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.

Appreciations – Driven Home by a Sixth Grader

To the logical, pragmatic, no-nonsense, Type-A personality that I am, the concept of appreciations in storytelling (or teaching) was initially lost on me. It felt like a “nicey-nicey-fluff-give-them-positive-first-but-doesn’t-help-teach-them-or-move-them-to-change” process. Why not just tell them what they need to change? Enough of the touchy-feely stuff. Give them meat to chew on.

My first formal storytelling teacher kept giving people appreciations in class, no suggestions or critiques, just appreciations. And he really meant it too. It wasn’t just lip service. I thought this was OK for the first few weeks of class, but when was he going to get to “telling people how they need to change and improve”? As the weeks went on, I began to try to follow his lead. I was quite surprised to find that it was easy to find something to appreciate about every telling.

Then I attended a workshop with long-time teller and storytelling coach. He spoke of how his father gave him constant praise, even for the smallest things, from birth, and throughout his life. It made me think of my own father who could pick out the one mistake I made and focus on that negative aspect of my effort. It made me think about my eighth-grade teacher who embarrassed me in front of the whole class with his condemning critique of a book report I had written. It made me think of how I critique both others, and myself.

A small part of me, the therapist and a mediator, began to understand appreciations, at least on a psychological level. Reinforcing positive behavior helps people repeat that positive behavior. I began to make a change. I tried to “give praise” wherever I could. I was conscious of really looking for the positive aspects of what I saw, and letting people know what I appreciated about what they had done.

Then I met Anthony. Anthony was a cherub-faced sixth grader at a school I visited to tell stories and talk about storytelling. The students had already done some storytelling and the teacher wanted the class to demonstrate to me what they had learned. Anthony eagerly raised his hand and volunteered to be the first to tell his story.

He stood before the class and began. He was a little nervous, but told a good story. Oh, he paced back and forth and didn’t always face forward and look at his audience. And as he was telling, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Anthony was me!

Yes, I did see myself in that eleven year-old boy; eager, creative, excited, longing for acknowledgment and praise. I thought, how can I say anything negative about his telling? What good would that accomplish? I felt that even one tiny “constructive suggestion” might bruise his young ego and only send him into a labyrinth of self-doubt. And then the second wave came over me. Are our adult egos any less fragile than Anthony’s? I think not.

It was then that I began to understand appreciations on an emotional level. There have been adult students and colleagues who have said, “Just tell me the bad things.” I, myself have even said that in the past. And yet, behind the bravado that purports to be strong and only wants a critique, stands a delicate ego, deeply longing for praise and acceptance. And it is the praise and acceptance that supports their growth and learning.

So the next time that you hear someone tell a story, have a student give an answer, have a student try, I hope you see Anthony…
and then, perhaps, yourself… and then give an appreciation.

 

Believe You Can Float!

As a Storyteller, I go to as many workshops and conferences as I am able. Learning more about my craft is an ongoing quest. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an all-day workshop with international Storyteller and Mime, Antonio Rocha (pronounced “hosha”), originally from Brazil. Antonio is an incredible performer. I swear that I have seen him “float”!

At the beginning of the workshop, Antonio asked each participant to voice what they hoped to get out of the day. In addition to some specifics, I said, “Oh yeah, and I want to learn how to float!” Antonio’s response set the tone for the whole day: “The first step is to believe you can float!”

There were many things that I learned and gleaned from the workshop, but one of the most important, and most revealing was the actual “coaching” that several people got from Antonio. As each person told their story, I had my own ideas about how they were doing, and what might be helpful. It was quite amazing when Antonio’s suggestions affirmed my own thoughts. To be “in sync” with a master that I admire confirmed for me that I was “on the right track” with my own assessments.

Then came my turn to be coached by Antonio. Try as I did to affect what I had already learned from the workshop, I was not completely successful. Antonio was gentle and affirming in his suggestions for me, “You can do this. Believe you can!” It was in the “doing” and putting myself out there that I learned the most.

My advice to all who wish to improve themselves, in whatever endeavor: study, learn from the masters, get coaching from a trusted and admired mentor/colleague.

The first step is to believe you can!

 

Pro Grow

I attend AMATYC (American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges) conferences very often. I have attended many events offered through our CTLE. I eat lunch most everyday with several of my math colleagues, and we share with each other different ways in which we are all trying to reach our students. One more recent thing I have done is sign up to teach MAT 240 Calc III for the first time ever. I have re-learned a lot and have learned a lot from Laura Watkins who has helped me through the first semester teach a new course. I have an even better understanding of the material in Calc I and II, which I have taught many times, than I had before and a renewed view of what are the most important parts the students need from these two pre-requisite courses.


Developmental Education . . . My Own

Four years ago Mary Jane asked me to take a late start ENG101.  It was a last minute request . . . those happen a lot in our ever-growing, ever-changing department.  I said of course, and I was scrambling to pull my things together.  I asked for a copy of her syllabus to help me and was startled by a new term:  Google docs.

When I asked MJ for clarification, I had no idea that I would be opening a door to one of my greatest areas of personal growth.  She took about fifteen minutes to show me how she supported the writing process, not with blue folders and feedback sheets (a la Joy Wingersky), but with Google docs.

God bless the sixteen victims, I mean students who helped me learn the process that semester.  I made mistakes in giving directions and in organizing their files and in how I wanted to give feedback.  At the same time, however, I got hooked on the formative assessment that allowed me to coach any aspect of their writing from any place at any time.  Two of the students even thought it was cool that I was using something they’d used in high school for the past two years.  Glad I was catching up!

Since that spring, I’ve become a Google maniac!  I’ve used Google docs with dev ed students in learning communities; with all levels of reading and children’s lit; with ENG071 students (mostly ESL); and with future teachers.  My former students get help from me with psych or history papers by sharing a Google doc.  Teaching buddies like Roxanna Dewey and Alisa Cooper share their Google doc successes and challenges, and I learn something every semester.

The world always comes around full circle, and it did so Friday with Google docs.  In a CTLE training I got to sit next to Lauren Brandenburg, an adjunct who teaches English at North.  She reminded me that we had met briefly last year as I gave her some tips for becoming residential faculty.  While she was in my office, a student had stopped by to get help with his Google doc.  In five minutes the student had gotten support and had also modeled Google docs for Lauren.  She was hooked!  She told me that since that day she has been successfully using them with her own students.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines developmental as “of or relating to the growth or development of someone or something.”  I’m totally developmental in the area of Google docs, and I love it!  Thanks, Mary Jane Onnen!

 

How Do You Rank in Terms of the Top Ranking Capabilities of Successful Graduates?

successLast Friday, February 19, from 8:30 am to 11:30 am, I attended a presentation/workshop with Dr. Geoff Scott from Western Sydney University. I wasn’t given much information about the presentation other than I was invited along with the other Center for Teaching & Learning Directors, Instructional Designers, and Faculty Professional Growth Directors in the district. In fact, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Who wants to spend a Friday listening to someone talk about assessment. Not this girl. Turns out Dr. Geoff Scott, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education and Sustainability at Western Sydney University and a National Senior Teaching Fellow with the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching is on a fellowship trip visiting colleges and universities across the world. Maricopa was lucky enough to be his only community college stop. His focus was on “Powerful Assessment in Higher Education” and it was quite entertaining. Of course it helps if the presenter has a funny accent and throws out words like bloody, whackit, popo, and mucking around. For example, he told us we have to detoxify the POPOs on our campuses: The pissed on and passed over. I really got a kick out of listening to him and time flew by. Mostly because he was an excellent storyteller. His delivery of the content came alive and was very informative.

The one thing that stood out for me was a list he shared with us that came out of the research they did. They discovered what the top ranking capabilities were successful graduates. The list made me think about my own successes and how my own capabilities contribute to that success. It also made me think about my colleagues that I work with on a daily bases. It reads like a dream list to me, as not everyone is as capable in all 12 areas, but it is something to aspire too. Have a look for yourself. Where do you stack up? How successful are you in your job?

Top ranking capabilities successful graduates in 9 professions

  1. Being able to organize work and manage time effectively
  2. Wanting to produce as good a job as possible
  3. Being able to set and justify priorities
  4. Being able to remain calm under pressure or when things go wrong
  5. Being willing to face and learn from errors and listen openly to feedback
  6. Being able to identify the core issue from a mass of detail in any situation
  7. Being able to work with senior staff without being intimidated
  8. Being willing to take responsibility for projects and how they turn out
  9. Being able to develop and contribute politely to team-based projects
  10. A willingness to persevere when things are not working gout as anticipated
  11. The ability of empathize and work productively with people from a wide range of backgrounds
  12. Being able to develop and use networks of colleagues to help solve key workplace problems

The Perfect Lesson, Or What I Learned This Week in the Pool

Yesterday, I graded ENG 102 papers. *Why aren’t they getting it?!* I kept asking myself. *Why is analysis so hard for the freshman writer?*

In my frustration, I thought to take a break. I thought to swim.

Having grown up in Detroit, I still marvel that I live in a place where I can swim outside in February. I marvel that I can walk across campus right in the middle of my day, jump into the pool, swish around and get my heart rate up, and then go on with my day like swimming is my own secret I carry with me everywhere I go.

In a way, it is. I have been an avid swimmer my entire life. I don’t much remember life without swimming. My mother cannot swim, but her daughters swam competitively. We even did synchronized swimming in the summers. My mother’s girls can swim.

After shivering for years in the unheated city pool where we swam on cool June mornings in Michigan, I finally understand that through her own inability in the water my mother gave me one of the best life skills I could ever have. There are many times I doubt myself in any given day, but I don’t doubt myself in the water. On one vacation about five years ago, I even found myself in choppy seas treading water trying to help another person who was having a panic attack. We were supposed to be snorkeling and we had no business being out in the water with such high wind and waves. But we had paid our fee, and the company took us out along with a few other tourists. I was the one who didn’t panic. I knew enough to be mindful of the danger I was in, but I also trusted myself enough as a swimmer to keep myself and others safe.

Yesterday, I took a swim lesson. This was probably a full forty years after one of the first ones I ever had.

At first I thought: What could I possibly learn about swimming? Well, apparently a lot. After forty years of swimming, what I know really well is my comfort zone, and when I’m not in the high seas attempting to snorkel on vacation, I generally stick to what I know. Yesterday, I Had to Do a Different Stroke. I had to use kickboard. I held on to the red foam float-able like I was six again and tried to imitate the motions that our instructor gave us. I moved no faster than a canoe going against fierce rapids.  At one point, I actually looked at the numbers on the side of the pool’s walls to confirm that I was going forward. Why wasn’t my body working right? When it came time to add the arms, my lower body and upper body wouldn’t cooperate with each other. It was complete discord. I was failing in the pool.

This is what I learned from this week’s failing moment. It was simple. It was profound. No matter how good we are at something, there is always another aspect of that something to learn. There is always another way to become the student, yet again, and learn about learning.

I watched as my lower body told my upper body to take a hike. I watched myself struggle. Mary Jane Onnen in the next lane over watched me struggle, too. It was the perfect lesson, returning me to a state of gratitude, and returning me to that group of ENG 102 papers later that evening with a lot more understanding and humility.

 

Professional Development and Reflection

     I have always been a reflective learner and thinker.  When I began teaching, I had a long drive to and from work, and I used that 45 minutes to think on the day and its lessons--my lessons--and how students had learned or become engaged.  So when reflecting became a mandatory part of our teacher portfolio each year, I thought No problem.  This is amazing.  And did I ever reflect.  I liked knowing that the person who evaluated me was getting to see such a valuable piece of teaching that was beyond the reach of a classroom observation.  And I'll just say right now, this is one reason why [NERD ALERT] I like writing my IDP.  I want my colleagues and evaluators to know more about my teaching.  Reflection is a critical part of teaching that takes place all behind the scenes.
   
     And this takes me to professional development.  I've always liked professional development, including the time we played with marbles or had to put on skits and even the time I had one of my most embarrassing moments with all the English teachers in the district present.  Nope, not getting that one out of me.  But the key to professional development, for me anyway, is having time to process all the learning, to really anchor it in with my current knowledge and understanding.  I'm sorry to say I haven't always had that time.  I'm lucky to have been able to work in two districts that so value professional development and really lucky that the second one allows me more time to do the reflecting.
   
     So when I attended Mary and Jennifer's LearnShop on Friday--Developmental Education: Teaching Learning Strategies and Critical Thinking--I was happy to get time to think and reflect during the time there, on the drive home, and over the course of the weekend.  I already applied what I learned to one of my courses.  As my friend Alisa Cooper said, "Learning is my passion...[and]...I want to learn new things."  I will continue to take advantage of as much professional development as I can and, if able, share it with people who want to hear about it.

SciTech Night of Student Success

Friday night was a night filled with stars, meteorites, comets…chocolate, ramps, burning gumming bears, fossilized arthropods, and so much more. Friday night was the third annual SciTech Festival Event held at GCC North. I had the distinct pleasure of officially starting the event by welcoming everyone…of course, I was so excited I forgot to introduce myself, but I was not the star of the show…our students and faculty are the real stars.

We are so fortunate to have such amazingly dedicated faculty, committed to their discipline and committed to our students. The level of expertise displayed by our students is a direct result of the care and commitment, and their hard work, that our faculty have shown to these students.

My two daughters, ages 10 and 12, gave up their gymnastics class so they could be part of this event, they loved it so much from last year! We all learned so much and I finally have a point of reference regarding light years. As we were looking at a double cluster of stars through one of our high-powered telescopes, Caushlin, the young student who wants to be an Astrophysicists, explained that it was 7500 light years away….”Ok, what exactly does that mean?”, I asked her. “We are looking in the past…7500 years in the past.”, she patiently explains….What? Then she explains that it takes 7500 years for light from those stars to reach our eyes so we are actually looking at the double cluster of stars as they were 7500 years ago…are they even still there? Next things I know, there are two other brainiacs with us, explaining to the uninformed Vice President, the obvious facts about Astronomy. A special thanks to Curtis and Angel for your patience and for not laughing in my face.

Watching our faculty in action takes my breath away. Learning the chemistry of how chocolate is made, as explained by Dr. Christina Clark, was interesting and so well explained that even a non-chemist like myself could understand it…and the chocolate was delicious. Watching the theatrics of Dr. Joe Springer as he blew up balloons and showed florescent chemicals made it clear why our students enjoy his classes. Listening to the excitement in Dr. Sally Watt’s voice as she explained the stars to community members was inspiring.

I have always thought that being an excellent teacher was part art and part science; the art of performing and engaging your audience to learn the science of our disciplines. Watching our faculty and students in action on Friday night, proved to me, that this belief still rings true.

 

Finally Got it!

I came from Panama City, Panama, where communication is very indirect and implicit.  As an instructor who lives in the United States and teaches students who use different ways to transmit a message, I thought it was crucial to learn the different ways in which we communicate.  I wanted to be able to understand my students better and make sure I was sending the right signals while teaching.  It is true that I had knowledge of these two contexts, but never understood them clearly enough until, I had to teach a class in the Dominican Republic, with 10 students from the US, about intercultural communication.  This was very important because I know that I can’t teach American students the same way I teach Hispanic or Asian students.  Understanding the mechanics of the low context communication vs. the high context communication have helped me understand the dynamics in my classroom and in my house.  Here you have the main differences:

Low Context Communication is the way my students communicate.

  1. Students are more explicit
  2. Students tend to be more verbal, and it does not mean they are disrespectful.
  3. Students feel the goal in communicating their thoughts is clarity.
  4. Students feel written communication is important.
  5. Students are skilled at asking questions to get more information.
  6. Students are skilled at processing a lot of verbal and written information.
  7. Students feel challenged to know how to read the environment.
  8. Students tell people what they need to know in order to understand them.

High Context Communication is the way I communicate in my culture.

  1. I pay more attention to the situation, environment, and the people with whom I communicate.
  2. For me understanding is derived from context.
  3. I pay attention to non-verbal cues as they are important to understand meaning.
  4. I know when to ask questions.
  5. I feel overloaded with so many communication cues.
  6. I used to feel like a child because people used to spell everything out to me.

After understanding the mechanism of these two ways of communicating, and knowing what my students wanted to have to get the message, I began to be more understanding, more patient, more explicit, and above all more cognizant of writing my instructions, and repeating more often to clarify an important point in my lesson.