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.