Spring 2020 Teach. Write. Delayed

April 1 is supposed to be the day I roll out the new edition of Teach. Write., but as you may have guessed, Mrs. Winkler has been busy moving her seated classes to online, learning new skills, researching, endlessly grading, and writing many, many e-mails and messages.

I hesitate to give myself another deadline as things are changing moment by moment, but I do better with deadlines, so Tax Day (what was Tax Day) is my new goal–April 15.

It will be worth the wait. I have writers near and far, including two excellent examples of writing by my own students!!

So until April 15!

Rediscovering Music Faves

I have listened to my “Working Music” folder a great deal this week while I transition all my classes to online delivery. I chose to randomize my playlist and have been so amazed at some of the great music that has come up to soothe my soul.

Here are a couple of my faves:

The Canadian Chamber Chorus’s version of Tabula Rass by Don MacDonald. The translation of the words are beautiful and have spoken to me during this time and is a meaningful message to give my students right now:

In my arms, breathe.

Life without limits.

Light of day, dark night.

Sleep, dream, rest in safety.

With your heart, your soul, listen and know this truth:

Within you are boundless futures, if you are given freedom;

freedom to grow,

freedom to learn,

freedom to touch,

freedom to feel,

freedom to imagine,

freedom to love,

freedom to be loved.

Another great song, totally different style–I’m Alive by Dean Dillon / Kenneth Chesney / Mark Tamburino and performed by Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews.

The lyrics are also very timely for my students and me. Go to this link to see them: I’m Alive Lyrics

So I take a listen. I take some big breaths. I make a cup of tea. I start grading more papers.

Ah, the teaching life!

The horrible looking ad that is probably showing below kind of ruins the effect of my post–thanks Word Press

Still Standing

A great deal has happened since my last post, and I have been busy converting my three seated classes to online (I already have two other online classes to maintain), readying myself to teach my classes from home. My transition has been easier than some because I have been teaching online for years and even prefer an online environment in many cases.

I know many of my students do not feel that way at all. All of my students are dealing with upheaval in their lives in so many ways, and now this. Therefore, I have taken some steps to help us move forward in our class. Here are some of the things I have done, am doing, and will do to help my students finish the semester successfully.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Last week, when we were still meeting as a class, I started preparing my students for continuing as an online class. It has helped that I already have a robust online presence. For years, I have posted online resources, and all assignments are already collected and graded online. My students are already used to the online classroom environment in many ways. One of the first things I did was develop a survey to distribute through the LMS that asks a few simple questions about their readiness to continue online, their comfort levels as far as DL classes go, and most recent contact info. I added a comment box, where they could write any questions or concerns.

Be positive. In my communication, I am trying to be as positive as I can while acknowledging the obvious difficulties we are all facing. I try to emphasize that completing an education is more important now than ever and that strong writing and critical thinking skills, which have always been important, will be even more so in the days to come. I also tell them that I believe in them, and I do. They will face this crisis and move through it stronger than ever before. I tell them they have a resiliency that some of them don’t even recognize they have. My students are some of the best, strongest people I have ever met, and they deserve to get a quality education no matter what the delivery system.

Integrate interesting technology. I love educational technology and most of my students do, too, so have tried to add some interesting assignments over the years. They use PowerPoint and Google docs, of course, but we create infographics and annotate text electronically. I have created screencasts with my iPad to show them how to research databases using our state’s virtual library. I show them how to use Survey Monkey for conducting surveys of their fellow students. I do glossary assignments using our LMS that allow them to create study guides as a class.

I want to start using more interactive educational technologies that will allow all of my students to see and hear each other. Here are some that I have wanted to explore more, but haven’t had time to work with much until now:

  • Flip Grid—Allows teacher and students to ask and answer questions through a video format. Smartphone- and user-friendly.
  • Collaborate—Allows for synchronous or asynchronous meetings with students. Through our LMS, I can create Collaborate lessons within the course just like assignments
  • Lesson packages—our LMS allows us to create whole lessons where we can add our own discussion questions, quizzes, or other assignments within the lesson that the computer can grade and send to the grade book. These packages help track which students are actually viewing the material or not.
  • Zoom—Similar to Collaborate, it allows for real time instruction.
  • Google hangouts—I took an educational technology PD course a few years ago and experimented with Google hangouts, but I would like to use it more. Really great for tutoring sessions because I can share my screen
  • Google Maps—I have wanted to add a Google Maps segment to my signature travel project in Brit. Lit. Now is my chance to explore it.
  • YouTube—the live steaming feature will be useful.
  • So many more. I will blog about my adventures as we go along.

It is a brave new world, but I am determined that I will give my students the tools to navigate it successfully.

Standing Up

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It has been a long time since my last post, but my students must come first.

I have a confession to make–I haven’t always believed that.

For many years of my career, I put myself ahead of my students’ education, always thinking about what I can do to make my work easier, to make myself look good, to further my career, to improve my “numbers” (recruitment, retention, and success rates).

Despite this, I think I was still a good teacher; self-interest and ambition are strong motivators to improve one’s performance. Also, one of my strengths is that I have always cared about my students as people. In addition, I still believe a strong liberal arts education means more than a ticket to a job but will help my students lead better, more productive lives. The non-pecuniary benefits of a liberal arts education are real.

And yet, I don’t think I always valued their education enough to stand up for it.

I have to get grading again, but soon, I will elaborate.

Until next time!

 

Mrs. Winkler Writes a Poem for Power

I am too small. I am too large.

I will never be small enough

Never large enough

Or smart enough

Never competent and capable enough to do all the tasks you don’t want to do

in a room you will never enter.

Yes, you trust me to teach developmental classes,

develop any curriculum,

complete all other duties as assigned

by just about anyone.

Credentialed. Yes, just not at acceptable places.

Oral Roberts University?

You’re kidding.

Can there any good thing come out of there?

Not good enough. Not good enough.

A trouble maker

The first one to dissent.

The first one to ask a question.

So many questions.

Me too?

But who cares what abuse you’ve endured

When you’re nothing special to look at.

C’mon.

Get over it.

That happened so long ago.

Your worth? Ha. Look at you.

But I know it.

I wrote it out moments ago–1,444 words so far

And I haven’t even scratched the surface.

So go on and treat me like a simpleton

who doesn’t know the first thing about teaching

then ask me to teach the unteachable.

Ask me to fill out another

damn

form.

Treat me as if I’m incompetent.

Then, ask me to develop another new course.

Then, wipe out all that I’ve done.

Go ahead and tell me to do something,

criticize me for doing it.

It doesn’t matter.

I know my worth.

And so do they.

And that–

That is the only thing that does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Peeves

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Not earth-shattering. Not life-destroying. Not important at all in the grand scheme of things, or even in the niggling scheme of things, but here are some of my pet peeves. I freely admit that I peeve myself at times, and I’m sure, others as well. But here goes anyway–for kicks and grins.

  • Using st, th, and nd when writing dates–Example–January 1st, 2020. In American usage, the convention has been, and will continue in my teaching, to be–write January 1, 2020 and say January 1st, 2020. The problem is that the British often use the endings when writing the dates, leading to understandable confusion. I am an anglophile from way back, so I’m not dissing the Brits, but I am also an American English teacher, so I will teach American standards. Here’s more about it from Daily Writing Tips: January 1 Doesn’t Need an “st” 
  • Placing the end mark outside the quotation marks–Example. She said, “We are in America, so we should use American punctuation conventions”. Yes, we should, and in American English the punctuation almost always goes INSIDE the quotation marks. “We should use American punctuation conventions.” Here is more on the subject from Grammarly: Does Punctuation Go Inside Quotation Marks?
  • Leaving out the possessive apostrophe OR adding an apostrophe with a simple plural. We need apostrophes, yet we don’t need apostrophes. The rules are simple:
      • Use an apostrophe with contractions or to show possession.
      • Do NOT use an apostrophe with a simple plural.
      • If the word ends in s, then generally the apostrophe comes after the s, but there are significant exceptions, such as when using irregular plurals.
    • It seems insignificant, and maybe it is sometimes, but not using the apostrophe when appropriate and using it unnecessarily can both lead to misunderstanding and also drives Mrs. Winkler crazy!
    • An example–I cant attend the New Years party, but I dont want to go to Sherrys house again because I dont like her childrens’  loud toys’ that company’s seem to love selling at this time of year.
    • Now my spell checker caught dont, Sherrys, and childrens’, but not the cant , Years, toys’, and company’s because although the spellcheck programs are more and more sophisticated, they are not (yet) sentient and can’t replace a writer’s own careful editing and revision.
    • Here’s more on the subject of apostrophes from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), one of the first and still one of the best: Apostrophe Introduction
  • It’s and its, a problem that gets its own category. Its own category–no apostrophe because it’s a possessive pronoun. It’s a possessive pronoun--I used an apostrophe because I am using the contraction It’s to mean It is. I think people understand the rule for the most part, but its an easy mistake to make (I did that one on purpose. I swear). Here are the rules again (not trying desperately to be clever this time):
    • It’s is the contraction for It is–Example–It’s snowing on January 5, 2020. The little trick I give my students is, “Can you say, It is in place of It’s? If so, then you have correctly used the apostrophe.
    • Its is the possessive pronoun–Example–The horse chewed on its hay. I understand why people get confused here: Its is a possessive pronoun. We hear the word possessive, and we immediately think apostrophe, but I tell my students, think of it this way– we don’t write hi’s car or his’ car do we? Nouns that show possession use apostrophes; pronouns that show possession do not. Here is an exercise to practice distinguishing between the two from one of my favorite grammar sites–Grammar Bytes: Word Choice–Exercise 13
  • Capitalizing when one shouldn’t and not capitalizing when one should. Okay, I get it that people don’t want to capitalize. It is sooooooooo much trouble to hit the shift key and type a letter, especially when writing with a smart phone. But increasingly I am seeing words that should NOT be capitalized being capitalized, especially doctor, lawyer, mother, father, even brother and sister, as well as a myriad of other words that should not be capitalized in academic writing. I am not too peeved by occasional unnecessary capitalization, often the person is just trying to show respect, but often capitalization errors show a lack of concern for proper writing, even when the person is writing assignments for a composition class! Here is more about capitalization from Grammar Girl: When Should You Capitalize Words?
  • I definitely get peeved when a person does not capitalize the personal pronoun “I” when emailing an English instructor. Come on, guys! Get with the program!

How much can an English teacher take?

 

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I promise I won’t get peeved with you if you submit your best work for publication in my bi-annual literary magazine Teach. Write. Submissions are open for the 2020 spring/summer edition until March 1. See submission guidelines here. 

Thoughts at Year’s End

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I haven’t blogged much this year.

Oh, well.

It isn’t that I’ve lost interest or feel that the blog isn’t important.

I haven’t and it is.

I have been forced to…no, I have chosen, to put my efforts elsewhere.

It has been a pivotal year for me in some ways, and I have discovered many things about myself, my teaching, my students. That’s never a bad thing. It has sometimes been a difficult year, especially for some of the people I love, but even those difficulties are not without worth, without purpose. The sorrows of the year have been tempered with joy. They haven’t necessarily made me stronger, but they have helped me to realize that weakness is not a sin, not evil–it is human.

So here are some thoughts about my year as an English professor:

  • Individual conferences continue to be invaluable and should be done earlier and more often. I have long held research paper conferences with my students and have almost always found them effective, but because the research paper comes later in the semester, some students are too behind to gain the full benefit of a one- on-one meeting time with me, so in the future I want to hold conferences more often.
  • I have always liked Oxford’s “personalised learning” model of tutorials where small groups of students (three or four) meet once or twice a week with a faculty member to discuss readings and essays. Although this style of teaching is not possible when a faculty member has over 110 students in composition-heavy classes like I did this semester, I would like to move in the direction of more individualized instruction when I can and make room for it in my schedule.
  • Less is more. This year, I had too many students, too many papers, too many assignments. For example, at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, I had 120 students–three first semester English composition classes (close to 60 students and 20 online), one second semester freshman English composition class (20 students), close to 20 online British literature I students (composition heavy) and the rest an online eight-week study skills course. That course may seem like the easy one, but I do a great deal of time-consuming direct communication with students because it is such an important introductory course.
  • I know, I know, some of you teachers out there are scoffing at my “light” load, but these heavy teaching loads are not good for us or our students, and I for one am determined to work on making my grading load lighter so I can do justice to my students and have the time to give more meaningful feedback to them, which leads me to my next thought.
  • Discovering what meaningful feedback is. This year, I have relied more heavily on advanced grading techniques provided by our LMS, particularly rubrics and checklists. I have spent more time tailor-making grading tools for each particular assignment, so each includes more feedback with less effort.
  • I still make some markings directly on more heavily graded essays, but I usually stop at the first paragraph or first page and include a statement from my “quick list” that says “I will stop line editing here. See the rest of the paper for any additional comments.” (I LOVE my quick list embedded in the LMS’s advanced grading system that allows me to save common comments and quickly add them to the graded paper.) Then, when posting the grade I include this comment or one similar to it: “See the rubric and comments on the document for feedback. Contact me if you need more information.”
  • My marks on papers are more useful to me than students. This year I have come to face the fact that most students don’t read or try to understand the marks that I make on their essays, but I continue to line edit the first paragraph or page and make spot comments throughout the essay because it helps me grade more accurately and efficiently. I typically grade ten or more essays in one sitting, so it’s easy to lose track of each paper’s strengths and weaknesses. However, if I have made comments, it’s easy to flip back and re-read them before marking the rubric.
  • The downside of plagiarism detectors. This year, I have encountered less direct word-for-word plagiarism but more academic dishonesty. How can that be? My theory is that students use the plagiarism detection software incorrectly or they do not understand or abide by the basic tenets of proper documentation.
  • Quite a few of my students, therefore, are turning in papers that are at best poorly documented and at worst out-and-out plagiarized because often they will only change around a few words or retain the syntax of the original quote. Sometimes, these quotes are simply dropped into the paper without any attempt to integrate them into the paper. In addition, some students will include complete works cited lists at the end of the papers but have no internal citations. Occasionally, they will question why this is considered plagiarism and seem truly baffled that I would give the paper a low grade or a zero. Next thought.
  • Our society thinks too highly of technology. Don’t get me wrong. Modern educational technology is a great tool. I love it and embrace it, but it is only a tool. It can’t do the heavy lifting required to be a good writer, which comes more from reading and comprehending complex texts than from any other single thing. But online writing, like this blog, does not lend itself to the deep, intense labor of reading that is needed to give birth to good writing. Also, technology makes the process of revision and editing easier in a myriad of ways, but I have yet found a truly effective way to motivate my students to use the tools technology supplies. One draft, and I’m done, seems to be the mantra.
  • Five Easy Ways. One way I have tried to help students grasp the concepts of revision and editing is through my “five easy ways” to revise writing. These are simple concepts that I learned in graduate school that can help students learn to find and revise errors. Not always effective when students have been writing one draft only for years. However, students who persist consistently improve. Isn’t that always the case?
  • The continued value of working with others. I am an extrovert. I tend to draw energy from being around and interacting with people. I like collaboration, working together with people toward a common goal. And I continue to enjoy my extroversion. One of the great things that happened this year was the world premiere of my play Battered, probably the best thing I’ve ever written and would have never happened without the director, who is one of my closest friends, the cast, crew, and so many others. It was wonderful–one of the highlights of my  career as both a teacher and a writer.
  • On the other hand, I have also been learning the value of working alone. I have been a people-pleaser most of my life. It goes against my nature to do things just for me without someone suggesting or guiding me, or vice-versa, but as an effective English instructor with 30 years teaching experience, I now see the value of not trying to convince others that my way is the best way but simply doing things my way to the best of my ability, while listening to other voices I trust, like my colleagues at the college, continuing to research andragogy, the teaching of adults, and being humble enough to honestly assess my teaching and make changes when necessary.
  • One big change I made as a result of teaching an eight-week freshman composition course is streamlining the course–fewer papers, fewer assignments, less ineffective feedback, but more information provided through advanced grading methods, which are standard for all students, and personal communication, only when requested by the student (forcing the students to take more charge of their education has been a big plus). I do NOT plan to teach in the summer ever again, please Lord, no, but I did keep the eight-week model and spread it out to 16 weeks this past semester, and all would have been well if I had not made the stupid decision of picking up a third first semester freshman English course. My fault, not to be repeated.

I definitely have plenty of thoughts floating around, but this blogpost is getting a little long and have a novel to work on and some after Christmas sales to hit, so I will sign off for now and blog some more later.

BTW, this is fun and relaxation for an English professor on holiday.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Everybody!!

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