Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Day 30: Qualmless

When I went on my first yoga retreat, we chose names for ourselves to reflect an aspect of personality we'd like to develop or strengthen. I chose Quinn (my middle name) the Qualmless. Before college I was socially awkward and shy. However, even in those tough years of 10-19 I had a streak in me that allowed me to be "the weird one" and do what I wanted--even if it meant doing so alone. I wore a bullet around my neck, dressed in ridiculously large men's collared shirts I got at the thrift store, and played online video games before it became socially acceptable to do so.

So, as long as I had some privacy, I could be fearless. I didn't mind looking like I didn't know how to dress. I wouldn't have minded if other kids knew I played video games alone. But I drew the line at talking about my nights playing Diablo or Ultima Online to other people. Better to let them chat about the water polo meet that I wasn't going to either play in or attend, or eavesdrop on their experiences getting high behind the snack bar during the football game. Soon enough I would be home and I could do my own thing with my quiet friend or two.

As teacher, though, we are called to be fearless on the daily. There is no hiding in front of the classroom. Whether you're the sage on stage or guide on the side, you are being watched, scrutinized, and evaluated. Even at the college level, students want to know what they can get away with. It's human nature.

(Case in point: I was lax about letting students plug in their cell phones to charge using the outlets in the front of class. Why not, I thought. It's the 21st century. Surely it's better than the student using it during class.

But today, someone stepped out of the room, and wouldn't you know it, her phone beeped the "you got a text" tone several times. After the third beep, the class took a moment and we looked around at each other to see whose it was. When I realized it was the absent student's, I knew it was time to say no more to the charging during class--especially in the front of the room.)

I think that because we know we're being scrutinized by our students--at least to some degree--there is a temptation to want to play it safe. If I were truly qualmless, I would try out more technology in the classroom. I did a blog project a few years ago in one of my developmental writing classes, and because I was surprised at the resistance I got from the students--and, to be fair, at their not-so-great blog posts--I simply didn't try it again. Then, over the summer, I taught a strictly online course using VoiceThread. One of the great features of VT is that students can leave comments and interact with each other via audio, text, or video quite easily, breaking out of the text-only zone so much of online is stuck in. Once again, lots of resistance. Eventually, I softened the use of VT, and I allowed them to leave their regular text-based comments on the discussion board if they wanted to (comfort zone, anyone?).

These, to me, are fear-based cop-outs. Because other assignments or mediums work well enough, I tend to back down if the first time around isn't pretty smooth sailing. That's not very fearless, nor is it evidence of the grit everyone is writing about these days.

It's not too late... the semester isn't even halfway over....

Too late to do a blog challenge or create a Facebook page?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 29: I'm Getting all Verklempt!

Day 29: How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

What a question. My first reaction is to write, "Hey! I'm still changing!" I'm not ready to look backwards yet. But here goes. 

The biggest change I made was settling into who I was as an instructor, and growing confident that the standards I set were the right ones. For better or worse, I'm a chameleon by nature. When I first started teaching, I would sit in on other instructors' classes, and not only would I try to emulate their strategies and copy their assignments, but I would try on personalities, too. We have one professor who is remarkably funny and charismatic. We have many who are intellectually off the charts, who understand Foucalt and Derrida, and gender theory and all that stuff from grad school that left me going, "Huh?" And then there was the On Course professor. I'd try to be all "Miss Personal Responsibility," but as you can imagine, trying to be funnier, stricter, or smarter than you are is a recipe for disaster. A very tiring disaster.

When I started, I waffled when students would make excuses for late work. I graded more easily on some essays than I should have. I graded harder on others than I should have. I thought that making punctuation marks or writing "WC" (word choice) all over their papers was being helpful. I was scared to approach the standoffish student. I was inconsistent in my classroom management. Sometimes students would talk excessively or make off-the-wall comments, and I would either overreact or not do anything. 

Eventually, like all teachers who stick with it, I began to feel a bit more sure of myself. I'm constantly changing things up, and I am by no means always consistent with behavioral stuff. There is still a student or two in each class that freaks the hell out of me and I probably don't engage with them as much as I might. But I'm better than I used to be, and after grading hundreds of essays, standards for average, way off, pretty good, and excellent begin to emerge and it just gets easier. I also don't try to be especially funny or appealing. That's making the class about me, when it should really be about them. (OK, sometimes I go for the zinger or a charming smile. I'm only human, right?)

I hope this isn't too nauseating a personal growth essay. Is it possible that the end of this 30 day challenge has made me just a tad verklempt?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 28: Curriculum and technology

Should technology drive curriculum, or vice-versa?, our Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge asks us to consider.

Can technology even drive curriculum? Maybe my take on this will be a cop-out, but I was looking at the definition of curriculum on Google and it made me wonder. 
  • Curriculum: the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college.

synonyms:syllabus, course of study, program of study, subjects, modules
"the curriculum choices for history students are extensive"

Since curriculum is so subject/content-focused, it seems like technology wouldn't do much except help deliver the content. (Unless you're studying technology, of course.) 

Case and point: a friend is teaching a creative writing class and has a closed Facebook group for her students. Each day, a different student posts the notes and homework from each class. When they're workshopping drafts, she has the students whose drafts are being reviewed post three questions they'd like their partners to answer in their critique. That's a nice way of using Facebook to augment some of the issues that come up in class: help remind students of the homework, give absent students a place to see what they missed, and avoid unnecessary handouts. Moreover, most students use FB regularly, so it's likely the course will be "in their face" and thus be a higher priority.

But Facebook wasn't invented for this purpose. The instructor saw an opportunity in it and used it to help students take ownership of the course and stay on track. That's not curriculum .... is it? 

Day 27: Spending the Weekend

How do I spend the weekends? What roles do weekends and holidays play in my teaching?

The first word that comes to mind is recovery. Do the social unwinding thing, sleep a little heavier, and help the household recover from not-so-much attention.

The second thing that comes to mind is getting caught up. The workweek is spent on priorities: what to do in the classroom? What needs to be graded rightnow? Who needs an email response? What meetings or extracurriculars do I need to be prepped for? Inevitably, I get behind. I use the weekend to get caught up on online grading, usually, or to complete a stack of papers.

Fortunately, in the 10 or so years I've been doing this, I do less work on the weekends than I used to. Probably 3-4 hours on Sat/Sun.

In part, this is because I'm using my workweek a little better. I have my own office now and can actually get grading done there. I will often close the door (a signal of: talk to me if you got somethin' to say, but if you're just coming by to chat about last week's American Horror Story, save it until lunch!) and shut out the world. I used to view the office as primarily a social environment and that has definitely changed (what can I say; I was 26 when I started here!). A campus will always be a social environment to some extent, but work at work is first and foremost nowadays.

I think the other reason why I don't do quite as many hours on the weekend as I used to is, well, I spend less time obsessively researching and planning than I used to. Honestly, I'm kinda proud of myself for this. Yes, there is always room for improvement and we need to keep things fresh, but it's just not healthy to work at a breakneck pace for our entire careers. I will continue learning new things to make me a better teacher. My curriculum will change--it just might change at a slower pace than it used to.

Now, if only I can make the grading disappear so the weekend can be filled with only walks, books for fun, enchilada sauce, movies, and cat cuddles!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day 26: Three Online Resources

Just a quicky, 'cause my hands ache from pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel! Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

Three online resources:

One is Michelle Pacansky Brock's site, Teaching without Walls. She was one of the first teacher at @One's online university for training Distance Ed instructors. It was through her--via another faculty who turned me onto the site--that I learned about VoiceThread. VoiceThread should probably be another online resource, but since I already wrote about it I'll just mention a couple of others.

The Purdue OWL is the database for composition instructors and students learning--and learning and learning to write. This is nothing new to most comp teachers, I will assume, so I'm just gonna leave it at that. Let's just say that with all due respect to Ann Raimes and Joseph Gibaldi, requiring students to buy handbooks on MLA formatting just isn't happening at the college level the way it used to.

Facebook is a big one for me. I follow a lot of teachers, and at least a couple of times a month I'll ask an open-ended teaching question. It's so fun to keep conversations going and use another form of media to do so!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 25: Building Conversation, Getting Out of the Video Game Mentality

What does ideal collaboration between students look like?

I love how the questions are getting more and more thought-provoking as the Reflective Teaching Challenge continues. I'm having to consider aspects of my teaching that I don't normally think of deeply (and learning from my K-12 digital colleagues!).

Collaboration is definitely something I use, but I don't often put it under the microscope: I consider it when I'm thinking of the content (i.e., using quotations/sources well, writing an effective intro) and using it as a mode of delivery. But how do I make the actual collaboration better?

Something I'm trying to work on is getting collaboration beyond just question and response. I often have students work in groups, and a typical activity might consist of students answering questions I pose, or creating questions themselves and having partners come up with the answers. I circulate and answer questions, and since most of my students are remarkably well-behaved, they get the "must-dos" done efficiently enough. But it's all very task-oriented. They want to finish and be done so they can play on their phones or talk about a TV show.

What I'd like to see is more of a genuine conversation evolving. Not just, "Oh, I read your paper, and here are a couple of paragraphs of what I think about it. Good job. I like the part about the mean landlord." I want the writer to be compelled to follow-up: "The part about the landlord was hard to write. You think it came across? Why?"

I think a lot of our students are locked in a video game mentality: play the game, get the points, down the boss, get the A.

This may be an incredibly wise strategy. College students are subject to pressures I didn't dream of when I set foot on Cuyamaca College's campus in 1999. They've got unit creep, higher GPA requirements (remember when you could transfer to a decent CSU with a 2.3?), more content to be covered, and limited services and classes due to a still-crunchy budget.

But the video game mentality leaves little room for genuine interest and curiosity in the course and subject matter. How do we stimulate that despite all the competing interests our students juggle? How do we convince them that it's worth going beyond the minimum needed to get the points? That yes, it might cost an extra energy point or two but in the long run it's worth it?

Sometimes it can happen naturally, with a good activity. The husband had a great idea in response to my complaint that students don't take the time to proofread for basic, basic typos (like "i," "collge," stuff that an MS Word editor should fix).

As a gamer, hubby reads game-related blogs and subscribes to various YouTubers. He says that when he sees viewer/reader comments, he equates the writer's clarity with intelligence.

So, the task: Give students two articles or paragraphs on the same topic, one written well and one with lots of errors, and ask who seems more credible and why.

So simple! Of course, the students pursued their critique with a vigor they rarely seem to put toward their own work. I heard shouts of, "this guy is so smart! I never would have thought of that," and "can you believe Pineapple spelled that word wrong?"

They were having a genuine conversation.

I think but don't know for sure what can break students out of the video game mentality when working together, but here are a couple of thoughts:
  • Competition. People are inherently competitive--to varying degrees, of course! (Hence a love of video games.) Maybe Nietzsche and his will-to-power concept is the right one, much to my dismay. But I've noticed that when you tap into students' competitive nature, either by pitting them against each other or against a text, in this case, they are motivated from a different place than the "get the points" arena.
  • Explicit goals that students buy into. We all have course objectives and student learning outcomes we are supposed to use to guide our courses. These may not make sense to students, but if we can make them palatable and relevant to a student's short-term interest, they might take it seriously. 
    • Case in point: I just saw an instructor relate a rhetorical analysis activity to doing well on the WPA--the writing assessment many will take when they transfer to a four-year school. Most have transfer on the brain, at least a little bit. This put a more immediate need to really understand rhetorical strategies and how they function, as their performance on this assessment determines their place in upper-division writing.
What else works to get students really invested in collaborating, in learning? 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Day 24: A Learning Trend

I'm embarrassed to say that I have little idea of how to respond to Day 24's prompt, which asks me to comment on a learning trend. Maybe it's being in the community college bubble, but that's a buzzword (not to belittle it!) that I'm not familiar with except conceptually.

A quick Google search returns hits that usually center on technology in the classroom. We've already been writing about technology in the classroom. I get it, I'm behind, at least a little. But what other learning trends are there?

I was "raised" by my colleagues and instructors to teach using student-centered learning techniques: calling on students to engage them in a class discussion, alternating activities to keep them focused, on task, and in charge of their learning.

I suppose that On Course, which I wrote about before and used to jokingly refer to as The Cult of Personal Responsibility, is/was another trend that I dabble in.

A couple of colleagues are using Carol Dweck's Mindset (or excerpts from it) which details the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and how cultivating a growth mindset helps students to do better. On my maternity/sabbatical leave I definitely intend to explore that....and maybe other learning trends as well! As my Bayan Professor colleague pointed out, we are lucky to teach in a skills-based subject and still have the ability to choose the content for the material we explore.

 What are some other non-tech related learning trends? I would love to get ideas.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day 23: Community

One of the coolest things I ever did was ask my greeting-card-writing friend to speak to a developmental writing course about her creative process.

Chris Shea, Lifesighs

It was a great talk. She had to really struggle to get her business going. Not only was their a whole world of businessy stuff to navigate, but even those closest to her had their doubts about whether she could do it. But what stuck out the most to the class (and me) was when she described her process of trying to write a birthday card to her daughter.

Chris started by writing a letter describing how much she loved her daughter and how grateful she was to have her in her life. The letter ended up being pages long! How does one whittle something down to a message worthy of being on a greeting card--a tiny, concise greeting card, at that?

Well, she had to start with something all over the place and verbose to get to what she really meant. She then went line by line, eliminating all but the essence of the message. Eventually, the card looked like this:


and inside:                            "... to the very best thing I ever made..."

What a sweet message, right? And coming from someone who had not finished college, who had no business experience going into the field, this was meaningful to the students who were there.

I gotta find more ways to involve the community in my courses. There are so many resources walking around who probably wouldn't mind--who might even like--talking to a great group of students. 

Day 22: Who's in the Network?

Oh, the joy of learning new acronyms. Today's post is about our PLN--professional and personal learning network--essentially the colleagues, friends, and family who we collaborate with!

I mentioned before that I love my colleagues. Some I'm close friends with, and I steal great ideas from virtually everyone I come in contact with. Recognizing and incorporating a good idea into my own curriculum is one of my talents, really! I highly recommend it :-)

In no particular order, here are some of the folks who are in the PLN:

  • A dean who inspires us to think outside the box and ensure that what we want our students to learn is meaningful and that our classrooms are conducted in a most egalitarian way
  • A friend who inspires incredible amounts of self-reflection and the need to think from the student perspective 
  • An instructor who is willing to "be the bad guy" and hold her students to a very high standard (and who expects no less than the best of herself, either) 
  •  A passionate teacher who is a self-proclaimed "staff development junkie," so full of great ideas for me to adopt
  • A vivacious poet and teacher who inspires me to achieve more balance and reassures me that taking time for myself will not result in a poor job in the classroom 
  • A husband who reminds me on the daily what it is like to be a student and how a compassionate teacher can support them
  • Former students who follow me on Facebook and give me feedback on how to teach, whether they realize it or not
 These are just a handful of the folks I get to work with every day. I hope everyone has a fab PLN no matter what they do with their days! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 21: Hobbies or Interests

The Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge is nearing its end, and I'm sad for this! I love making the time for this and seeing what my colleagues are sharing. What a great idea exchange!

Today I'm asked to discuss what hobbies or interests I bring into the classroom. Aside from occasionally mentioning that I did yoga or a movie I saw, or admitting that I have played WoW and The Sims, I don't talk much about my hobbies. (I did, however, take a few moments to describe a scene from The Sopranos in which Steve Buscemi's character has a "liminal moment"--long story as to why I was sharing that concept with students--when he is deciding between staying "clean" after his time in prison or getting back into the life of organized crime. Does that count? :-)

But I realize my interests definitely filter into the class and what I decide we'll be studying. In one course we look at Edward Said's concept of Orientalism, and to illustrate the way an "other" is constructed, we take a look at a conversation between Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor on disability, a clip from the film The Examined Life.

One of the theoretical veins I'd jump into feet first were I still in grad school would be disability studies. Thanks to a rockin' colleague, since graduating I've just been able to get my feet wet in this field. I've come to see that of all the "isms," ableism is one of the least visible. (Case in point: A professor at our college who has made a wonderful collection of mandatory-viewing videos for her students to supplement the lecture. I asked if she'd be willing to participate in a free captioning program in our campus effort to make sure the videos we show our students are ADA compliant. She said no, multiple times, asking in all sincerity why auto-captions aren't enough.)

The same lack of awareness is everywhere. I just watched a wonderful play in a very gay-friendly theater here in San Diego. The play brought up issues of class, women's rights, white privilege, and marriage equality, and the actors were incredible. But in this otherwise liberatory play, one of the characters shouts that the other looks like a "retarded leprechaun." Seriously?

Anyway, I think the Butler/Taylor conversation is kind of a mind-blower for students, as it was for me. They easily see how race or gender is used to manipulate people into positions of submission, but expectations for what bodies are and how they function?  The question is, "What can a body do, not what should a body do?" That's some brand-new thinkin' for these guys.

I tell them I'm interested in this field, that I have only dipped my toe in the water. I've been inculcated with all kinds of bias, ableism just one of them. But we've got to be fearless and be willing to lead the students through big topics, right? That's what they're already experiencing in their educational path.

I guess that's an interest I share with students!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day 20: Curating Student Work

You'd think as a writing instructor I'd have ample opportunity to get students' work out there. And there are some. Our college has a journal, and some of the faculty have gotten our campus to participate in a local organization where they write, rehearse, and read aloud their work to an oh-so-captive audience ("So Say We All," local folks!).

But aside from singling out some creative writers and encouraging them to join a creative writing club or submit their work to the journal, I don't do much.

I gotta think about this...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day 19: Reflecting on Our Learning

In a writing class, there are ample opportunities to get students to reflect on their learning. I even introduce the concept of meta-cognition and its benefits (not that I'm an expert!) to developmental writing students so they know why we occasionally take time to think about our process and why we learn.

Three methods of getting students to reflect on their learning (and one that I use the most)

--I start off my developmental composition courses with an activity called Academic Survival 101. Instead of listing a lot of resources and strategies that the students should pull when they hit a rough spot, it asks them to reflect on what impact their life (work, family, friends, other classes, personal challenges) has on their stated goals for the class and the college. They also reflect on why improving their writing skills will help them in other classes or a job.

I ask them to then think about how their time is used. I base this part on an On Course "Quadrants of Time Use" activity. I kinda cringe at the reductiveness (reductivity?) of the quadrants, but having done this a couple of times I think the students appreciate the eye-opener of how time is spent.

Finally, they come up with a plan and identify their resources so they can attain their stated goals in class and college. Hopefully, this self-generated self-awareness will translate into sincere investment in the course and to their learning.

We come back to this Academic Survival plan periodically so, hopefully, their goals stay fresh in their mind and they reconsider a) whether the plan works and b) whether they're really sticking to it.

--I stole another reflection idea from Bayan Professor, who is also doing this challenge. The idea of taking a moment at the end of the class and having students quickly reflect on a concept we learned, or leaving it open-ended and asking them what is something they've learned, how they will use it, and an option to ask a question for clarification. It takes less than five minutes, and it lets me know whether they got it and whether they see the concept as helpful in some way.

--Since I've started teaching I've asked students to reflect on how the writing process is going at various stages. Before submitting a rough draft for feedback, for instance, they answer a few questions such as, "What is one thing you learned about writing or how you write (by completing this draft)"? They do this at every stage of the writing process.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 18: A Teacher is a _______.

Day 18 of the Reflective Teaching Challenge
Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, "a teacher is a ________…”

I've already shared with the community my analogy for teaching. I like to think of a teacher as a guide of some sort. We are all on the hike together. I can name some interesting features and give my hikers some guidance on how to avoid fatigue, move in the right direction, and enjoy the experience, but they have to do the work--they burn the (mental) calories, use a map, and note what they see that is interesting.

As a guide, I do have responsibilities: I need to have a route that is navigable and at the appropriate skill level. I need to be attentive to their needs and give individual feedback when necessary to intervene when someone might be getting off track. I also need to keep my skills up, which is why blogging challenges like these are so great.

How might this manifest in a composition class? Most teachers have been inundated (I hope!) with strategies for effective teaching. We need a plan, to know what the class goals/outcomes are. This is manifest in a good calendar and well-crafted assignments (where are we going this time?). We need guidelines on how to behave in the classroom and standards for completing work (a map!). Readings aren't given just for fun; they're well-chosen as model texts. The instructor does modeling, demonstration, allowing for lots of questions before turning the students loose on their creative, analytical journey (group work, individual writing activities, lab exercises, etc). I think an instructor should make it clear that they are alongside the student at all steps, providing encouraging feedback and clarification.

What a warm and fuzzy analogy. It's a little unlike me! :-)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 17: The Biggest Challenge in Education Today

Day 17 of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge asks us to consider the biggest challenge in education today. That's a big topic, and honestly, I don't feel I'm qualified to address it. I'm going to talk about the biggest challenges in teaching English at my community college.

I can't help but talk about two. (I feel like someone tightened a key in this wind-up toy's back!) The overriding one is class size. We have a 30 student max in each composition course. I realize many colleges have more, but I feel this is a lot to manage and impossible to do as well as I'd like. Grading load aside, classroom management can be a challenge. Just today, I had students working on a draft--just 15 minutes--and I had hoped to circulate around to at least half of them. Well, one student started crying as she was essentially in crisis. Of course, a student in crisis takes priority, so I spent most of the time attending to her. This means I didn't get to the other students to see how they were doing as a class or give them individual feedback. In a smaller class I could have managed the time a bit better--some time on her, then extend the time so I could see at least a handful of the class and check in.

Those moments where we connect with our students and offer encouragement or clarification are really where the magic happens. I'm reminded of what I overheard a therapist friend saying to another therapist: "it is the relationship that heals, it is the relationship that heals."

Is it the relationship that teaches? How can one have a relationship with 120--or more--students a semester?

The other challenge that I'm seeing at my school is the lack of administrative support--or at least acknowledgment--of what students need to succeed, especially online. Many students want online and hybrid courses. Many instructors want to teach them. Many instructors don't do so well, unfortunately, and students suffer in two ways:

1) They have a bad experience (teacher not engaged in the class, teacher pays a former student to grade, students learn from a book and taking multiple choice tests, students receive no meaningful feedback, don't have emails answered, etc).

 2) They are taught to expect that online learning is boring but easy if you can read a book and do multiple choice questions well. Many drop immediately from online courses like mine that do not have multiple choice tests and require two or three time-consuming activities a week that go beyond rote memorization. They don't even make it to the part where they see that they'll get feedback, actually interact with the instructor and their peers and maybe, just maybe, even learn something.

(OK, I should be humble, there may be other reasons why students drop from my online courses ;-)

Since for years there were little to no standards or oversight for online learning, colleges have been slow to adopt the new CA standards set forth by the accrediting bodies which ask for more instructor involvement and meaningful work on the student's end. Little wonder instructors are nervous about the changes! Most colleges do not have distance education coordinators or instructional designers to train faculty and offer support. Many administrators think that since they have Blackboard/Moodle/Canvas tech support, instructors have what they need to do well! But we can't ignore the pedagogical differences in the online medium. We can't ignore the students who want to learn online but who aren't getting an experience comparable to face-to-face.

I probably sound a bit ranty, and perhaps like someone who thinks she has all the answers. OK, I'm ranty, I admit that, but I don't have all the answers :-)  But I believe online can be good, really good, as good as f2f for many students. But it's just not workin' as it is.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 16: My Superpower?

Day 16 asks us to reflect a superpower we wish we could have and how it could help us in the classroom.

It's been so hot in San Diego that all I can think of is Mr. Freeze.

If I had magic freezing powers, I could keep classrooms cool without running up the electricity bill. We could then use the money on other things, like iPads or cheaper childcare! Students would be focused and alert in their cool classrooms, and I could make them ice in fancy shapes for their drinks.

I would be the cool teacher. Get it?

Sorry... that's all I got today!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 15: Three Strengths

Day 15 of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge: Name three strengths you have as an educator

My husband, who used to conduct interviews as part of his job, says that in an interview situation, whenever you ask someone what their greatest strength is, it's really their biggest weakness. So, take the below with a grain of salt :-)

Strengths (I think)

1) I really love teaching. I think that when you love something, it comes across to everyone around you. Joy, curiosity, and engagement with what is happening is infectious. I'm sure the teachers I liked and learned from most loved teaching, and I hope my students can sense that I really do like my job. 

2) I'm (almost always) quick to respond to questions. If a student has a question via email, they get an answer back, usually within a few hours if not less. Although I don't think we should all be slaves to our email or work past reasonable hours, I strive to answer students' questions as fast as I can. If they made the effort to reach out to me, shouldn't I respect that with a prompt response? 

3) I've been told that I'm "nice." (I hope hope hope this means approachable and down-to-earth but not pushover.) I think I have pretty good people skills and that I interact with folks--especially students--well. I really strive to create a comfortable learning environment, and I think that starts with an instructor who is fair-minded and approachable.  

*The flip side of this is that a conflict-avoidant personality like me will have a hard time broaching an issue that could result in discord or mixed emotions. I'm thinking of situations in which we might have a student that consistently misses work, seems confused about what is due when (when other students seem to be on track). I always answer that student's questions cheerfully, but I don't often take the extra step and say, "Hey ____. I'm noticing a pattern here. Despite the fact that I remember telling you more than once that X is due on this day, you always seem surprised when I ask for that assignment. What's up?" 

More things to work on!

Day 14: Feedback for Students

Day 14 of the Reflective Teaching Challenge asks us to consider what sort of feedback we provide for students and how well we think we do.

Feedback on papers is. so. hard. It's hard to do well, at least, because (I think) there are so many approaches. Too many comments and the student would be overwhelmed and I would be exhausted and permanently behind (as if I'm not already!). Not enough comments and, well, do they even know if the instructor read?

I'm thinking of a pre-college level writing course and their homework. I assign three types of writing: journals, article summary-responses, and of course, essays. Since I collect something every day from those students, I have to move pretty fast on feedback. I see journal feedback as more of a conversation. Since the journals are designed to get students connected with the reading and assist with comprehension, I see them as an opportunity to just get to know the students. What insights do they have? What did they like about the reading? (Did they understand it?) So I might make a couple of margin comments asking them questions or telling them why a particular statement stood out to me.

Article Sum-Responses are more academic in nature, so after giving them extensive feedback the first time they submit these, I tend to just read and make sure they are not plagiarizing unintentionally (it happens) and understood the gist of the article, which they attach. Sometimes I can interact with them in their response to the article, which is more personal in nature.

For essay drafts, I provide a couple of layers of feedback. Yes, it's an English course, so if I notice patterns of error I will point those out. Some essays are full of typos, and while I don't identify all of those, I might just indicate that they need to spend more time in the proofreading process. I still make margin comments asking questions designed to get them to reconsider weaker areas (instead of "develop this" "Can you tell me more about what happened? I feel like something is missing here.") I then put an overall comment at the top.

Admittedly, these kinds of margin comments are time-consuming, and sometimes I resort to "Remember AXES for paragraphs" or something like it in the margins.  It is not a perfect system. I am sure I do a better job on some papers than others.

Lately I've been trying to be complimentary in a way that encourages growth, not just in a vague "this is a great paper" sort of a way. Whether it's a solid or not-so-great draft, I try to locate a specific talent they have. Nerdy as it might sound, "You have a knack for explaining the quotes you locate--you really understand the reading and how it applies to your situation!" might be one.

I don't think we can hit everything a student is doing well or what they need to work on when grading a paper, even if we comment on more than one draft. Maybe that is the point! I'm trying to remember that I'm just the guide; I can't cover everything.