In closing…

Earlier, I posted about using a new lesson for teaching students about thesis statements. The plan was heavy on interactive feedback, which in turn was something I used more frequently this semester. As we got into planning and drafting the final essay, I came back to the thesis lesson a few times, and made sure to include feedback on their thesis statements when I reviewed their outlines for the essay. I was happy to see that overall, the theses were stronger and clearer, and the final outcome was a batch of pretty well written essays.

At the beginning of each course, as part of my overview and introduction, I ask students to think about what they expect from the course, and what they hope to achieve. I give some space in my course pack for them to record these thoughts, and at the end of the semester, their final assignment is a personal reflection on whether their expectations and goals were met. I also ask them, among other things, to discuss which aspect(s) of the course they found most useful.

Last night, I read the reflections of this semester’s class, and I was thrilled to see that several students discussed the thesis lessons in particular as helpful, not just for our class, but for their writing in other courses. Many discussed the emphasis on writing stages as very useful and, in some cases, a sort of epiphany about writing; but I’ve been using that approach for a while, and I’m used to getting that feedback in their reflections. The thesis lessons were new, however, so I was gratified to get validation of the new tactic.

Of course, the end of my teaching semester is also, more or less, the end of my student semester – I’ve officially finished my first semester of my doctorate. It was a great three months, and I’m excited, still, about moving forward with my research and my writing. So, not a finish, but a pause.

But first, a few days of baking and present wrapping. Happy holidays!

Finding a path

I feel inspired this week; I have found the first member of my committee, had a good exchange with my supervisor, and added a few good articles to my reading journal. I’ve also had a few motivational moments not quite directly related to my writing, but definitely uplifting  – I had a couple of great meetings with colleagues about sponsoring a refugee family, I created with Inspirationset up an online poll to arrange our doctoral seminar end-of-semester potluck, I participated in an informal discussion with our Women’s Studies group on “Because it’s 2015” and the new Trudeaumania, and I rearranged my home office so my back is not to the door. Little things, perhaps, and not directly related, but it’s a lot easier to think about where I am in this process when I’m in a good, productive mood.

So this morning I took some time to research mind-mapping tools, and settled on Inspiration, for a couple of reasons: first, this is the tool I used for a couple of my M.Ed. courses, so I’m already familiar with its features and UI; secondly, compared to some of the other tools, I found it more intuitive and I prefer the layout options – many of the others were too linear, which doesn’t appeal to me or make sense to me (why make a flowchart when I can just do a linear outline, after all?); and finally, thanks to the American obsession with retail sales at this time of year, the software was 70% off.

Then I got started, and was surprised when it took not much time at all to create an outline for my dissertation. Granted, there’s a lot to add, and a lot of reading, writing, reflecting, and discussion to fill in the blanks behind the bubbles, but it feels really great to have this visual representation of where I’m going over the next few years. Also, purple, so, pretty.

[working toward] Definition, Direction, and Discourse

wordcloud1In our doctoral seminar, we’ve been talking a lot about genre and writing strategies. Last night, we experimented with free-writing, or discovery writing, or any other label you’re familiar with. The idea is to write non-stop for a certain period, without backtracking, correcting, planning or pausing.

My original intention was to rework my writing from that session, and create a new post (it has been AGES, after all), but then I thought it might be interesting to get feedback (see what I did there) on the brain spurt itself. So, sans editing, this is what I wrote last night:

Continue reading “[working toward] Definition, Direction, and Discourse”

They stumble that run fast

For the past ten weeks, I have been running. More specifically, I have been using apps from Zen Labs Fitness to get better at running. I began with their C25K app, an eight-week program that takes the user from not much of a runner to running approximately 5 km, or about 3 miles; then I progressed to week 9 of their 10K app. Last night, in a downpour, I ran just over 7 km in about 50 minutes. Considering that Week 1, Day 1 consists of 20 minutes of running one minute, walking one minute, I’m pretty proud of my progress.

Running for almost an hour, even in the pouring rain (or perhaps especially), gives one the chance to reflect on many things. When the digital Zen lady whispered into my ear “you are halfway there,” it occurred to me that many fitness apps are a great example of progressive learning, feedback, and scaffolding.  There’s a good reason for it, too – as a fitness instructor, when a client says their goal is to run a 5 km race, but they’re new to running, I’m not going to say “There’s the treadmill. Start running and I’ll be back in half an hour to check your progress.” Whether your coach is an app or a person, par of the coaching job is to help the client assess where s/he is now, where s/he needs to be, and the best progression to get there. Too fast, and the client gives up because it’s too hard. Too slow, and the client gives up because there’s no challenge or results. A good program moves ahead at a pace that allows the client to feel challenged, but at the same time, to feel they’re accomplishing something.

In the classroom, we can do the same thing. We can’t expect our students to be ready for the 5k when they’ve just started. We need to help them see the goal, then provide them with the plan to get there.

Continue reading “They stumble that run fast”

Every minute counts

Today, I tried something new with my second-year students. It’s a variation on the minute paper that many teachers use to get some quick, informal feedback from students. This is what I wrote on the board:

File 2015-09-15, 3 08 43 PM

Today’s class was mostly discussion of the first ten chapters of Frankenstein, which we are looking at from a feminist perspective (the course is about critical theory and ‘alternative’ perspectives on canonical texts). In the class today, I had a few objectives. First, I wanted the students to start discussing the novel as a whole, with the three essay topics informing their discussion. Secondly, I wanted them to begin keeping track of their observations while they read and discuss. Thirdly, I wanted them to start compiling quotations and other support for use when it comes time to write.

Here’s how the class went:

1. I reviewed the essay questions. When it comes time to write, each student will choose one of the three proposed topics, but for the in-class discussions, they have to address all three themes (alienation, gendered responsibilities, and social virtues). We talked a bit about what each of those themes means, and I drew their attention to some thoughts in Mary Shelley’s introduction to her 1831 version of the novel.

2. I introduced the observation table:

Aspect Introduction Letters Chapter 1 Chapter 2…
Plot points
Alienation & loneliness
Duty & responsibility
Virtue & Society
What to quote

…and told them to reformat it as they see fit.

3. Their first group task was to discuss the two main events of the first ten chapters, and relate each one to the three themes. Then, still in groups, they had to start filling in their tables. I suggested a few ways to split up the task, but let them decide what worked best for their group.

4. I finished the class with the four writing prompts. I told them to choose any two, and write two or three sentences. I told them they could include their name, especially if there was something they wanted me to respond to, or omit their name if they preferred to remain anonymous.

The results

Honestly, I need to reread their responses if I want to discuss the specifics, but I will say a few things. First, I was quite happy with the level of engagement. All students wrote about two things, and wrote at least three sentences. They all explained their points, elaborated on their thoughts, and connected their response to specific ideas from the discussion. Secondly, I was happy to see that students chose widely from the four prompts, and that their responses demonstrated different ways of interpreting the prompt. So, for instance, in response to “I want to know more about…” one student expressed some confusion with one the essay topics, while another expressed interest in ‘real life’ Frankenstein experiments. For the latter, I posted a link to our class Facebook page, and thanks to the former, I will start next class with a rewording of the essay topic in question, and see if that clears things up a little.

Suffice it to say, I believe the experiment was a success, and I will certainly use it again.

Rumour has it…

Student: [waves book at teacher in hallway] Sir, this is the right book for our course, right? 

Teacher: No! The correct book is the one I listed on the course outline, ordered through the bookstore, and showed you in class! Where did you find that one?

Student: A friend took your course a couple of years ago and said this was the book…

Forbuden_Frugt_smager_bedstThis was the gist of a conversation a friend reported to me last week. He was frustrated that despite his efforts to ensure that students had access to his chosen course text, this student – who, he says, is a good student who has taken other courses with him – seems to have ignored the official channels and relied instead on information from another student. And this isn’t just a matter of a new edition of a recurring text; the books in question are two completely different tomes.

Many teachers have experienced the hearsay phenomenon: a student will let slip that there’s a rumour circulating that a deadline has been extended, or a reading eliminated, or a class cancelled, and the teacher is left scrambling to undo the misinformation. As we can perhaps surmise from the list of examples, often the rumours are wishful thinking – of course students hope that deadline will be extended, or they’ll have one less text to read, or find themselves with a free period. But how do these whispers get started? Continue reading “Rumour has it…”

Let’s get physical… or not

As well as being a college English teacher, I am a certified fitness instructor and a registered yoga teacher. I wear a pedometer, and try to exercise every day. I play tennis, I run, I train with weights. My yoga/gym clothes outnumber my ‘street’ clothes.Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

My love of physical fitness is something to which I came only recently. As in, within the past six or seven years. My motivation came from approaching forty and feeling fat and sluggish – but the real question, I think, should be “how come I wasn’t motivated before?”

As teachers, we often agonize over how to motivate our students. One factor that we should consider, it seems to me, is overcoming demotivators. I wasn’t motivated to become fit or athletic before, because I encountered discouragement early in my schooling, and never questioned or challenged that demotivation. So even though I was aware, in theory, that being active and eating well were good for me, in practice, I tended to avoid sports and exercise because I was shut out of that world as a young student.

Continue reading “Let’s get physical… or not”

Don’t everyone raise your hands at once.

So now it’s your turn: when it comes to feedback, whether for or from your students, or received as a student, what do you want to discuss? What do you want to know? What can you share from your own experience? Any feedback myths to bust? Burning questions? Aha moments?

Share as much or as little as you want, and please feel free to share the post!

Looking back on looking forward

A now-cliche interview question is “where do you see yourself in five years?” In other contexts, we encounter the same concept – visualizing fitness results, planning a family, designing a home renovation… it all comes down to looking ahead.

Since I’ve been deliberately looking back lately, I’ve had the chance to reflect on where I saw myself going, and to compare that vision to the eventual reality. It’s an interesting way to learn about oneself, as well as to come to terms with the idea that ultimately, we have very little control over the universe – which can be a very liberating notion.

My journal entries from ten years ago sound like me. I haven’t changed, in many ways, but in so many others, I am different. So, yes, the ten years ago me would not be surprised to know I am still teaching English at Cegep, I am still married to Dr. T., I have a cat, I have two sons, I live in a beautiful house in Montreal, and I’m writing about education in a blog (meta alert).

Continue reading “Looking back on looking forward”

Quick! Slow down!

Going back to the journals I wrote for my M.Ed. courses has been an interesting exercise, and not just because I’m revisiting some ideas and concepts that I haven’t looked at in a decade. It’s the “in a decade” aspect that got me thinking about the passage of time.

One of my yoga students from the YMCA where I used to teach came to one of my new classes at my local Y, and he talked to me after the class. He was quite agitated, because he wants to “fix” his energy. He wanted me to come back to the first Y, and pass my energy to him, or give him a way to get to perfect mental, physical and spiritual balance, NOW.
Continue reading “Quick! Slow down!”