Thursday, December 10, 2015

Creative Quote: George R.R. Martin's Architects & Gardeners

Here's a Haiku Deck "remix" of a quote by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. I took liberties with his phrasing, but I hope I've captured the essence of his meaning: Writing is rocking back and forth and toggling between two distinct mindsets. 

One approach calls for the kind of planning and mechanical processes we might associate with architects. The other mindset approaches writing from the more romanticism inspired, "faith-based"of gardening. 

These apparently divergent ways of thinking about the creative process are less a static "right/wrong" or "either/or" opposition than of an active shifting within a dynamic equilibrium (that was a mouthful!). 

Two types of writers - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Motivated by Writers' Feedback on Using Mentor Texts

As part of today's "fluency/stamina focused free-writing" moment, I asked students to think back to the beginning of this semester (finals are next week!). I revamped a "thinking routine" from the text Making Thinking Visible to have them reflect on their experience with practicing composition. I asked them to jot down a few sentence about what they thought the first week of school about having to take a composition class. I followed up with a question, "What do you think today about having to take a composition class?" 

Mentor Text Feedback - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Those questions were meant to stir the pot - to get them thinking. In fact, before the actual writing prompt, I allowed them to share with partners so they could remember together and share experiences - the goal being that their own thinking will improve in discussion. 

The actual writing prompt asked students to compose their response to the question, "How do you account for any growth, change, or shift in your thinking about taking a writing class? Explain how you experienced or executed that change." 

Above are three quotes from different students about using mentor texts. Even though I wasn't specifically asking for feedback on my use of mentor texts, I'm glad to see that students found those lessons meaningful enough to mention them as a highlight of their semester. 

There were tons of other interesting responses, comments also worthy of attention. But these quotes are especially significant to me today because I've been experimenting with mentor texts (see here and here). I'm still pretty much at the beginning of my learning curve, a little unsure of my skill. So these three responses give me courage to keep trying, to keep adjusting and revising my lessons. 

My goal with mentor texts? To help students learn how to understand how words, punctuation, and text structures work together to make meaning. Not simply to identify what writers actually do but to also replicate they strategies they see into their own writing - a key distinction between memorizing writing concepts and applying them. 

Looks like students (at least these ones!) get what I'm serving. And by consistently asking them what students are learning and by assessing how successfully they've acquired a skill,I can continue to revise, remix, and refashion lessons to help students better recognize and emulate effective writing. 

My next step? To figure out easy, quick ways to assess if the mentor text writing activities work, i.e., devising activities that allow me to see precisely when and how students use mentor texts to craft phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and longer compositions. In other words, devise a way to, with higher degree of confidence, see that students learn what I teach.

These comments, in the meantime, are the shot in the arm I need as we move into finals season! 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Students React to Memorizing and/or Manipulating Ideas

I’ve been assigning pretty large doses of meta-cognitive journaling lately (see here, here, and here). I’m a big fan of having folks think about their learning. I hadn’t provided any direct instruction (either a reading, activity, or discussion) on what constitutes “learning” - at least so we could have a shared vocabulary about basic concepts of knowledge. 

So I looked up a favorite passage from a favorite textbook (Reading Rhetorically by Bean, Chappel and Gillam)  and created a three-part activity to explore the difference between “conceptual” and “procedural” knowledges. 

In a nutshell, conceptual knowledge is the kind of learning that has to do with memorizing, i.e., fact, figures, names, dates, concepts, theories, principles, etc. Procedural has to do with manipulating and applying conceptual knowledge. Lecture and reading is the primary vehicle for conceptual knowledge, recall being the primary, or at least most apparent, function of learning. Discussion, activity, laboratory - where learning is about managing and wielding ideas - are modes of procedural knowledge.

Certainly, divvying up knowledge into two categories seems to foreclose any overlaps between the two. This division may even be reductive - big time. But I figured this relatively simple contrast between “conceptual” and “procedural” would be an easy way to discuss the thinking they've experienced as well as the kind of teaching they may expect to encounter in college. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

What Do You Want To Be? vs. What Problems Do You Want To Solve?

The image on the left appeared on my Facebook feed the other day.  It piqued my interest. And it came just in time, for  few days before, students in my basic writing class said that teachers could help students stay motivated if we encouraged them to think about their purpose. So I decided to “hack” the quote by Jaime Casap, an “education evangelist” specializing in information technology and systems for Google. Though not a shill for Google nor a dyed-in-the- wool techno-disciple, I do find his quote provocative. 

One of the objectives for basic writing is to strengthen written fluency and stamina. So students typically do focused free- and journal- writing in class. Sometimes to warm up for the day’s topic. Other times to explore an idea or craft move. They asked for time to think about their goals. I was curious about their answers. So I gave it a whirl.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

(Mis)Adventures with Mentor Texts: From Sloppy to Stronger

I basked in the warm glow of believing I ran an exceptionally effective activity in class. Teaching and learning synergy?  Achieved.  Students engaged and satisfied? Affirmative.

I’m  an awesome teacher!

That’s what I thought as I read through students’ exit tickets, responses about experimenting with mentor texts. We examined the opening lines from selected novels by one of my favorite authors (Walter Mosley!) and brief ledes from a couple of my favorite blogs (Crunk Feminist Collective and VSB - Very Smart Brothas). Our goal? To explore how authors craft words to make meaning in order to “try on” those formats and to apply those patterns to our composition/storytelling projects.

Friday, November 20, 2015

New Beginnings, Part II: Compass Points + Visible Thinking

In my last post, I wrote about using the Compass Points routine in my basic writing class as a way to get the ball rolling the first week of school (here's a link to that post). These are snippets of their written reflections, the quotes that jumped out at me:
  • To be an effective student in college, I need to participate as much as I can in my classes to get the full experience of the lecture and lab.
  • Now that I’m out the military (FREE AT LAST!) it’s like a new start. It’s my first week of school and it’s a bit hard adjusting. But ‘’adapt and overcome’’ is always on my mind.  Even when I feel like walking out of the classroom, I can’t fail! . . .  I’m used to yelling at people. I can’t anymore because that’s not how things are done anymore. Those days are over.
  • I’m keeping an open mind to all the ideas and to everyone’s opinions.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Beginnings, Part I: Compass Points + Visible Thinking

First day of school! I felt super excited. A brand new semester. A fresh start with a set of fresh new faces - some just as pumped about coming to school as I was. Hooray for new beginnings!

But I knew from experience that students, particularly first generation and first year students are coming from all over the map in terms of their attitude toward starting college. Every semester, at least a handful of students are disappointed being at a community college, having planned to attend a four-year school. Others expressed ambivalence, happy to be done with high school but not quite sure that they want to be in college. This doesn't even account for any kinds of defensiveness or insecurities students had toward taking basic English classes.

I knew there would be students equally jazzed about turning over a new leaf, beginning the next chapter of their lives. At the same time, I didn't want to assume that students would be as joyful about being in school as I was. I needed to meet them were they came from, attend to them without assuming what their attitude towards school, college, professors, or English might be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Learning from Each Other: Student Perspectives

I often wonder what students learn from each other when assigned to work in groups. They experience success (when I’ve created the conditions!) completing tasks and making their thinking visible. But I haven't asked them how much they learn from their partners. how does working in groups amplify or diminish learning? Especially in situations that are more student driven, where the students generate their group’s direction. I’ve been curious what they learned in groups that they weren’t able to on their own, so I experimented with a “focused free write” exit card/survey. 

A few class sessions ago, I wanted students to debrief their experience drafting an essay We were in the middle of an informative essay project about Ella de Castro-Baron’s Itchy Brown Girl, a mixed-genre memoir written in the form of a curriculum vitae. The project called for students to select a pop song that clarifies, extends, or otherwise illuminates the theme of one of the sections of her memoir.

I asked students to bring to class the memoir, a “sloppy copy” (early draft) of their composition, and an annotated copy of the  lyrics of the their selected song. Before assigning groups, I set aside a few moments for students to review their notes, directing them to get ready to orally walk through their thinking and drafting process with other students.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Double Duty: Examining Motivation + Generating Claims

It’s that time of year. The end of the semester looms. Deadlines weigh heavily on students and teachers alike. As our collective commitment levels wane, I notice my bad habits creeping up on me as I fall farther and farther behind my agenda. More than once this past week, I found myself planning class at the last minute, dashing about like a headless chicken trying to get materials and copies ready. 

This is a familiar feeling, a pattern that occurs regularly this time during a semester (near Thanksgiving in the fall and after Spring break). It’s during those times of the year that I need to return to my purpose. I need to reconnect to my reasons for doing what I do, reasons transcend working for a paycheck. 

And if that’s happening to me, you can bet it’s happening to students, especially first-year and first generation students who are just getting acquainted natural flow of a semester. If I need a shot in the arm, students definitely could, too. The question becomes, how to do that without lecturing and without falling farther behind my planned schedule of activities. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Writing, Listening, and Healing: Reflecting on our Lives as Students

Reading through students’ exit cards the other day hit me pretty hard, left me feeling heavy with sadness. I had asked students to write about what would happen if they spent time reflecting on their lives as students. Most students are entering freshman and first generation, so I asked this question because I wanted to help them build a habit of reflection and introspection. 

They wrote. A lot. But I didn’t expect to read such discouraging answers:
  • If I spent my time reflecting on my student life, I would most likely start stressing over time. I suck at time management, and I feel stupid for falling so far behind. 
  • I would start to doubt my feelings about going to school. My motivation to stay would disappear, and would honestly just start to give up. My mind is constantly wondering, “What if I just got a full time job?” 
  • I honestly think I would get scared. I am more afraid of failure when it comes to school.
Some students recognized the value of introspection. But several answer suggested anxiety over even trying to do so: “I should reflect more each day. But I don’t.. . . I doubt I will change because of my stubbornness and excuses I make. ” Others simply felt fear: "Just reflecting on life scares me”. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Zombies, Mentor Texts, & Procrastination

I can tell it's getting close to the end of the semester when I find myself avoiding grading by making plans for next semester. Yes, it's wise to plan ahead. But I know that my "advance planning" is often a procrastination strategy. 

My current procrastinating planning takes the form of attending a book study group where we are reading the book Writing with Mentors: How to Reach Every Writer in the room Using Current, Engaging, Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O'Dell. 

According to Marchetti and O'Dell: Mentor texts are model pieces of writing - or excerpts of writing - by established authors that can inspire students and teach them how to write. . . . Mentor texts enable student writers to become connected to the dynamic world of professional writers. Mentor texts enable independence as, over time, students are able to find and use inspiration and craft elements found in the sentences and pages of their favorite writers. Mentor texts enable complete creativity and individuality to emerge in student writing and instruction. (3) 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Unity + Agency: The Fall 2015 UMOJA Conference

UMOJA, a Kiswahili word for unity, is a statewide community of educators and learners in California devoted to increasing the transfer rate of African American community college students to four-year colleges and universities. 

On my campus, the UMOJA program consists of linked set of classes, one counseling class and the English class I teach. We call our program The Experiential Learning Academy, or TELA-UMOJA. UMOJA held their statewide conferencein Oakland last weekend, and our campus sent me, my teaching partner, and a team of eight students to represent our college.

This is our first year as an official UMOJA affiliate and the first time we participated in a statewide event, even though we’ve had our TELA learning community for several years. My goal for the conference was to see what we need to do to be more closely aligned with UMOJA's mission and educational philosophy. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reflecting on Our Learning: What it's Like to Talk About Ideas

Note: This entry is a follow up to a post I did a few days ago about reading and responding to students’ assessments

In keeping with the spirit of protecting class time to reflect on the problem of being students, I reserved class time to think about a set of activities students had just completed. We had glossed over the major points of a essay they had recently and had written a response journal from the week prior. 

Students worked in pairs to discuss the text for five minutes, i.e., “Share what the text made you think, feel, and/or experience.” The only other direction was to talk back and forth, doing their best to share equally the full five minutes. 

Here’s the twist I added: After five (5) minutes were up, asked students to take a minutes, I asked students to take a breath, thank their partner, and then to think to themselves about the experience of sustaining a five minute conversation about ideas. Then I opened the floor to responses. I noticed three distinct (if overlapping) themes: 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Upping the Intellectual Stakes with Curation

Curation. The word has a cool vibe. It makes me think of museums and art galleries, places where professionals select, collect, and archive particular objects worthy of saving. Curation isn’t simply about squirreling away massive amounts of stuff. Curators don’t willy nilly hoard just anything; they select with intention, with a particular set of standards about what pieces should be included or excluded in their collections.

This is exactly what I did in high school with comic books. I used set of standards, admittedly subjective, to pick certain titles: Iron Fist, The New X-men, and Deathlok, titles I thought were artistically superior with super cool story lines. My standards for curating images and quotes for my Tumblr feed are equally subjective: Are they witty or clever? Are they aesthetically pleasing? Might they find use value in my classrooms? 

It's cool how the word “curation” makes my hobbies sound so smart. A specific word choice elevates something that I enjoy doing into an intellectual process. That'is probably why I enjoy experimenting with curating students’ ideas. This semester, I am using Padlet to curate students’ thinking. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Group Development Theory, Romance, and Ursula Rucker

Over half-way into the semester, and I find myself obsessed with poet/singer Ursula Rucker’s song “7,” a duet she sings with M.A.D. The song features a dialog between two lovers remembering the flush of falling in love and recognizing that their love has soured. The refrain depicts their shaky status: “When love is fading away too fast. What are we gonna do?” The pair needs to decide to call it quits or to revive their relationship. Should they passively stand by as their devotion evaporates, or should they make an intentional choice to do something, anything? 

The song ends on an optimistic note: “Trust me, it's us, in a circle . . . The nucleus, the beginning . Take it back to the beginning.” This optimism is less about the lovers actually repairing their relationship, living happily ever after. What is apparent is that the lovers have made a conscious decision to take action, to go back to the root, back to what brought them together in the first place.

Sounds familiar, right? The honeymoon high. The settling into a routine. Those inevitable nicks, cuts, and bumps that threaten to tear a couple apart. The lyrics track the years of their relationship: “The kid's six when we start to fight. The seventh year, tears took it to the limit We maintain full polarity positions. Time explodes with you and me hidden.” All leading to their current predicament: to sh*t or get off the pot.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Wish for Meaningful Reflection: A Desire for Praxis

The agenda called for a brief quiz. Not a graded quiz. More of formative assessment - for me to see how well students were learning the material. Last week’s lesson went quite well. The class, full of first year, first-generation college student, was engaged, bright, and on task. “They’re getting it,” I had thought to myself. 

But a quick glance at their work painted a different picture - no one got even half of the questions right. Worse, when I assigned students to work in pairs to discuss the reading assignments, over half of the students actively avoided each other and the assignment, much more than I typically observed in prior classes. Was this about not doing homework? About being bored with the material? 

I marshaled my patience, attempting to dispassionately note what was going on so I could pose this problem to students later in the period. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NoNoWriMo? Not! 30 Days of Blogging? Sure!

I had a huge work deadline last Monday - a major report that ended up being over ten pages long, not including supporting documents. I got the assignment in September. When did I start? Saturday. 

My procrastination, I recognize in retrospect, has everything to do with wanting to be perfect. I have this romantic impulse, a voice in my head that tells me to wait for the proper mood, for inspiration to strike. And when it does, as if by magic, a fully polished, final draft will appear the instant my fingers start tapping the keyboard.  

That's the belief, anyhow. 

Waiting for the inspiration-inducing lightning bolt isn't the only attitude keeps me from getting down to business. A part of me believes I need lengthy swaths of time to grade papers, wanting to finish in a single sitting. So I tell myself I can’t begin without least three or four hours of uninterrupted time. Why bother starting something unless I can finish it all right then and there? You can imagine how well that works for me. Not. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Entertainment and Art: Mimetic or Productive?

Several of my classes are currently exploring how entertainment and art serve a mimetic and productive function. On the one hand, entertainment can reflect the world around us (mimetic). On the other hand, entertainment can "produce" or influence our society. 

For instance, Suzanne Collin's novel The Hunger Games reflects certain cultural realities: our preoccupation with violence, the reality television phenomenon, and class warfare. This imitation is what "mimetic effect" means.  The novel "tells us about ourselves." 

The novel also has a productive effect; the book promotes a particular awareness that has the potential, by changing our perception of our society world, to actually change our world. This influence is the "productive" effect of Collin's novel. 

These dual functions also hold true for music. We are all familiar with criticisms about certain types of rap and heavy metal which some hold responsible for certain social phenomenon: misogyny, homophobia, violence, materialism, and nihilism. For example, Rapper Ice Cube's' "Black Korea" can be read as a mirror of the growing Black and Korean tensions extant in the eighties and nineties, one of the factors that lead to the LA Riots of '92. Cube's song records the reality of the streets. Cube sings about shopping at the local Korean-American run convenience store: "  . . . the two oriental one-penny countin' motherfuckers that make a nigga mad enough to cause a little ruckus, thinkin' every brother in the world's out to take, so they watch every damn move that I make." 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Behind the Mask: Tupac's Rose, Introducing Rhetoric, and Surprising Revelations

I am constantly blown away by my students' vulnerability, perseverance, and courage. But I can only appreciate those qualities when I create the conditions for them to feel safe enough to share their stories with me. Often, that's tough to do given the pressure to meet our learning goals and objectives.

So it's on me to figure out how I can do "double-duty" in the class, i.e., find activities that meet a legitimate learning objective and that allows students to share something that helps me appreciate them for the three dimensional human beings they are.

Luckily, since our class is about strengthening rhetorical skills, I get to choose texts that serve the needs of textual analysis and that lend themselves for introspection and personal reflection. To demonstrate and practice the sort of rhetorical analysis we will do all semester, we analyzed s poem by Tupac Shakur, "The Rose that Grew From Concrete" from an anthology of the same name.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Writing Alongside Students, "Readicide", & Empathy

"You are the best writer in the room!" The facilitator repeated this refrain several times during his workshop for English professors. He seemed to know I needed a push, a reminder that, in my classrooms, I am the most experienced writer. I'd never thought of it that way. Yet the fact is, I've written quite a bit already - as a student, as a professional, and now as a neophyte blogger - I have decades of experience. Definitely more than most if not all of my students. I see now that this isn't bragging; it's the truth. 

The facilitator, Kelly Gallagher (a major proponent of using mentor texts) put us through several activities demonstrating how we, as the "best writers", could (and should) model writing for our students. That's a message I've heard before: write alongside ours students. Students need to see the how writers (I'm still uncomfortable with that label) generate ideas, craft sentences and paragraphs, and make revision and editorial choices - it's the "show" part of "show and tell" so crucial to learning. 

I've always liked the idea of writing alongside students. And I've "threatened" to do so a few times, doing an activity here and there with them. I've drafted a few paragraphs, demonstrated how I brainstorm to generate ideas, and have on occasion shared a draft, asking students to make suggestions about what I could do to clarify my ideas. I've even shared a couple of blog entries with them, but have been hesitant to encourage them to read them because I don't want them to feel obligated to "like" my entries. 

I decided this summer would be a good time to give "writing alongside students" another try. I teach in a special program for first-year college students that began in June. Our summer assignment is to read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and write a response over the summer break. The purpose of the assignment is to introduce the theme of our learning community (African American perspectives), reduce "summer melt",  to promote reading, and send students a message that we mean to work hard in our program.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Avoiding Summer Melt & Prepping for Fall

Here's a common misconception: Teachers get the whole summer off to loll about in the sun, vacation, and otherwise divert ourselves. Pure recreation - not. 

Now here's my observed lived reality: Teachers' summers can easily morph into one extended prep period. Certainly, there's time for decompressing and recreation. But I find that even when I'm "off the clock", I've got teaching and learning on the brain.  Inspiration weaves it's way into practically whatever I do. I can't read a book, watch a movie, or listen to a song without seeing a new lesson for class.

I also use the summer, particularly this one, for reading to keep up with best teaching practices. Reading inspires fresh idea to try next semester. Reading makes me reflect on the assignments and activities I did over the last semester, figuring out how to be more effective. Instead of "being in the moment" of summer fun, I'm looking forward and looking back. 

Because I work in special programs, I've also devoted time to recruiting, admitting, and orienting students to those programs this summer. I teach in a Learning Community, a pair of linked classes that share a common focus. I'm the English professor, paired with a counselor who is the professor for the personal development class - sort of like a general colloquium, the "how-to-be-a-college-student" class. 

One of the learning communities I teach is Bayan, Tagalog for "hometown/heritage" or "community." Bayan is geared toward first-generation college students, and we focus Filipino American issues and perspectives (the program is open to any student regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity - they simply have to be invested in our focus). 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Discussion Protocols In the Classroom

Huddled in groups of three or four sprinkled around the room, books and highlighters in hand, students discuss last night's reading assignment. 

But the conversation isn't the free flowing, back and forth talk you'd expect in a discussion. It's a bit more scripted. 

One student, let's call her "Victim #1" reads a quote she identified prior to joining her group. She has sixty seconds to read the quote and to explain why she chose it: what makes her selection significant, how it relates to the text's theme, or what makes the sentence craft or form remarkable. The trick? No one can else but Victim #1 can speak during her turn. Everyone else listens.

"No one else is speaking! Just the one discussing the quote," I bark when I hear someone asking Victim #1 questions, thereby relieving her of the burden of thinking. "You've got still got fifteen seconds!" I'm a personal trainer or a drill sergeant. "She's got this. Let her feel the burn!"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Renew & Reflect #5: Positivity (& SWCBlogger Challenge #5, too!)

I admit it. This post is a bit of a cheat. I'm answering the question, "How do I stay positive and share/encourage positivity with my students?" for two blog challenges: Teach Thought Online Community's Reflect and Renew and the SWC Blogger's challenges. My prerogative, since I chose the prompt for this week's SWC Bloggers!

I wish I had written the post my colleague Adjective's Noun from SWC Bloggers wrote. I nodded my head every paragraph, both out of recognition and not a little bit of guilt. As Adjective's Noun writes, my own positivity has everything to do with how balanced my life is and how truthful I am about the lack of balance. 

Indicted. And willing to make a change. So today, I gave myself an hour to listen to a fun podcast while I cleared out a room my husband and I have been meaning to make more livable On the face of it, tidying may not sound like a balancing practice, but truth is, it felt nice. I actually invested in making our space less cluttered, a place we can enjoy coming home to. And I got to crack a grin as I caught up on my favorite podcast. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Renew and Reflect #4: Teaching Development Plan

Movin' slow  . . . but moving! 

That's my typical reply to folks who ask me how I'm doing. That phrase describes my progress on the January Renew and Reflect Blog Challenge, moving, but oh, so slowly.  

The question: What is one area of my learning and teaching I want to develop this year?"

Glad it's just one. It's easy for me to make lists of what I need to improve. Questions like these force me to focus. Deep breath. 

My big teaching goal is to ratchet up my record keeping and paper work skills. This means keeping up with add/drop deadlines (made it) and census reports (blew it). Lemme do that right now. . . 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

MOOCs, Mentor Texts, and "Motivation Makes"

This blog showcases  students' work they did at the beginning of the semester. I wanted students to immediately create ("make") something textual. 

As it was our first lab session, I wanted to find a safe way for them to express themselves. I also wanted students, when they likely felt hyped about school, to find ways to keep themselves motivated when the going got tough. 

So I decided to hack the "make cycles" from The Writing Thief MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), a digital learning community devoted to investigating Ruth's Culham's The Writing Thief. Culham's text supports writing teachers who use mentor texts to model writing craft for their students. What better way to promote effective writing than to have developing writers observe, identify, and emulate the moves they encounter in the texts they read. 

The "make cycles"  are activities which . . . "encourage participants to interact with the text and with each other as we discuss and implement ideas for  'using mentor texts to teach the craft of writing'" (source). The digital sharing and feedback that comes from "MOOC-ing" also helps us experiment with "connected learning." 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Renew & Reflect #3: Extending the Challenge!

TeachThought's Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge asks us up the ante of this connected community - get colleagues involved to help create a community of practice. This prompt gives me a chance to brag about what me and the blogger behind Eat the Yolk  are experimenting with on our own campus. 

We both accepted last September's challenge and were immediately hooked - f0r all the good reasons that the TeachThought online community touts as benefits. We both agreed that reserving time to read and write blogs was personally and professionally rewarding. 

So we took a chance. We launched our own little connected community for our campus. Toward the end of the semester, we held a couple small workshops to promote the idea of using blogs to reflect on our practice and connect with each other. We decided on weekly challenges rather than daily. And instead of a single prompt per challenge, the group decided to have two options.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Picnic Paper Plates, M.K. Asante, & Mentor Texts?

I tried out an exercise I experienced at a San Diego Area Writing Project  study session, one on revision and mentor texts

In several classes, we are in the middle of a narrative project, and I wanted to see if I could use a mentor text to illustrate how solid story telling skills. I didn't use the process exactly as the facilitator did, but I did keep with the spirit of it.

After the requisite "beginning-of-class-throat-clearing-noises," I projected an image of a picnic scene to the class. I asked folks to chat in pairs about a favorite (or least favorite) outdoor meal they recently had. I told them we'd be doing a fluency exercise, to simply practice writing as quickly and clearly as we could. As they chatted, I passed around paper plates.

Then I directed students to write the best story they could about their best or worst experience at an outdoor meal - picnic, barbecue, party, whatevers - directly onto the paper plate. 

I loved this strategy when the SDAWP leader modeled the revision exercise - having writers compose not on standard paper but on a paper that matches the topic. For picnics, pass out paper plates. For a story about a trips, use old maps. For a holiday story, use the back of wrapping paper. Use old postcards for a remembered vacation. You get the idea. This move doesn't simply add novelty and a sense of play to the activity - it somehow signals we can be creative, experimental. Messy, even.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sesame Street, Poetry, & Kids with Incarcerated Parents

I'm teaching a writing and editing course for novice writers, students preparing themselves for college level composition clothes. Some students are this close to being ready to join a college level class; others have come less prepared. 

Many haven't been in school or years. Most come to class anxious about taking English. And the majority are first-generation college students. So I feel extra pressure to make sure I don't overwhelm them with logistics, especially on first day.

I doubt that taking attendance, adding and dropping students, and reading the syllabus substantially settles peoples' nerves. Minimally perhaps. But for students excited about the first day of school, too much "teacher talk," regardless how important, might dampen their spirits.  The ones already not looking forward to English? Spirits further dampened. 

I did make sure to point out important passages they'd need to know right away (texts, contact information, major projects),hopefully enough to ease tensions for those who require that sort of information right away.Luckily, I was able to protect a good two-thirds of the class to diving into actual work. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SWCBLogger Challenge #4: First Day of Class

It makes sense that the first blog post for this semester's SWCBlogger's asks us to reflect on opening moves or ice-breakers we used in class. I was inspired by the keynote speaker of the Opening Day Professional Development Program, Jeff Duncan-Andrade (I wrote about the opening day in another post here.) He is a professor at SFSU and teaches high school in East Oakland.  The above clip features an abbreviated version of the talk he gave to staff and faculty. 

Duncan-Andrade reminded us of the significance of Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Students - everyone! - needs a modicum of love/belonging and self-esteem before they can operate at a level of self-actualization where optimal learning takes place. Duncan-Andrade lit a fire under me to find ways to teach skills and concepts that help students build their sense of efficacy. I've got to layer lessons that help students gain the confidence to see themselves as thinkers and writers. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Renew & Reflect Challenge #2: What Makes my Teaching Unique

Today's question posed by TeachThought's Renew and Reflect Blog Challenge is the kind of the that work my nerves: "What do I consider unique about my teaching?" 


The question bugs me for at least two reasons: 1) I don't think my teaching is all that unique, which taps into my insecurities about being an impostor; and conversely,  2) questions like this make it super easy to dissemble answers that make me look like a better teacher than I am, compelling me be "that" knows it all. The question rankles like job interview questions where I avoid short-selling myself and overstating my skills.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A New Season of Love: Spring 2015 Opening Day Program

One by one, individuals sprung up from different parts of the auditorium, striding toward the makeshift stage. They bellowed from the top of their lungs, struggling to be heard above the buzz of the 400 or so students, staff, teachers, counselors, librarians and administrators waiting for the for the formal beginning of the Opening Day Professional Development Program for Spring 2015 semester, 

At first, the random strollers’ words were unintelligible over the voices of colleagues getting reacquainted, rushing to sign attendance slips proving they deserve credit for showing up, and clambering over each other to get keys for the classes and offices. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reflect & Renew: Challenge #1 - How Students Learn Best

Hooray for the blog challenges posed by TeachThought's online community!  The challenges have been so, so helpful. And so I accept the January's Reflect and Renew in 2015 challenge. Perhaps not every day or every question. But I've come to appreciate keeping a commitment to writing and reflecting. Big time.

The first prompt asks, "What are my beliefs about how students learn best?"  I'll answer in a list, with the caveat that these are stated ideas and values. Applying and practicing these beliefs requires  daily commitment. A work in progress. Here goes: 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SWCBlogger Challenge #3: On Reading and Recharging

Our fledgling blogging group's final challenge last semester asked us to consider what we plan to do to recharge. After four weeks, I'm finally meeting the challenge! 

I kept putting off composing that post for a bunch of reasons. Grades were coming due. Holiday happenings happened. And then inertia set in, and instead of writing about rejuvenating, I dove into my favorite hobbies: reading books and watching movies. 

So instead posting what I planned to do, this entry recaps one thing I did to recharge. It turns out my that all roads, even attempts at rejuvenation, meandered back to teaching/learning applications! 

As is the case with many of my teacher friends, I fell into the trap of doing double-duty, thinking I could read for recreation and prep at the same time. As of now, I've read three single-author textbooks (two memoirs and a novel) that I will teach next semester, zig zagging between reading for pleasure and contemplating how to leverage lessons. Though while I was in effect doing "work," I thoroughly enjoyed studying, reminding me of the best times of grad school and summers off. 

One book, Marivi Soliven's The Mango Bride, particularly engaged me. Her novel traces the stories of two Filipinas' journey from the Philippines to the United States, and the surprising connections they share despite their class differences.