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. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #11: A Most Important Lesson

I read the gratitude blog challenge this morning over a cup of coffee. I have a new morning routine, thanks to the folks at TeachThought. I get up a little bit earlier, get myself together as usual but also reserve a twenty minute chunk of time to eyeball the prompt and read other Reflective Teachers' posts for inspiration. This sets the tone for my day, and more often than not, the blog questions require lots of marination time. 

But today's question, "What is the most important lesson you want to teach your students?" required much less noodling. The first thing that popped into my mind was I want them to be problem solvers, to have the kind of reasoning skills to help them face the array of problems they will (and already!) encounter. And now, before going to bed, I'll pick up the thread I began following this morning, book ending my day with reflection. 

As an English teacher, I want students to figure out how to best express themselves in written form, using the conceptual knowledge of rhetoric and composition to guide their decision making process. This problem solving isn't about memorization, which has surprised most of the scholars in my class. Many enter my classes believing that success in English is a matter of mastering rote, mechanistic formulas, sans an authentic voice.


That's not the kind of scholarship I hope to nurture.

I work hard to imagine, devise, and create meaningful learning experiences that compel student to go beyond demonstrating they can define writing concepts. I want them to apply concepts to solve problems that real writers face. So my writing prompts, when I'm at my best, don't ask students to compose the standard five paragraph essay, those decontextualized writing situations that exist nowhere else but in a classroom. 

So the structure or shape of the assignments students complete have less to do with a formula. Instead, I hope that what they've written demonstrates they've attempted to solve problems the way real writers do, by thinking through the lens of our discipline, and by asking the kinds of questions real writers struggle with as they compose. Who is my audience? What is my purpose? What moves do I need to make to appeal to y readers' hearts and minds? What must I do to appear credible? And how do I maintain my voice throughout the process of crafting my composition? 

I hope that those kinds of questions find a home in students brains, becoming habits of the mind they can hone and practice long after they leave our classroom. 

Yet these questions don't necessarily have a right or wrong answer or a black-and-white solution. Solutions fall along a range between unreasonable and highly reasonable approaches. Lots of contingencies will condition their choices. And whatever approach selected should be just that: deliberately selected. 

I'm not avoiding the idea of a "correct" or "right" answer. Accuracy is an important intellectual standard. But accuracy is only one of many standards, including clarity, relevance, significance, depth, and breadth (I'm basically rehearsing the intellectual standards promoted the Critical Thinking Community, one my major teaching inspirations I wrote about earlier). Indeed, how can we even judge if something is accurate if the expression isn't  sufficiently clear? And an accurate statement, if irrelevant to the issue at hand, isn't good reasoning. 

I'm getting a little bit ranty here. So let me end by saying I want students to leave my class with sets of questions to help them approach the dilemmas they will (and currently!) face, problems we all encounter. Hooray for problem-solvers! 


Monday, November 10, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #10: Humor in the Classroom #HTGAWM


I'm new convert to Shonda Rhyme's television universe. Grey's Anatomy held no appeal to me. By the time I heard about Scandal, I missed too many episodes to catch up, and my Netflix queue is already packed. So when I heard that one of my favorite actresses, Viola Davis, would star in the latest addition to the Shonda-verse, How To Get Away With Murder,  I knew I had to watch. 

I did. I am hooked. Completely. 

Admittedly, the plot strains belief, almost cartoonish, The characters tend to stock. But the show is, after all, a gussied-up soap opera, think Larry Hagman's Dallas meets The Paper Chase

Davis' character, Annalise Keating, knocks me out. She a hard-boiled D.A. and law professor, a huge success in her professional life. But her private life is in shambles I fantasize about being as career savvy as Keating is. And the way she "motivates" her her students . . . ahh, only in my dreams! She's my fantasy teaching alter-ego.

The members of her law firm, ice-princess-with-a-secret Bonnie Winterbottom  and Lothario Frank Delfino, serve as Keating's teaching assistants, further complicate her grad students' lives. 

So what does all this have to do with the prompt for today's gratitude blog challenge, the one that asks me to share a humorous story from my classroom or career? I'd like to think the way I incorporated my obsession with How To Get Away With Murder into a rhetorical analysis project assignment is kind of humorous. It made me laugh. And given how tough my audience can be, I'll settle for a self-induced chuckle. 

So I took my prompt for the rhetorical analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and hacked the characters from HTGAWM into the assignment, setting up a sort of a written role play. I created a scenario: Professor Keating's been asked to help author a book about Frederick Douglass - by someone she "owes".  She assigns the research portion of one of the chapters to her grad students (the students in my class), one on Douglass' rhetoric.

The grad students/my students must explain to a fictional "design team"  how and why Douglass chose to wrote his autobiography they way he did. What was his purpose? What discourses of the time was he writing against? What assumptions can we infer he made about his readers? The design team handles the actual craft of writing; my/grad students only provide the raw material, which adds a layer of inferences my students have to make: how to appeal to then design folks, the team charged with crafting the research into the chapter. 

I supplemented the written instructions with three "explainer" videos, each addressing a "chunk" of ideas, featuring Professor Keating. Here's the first: 



It went over well.  The students who are fans of Shonda Rhimes enjoyed it. And other students thought it was kind of clever to have a role-play assignment. But there were a few who felt isolated or left because they weren't in on the inside-joke. Only one student out of three sections felt the clip was patronizing. Not bad. Anything I do is a gamble! 

But all the students appreciated the way the visual medium of the clip helped clarified the assignment - and the learning goals embedded in the woexpainers. I plan to continue experimenting with visual iterations of written prompts. Not just to make it clearer for students, but to open up a discussion about what the  different media/genres I use says about my assumptions about the readers - an object lesson in content, purpose, and audience. 

Here are the links to Explainer #2 and Explainer #3, featuring Winterbottom and Delfino, respectively. I used Powtoon to create the clips.

A concern I do have, and will think about when I revise this assignment, is whether or not I do an injustice to the content, i.e., Douglass' narrative and rhetoric. Am I taking it too lightly? Did I cross a line? Does the HTGAWM conceit detract from Douglass' rhetoric or, perhaps more importantly, from the issue of slavery? I'll pose those questions to students when they get to the meta-commentary/self-evaluation section of the assignment. 

I'd appreciate your comments. 

I'd also love to read how other people inject pop culture reference or role-playing into their written assignments. I know it isn't my job to entertain students, but it is my job to do my best to hook students, within reason. And if I can leverage another lesson (content/purpose/audience) and have a laugh, why not?  Does anyone want to share? 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #9: Paying it Forward

Cynical as I am, I admit that November's TeachThought's blog challenge is having an effect. I feel gratitude. I have much more patience in class. With traffic. And with the problematic people in my life. Because I've committed to starting the blog post every morning, I get a jump start on a grateful heart. The simple act of listing, outlining, free writing, or chunking (practicing what I preach in the classroom!) sets the tone. 

Since the bloggers behind the Attitude of Gratitude challenge (The eLearning Buzz and Middle Management: A Teaching Journey) generously organized this project that feeds my heart, I'm compelled to pay that gratitude forward. 

I owe them and TeachThought an obligation of gratitude, what's known in Tagalog as utang na loob, a debt of the heart. Luckily, today's prompt encourages me to pay off that debt: "What is one way you could develop the Attitude of Gratitude at school or in your classroom?" 

Following  Beth Leidoff's lead, I will pay forward my gratitude by sharing genuine thanks with the folks who are the glue of my campus. We can all think of two or three people who hold the department or school together. I'll name check a few here: Rose, Norma, Larry, Raquel, and Zeidy. Sending them virtual blessings for making school a great place to be! 

Just as I do my best to acknowledge with clarity and specificity what students do well, I can find small ways to let the people who make my job possible and pleasant. I commit to sharing something that lets them know how they support learning in my class and how they brighten our campus community. 

I'm thinking of those little, random notes I'd get from students that recount something I did or said that touched them. I can do that. Doable.  

As for the classroom, I can use the writing warm-up, perhaps with a mentor text or two, for giving thanks. Easy enough. 

Can any one point me in the direction of poems or short pieces about gratitude? Or about paying it forward? Any grade level or medium would be appreciated - my students respond to practically anything with heart. 

Here's to a generous heart! 

Attitude of Gratitude #8: A Memorable Moment

Woo hoo! Over half-way through being half-way through the Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge! Today's prompt asks me to share a memorable moment in the classroom and how it reminded me what I love teaching. I'll use this prompt to practice my story telling skills, an experiment in narrative. It went a little long, but it's definitely a decent first draft. 

Friday morning's class is typical.  I was a few minutes early, but I lost precious prep minutes hunting for the exact key among the half dozen on my key chain. Thankfully, Alonzo offered to hold my bag as Lisa grabbed my water bottle so I could focus on opening the door.

I dashed to the computer/projection podium, hoping the browser had  been updated. I  planned to demonstrate how to embed a TED Talk on blogger. Students shuffled in with half-drunk cups of coffee, taking their seats. Students greet each other, unpacking backpacks and opening their notebooks, while I scrambled to write the lesson plan on the board.

I've lost three minutes of our fifty-minute hour.

After the a five-minute daily "throat-clearing" routine - goals, updates, announcements - I dove into a new partner activity. Will it work? Have I planned enough? Have I overestimated, or worse, underestimated my students' capacity for "productive confusion"? I took a deep breath, urging myself to trust the students. To trust the process. To trust my instincts and experience.

Steeling myself, I delivered the multi-step instructions. I did three it three ways: on the board, orally, and by asking partners to explain the process to each other. I've learned from making many mistakes that a single iteration of directions DOES NOT WORK. And I know I'd have to check with in with three or four of the pairs to make sure they are clear on the task.

We're now down to forty minutes, forty minutes until student begin to make their exiting noises - keys jangling, zippers zipping, squeaky chairs skidding from beneath tables. Where did the time go?

Students began the process, one partner slowly reading a shared text as the other jots down codes above phrases and sentences for particular strategies the author uses: "A" for action, "DI" for Dialogue, "DE" for Description, and "T" for "Thought Shot." The purpose? To reinforce the basics of narrative writing we've been working on throughout the semester, but in a new way. I hoped students read our daily goal or heard me when I explained the process. I hoped they'd see the relevance and not be bored.

During the first round, I survey room, attempting a nonchalant meander about the room, not wanting to look like a security guard policing student behavior. I'm really gathering information: What does their body language say? Are they simply complying with the task, or are they "into it", working with a sense of purpose?


As I "stroll" between the aisles, I gave my "teacher look" to Ivan, who grinned and got back to work. I answered questions. "What's a thought shot again?" "Can a sentence have more than on code?" Good. The questions are substantive. No one has asked me how many moves they have to find or if they can stop after finding one of each.


When I passed Jeanie, we made eye contact and I smiled, placed my hands over my heart, signaling that I'm happy to see her. She's been having a hard time lately, and to make things worse, someone rear-ended her car yesterday. Luis, the budding screenwriter, exclaimed that he could do "code" his scene analysis assignment in his film studies class.

I quelled a desire to jump into the pairs. but reminded myself not to hijack their learning. So  leaned in to listen in on different pairs, not to commandeer or to police behavior. I wanted to gauge what students are getting. Before, my approach silenced students. They'd flinch, nervous I was judging their thinking or implicitly signaling they are off-task. Or they waited for me to lead their group work. But now, two-thirds into the semester, they are used to my eavesdropping.


Seeing Arturo and Douglas fiddle with their cell phones, I make the decision to let it slide. Ditto with Candace and Justin who are chatting this week's episode of Freakshow. Will I ever get them to focus on the task at hand? I wonder, am I giving up? Or is it about letting them make their own choices? Admitting they weren't bothering anyone else, I circled the border of the class, offering help as needed,

The process took three rounds. The second round, "readers" and "coders" switched roles. The third, partners together reviewed the passage they read and coded, checking each others work, revising initial answers.

After each successive round, it's more difficult  to get students on to the next step. That's a good sign. Eyes focused on the texts and each other, students are actually engaged in the process - exceptions noted above. Good. Great! Instructions were clear enough. The challenge wasn't too difficult, nor too easy. And the conversation during the third round sounds . . .meaty, meaningful. Quelle relief!

As the rounds progressed, my "stroll" (reconnaissance?) became less purposeful. No one looked like they needed me. Even the cell-phone users and the side-talkers looked involved. Finally. Did they just need more time to warm up to the task? Or was it the effect of the whole community working that got them focused? I seem detached while I scan the room, but my mind darted back and forth between thinking about students' engagement level, whether the lesson is working, and how to transition into the next chunk of time, if there would be any time left!

I drift about the room, eventually leaning against the counter, two thirds of the way from the front of the class. Watching them lean into their work, I had time to snap a couple pictures to post on our private Facebook page and to readjust the time for the TED Talk introduction. Do they need more time? Will I have enough time? 

I glanced at the clock.  Time on task without me talking? Thirty minutes. Excellent. Fifteen minutes of direction instruction, double that for student-to-student discussion. I can live with that ratio. 

But I didn't have enough time to demo embedding a TED Talk. And I didn't have enough time to fully debrief the exercise. The minutes tick by while I mentally improvise. 

I patch together an online reflection assignment, one that asks students to discuss the use value of the activity and to evaluate the effectiveness of working in pairs. Students began closing their notebooks and packing their backpacks as I make the final announcements and finally dismiss the class, less than a minute left on the clock. One student, Noel, commented as he left, "Wow, that class flew by!"

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #7: Inspirational Lessons

I'm one of those "professional development junkies," happy to comply with professional development regulations. I show up at practically everything. The snacks don't hurt, either. And, after listening to so many PD horror stories from colleagues from other schools and grade levels, I know I'm luck that wherever I've taught, they've had great PD offerings. 

So answering today's challenge, "What new learning has inspired you in your career?" means having to select from so many wonderful professional development activities I've attended.  Rather than pick one, I'll share what I've read for (or as a result of) PD programs: 

Growth Mindset: Since I first read excerpts from Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, I was hooked. It's helped me tremendously to motivate and encourage students who believe they don't have the skill or talent to succeed. At least once a week, I bump into an article or blog post that references Dweck's theory that it's more about practice than talent. And I've slowly found ways encourage that kind of thinking in my classes. Slowly. 

Digitally Enhanced Teaching: It's taken be several years of a gradual growth curve to feel comfortable with technology. The most important points along that curve were realizing the difference between adding a cool shiny digital layer to an assignment vs. leveraging technology to actually promotes and enhances the writing process. The two catalysts?  Troy Hicks' Crafting Digital Writing and Jose Antonio Bowen's Teaching Naked. The first got me to revise the way I use blogging in the classroom. The second helped me to rethink my views on social media and cell phones. I don't fully implement all their suggestions (wish I could!), but by degree, I'm getting more and more naked. 

Critical Thinking: Many years ago, the dean of our college introduced me to Linda Elder and Richard Paul's Critical Thinking Community, formerly known as the Foundation for Critical Thinking. The website it full of resources regarding the elements of thinking and standards we can use to evaluate our reasoning - for all grade levels. I've been incorporating their way of thinking about reasoning into all my classes, little by little. I refer to their starter booklet The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking practically every week. Love. It.  

One thing these inspirations have in common is that i didn't "fully convert" overnight. The "aha moments" were intense, for sure. But It took a semester or two of marinating over their ideas, experimenting with one or two easy, doable changes at a time. Some mindsets and practices were easy to immediately modify for my setting. Others took longer to digest and modify, for instance, allowing students to keep their cell phones on their desk.  

A big take-away for me is I don't have to change all at once. When I decide to follow an inspiration, I can be selective. I can take my time, deliberating on what changes might work. After implementing changes, I can reflect on what students learned to make thoughtful, relevant revisions. 

Big ups to my workplace and the San Diego Writing Project for offering these meaningful,useful learning opportunities. Their gifts continue to shape my teaching philosophy and practice.