Posts Tagged ‘five lessons series

30
Jul
13

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,
     Otherwise,
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
Language,
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear?

-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’

25
Jul
13

Shame and the writer: Part four of Five Years, Five Lessons in five words

The great poets look into your own heart and the dark corners of your soul, shine a light on it, and name your feeling before you ever knew you felt it. For me, that’s Bruce Springsteen. In one of his most insightful moments, he sings, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? That’s a question from childhood, the last time when dreams feel like facts, but it’s that second part, the contemplation of what is worse than a lie, that rings prophetic. What is worse than a lie? Shame. The pain we feel when we hold up ourselves up to the image of who we thought we had to be and see every imperfection as a mark against us.4027703977_0e436effc2_b

In five years, I’ve seen many young writers experiencing shame at far above a healthy dose. I see it in their posture, hear it in their voice, and sense it in their defenses. It presents first as an apparent lack of confidence, and at the start of my teaching career, I thought that is what it was. Now, I see the need to call this shame what it is because nothing is more toxic to learning, creativity, and especially writing, where time spent alone in thought allows for shame to take root and spread until it is out of control. Continue reading ‘Shame and the writer: Part four of Five Years, Five Lessons in five words’

16
Jul
13

Five years, five lessons in five words: Word 3 – Connection

In my first year of teaching, a colleague suggested that I encourage my students to come to class by sharing the amount of money they were paying for each class they missed. I did the math and found it an appropriately shocking amount of money, so I presented it to the class. We all had a good laugh, and then they forgot it and came to class whenever they felt like it. I was teaching a required general education writing class that all students were required to take, which bred resentment among those who did not like to write. I frequently heard some version of the statement: “I’m going to be an

Photo credit: Flickr user xcode.

Photo credit: Flickr user xcode.

(engineer/mathematician/some other science or math profession); I won’t need this stuff.” I countered with the argument that knowing how to write would make them a double threat and ergo a richer scientist, etc. Of course, those who listened to me probably became a scientist who makes the same amount of money but gets stuck writing all of their teams’ reports.

When I started my job at Cornell College five years ago, I realized I needed a new way of understanding exactly what I offered as a writing teacher. In my position, I not only work predominately with first-year students, but I also teach lessons in other teachers’ classrooms and advertise the services that the Writing Studio and I can provide. That means I have to sell myself twice: once to the professors who run the class want to hear that I can offer a valuable lesson that dovetails with the rest of the class and once again to the students in the class, who need to hear why they should put the extra effort that it would take to come work with me and learn how to write.

That journey brings me up to the third word in this reflection series: connectionContinue reading ‘Five years, five lessons in five words: Word 3 – Connection’

05
Jul
13

Five years, five lessons in five words: Word 2, nudge

In 1999, Sugata Mitra placed a computer in a hole in a wall to confirm a hunch. Mitra felt that the young children of the village could learn to use the computer without any direct supervision or prior experience. Following the success of that experiment, Mitra put other computers in other villages and schools and pushed children to learn more difficult content, and each time the students learned what was asked of them at a rate similar to those who had more experiences and resources.

Photo credit to flickr user TroublePython

Photo credit to flickr user TroublePython

On the website describing Mitra’s work, this approach is called minimally invasive pedagogy, which is defined as “a pedagogic method that uses the learning environment to generate an adequate level of motivation to induce learning in groups of children, with minimal, or no, intervention by a teacher.” As an illustration of what minimally invasive intervention might look like, Mitra offers the “granny cloud,” a group of English grandmothers who Skype with children in India. The grandmothers dote on the children, asking the children to show them what they know how to do and then marveling at their demonstration. Continue reading ‘Five years, five lessons in five words: Word 2, nudge’

13
May
13

Five years, five lessons in five words: Word 1, persistence

Do or do not. There is no try... (Photo credit - Niallkennedy, Flickr)

Do or do not. There is no try… (Photo credit – Niallkennedy, Flickr)

This month marks the end of my fifth year as the Writing Consultant for First-year Students at Cornell College. In my position, I spend the bulk of my time working with students one-on-one, but I also teach in writing classes across the curriculum and consult with faculty who want to include more writing in their first-year classes. That work has pressed me to redesign my teaching style and ultimately made me a better teacher.

I came to Cornell College just out of graduate school. I’d taught and planned my own courses and considered myself a fair to good teacher. Now, when I look back at the mistakes I made during those years, I cringe. My most egregious sin was relying too much on my rapport with students and not enough on planning lessons designed to challenge students.

Now, the circumstances of my class sessions mean that I can’t rely on having a good relationship with the students to cover over shoddy teaching practices. In most courses, I only teach one or two lessons for an hour or two. Having no previous history with students to draw on, I walk in cold and must try to read the room to adjust the tone and level of my presentation on the fly. I consult with professors before hand to figure out what skills to emphasize, but I am generally not an expert in the content taught in the class. Those challenges impelled me to learn more about the habits of good teachers and to research educational psychology. These ventures resulted in making me a more creative, more organized, and more versatile teacher.

During the last half decade, I’ve learned a lot. Those lessons will be organized here into five posts, each centered around one of five words that have come to define my teaching and how I understand what matters in education in general. The first of those words, persistence, is discussed here.

persistence —  College admissions offices ask for proof of an applicant’s readiness to enter college in the form of measurements of a student’s intellect. Research confirms that high school GPA and standardized tests predict fairly accurately who will succeed at the college level.  Intellect is, however, only one part of the equation. Continue reading ‘Five years, five lessons in five words: Word 1, persistence’




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.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: