Thanksgiving at the Pagoda

L4b77bf7ebf16aa15a52a4ad03b49010fike many college students that I teach today, when I was in college, not only was I a full-time student, but I also had two jobs. I worked as a secretary in the German department (I majored in English and German), but I also worked as a hostess and cashier at my friend’s parents’ Chinese restaurant–The Pagoda, where I received an education of a totally different sort, but equally as important, to me anyway.

The Pagoda was a truly American Chinese restaurant, built and owned for years by a Chinese-American family, then, after it was already an established and popular eatery, bought by my friend’s father, a Puerto Rican-American,.  The chefs were from Hong Kong primarily; the fry cooks, bussers, and dishwashers were mostly Puerto Rican. Some of them spoke English, but many of them did not. Then there was the wait staff, which included a myriad of varying ethnicities, including Japanese, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Oklahomans,  and me–a little bitty, painfully shy girl from Alabama.

pagoda

It was quite a place! Who would have thought, at a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that I would have tasted such a rich variety of cultures and traditions but always with a distinctly American flavor? This true melting pot extended to the menu, where patrons could feast on traditional dishes like Moo Goo Gai Pan or Chicken Chop Suey, more Americanized fare like Garlic Chicken (garlic-flavored fried chicken) or Steak Kew (thick chunks of sirloin stir-fried with Chinese vegetables in a savory sauce), or all-out All-American eats, including hamburgers, French fries, and Chicken-Fried Steak with White Gravy. (One customer regularly came all the way from Fort Smith for that dish.)

When I first started working at Pagoda, I was so shy, so naive. My parents had moved us to Tulsa when I was still in high school–I graduated from Jenks High School in Jenks, Oklahoma–but I stayed in college at Oral Roberts University, living at home for my first three years in college. Then, about the time I started working at Pagoda, my parents moved back to Alabama, and I moved into the dormitory.

Before that time, I had relied mainly on my family members, my best friend, and her boyfriend for companionship, but now my family was gone, my best friend had moved to a college out of town, and her boyfriend worked a great deal, and I did too, especially at Pagoda.  But my bosses and fellow workers reached out to me, engaged me, joked with me, even protected me, as if they knew I was lost and lonely in a world where I didn’t always fit in.

pagoda-placemat-60-thumbOh, so many memories of that time–

  • The time the Japanese servers refused to work unless they could put a TV up in the waitresses’ alcove so they wouldn’t miss a single episode of Shogun
  • The old Chinese chef, who spoke little English but gave us all pet names off the menu–one friend was Fried Won Ton, another was BBQ Rib, and I was, to my consternation, Sweet and Sour Pork.
  • The huge strong chef, who looked like an Asian Mr. Clean, with his bald head and bulging biceps. One day he was tossing fried rice in a gigantic wok over a searing flame and called me over as I walked by. I motioned I was in a hurry, but he insisted, so I went over. He communicated to me that he wanted me to toss the rice. I looked at him, my eyes narrowing, suspecting a setup, but his was a face of stone. So I took hold of the massive spatulas, more like tiny shovels shoved into the mounds of rice, steeled myself and tried to lift them. They didn’t budge–I heard a tiny sputter from the big man. Tried again, nothing–he sputtered a bit louder–then at the third attempt, he could contain it no longer and burst out with a big-bellied laugh at my expense. Then, after he wiped his eyes, he started tossing the rice with an ease and abandon, laughing all the time. I laughed too–unashamedly.
  • There was the tiny Japanese waitress who had been married like four or five times, who came up to me almost every single time I came into work, looked me in the eye and said, “Smile if you got a little last night.”  Of course, I never got any and of course, I always laughed. Oh, how I loved her.
  • Giving a sweet Cambodian couple some English lessons. In thanks, they cooked me a huge turkey at Christmas time, such a generous gesture that I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I lived in a dorm and had no place to put it. I can’t even tell you what I did with the thing, but I remember their kindness to me. I will never forget that.
  • Then there was the self-proclaimed Okie from Muskogee, who smoked like a chimney and spent her free time traveling to Vegas for gambling weekends with one of the other Japanese waitresses. She had lived a hard life, and nobody messed with that woman, but she had raised children too and knew when they needed to be loved. She cursed and complained about many things, but she never had a harsh word for me. Bless her, she knew I needed a little tenderness, so far away from my own mama.

I especially remember sitting down for special meals during holidays and other special occasions, especially Thanksgiving. Everyone celebrated it–all races, nationalities, and creeds. At Pagoda, Thanksgiving meals became times for friendly competition between the two major groups of cooking employees, so when the restaurant would close before Thanksgiving Day, we would have a spread, all the traditional fixin’s with a spicy twist, including two turkeys–one was cooked in a Chinese style, brined with the skin crisped on the outside and the other one in a spicy Puerto Rican style with adobo spices and oregano. (I’m guessing based on what I know now–I only knew the food was delicious back then.)

Both groups would try to get all of the diners, myself included, to declare their favorite, but I never did. I just smiled, laughed, said I had to get another helping before I could be any judge, and headed back to the table for seconds or thirds. I always tried to find my way back in a corner. I was young. I was shy. I didn’t speak their languages, but I ate their perfectly spiced food, watched them, listened, laughed when they did, and longed to understand them more.

Thus was born one of the key tenants of my educational philosophy.  So I tell my students–get out of the classroom. Put yourself in new and uncomfortable situations and listen for that song you’ve never heard before. Go into every situation with a mind open to learning about things and food and cultures and people you never dreamed you would. If you want to truly, deeply learn—then go out and live.

9f3b5a24ef334aa4354bde332a7f3adb--pagoda-restaurant-oklahoma

 

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Caring

writer-605764_640-2I am beginning to put more emphasis in my teaching on caring.

First of all, I want to care more, about how I teach, what I teach, yes, but what I really want to care more about is each and every student–not just the ones who need me most, either. I want to care about them all–the gifted student, the one who seems to have it all together as well as the one who has dissolved into tears in my office. All my students need earnest praise, constructive criticism, encouragement–attention. They deserve it.

I want to care enough to take the time to let the struggling student know what he or she is doing right as well as what needs improvement. It is so tempting to only mark what needs to be improved. I want to care enough to take the time let them know how much I like that creative spark or this interesting fact they found through careful research.

I want to care enough to put away my petty concerns, there are so many, to concentrate on one of the two things I know in my heart I was born to do–teach writing.

Secondly, I want my students to learn to care. When they start caring about their work, amazing things can happen. The process begins when picking a topic. I spend much more time with this part of the process than I ever have before, and I am seeing results.

It isn’t easy for my students to care about writing for a myriad of reasons:

  • They don’t like writing. Many meaningless “busy work” assignments over the years have soured a large number of my students to writing.
  • They don’t think writing is important. Even though my students write all the time in their daily lives, they often don’t see the relevance of learning to communicate well in the written word. Somehow they seem to think they write well enough to be understood and that’s good enough, so why spend time on it, especially if they are going into a STEM career
  • They don’t make time for revision and editing. I am convinced that if students would leave themselves enough time to revise and edit, they would have time to develop, if not a passion for writing, at least a more thoughtful attitude towards it because they would see how caring improves the writing, which begets pride in one’s work, which begets a desire to leave more time for revision and editing. It’s hard to care about something if rushing to keep a deadline.

One tactic I use to instill a little more thoughtful attitude towards writing is to require my freshman composition students to pick a research topic with a local focus. We spend time exploring topics that concern their everyday lives on and off campus. We brainstorm about the issues they care about, which often leads to a willingness to search even harder for solutions to the not so hypothetical questions they are asking.

Doesn’t always work, of course, but for some of my students, learning to care has not only helped them write better papers, but it also has helped them become advocates for change in their communities, making their lives better, too.

***

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The spring/summer 2018 edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal is open for submissions until March 1. See submission guidelines for more information

 

A Classic Education Is Utilitarian

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At our college’s tutoring center, a colleague and I struggled this past week to help a nursing student understand how to diagram sentences using traditional, Latin-based sentence diagramming methods. The student, a non-traditional-aged student coming back to work on a third degree, was frustrated on multiple levels because not only was she having difficulty with the concepts, especially having been away from anything close to grammar for several decades, she was also having difficulty understanding why she was being asked to diagram sentences in the first place as she sees no practical purpose for it. She’s not alone.

Even in my own composition classes, I have abandoned formal traditional diagramming of sentences in favor of a more informal approach, reminiscent of a structural linguistic method of diagramming, breaking a sentence up based on the functions of the words, phrases, and clauses with a minimum of grammatical terminology.

It is not, however, that I find traditional sentence diagramming a waste of time, and I support its use in the classroom for two main reasons:

  • Diagramming helps students understand the functions of words separate from the appearance of the word, such as verbals, which look like verbs but do not function as verbs.
  • Diagramming helps develop critical thinking skills, which is one of the primary functions of higher education

Kitty Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, eloquently explains the value of diagramming in her New York Times’ article from 2012, “Taming Sentences,” She writes that diagramming helps us think more clearly about what we are writing, and even if it doesn’t do a thing for our writing, it is at the very least, a puzzle that is good exercise for the brain, honing our critical thinking skills.

As a fascinating example, Florey diagrams a compound/complex sentence from Henry James’s The Golden Bowl:

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Of course, I find all of this exciting and interesting, not so our struggling nursing student, who sees diagramming as wasted effort because she sees no application for it. I tried to explain that it was like doing drills for an athlete–the athlete may not do the drill during a race or game or match but, by exercising, will be developing the muscles he or she needs to be competitive. My colleague tried to equate the student’s love of reading to the exercise of diagramming–the student does not NEED to read. What she reads has no immediate application to nursing, but reading exercises the brain, which will help her be a better writer, and a better nurse.

Our student didn’t buy it. But because she is a good student and wants to do well, she listened to our explanations and, I believe, we did help her understand better. She even said that she wanted to come back to the tutoring center to get more help on another day.

We’ll be there.

***

Here are some more articles I hope to share with our student that discuss how important it is for nurses to critically think and write well:

 

 

 

From Prompt to Publication

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My first stab at producing and editing a literary journal–Teach. Write. -is taking shape.

I have accepted quite a few wonderful submissions, but I am hoping to get some more before the August 1 deadline. If you are, or ever have been, a teacher of writing in any capacity, then I would love to see your work–prose or poetry–doesn’t have to be about writing, just writing by a teacher or former teacher. See the submission guidelines for more information.

I was inspired to start Teach. Write. because I have witnessed how writing for publication has enriched my teaching. I am more attune to the power of the revision process, more gentle with my criticism and more accurate, too. Because I am a working writer, I work better with writers who are just learning the process–it keeps me closer to them.

One feature included in Teach. Write. will be called “Write Your Own.” In this feature I would like to highlight writing prompts that  teachers have used successfully in class. To do that, I would like the teacher to not only include and explain the prompt, but also to write something based on their own prompt and submit that piece along with the prompt and explanation.

Here is an example of an explanation, prompt and flash piece that I created for my online British Literature I class:

I’m always trying to find ways to engage online students more effectively. It isn’t always so easy to do. A couple of years ago, however, I came up with a prompt for a discussion forum on Beowulf that has proved to be most successful. I wrote my own response to the prompt when I first posted as an example for my students and liked it so much that I tweaked it a little and sent it out into the cold, cruel world. After a couple of rejections, an online fantasy publication–Mirror Dance–accepted it for publication. I was quite pleased. See the results here: Waiting for Beowulf

The Prompt

The early Anglo-Saxon people were great storytellers. The story of Beowulf, as you saw in the BBC film this week, began as oral tradition, told and re-told around campfires and in great halls for decades, even centuries, before it was finally written down in the form we know it.

Americans are great story-tellers, too, especially here in Appalachia where many of us, including me, have Anglo-Saxon and Celtic blood coursing through our veins. For this assignment I’m going to let you tell part of the Beowulf story your way. Let’s get started:

Directions:

  • Choose one of the scenes you read in Assignment 2.1:
    • First Attack
    • Fight with Grendel
    • Fight with Grendel’s Mother
    • Fight with the Dragon
    • Beowulf’s Funeral
  • Review the scene so you are sure of the plot.
  • Rewrite the scene or a part of the scene from a specific character’s point of view–For example–write the scene of the first attack from one of the surviving men’s point of view or tell it from one of the women’s point of view. Your scene should be one or two well-developed paragraphs in length (seven to ten sentences per paragraph). It may be longer if you are inspired.
  • Post your scene, illustrated by an internet picture you’ve found. See my post to get an example of what to do.
  • Post a thoughtful response to either my sample post (if you are the first one to post) or one of your fellow students’ posts. Take a look at my sample response to get an idea of what I mean by thoughtful response. Also, look at the grading rubric in the Joule Gradebook to see how I will be grading this assignment.
  • Have fun with this assignment!

    The Post and Sample Response

  • stories_of_beowulf_water_witch_trying_to_stab_beowulf

    By J. R. Skelton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


    Waiting for Beowulf

    by

    Katie Winkler

    Come my beauties, writhing sea dragons and serpents, monsters with milky eyes, slouching on slopes by the cliff. Come greet our visitors–the loathsome King Hrothgar and his fiendish followers. And Beowulf, the son-killer, watch him don his war-gear, showing no fear. I will give him cause to tremble, cause to repent how he rent the arm of the monster-child, left him to die like a dog, denying a god the honor of a swift death.

    See the man take up Hrunting, the fool, thinking he will be victorious, boasting to his lord of its great strength as he comes to meet me in my own abode. He will swim to me through the depths, with great and mighty strokes, swim to my home some call a hellish turn-hole. Here he will sling the mighty sword. Its decorated blade will come down singing and ringing. Singing and ringing. But it will not touch the swamp-thing from hell. It will refuse to bite, and then this hag, this witch, shall take her revenge.

  • Response:
    • This creative response shows a good understanding of the scene in Beowulf that depicts the fight with Grendel’s mother. The author includes references to the description of Grendel’s mother in the original work as well as the underwater cave in which she lives. Also interesting is the use of kennings–compound words like war-gear, son-killer and turn-hole. Kennings are common in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Finally, it is interesting to see the story from the creature’s perspective. She is portrayed more as a vengeful mother who has lost her beloved son than a fiendish monster. The illustration is appropriate as well, showing that the illustrator obviously read and/or studied the original work before creating the artwork. Note: I used a different illustration in my post but could not include it here due to copyright issues.

Student Response to the assignment has been positive.

Most students respond well to Beowulf anyway. It is just such an exciting “action hero” story, but this prompt has helped many students take their studies a step further and start to explore the style and artistry of the poem as well as plot and character.

So if you have a prompt you really love, Write Your Own, and submit it and share your good idea with other teachers and writers.

Shameless Plug

 

unbrokencircleOne more thing before I say good bye. I have a story in this marvelous little anthology: Unbroken Circle: Stories of Cultural Diversity in the South edited by Julia Watts and Larry Smith, published by Bottom Dog Press. You can buy a copy at the Bottom Dog Press website or on Amazon. Print and Kindle editions are available.

Here is what Karen Salyer McElmurray, author of Surrendered Child, said about the book: “In turbulent times, what we need is possibility, and in this rich gathering of diverse voices, Watts and Smith give us just that….These are stories and essays about the blues, about poverty, about families lost and made. Unbroken Circle is about broken and unbroken lives, and ultimately, hope.”

 

Process, Not Plagiarism

my workI created a wiki on wikispaces for my professional development class. I call it Process, Not Plagiarism. Here is a link if you’d like to see it: Katie’s Wiki (My apologies for the Wiki not being open before. I have changed permissions, so you can now see the wiki.)

This is a subject I’ve thought a great deal about in my 27 years teaching and am convinced that the best way to prevent plagiarism is to engage students in the process and observe them throughout it.

The subject of plagiarism detection software came up on my wiki and this was my answer:

It is good to let students know about and learn how to use plagiarism detection software, but it is far from the answer to the plagiarism problem in higher education. First of all, more and more students are learning how to “beat” plagiarism detection software. Here is an article in Times Higher Education by Hannah Fearn from back in 2011 about how easy plagiarism software is to beat: “Plagiarism can be beat with simple tech tricks.”

I have never been a huge advocate for plagiarism detection services anyway because while the software does a decent job of detecting word-for-word plagiarism, it doesn’t do anything for the bigger problem–lack of proper attribution. Students often think that if they use quotation marks and cite quotes then they are home free, and sometimes they think if they re-write in their own words then they don’t need attribution because the software won’t pick up the plagiarism.

Secondly, and most importantly in my mind, emphasizing the process allows me the time I need to encourage students to choose a topic they are truly interested or even passionate about. When students become engaged in the process and truly want to learn about it instead of simply completing a project, then the results can be more than satisfactory–they can be life-changing.

More on this topic later. .

***

If you teach or have taught English composition at any level, please consider submitting to the premiere edition of Teach. Write, a literary journal for writing teachers. The submission guidelines can be found at Teach. Write. Submission Guidelines, and I will be accepting works of poetry and prose until July 1. The first edition will come out in September.

Lifelong Learning

One thing I hope to instill in my students is a love of learning, something that continues long after the semester is over, the year ended or the degree conferred. The drive to do this comes, even after almost 30 years of teaching, from my own love of being the student, not the teacher.

Right now, I am enjoying a  course through the state’s professional development system called “Technology Bootcamp II.” I wasn’t privileged to take the first six-week course, but now, in the third week of this second course, I have already learned some exciting new technologies to add spice to my seated and online classes. Here are some new things I’m learning as well as some older things I’m learning anew:

Blackboard–I used to teach using Blackboard until our college moved to Moodle. Although I am so used to Moodle now and happy with that learning platform, it’s gratifying to see that I have gotten back into the swing of things pretty easily. The interfaces are similar enough that I have easily adapted. I am glad, however, to learn the differences, so I can better prepare students who might transfer and encounter Blackboard or those who come to me more familiar with Blackboard than Moodle.

Prezi–I have used Prezi for several years now and prefer it to some other presentation software. In this course, however, I have learned to use some of the bells and whistles that I didn’t know and discovered some templates that I hadn’t seen before. I like Prezi’s dynamic animation that makes presentations almost cinematic. It is user friendly and easy for students to learn. Here is a link to the Prezi I created to introduce myself to the class. Educational accounts are free.

Prezi Introduction

Tagul–This easy-to-use program was new to me, and it is fun!  I can see many uses for it in my classes because I think students will have fun with it too. Tagul allows you to easily produce Word Cloud Art just by uploading web content or adding your own text. Here is one of the first word clouds I created using words from my Study Skills class syllabus.

student-success

I was able to view a short tutorial, and then after a little trial and error, created this word tree that highlights some of the main ideas of the course. Word Cloud exercises could be used for vocabulary-building, learning key concepts and terms, for review purposes and a myriad of other uses. And, like Prezi, it’s free!

Here is a link to the animated version of the word cloud I created:  https://tagul.com/oo05cu2qlre9/student-success

Jing–Although I have used other screencast programs, Jing will be extremely useful for making short how to videos, five minutes or shorter. User friendly with helpful tutorial videos (I should hope so), Jing didn’t take long to get  the hang of and before I knew it, I had created a short tutorial video on how to use Tagul! Here’s a link to the video if you would like to see my first effort at using Jing! Free!

Jing Screencast

LiveBinders–This application helps instructors and students create digital three-ring binders. I haven’t finished working on this project yet, but so far I am quite impressed with LiveBinders. I’m able to download and organize websites, photos, videos, files, etc. that pertain to a particular topic, making them accessible for classroom use. Students can create a free account to create portfolios for class or keep all of their class project files together and easy to share, especially when working on group projects. Very useful.

I will also be learning classroom and online applications of Google Earth this week. Looking forward to it, and I will give you all an update on more useful education applications as I learn them.

I love being a lifelong learner!

Speaking of being a lifelong learner: Just a reminder that my literary e-zine, Teach. Write.,is open for submissions of short fiction, poetry and essays now through July 1, 2017. Anyone who has taught English composition is welcome to submit. See the guidelines  at this link for more information: Teach. Write Submission Guidelines. I would love to see your work!

Teach. Write. Again.

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I have a dream. To publish a literary e-zine that celebrates the writing of composition teachers.

The one thing that has helped me most to become an effective composition teacher, besides twenty-seven years of teaching English composition of course, is writing and pursuing publication of my work. Such a process has certainly kept me humble (I quit counting when my rejections reached over two hundred.) and has never made me rich. However, a couple of years, I did make enough to be taxed. (Of course, that isn’t saying much, is it?)

On the other hand, with over two dozen short stories published in print and online publications, as well as over a hundred theater reviews and features for the local paper, five years as columnist for my college, two or three years as an arts columnist, and now approaching the production of my second full-length play, my writing avocation has also boosted my confidence as a writing  instructor and given me a certain credibility with my students, some of my students.

Above all, being a writer keeps me mindful of what it’s like to write for a critical audience–a critique group member, an editor, an agent, an audience.

3990049531_e1c94fdd9e_bBecause I’m a writer, I am reminded of what it’s like

  • to procrastinate.
  • to spend more time revising and editing than composing
  • to be uninterested, or lose interest, in a project
  • to be obligated to complete said project
  • to have a work criticized or rejected
  • to take that criticism or rejection as a personal attack
  • to be misunderstood

But it’s not all bad. Because I am a writer, I can truthfully inform my students that good writing, while hard, and often thankless, work is

  • a valuable skill
  • a confidence builder
  • actually can be fun
  • and sometimes, every now and then, absolutely glorious!

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So, the dream is to have this little online publication called Teach. Write. that will allow present and former composition teachers of all types to try their hands at writing out of their comfort zone, to make themselves vulnerable again to constructive criticism and rejection, to boost their confidence and support their colleagues–to write, and in so doing, become better teachers, better people.

The e-zine will be for writing teachers by writing teachers, specifically, but because the style and subject of essays, poetry and short stories will be open for the most part, the magazine should appeal to a general audience.

Although I will consider pieces that are on the subject of writing if they are unusual and compelling, I’m not particularly looking for work that is about writing or being a writing teacher. As I mentioned, this magazine is calling for teachers to move out of their comfort zones, so I would rather they write a literary short story or a flash piece, a sonnet or poem in blank verse, an essay about a night spent in jail–whatever they want to say. These will be the general submissions.

Because I want this e-zine to be useful to writing teachers, I also will have a regular feature called “Writing Your Own.” In this feature I will call for composition teachers to write pieces based on their own writing prompts. For example, the fantasy e-zine, Mirror Dance, published a flash piece called “Waiting for Beowulf” that I had written as an example for a creative writing assignment in my British literature I online class.  It is so helpful for instructors to write with their students–it can also be simply fun, yielding strong writing from students and publishable work from teachers.

I have set December 1 as the deadline for setting up the website. At that time, I will begin accepting essays and short fiction of 2,500 words or less, poetry of 100 lines or less (up to three poems accepted in one document), ten-minute stage and screenplays (ten pages), and pieces for the “Writing Your Own” feature (250-2,500 words).

All teacher-writers should include a short (100 words or less) biographical statement, which includes their present or past position as an English composition teacher. This statement is more important to me than publication credits. Of course, elementary and middle school language arts teachers, high school and college-level English teachers can submit, but if they have taught independently for business and industry or as part of a continuing education program, they are also eligible. If they have tutored in English composition professionally or as a volunteer, they may feel free to submit. They should simply mention composition teaching experience in the bio..

From  December 1 to June 30, I will accept submissions for the inaugural edition, which I hope to publish in the fall. My desire is to begin publishing twice a year, fall and spring, hoping that contributers who are working teachers can write and submit in the summer and winter, then enjoy, along with their students, their published work in the fall and spring.

I believe it is important to pay writers, but I don’t have much money, so I will be offering only a small honorarium here at the beginning of my venture, hoping that in the future I can offer more. I will let writers know the amount in December.

If anyone is interested in submitting  work to Teach. Write., start writing and look for an announcement on Hey, Mrs. Winkler with a link to Teach. Write. 

I have had this dream for a long time, but as it is has been with most of my dreams, they only happen when I find the time to do them and set to work.  The time is now.