Posts Tagged ‘Class exercises


Compassion and teaching: Part 5 of Five years, five lessons in five words

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
     “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud,
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to

-Hafez, “With That Moon Language”

Two summers ago, I had a creative writing class where only a few students wanted to share their work. The atmosphere in the classroom wasn’t helping out; although all of the students were in middle school, the more vocal students also happened to be the more sophisticated and socially-aware students, and their confidence intimidated the other students who hadn’t gotten there yet. Towards the end of the first week of our three week course, some students were starting to shut down, writing very little and stopping well short of what I’d consider a good effort from them. I was desperate to change the mood. After hearing the beginning of a powerful essay a student in another writing class wrote, I took the first line gave it to my students as the following writing prompt: “The thing you don’t get about me is ….” Nearly every student started in immediately, and most of them wrote for much longer than they had on any other previous assignment, well past the time when they would ordinarily go out for break.

This poem is from any of my students, but it fits nicely anyways. Photo credit: Flickr user Wonderlane

This poem is not from any of my students, but it fits nicely. Photo credit: Flickr user Wonderlane

When the time arrived that we’d normally share the posts, I was anxious of how it would go, especially having already seen the personal nature of some of the essays.  When I asked for volunteers, more of the class wanted to share than I anticipated. Some of them seemed even desperate to share. The essays they wrote talked about not feeling worthy of being in a camp for gifted students, about being teased for being the smartest kid in class, about the pressures they felt to succeed, about the confusing nature of friends who acted insensitively. Eventually, all of the students shared; most of the students wanted to read and needed little prompting. Those who were hesitant at the start received encouragement and support from their peers, and the more they heard stories of the struggles of their classmates, the more that they recognized this was a safe place where they could bring some of those things they felt embarrassed or confused about into the light. They saw the truth in Hafez’s command to “Admit something: everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.” They felt exhilarated that his premonition that speaking from such a vulnerable place did not result in “someone call[ing] the cops.” The experience was its own reward. They loved the feeling of having these experiences exposed to the open air and the acceptance they felt when others did not judge them. The exercise changed the feel of the class. I was so proud, not only for the courage they showed, but also because they treated their classmates with empathy. More than that, they acted with compassion. Continue reading ‘Compassion and teaching: Part 5 of Five years, five lessons in five words’


What Mario knows that you don’t: Video games and assignment design

Back when video games came in cartridges and video stores existed, I rented a Nintendo game only to get home and find the instruction booklet was missing. Without that booklet, the game was unplayable. Random button mashing did not result in any productive action from my avatar, and I kept dying on the second screen.

Video games no longer require cartridges, and now it looks like they no longer require printed instruction manuals either. At least that’s the thought of Electronic Arts (EA), the gaming company responsible for many popular games, including the Madden football games. Last month, EA announced that they’d no longer include printed instruction manuals in video games. EA’s decision follows Ubisoft’s strategy who made the same decision to go manual-free last year.

While I’m sure that environmentalists will appreciate the trees that will be saved, this news should have more of an impact on teachers. What the video game industry has provided for us is a referendum on how our students acquire necessary skills and stay engaged in learning.

The lesson of EA and Ubisoft is that we could do a lot better. Continue reading ‘What Mario knows that you don’t: Video games and assignment design’


Writing highlights/lowlights

The march into January means that most instructors are welcoming a new batch of students with different attitudes towards their own writing. Because these attitudes play a key role in how receptive students will be towards the lessons your teaching, here’s one way to quickly get to know a bit more about your students.

Ask students to write two lists. In the first, ask them to list the top five writing highlights. In the second, ask them to list their five worst writing moments. Next to each item, have them explain in a few words why that moment belongs on that list.

As an example, I offer you mine: Continue reading ‘Writing highlights/lowlights’


How to get relevant introductions from students

Since the dawn of time, writing teachers have had to deal with introductory paragraphs built around vague overgeneralizations that have little to do with anything in the rest of the essay. I have observed colleagues in coffee shops audibly groan when they read a paper starting with the phrase “throughout humankind.” While many instructors lament students’ attachments to the conventional thinking that states that introductions should start broad, others wave a flag of surrender, instructing students to forgo introductions entirely and just put the thesis in the first sentence. That approach ignores the values of a great introduction, which I can’t cover at this time.  (For the record though, it should be noted that putting an instructor in a good mood while grading a paper is a strategy not to be undervalued.)

What I can do here is show how to get relevant introductions from your students. And contrary to what some believe, teaching relevance has little to do with helping students calibrate the breadth of their opening sentence. Students are best served when they are forced to rethink their understanding of introductions, including what their purpose is and when they are best written. Continue reading ‘How to get relevant introductions from students’

Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.

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