fact I can embed the slides into our Blackboard, our learning management system. Below is a presentation I cobbled together, hacking the MAPS (medium, audience, purpose, situation) acronym for my Filipino American Learning Community, students who would appreciate this salty, greasy, sweet mnemonic. 

SPAM! - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Screencast-O-Matic/Powtoons: I am at the bottom of the learning curve for these video tools. I have fantasies about flipping my classes, But that's not going to happen any time soon. It's time consuming and a bit challenging.  But I do enjoy learning how to chunk-out my lessons into short, digestible pieces that complement or clarify a lesson. Screencast-O-Maticmakes it easy to turn my slides into YouTube clips. Powtoons is a bit fancier, allowing me to use narrative and animation to make lessons appealing. Both are fun to use, which is big reason why I'm willing to spend the energy it takes to get proficient with these tools. Check out this post for samples of my Powtoon experiments.

Tumblr: I use Tumblr to store images memes, and quotes that I might use on Haiku Deck or for sponge activities to get class started. Here are some of my "go to" hash-tags:  writing processrhetoric, and college success skills. I don't assign students to use Tumblr, but I do introduce it as a mode of curating inspirations for their writing projects - or any interest they want to follow: current events, professional interests, political issue, hobby, wherever their passions lie. I want them to see social media as something they can leverage for more than socializing.  Maybe I should just admit I am addicted to Tumblr and that any use I get out of it for teaching is an excuse to play around on social media. 

With the exception of Powtoons, these tools are free. And luckily, I got on board with Powtoons when it was testing, so the price was reasonable. I enjoy the process of learning how to use these tools, and I introduce these tools as options for students to use for their own work. An added benefit is there is always at least two or three students in my classes who are much more skillful with these tools. When that happens, I urge them to take the floor during lab, letting them be the expert. Students get a charge out of teaching and learning from each other, and I can model that I'm learning, too. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #14: Five Things I've Learned

Today's question asks me to reflect on five lessons I've learned during my teaching career, lessons that make me feel grateful. The biggest challenge this prompt poses is which five! So, in the order they pop up in my head, the list: 

Growth Mindset: Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology Success of  has had a huge impact on my teaching. It takes time, but I see that nurturing a growth mindset encourages students to celebrate mistakes, see them as opportunities for growth rather than as proof of their inadequacy. Assignments feel, I hope, like experiments to improve decision making skills rather than measuring a static, immutable trait. 

Blogging. There is no substitute for writing to a real audience. Learning to assign blogs  compelled me to think of relevant, meaningful writing assignments that help students develop and publish their ideas. I get better at developing these assignments semester-by-semester. And the quality of students' writing (and their feelings about writing) improve accordingly.

Mutt Genres: A "mutt genre" is the kind of writing that only exists in first-year college composition courses, formulaic writing  no one ever reads (or writes!) outside of a classroom. Certainly, the notion behind teaching mutt genres is laudable: teaching form, structure, and rhetorical patterns is important. But we run the risk of training students that there is a single, right way to produce text, one that doesn't exist in the "real world." 

Recognizing the risk of  mutt genre assignments pushes me to shift focus. When I'm at my best, my assignments compel students to make intentional choices based on their purpose, audience, and their own voice - not on strict adherence to a generic formula.  I wrote about mutt genres in this post, and I hope to keep moving away from highly standardized, decontextualized prompts to to those that challenge students to solve problems real writers encounter. 

On Course: This is one of the first professional development programs I ever attended, and the lessons I learned at On Course reverberate today. Two concepts that  stuck with me are the difference between teaching and learning and  the difference between a victim and a creator mentalities

Critical Thinking Community: This was also one of the first professional development programs I attended, and just like On Course's lesson, what I learned from the Critical Thinking Community remains vitally important to my teaching. Being able to identify the elements of thinking  and the standards of reasoning helps me make lessons relevant and meaningful beyond my subject area. 

Naming the elements and standards helps students claim and strengthen their application of those concepts. I don't know about you, but I never took a class on what constitutes thinking and how to judge my reasoning. Not in psychology classes. Not in my education classes. Not even in when I took philosophy. I learned about cognition but not anything directly applied to improving my thinking. 

Their publication, Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, is indispensable. 

All these lesson improve my approach to designing learning experiences. That's for sure. The other through-line is that these lessons also apply to me. I have to maintain a growth mindset to stave off insecurities and fear of failure - and to recognize that it takes effort, not some innate talent, to be a good teacher. Blogging keeps me writing. I have to practice what I preach, and  remain will to feel the burn of finding and sharing my own voice. And so on. 

Big ups to those thinkers, writers, and organizations that make me a better designer of learning experiences. And to the folks who run the professional development programs where I work. 

Attitude of Gratitude #13: Time Out!

"What do you do to take time out for yourself?" was TeachThought's Attitude of Gratitude question of the day for November 13th. I'm a day behind. Aack. But it's Friday afternoon, and I've got the weekend ahead of me. Time for a time out! 

What's on the menu? A Netflix marathon to catch up on How To Get Away With Murder (I wrote about Professor Kearing's appearance in my class in this post). Also need to catch one episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Two guilty pleasures. 

Working out is a great time out, too, and I'm committing right now to get to the gym tomorrow morning before the day gets away from me. And on Sunday, too. I'm amazed at how much better my day goes when I get to they gym, how it helps to sweat out the stress of the day. I'm much more pleasant when I can get in regular exercise. Can't let too many days go by without exercise, or I lose any inertia I've developed. 

I'll play on social media to decompress before going to bed. Check out some #reflectiveteacher blog post for inspiration (and mentor texts for my own submissions). 

Had I less on my plate, I'd read a book. But this time of year, the only reading I can handle is short articles and whatever I need to read for class. My head isn't in the right place for the sustained reading it takes to read a book, even for fun. 

Perhaps I'll get started on one just for the hell of it. One book, Scent of Apples by Bienvenido Santos, is a collection of short stories. Yeah. That sounds do-able. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #12: Photographic Evidence

I have fallen behind on this challenge! I had all these grandiose ideas about who and what I'd feature in this post - pictures of people and things I appreciate. But as Thanksgiving break barrels our way, I've lost any semblance of "time management" proficiency. Enough excuses. These two pics represent a lot of what I appreciate these days.

The first snap shows where I hunker down with a cup of coffee to get my day started (on my best days - not today!). The twenty minutes or so I reserve for writing, blogging, and plotting my day. My husband, who has a completely different schedule than I do, snoozes behind me. I appreciate quiet alone time, for sure. And I love feeling his presence. So often, I'll be at the computer, and he'll be watching TV; the screen is just to the left of my desk. I used to do my morning ritual and writing in the kitchen, but I cherish being in the same room with my husband, even if we're focused on completely different activities. 

The second picture is also about place and companionship. This is the first semester I've had an office. Luckily I get to share with an amazing veteran professor, role-model, colleague. Having a place to hang my hat and store my books is awesome. Refrigerator doesn't hurt, either. Even better? Having company of someone I admire. That's his desk; we sit back to back.  If we scoot our chairs even one six inches too far back, we crash into each other. But I'm so, so grateful for the office and the company. 

What ties the two pictures together? Being near someone who shares the same values  - my husband, my peers. Being in a supportive environment - at home and at work. Being able to focus on my own thing. I guess that speaks to me toggling back and forth between the MBTI's of extraversion and intraversion, the ranges of preferences or tendencies that indicate how we respond to the world. Even though most people would peg me for more on the extraversion side of the "energy range,"  I actually get energy equally from being in groups and from solitary inspiration. And reading, writing, cogitating - all those skills necessary to be a scholar-type person - definitely requires a dose of intraversion, too.