Too Long

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This is what I get for teaching in the summer—less time to work on my blog. I almost let all of June go by without a post, but I made it!

I am saying right now, while I am in the midst of it, that I will never teach a course in the summer again. What was I thinking? Those of you who know me understand how I can get during the school year–I’m kind of intense, let’s say. Summer has always been my time to work on myself—my writing and reading, my diet and exercise, my family, my friends. Oh, and my Scrabble online time.

Not that I haven’t been doing all that.

However, I should have anticipated that teaching a composition course in eight weeks instead of sixteen is naturally going to take up a big chunk of time. And it has. Yet, I’m not sorry that I have done it because even if I do not succumb to the allure of teaching in the summer again (oh, Lord, I hope not ), I have learned a great deal that I can apply when teaching my sixteen-week classes.

Here we go:

  • Streamline assignments–I found that with fewer assignments, students are getting an ample amount of writing practice. I have also found that I can assign less time for assignments and still get the same quality of work from students. Giving weeks of time to complete the major assignments doesn’t seem to help either. Plus, I don’t have weeks of time when teaching a sixteen-week composition course in eight weeks.
  • Compact assignments–I re-wrote assignments to get more information in a single assignment so that I could afford to streamline. It takes some work and creative thought, but I dig that kind of stuff. Hey, course design is one of the reasons I love teaching so much.
  • Add video and text resources but keep them well-organized–I always have included a myriad of video and text resources, but with our new clean-looking LMS interface, it is easy to use labels to keep all of the student resources organized and easier to access. One tip–add resources that come from highly respected institutions (a plagiarism quiz from Cornell, which covers just about every possible plagiarism situation my students stumble across) and those that involve technology (a video about how to use Survey Monkey, which students like to use when doing field research for their capstone project).
  • Spreading out due dates–Students would find it difficult to be successful if they tried to complete two weeks worth of work in one cram session right on the day assignments are due. We can say good students get started early all we want, but the reality is most students, strong or weak, wait until the due date to complete assignments. Spreading out due dates helps students manage their time and helps me keep up with grading.
  • Introduce and summarize assignments–I have always added an introduction to my assignments, including key concepts from the text that I want to reinforce, but I have rewritten the introductions to be more intentional. I have also added summaries that include ONLY a bulleted list of what the students actually must submit for the assignments. This seems to help a great deal in avoiding confusion. Aristotle’s old advice, tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you just said, still holds true.
  • Create screencasts–It is relatively easy to create explanatory screencasts and upload them to YouTube with my ipad. I created a screencast just the day before yesterday that is about eight minutes long and takes students through the steps to find sources on my college’s website. YouTube has a feature that makes it easy to close caption in order for the video to be ADA compliant. All together, including upload, the screencast took me about one and a half hours to create. That would be more than I might want to dedicate during the school year, but since I have only one class this summer, and this screencast will be able to be used again, it was worth the effort.
  • Stay in touch–I have always tried to stay in touch with students, but I have made an even more concerted effort to communicate with students this summer since I have more time. I try to answer e-mails quickly and maintain a light and friendly tone with students. Last night I called a struggling student and spent about fifteen minutes offering some advice but mainly encouraging her. Fifteen minutes to save her from withdrawing a second time from English composition. Time well-spent. I know in the regular school year, with six classes, I will be unable to talk to all of my students this way, but I can certainly try to make a more personal connection to online students who are struggling.
  • Encourage strong students, too–This summer it has hit me harder than usual how much my strong students need me. They need to see not only a blanket “good work” on assignments, but also remarks on their essays about specific things they have done well. Sometimes the A students are lost in the shuffle. I don’t want to forget them this coming school year when I start getting busy putting out fires.
  • Empathize with difficulties–It doesn’t hurt to be human. I try to remember what it was like to work two jobs, be active in a campus club and be in student government while I was carrying a full load of classes. Some of my students have small children to care for as well. I can’t imagine. But I need to try.
  • However, don’t lower standards–While I try to show students compassion and make concessions where I can, I never want to lower my standards. I would not only be doing a disservice to the student but also to the college and society at large. Our students’ potential employers deserve workers who can read and write clearly, concisely, and persuasively. I have to be kind but firm.
  • Maintain a sense of humor–Much undervalued in education, I think. Having a sense of humor when communicating with students, when appropriate of course, eases tensions and humanizes me and the situation. It helps establish rapport with students like nothing else and helps them realize that, wildly successful or not, this intense eight-week English composition course will be just a blip in their lives, an important blip, but not the be all and end all of their existence.

Now, I had fun! I love writing this blog and hope someone reads it, but even if no one does, I have had a chance to pull together some interesting conclusions about my experience teaching this eight-week online composition class, and it is giving me some good, good, good vibrations. Sounds like summertime to me!

Anyone for a game of Scrabble?

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DON’T FORGET TO SUBMIT TO TEACH! WRITE! DEADLINE FOR THE FALL 2019 ISSUE IS AUGUST 1! CLICK HERE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOUR POETRY, SHORT FICTION, OR CREATIVE NON-FICTION! YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A TEACHER OR A PUBLISHED WRITER TO SUBMIT!

 

 

 

Summertime

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North Carolina Coast–photo by Katie Winkler

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

Sort of.

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I have decided to teach an eight-week freshman composition course this summer that began yesterday. People have said it can’t be done, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is simply too difficult of a course to teach in eight weeks. We’ll see. However, I think it is worth trying because many of our stronger students could benefit greatly if they could get both freshman comp classes completed in one semester.

Despite taking on this experimental course this summer, I will still have some extra time that I hope to spend productively. First, I have been working on a novel for several years now and am determined to finish the rough draft this summer and have the work edited and ready to go out in the world to seek fame and fortune (Ha!) by the end of the year.

Second, I want to revise, edit, and polish some of my short stories that I have not found a home for yet. Last year, I totally reworked a story that had been rejected numerous times, and it soon, after some revision suggested by the editor, found a home with the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. It’s called “Pilgrimage” 

Another goal is to continue seeking and reviewing submissions for my literary journal Teach. Write.  When I first started the journal, four editions ago, I only accepted work from teachers of writing, but now I accept work from students of writing as well.

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If you are interested in submitting to Teach. Write. then see the submission guidelines for more details.  You can see the latest edition by clicking here. I love to see stories about teaching composition and learning to write, but I accept short stories, poetry, and essays on a variety of topics and themes. I would love to see your work!

As usual I keep busy, but never fear–I plan to do a great deal of sitting and reading on my deck with my feet up, sipping iced tea with lemon.

Ahhhhhh, summer.

No Time to Write

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Busy grading and working on the new edition of Teach. Write. slated for publication on April 1, but been thinking a great deal about optimal number of students in online writing intensive classes. Below is a link to an article by Wayne D’Orio, an award-winning education journalist, writing for Inside Higher Education.

“Online class sizes: one size does not fit all.”

Online class sizes

My favorite comment: “All sources for this story agreed that writing intensive courses demand fewer students.”

BTW—online literature courses are writing intensive if taught correctly.

Just sayin’.

 

League for Innovation in the Community College 2016

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Courtesy of sheratongrand.com

I’m in  Chicago for the 2016 League of Innovations Conference. I have already experienced some of the best professional development I’ve ever had after only one day of meetings, which makes for an auspicious beginning.

Yesterday was all about getting here and getting settled in. John and I left Asheville super early on Saturday and got here before noon, so we had plenty of time to explore the city. It wasn’t warm (this isn’t called the Windy City for nothing), but the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day, so we left the hotel, ate at a sandwich shop down the street from the hotel and walked down to the Navy Pier, less than a mile from our home away from home.

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Navy Pier (courtesy of Trippy Media)

According to conciergepreferred.com the Navy Pier was not developed for use by the military but was used as a housing and training facility for the Navy during both world wars. Since 1946 the pier has been used for various purposes, including the undergraduate campus of the University of Chicago, but now is mainly a recreational facility, featuring a major embarking center for city cruises and bus tours, restaurants, biking and walking paths, restaurants, music venues, a children’s museum and, of course, the Ferris wheel. Walking around the pier and down the walkways along the Chicago River was a great way to be introduced to the city.

After making it back to the hotel and getting registered for the conference, an easy process thanks to the efficiency of my college’s educational foundation staff, we relaxed in the room for a while and later enjoyed a great meal at Bongiorno’s Italian Deli and Pizzeria. We were greeted by the proprietor, sat under signed Ernie Banks photos, had excellent service, ate authentic Italian Capricciosa pizza, drank good imported Italian beer and enjoyed a nice chat with the owner, who told us how he played minor league ball in Greensboro years ago and kindly admired my beautiful double-knitted scarf that my daughter Hannah made me for Christmas. Truly a Bella Notte!

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The only thing that marred the evening was that Bongiorno’s is directly across from the Trump Tower–Just can’t get shed of that guy.

Today started early. We had breakfast at the little cafe in the hotel, then John headed out to explore while I started a long day of informative and interesting sessions as the conference began. Here’s a breakdown of the sessions I attended today:

8:30-9:30–Expand Your Horizon of Inclusion: Connect with Local Communities. This session was led by Dr. Leo Parvis, Coordinator of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minnesota. He is the author of  Understanding Cultural Diversity in Today’s Complex World, now in its fifth edition. Dr. Parvis uses this textbook in the course he teaches on cultural diversity, so I bought a copy to take back to the college and share with our Inclusive Education Committee of which I am a member. An excellent presentation by one of the nation’s leaders in inclusive education.

9:45-10:45–Toward a New Ecology of Student Success: Expanding and Transforming Learning Opportunities throughout the Community College, The Cross Papers, Number 19. I have to make a confession. I did research, wrote and submitted a proposal in the 2016 Cross Papers’ competition and did not win, so I attended this session out of curiosity about the man who won this year’s competition more than anything else. I also must confess that I was humbled. Jim Riggs, who wrote this year’s monograph, gave a wonderful presentation, discussing the importance of faculty and support staff working together toward the same goals of student success–that faculty are the center of this effort because of their close contact, but that this “new ecology” must include ALL of the college–that the disconnect between these two parts of the community college must be repaired. I look forward to acquiring a copy of the monograph and bringing it back to the college and sharing it with administration, staff and fellow faculty.

11:00-12:00–How to Successfully Teach Online–Michael Corona, Business Communications Instructor, Excelsior College, NY–I didn’t learn a whole lot of new things at this session, but it was great for my spirit because it validated so much of my own online teaching practices. To hear that such an experienced and obviously successful online instructor employs many of the same strategies as I do in his online classes was inspiring. I also had a chance to network with other instructors, which is one of the main benefits of attending educational conferences.

1:00-2:00–Storytelling with Data: Telling the Tale of ALP–Facilitated by a former English instructor and a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, who, I found out later, taught at Piedmont Community College, this excellent session gave me some great ideas about how to present program data that helps elicit real change. I am looking forward to sharing this information with my supervisor and colleagues. After the session I had a nice discussion about ALP (Accelerated Learning Program) with Dawn Coleman,  the grad student who used to teach in North Carolina.

2:15-3:15–Life During Community College: Your Guide to Success–Terry Arndt, College Transition Publishing. This was another validating session, but I also was introduced to a few very useful tidbits I can take back to the college that is sure to interest many at my college, especially ideas about orientation courses and student retention. Listening to the questions and comments from other educators, I also realized in this session how progressive our college is when it comes to the first-year experience as well as our instruction in library resources.

If you have to work on Sunday, then this was a good way to do it.

Now I’m back in my room, watching the Penguins play the Capitals, the Pens just went up by one, and wondering when John will get hungry enough for some more good Chicago food and drink. I love the Penguins but…..

Online Inspiration

I teach 200-level college transferable literature courses online at a small community college in North Carolina. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same things myself when I developed my first course–World Literature II–years ago. Things like

  • I will never be able to engage them like I can in a seated class.
  • This course will never be equal to a seated one.
  •  The grading load will be totally unmanageable.
  • I need the interaction with students that only a seated class can give.
  • I will never be able to have the kind of variety of assignments and activities that I have in my seated classes

All of these things were true in those first years and perhaps at least one or two of them is still true in my mind, but the time is rapidly approaching, with new advancements and technology as well as continued training when even the final issues will be resolved and students will be able to choose whatever form is best for them and know that they will get equal quality of instruction.

My opinion about teaching online classes has begun to change primarily because of training offered by our college’s distance learning personnel and help from colleagues as well as computer savvy young people, including my 21-year-old computer-raised daughter. I, who thought I had died and gone to heaven when I received my first Smith-Corona electric typewriter with its changeable cartridges,

never imagined back then the Star Trek technology that would become a reality in my lifetime, but as the programs and software have become increasingly user friendly, I have been able, if not to master them, at least to find ways to incorporate technology into my online classes. Some of this technology has helped to engage my students and aided me in what was at first an untenable amount of grading, while maintaining rigor and upholding the standards expected of college transfer students.

At my college’s professional development day last Thursday I shared some of the ways I am using technology to help the students in my online literature classes become more active readers as well as learn to research more deeply. I will be presenting this same presentation in March when I attend the League of Innovation in Community College’s conference in Chicago.

I used Prezi (one of the free presentation software applications I talked about in the PD session) to create a slide show that in itselfis a representation of how my knowledge of technology is improving. Furthermore, I have to tell you a secret…I had fun.

Here’s the link to the Prezi presentation (It may take a minute or two to load):

Dig Deep: Encouraging Active Reading and Deep Research in Online Classes

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Herman Melville, Lincoln’s Inn and Serendipity

Lincoln’s Inn–London (photo courtesy of Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn)

One of the things I love doing as a teacher is creating opportunities to become a student again. It renews the love of learning that is at the heart of my profession but sometimes gets lost under the mind-numbing bureaucratic tasks and pointless political pandering that has become so much a part of what it means to be an educator.

It’s at times like these that I most need to remember how exciting it is to learn something new, to read and study a work I’ve never encountered before, to visit places I’ve never been. My trip to London in the fall of last year provided me with many such opportunities.

Like the day I discovered Lincoln’s Inn.

I say discovered because I hadn’t gone looking for Lincoln’s Inn. I didn’t know it was there. I didn’t know anything about it. I certainly didn’t know that a month later I would be writing a lesson on Herman Melville for my new online American Literature I class and encounter Lincoln’s Inn once again.

It happened this way:

I woke up the first day that I was alone in London, finally free to do some serious walking and exploring. I planned out a trip that I had been longing to take ever since I developed a sample travel project for my British Literature II class several years ago. I decided to walk from my hotel in Russell Square to the Sir John Soane Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Sir John Soane was a famous and wealthy Regency Era architect who designed the Bank of England and other famous landmarks, including his own house that he willed to his country.

Not knowing how long it would take me to walk there, I sat out rather early, clutching my google map instructions tightly in my hands. I made quick work getting there, too quick in fact. The museum was not yet open. With more than 20 minutes to wait, I decided to cross e street to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and walk around. Although it is a beautiful little park with its trees at their peak of Autumn foliage, I still had about 15 minutes to spare after walking the perimeter.

I decided to explore just a little further, and noting the street names began to head towards the most interesting brick building. As I approached, I realized that there were other similar buildings. Then, I passed through what looked to be a very old tower gate, and I realized I was in some sort of compound–beautifully landscaped and tended–the large main building almost like a church with beautiful stone accents and stained glass windows. I saw that there was a library  in the building and got a hint to its use when I saw a man traditionally dressed in barrister’s robes walking up the sidewalk towards the building.

I returned to the Morton Hotel after many more wonderful adventures, including the Sir John Soane Museum that I finally got to see (it was magnificant), an outdoor art display by Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts (incredible), lunch at a classic London Pub (tasty onion and mushroom pie) and a trip to the British Museum (I love that place). Even though I visited the British Museum on my first trip to London, I went to rooms I didn’t get to see that first time–my favorite being the Ancient European room and the clock room.

After a bite to eat from the little Tesco down the street and a hot shower, I settled in to find out what exactly that incredible building was. I quickly discovered that what I had been looking at and admiring was none other than Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court, which are the professional organizations for all barristers in England and Wales. I researched and read until late in the night, fascinated and excited to learn something new that would help me read, study and teach more effectively as well as humbled, feeling that I, as a teacher of British literature, should have known more about these things already.

When I returned home, I immediately found ways to incorporate what I had learned in my British Literature I class. That goes without saying, but I had no idea how my experience of discovering Lincoln’s Inn would enhance my teaching in American Literature until I read Melville’s “A Paradise of Bachelors.” The setting is one of the Inns of Court where the main character in this highly autobiographical story goes walking through the streets of London just as I did and is impressed with the beauty and grandeur of the grounds around the Temple Bar, just as I was.

IT lies not far from Temple-Bar.

Going to it, by the usual way, is like stealing from a heated plain into some cool, deep glen, shady among harboring hills.

Sick with the din and soiled with the mud of Fleet Street — where the Benedick tradesmen are hurrying by, with ledger-lines ruled along their brows, thinking upon rise of bread and fall of babies — you adroitly turn a mystic corner — not a street — glide down a dim, monastic way flanked by dark, sedate, and solemn piles, and still wending on, give the whole care-worn world the slip, and, disentangled, stand beneath the quiet cloisters of the Paradise of Bachelors. Sweet are the oases in Sahara; charming the isle-groves of August prairies; delectable pure faith amidst a thousand perfidies: but sweeter, still more charming, most delectable, the dreamy Paradise of Bachelors, found in the stony heart of stunning London.

Melville’s description spoke to my experience so completely. His observations so piquant that I immediately found renewed admiration for this, one of the greatest of American writers.

“Found in the stony heart of stunning London.”

London Trip — Day One–Departure

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Dear Students,

My blog these next few days is primarily for you. Whether you are one of my British literature students or not, I want you to know that I’m thinking of you. I also am only just an e-mail or a Moodle message away. I will try to answer your questions in a timely manner. I’m hoping that you will find my posts interesting even if you are in my ACA115 online class or you are in one of my seated classes, even though the material doesn’t seem directly related to your class.

For those in my literature classes, I hope this information will be useful as you put together your capstone project–the literary travel project. You will see that it takes a lot to put together a trip, especially one that is dedicated to finding and enjoying particular things related to your particular author or work–of course, Shakespeare is pretty easy, I’ll admit.

So here’s a little run-down of my day:

I woke early because I couldn’t sleep. I was wondering if the luggage I bought would really fit in the overhead compartments or if I would have to check it in–I stewed and stewed over this. When my husband woke up, I told him about my worries, and he simply took out a tape measure to reassure me that it did meet the requirements for a carry on. I’m still going to ask at the check-in counter, though–just to be sure. I already have my boarding pass as I took care of that online from home yesterday.

I double checked some things and then headed to work. On the way there I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition as I usually do, and heard two stories back to back that mentioned London. It always seems that when you start thinking about or studying a certain thing, you are more attuned to hearing about it.

Before my class, I answered student e-mail and graded some of your papers and will grade more at home and on the flight as most airlines allow personal electronic devices to be used gate to gate now (the regulation changed in 2014 for most international flights, but I will ask just in case).

In my class we talked about fallacies in logic as my students prepare to research and write their argumentative research papers. Even in that class my mind turned to England as I used two great scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to illustrate my point–the “She’s a Witch” scene and the “Annoying Peasant” scene. Funny stuff and it always makes the point. We discussed all the egregious false logic in the clips, including non sequitur, hasty generalization, stereotyping, post hoc ergo proctor hoc, ad hominem and others. I always enjoy the “ferreting out fallacies” part of English 111.

After class I ran over to the Patton Auditorium to catch the last few minutes of a terrific talk by Lisa K. Bryant, artistic director at the Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theater of North Carolina, along with some of the staff at the Playhouse, for the Arida Arts Symposium. It was so wonderful to see a bond beginning to develop between the Playhouse and the College. It has always been there, but I’m glad to see it strengthening. Quite a few drama students were in attendance and had an opportunity to hear what it’s like to make a living in the theater as she has. It was gratifying, also, for the director of our drama department to hear confirmed by professionals in the theater the things that she has been saying to her students all along.

Whew, I’m tired already, and I haven’t even gotten to the airport yet, so I’ll say TTFN (tata for now) and put the final touches on my baggage.

Cherrio,

Katie