Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Fly on the Wall

     In my previous classroom, I kept a fly swatter in the shape of a flip flop. The students loved it and often volunteered to take out any annoying, flying anything that happened into the classroom. And there was much excitement and cheering and relief at the death of these little creatures. So I know to wish to be a fly on the wall on campus is a potentially dangerous risk. I would be willing to take on the risk, though, because the benefits would be great. Note: This scenario assumes I could then switch back to myself as teacher and not have to live out the rest of my life as a fly.

     I know that "fly on the wall" usually has connotations of wishing someone could observe something secretly, that there would something scandalous gained from listening in on a private conversation or watching some tantalizing situation. I am not using the phrase in that sense at all. Were I to be a fly on a wall, it would be purely to observe and gather an intel of sorts. I would be more like a tiny thief. In fact, if I could, I would choose to be a fly on the wall of every classroom on campus.

     I would take notes on a tiny pad of paper with my tiny mechanical pencil. Additionally, I would listen to every word uttered and then watch the reactions of the students, studying their faces to gather data on how they perceive the information or tasks. I would visit all classrooms regardless of discipline, and I would listen to the voices of hundreds of teachers.

     Ideally, at the conclusion of my life as a fly on the wall in classrooms across campus, I would be able to return to my previous life as a teacher. But I would be a new and improved teacher, a beautiful pastiche of all the best of each teacher on campus.

Friday, February 16, 2018

2 P's of Inspiration

Sometimes I have to self-start inspiration. These times come near the end of semesters, week four of the semester, and other times based on life circumstances. I remember one point last semester when I busily ran from day to day and desperately needed something to inspire me.

It was late November, and I had not planted my fall/winter/spring flowers. I wondered why, but I couldn't come up with a reason other than being too busy. So one weekend, I headed to my favorite nursery, picked out some flowers--bright red petunias, lobelia, a couple of rose bushes, and dahlias--and potted them all in one day. I felt instantly better. I really did. I repeated this the weekend after in the back yard. Planting and nurturing those plants drew me outside, away from the distractions that don't really feed me to a quiet place where I can think and plan. Even though I was busy with work, I put that work aside to have that meditative time. Those couple of weekends with my hands in the soil (gloves are for suckers) really fed me.

And now those plantings are still bring me some joy. When I sit outside and watch them grow, my mind opens to new ideas. When I periodically get my hands busy, pruning the dead from the living, I prune the old from my mind to make room for new thinking.






Thursday, February 15, 2018

Frequent Formative Assessment

     At the end of class one day, one of my students uttered, "I learned that I didn't know what I thought I knew." It was such a perfect statement that I actually scrawled it down on some scrap paper, so I wouldn't forget it. The statement came at the conclusion of a round of Kahoot (thank you, Caryn) on APA formatted in-text citations. Students had already been assigned some readings and a SoftChalk lesson on APA.

     The game was low stakes, and they played on teams--the same teams they are in all semester. They were currently working in the final days before their paper was due, so the game was supposed to be review with a few special circumstances thrown in that I knew would come up in their papers--things like a source within a source, the ampersand in parentheses for two authors, the title of an article with no author.

     The more frequent formative assessment I've been adding in to my courses with intention comes on the heels of having read Make it Stick: The Science Behind Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. One of the points made in the book is that frequent, low stakes assessment lets students check what they know and don't know prior to a summative assessment. It gives them insight into their learning. This review that I used did exactly that for almost all the students. The student who spoke the phrase which could have been quoted from the book recognized that he thought he knew more than he did. He now had a starting point to work from while editing his paper. He got a chance to make corrections to his knowledge and application prior to the summative assessment.

     I have the sentence taped to my computer now. I want to remember the value that more frequent assessment has for my students. I'm using it as reminder to give my students more opportunities to check their own understanding prior to finding out they "didn't know what [they] thought they knew" on a more significant test or essay.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Everything Is Assessment

     True/False quiz. Final exam. Furrowed brow. Essay test. Ticket out the door. Socrative. Questions posed to students. Body language. Summary of lesson learned. Poll Everywhere. Reflection. Leaning in to see what a student has written. Conversation. An assignment. In class activities. A math problem. Writing a sentence. Types of questions asked in class. KWL. A team competition. Canvas course analytics. Research papers. Listening to students in groups. Student presentations. Quiz at end of class. Midterm exams. Benchmark tests. Observation. Self assessment. Think pair share. Clearest point, muddiest point. Projects. Conversation right after class. Office hours. Thumbs up, down, or sideways. Ranking from 1-5. Clarifying questions. Socrative discussion. 3-2-1. Conferencing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Keys of Leadership

     Today's leaders have to be more cooperative and transparent than ever before.  How many of us have lived through scandals involving leaders at all levels?  How many of us have lost faith in some form of leadership--local workplace leadership and local, state, and national political leadership?  I'm sure we could all make a list of leaders who have fallen short.  Why do some leaders cause their people to lose faith? Why do some leaders fail?
     
     Looking at successful leaders, it's easy to see why they have remained trustworthy and admirable. Michelle Obama said, "When they go low, we go high."  Leaders go high without letting injustices off the hook.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" went high, but he still shared his disappointment with fellow clergy and white moderates for their indifference.  Interestingly enough, the second sentence of his letter reads, "Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas." While this might seem like he turned a deaf ear toward critics of his vision, instead he explains that he would not have time to get the "constructive" work done if he responded to those opposed to him and his methods. He listened, but he maintained his vision and continued his work toward justice.

     In education today, we have to continue to work toward what is best for our students even in the face of criticism, sometimes disguised in the form of budget cuts or other subtle acts of devaluing education. Educational leaders continue on.  Classroom instructors continue on.  When the noise gets too loud, we focus even more intently on our classroom and students because this is the daily work that really matters--helping students progress toward their dreams and goals.


     Finally, leaders emphasize input and cooperation from a chorus of voices. It's tough to know which words any of us say that may open up a great idea or shut down dialogue--though it's a bit easier to figure that last one out. Being authentic and kind allows all of us to take more risks.  In taking risks, we are able to achieve beyond what was thought possible. 





Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Three P's of Inspiration

     Alisa Cooper--If you have not had the opportunity of learning from Alisa, you're missing out.  A true mentor, Alisa has taught me not just directly when I have a question, but also by modeling her own courses which she generously lets me look at and materials she lets me borrow.  She has inspired me to "Alisa-Cooper-my-courses," a phrasing I'm sure she doesn't like.  I feel like my online and hybrid courses get better and better because I have her models to follow.  Her level of achievement pushes me to work harder. Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks, and I'm learning a lot of mine lately from her.

     GCC Students--Every day when I walk into my classrooms, I am reminded that our students are here to improve themselves.  I save many of them in my memory--those who have really impressed me with their grit and courage, those I see a semester or two later who are still truckin' and sometimes telling me about their upcoming graduation.  I see Mary*, a single mother who started out doubtful and questioning her decision to attend school and make a life change, who is now closer than ever to her goal of becoming a nurse.  I see Nick*, a veteran, who is looking to start a second career after gaining the degree he needs.  I see Tammy*, a student who lived in foster care as a child and now wants to advocate for changes to the system. How could I not be inspired?

     Family--Now I know that my family is not at GCC, but they strongly inspire me to be the best employee and teacher I can be when I'm at GCC.  My brother, a strong advocate for public education and an assistant superintendent, struggled in school as a child.  He has since outpaced me in getting two master's degrees and a doctorate degree. He has worked harder than just about anyone I know,
Holly and Andrew
and he inspires me to work hard.  Likewise, my wife continues to challenge herself, taking on new leadership roles and job experiences, stepping into unfamiliar territory. I admire her and learn more from her than any other person. She is apt to take risks and courageous to the point that sometimes I am just in awe.  She left a cushy classroom gig to enter administration and then left her familiar, safe district to lead a high school in a new district.  Her example inspires me to take on challenges that I might otherwise say no to.

     What do they all have in common?  Possibility.  Passion. Permission.  Their work and achievements demonstrate what is possible.  Their passions buoy them to the next achievement.  Unwittingly, they inspire me to say "Yes" to the Universe and its challenges.
   


*Names have been changed.
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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Circle of Learning

     As an online and hybrid instructor, I'm always glad to learn something that can help to improve my classes. One of our adjuncts in English, Paul Moore, first made me aware that after embedding YouTube videos in our courses, students can be face with "related" videos that may come from a browsing history. They may then continue to watch videos inside your course in Canvas. I think if any of you have spent some time on YouTube, you understand that the term "related videos" can be interpreted quite broadly. I really don't like the thought of my students watching something "related" inside the Canvas course as if it were supplied by or endorsed by me. And I know how easily I can be distracted by cat videos, so the last thing I want to do is make distraction easier for my students.
   
     Paul emailed me a short video he made explaining how to eliminate the related video by adding in a bit of html code to the embed code that YouTube provides.  I thought this was great to know since I do use a few short videos in my online class, Survey of Gothic Literature.  And I thought I was done. I learned something pretty cool from Paul--who made it really easy to understand--and I could go in and change all the embed code in any YouTube videos I used.
   
     But I wasn't really done. Shortly after hearing from Paul, I noticed that our CTLE posted Paul's video on Twitter. Since I liked it so much the first time, I retweeted it and noted its importance for online instructors.  Done and done. But then I got a reply to my tweet.  Cheryl Colan, from our CTLE, gave me another handy tip on the same issue, even easier than Paul's.  And so just today, I embedded a YouTube video for my students, and I applied the new tip. It was so easy to shut off the related video that shows after a video is done playing.  As Cheryl's tweet says, when you want to embed a video and you select "share," if you click "embed" and then you click "more," you'll see some boxes where you can select/unselect certain features: related videos, player controls, video title and player actions, and enhanced privacy. Easy.

     I have to say I was pretty satisfied by the whole experience involving embedded YouTube videos and related content. The instruction came to me via email, tweets, video, and more tweets. I didn't seek out any of this new learning, but it found me because I make a small effort to be connected and because my colleagues like to share what they know. The synchronicity is sweet.