A writer writes about writing

Writer’s block prompted me to search for an idea for this week’s post. I turned to the poetry of Alberto Rios, 2013 Arizona poet laureate. In his poem An Instruction to Myself, I found my inspiration. Rios defined the task of a writer in the first line. His instruction suggests we “Shepherd the things of the world to the page.”

I love his word choice. The verb shepherd communicates such a gentle guidance. Now I can visualize gently guiding my thoughts into words. Thanks Alberto.

I met Alberto Rios last semester when he spoke here at GCC. He read the following poem. Perhaps sharing is the ultimate gift of a writer.

When Giving Is All We Have

Alberto Ríos 

One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.



My colleagues have already one and excellent job of breaking down inclusion and how to accomplish it in an academic setting.

Rather than echo what was already stated, I wanted to briefly discuss one of the barriers to inclusion: titles.

Titles, or labels, are either earned or given by society. Sometimes they relate to our cultural background, sometimes they relate to our level of education, and other times they simply seem to be bestowed without reason.

I do want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with having a title as a way to identify function or purpose. After all, most of us are professors, a title that denotes our specialization in the education of others in a particular field.

Most positions have a title: Biologist, Commissioner, Dean, Director, Doctor, Mayor, President, Professor… the world is not wanting from a lack of titles.

In their multitudes, however, titles have become barriers to inclusion as they are used to judge others or ourselves.

I have struggled to combat this thought process, the idea that someone is better or worse, smarter or less educated, simply b the title they carry. If a County Commissioner was at odds with a Level I Planner, or a Dean was at odds with the parents of a student, my initial inclination, without knowledge of the situation, was to side with the higher title.

On a personal level, I have seen others change their opinion of me, almost immediately, after finding I had gained or lost a certain title.

The problem with titles is that within each one there is an incredible range of talent, expertise, and intelligence:

Think about all the medical doctors you have ever met.

Were they all equally talented? Knowledgable?

Of course not. Yet, they have the same title, and sight unseen there is a tendency to put all doctors on the same level.

Categorization without knowing. The antithesis of inclusion.

Although I am personally still working on breaking free of title bias, I can say the first important step is to realize that titles denote a function, not intelligence, kindness, or capability.

They merely answer the question “What do you do?” not “Who are you as a person?”

As long as I can remember that, I know I am on my way to becoming a more inclusive individual.


Re-Post: See You. See Me. See Possibility

We recently received the news that our former GCC President Dr. Velvie Green had passed away. She inspired me when I met her as a student at GCC. In 2018, I posted a cultural reflection/inspirational story connected to her on Write 6 x 6. I thought that it would be appropriate to re-post it here in honor of her.

Originally posted February 8th, 2018

Dr. Velvie Green

My cultural reflection/inspirational story is connected to Dr. Velvie Green, the former President of Glendale Community College. I met her when I was a student at GCC. I was hanging around the Communication Department and Jim Reed, the Department Chair, was giving our newly appointed President a tour of the department. Jim came around the corner and said that he wanted to introduce me to her. When she came around the corner I saw an African American woman standing in front of me. I had a moment of pause. I looked at this stranger and felt like I was looking at my future physical self. I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting, but I could definitely tell you that I was not expecting her.

I recognized something in her that connected with me on a level I had never recognized before. I recognized possibility in something that I would have never considered without this encounter, the possibility that I could become a college president myself. I saw a cultural reflection of myself on campus and it inspired me. For years I pursued becoming a college president. My pursuit brought me to teaching and I fell in love with it and changed course.

That day motivates and inspires me daily. It really showcases the importance of cultural reflection on college campuses. That day is one of the things that motivates me to bring excellence into everything that I do, because someone out there may see themselves in me through my work. They may see me and they may be encouraged to be excellent in their career. They may see me and see the possibility of a career path that they would have never considered for themselves. They look at me and think to themselves if she can do it, I can do it too.

I encourage others to think of themselves in the same way. All it takes is someone seeing themselves represented, right in front of them to inspire and motivate them to greatness.  Each encounter that you have on this campus could make or break someone’s hopes, dreams, or desires. Be mindful of the fact that you matter to someone and that they are paying attention to what you say and do.

I don’t know Dr. Velvie Green personally. She doesn’t know the impact she has had on me. I hope that she will come across this one day, so she can read about the difference she has made in my life. I am thankful and grateful that I had the opportunity to meet her. It changed my life.

Is There Value in Having Students Do Collaborative Group Projects?

Collaborative group projects in online and hybrid classes – Is there value in having students do them?

I go back and forth with whether I should dump it or keep it. Students hate it, but I think there is value, and it’s a lesson students need to experience. Things don’t always go the way they should, and students can learn a lot from having to deal with this adversity.

I’ve been using a group project in my ENG102 hybrid course for about two years now, and I think it teaches students a lot about collaborating, working in a team, and sharing in the learning process with others. In the video below, I’ll share my process with you, as well as a few tools in Canvas that you may or may not be familiar with: Collaborations, Groups, Perusall and NoodleTools. 

Purpose: The purpose of the project is to teach students the process of writing an argumentative research paper. In groups of four the work through the whole process in four weeks. The only thing they don’t do is the actual research. I provide that for them. Let’s take a look, and I’ll show the tools as they are integrated into the process. 

Collaborative Group Projects in Canvas

Assessment Matters!

Sometimes when I think of assessment, I think of business regulations and why they are necessary for free trade. I like to hear different viewpoints on regulation and take them into consideration. For example, I was once working with a colleague from MCC’s business department who really felt that fewer regulations were important to more successful international import/export trade. It was her viewpoint that the more we could free up channels and remove blockages, delays, etc. the more the economy could grow through the exchange of trade. Seems simple, and I see her perspective. However, I also believe that some regulations are important because they provide critical protections to consumers. For example, the ban on using lead paint in children’s toys. That just seems like common sense, but without regulation, who/how can it be monitored?
I think of assessment in a similar way, as far as, yeah, sometimes it seems like an inconvenience or a little extra work, but on the other hand, if we never checked in with ourselves and each other regarding our work, how could we possibly ensure that effective teaching & learning is going on within our classrooms? (That sentence contained a lot of prepositional phrases… I apologize!).
But what I’m getting at is, basically, effective assessment ensures accountability.
I don’t want to become one of those workers who just chugs along, performing at “status quo,” and frankly, I have an expectation of our college that as an institution we, as a whole, regularly challenge our own performance and standards, and routinely strive to do better.
This reminds me of a line from the old comedy series, “Reno, 9-1-1”: “We aim to try.”
I want to revise this and turn it into a motto: “We aim to try harder and do better.”
I think assessment is a meaningful process that helps us reflect regularly and start to attempt to answer the question: “HOW should we try harder, next time?”


Inclusivity on campus, three lessons LEARNED

As someone who has been ever watchful of inclusivity for nearly twenty years, I see this topic as a hopeful step.  In the classroom, I am always mindful of those who march (or dance) to a different drummer and some of the lessons I’ve learned from it.  I like to think that I am respectful and try to champion everyone’s accomplishments.  One of the things I’ve learned more recently is to be quieter.  Championing is sometimes better when it is sotto voce.  Here are three lessons of the many I have learned over the years.

I had one individual who sat all by himself in the front row of my classroom of about fifty. He never took a note but listened as he kept his hands busy.  One afternoon, just as I was dismissing the class, I realized that on that day he had been working with a Rubic’s Cube.  What I didn’t catch until nearly everyone was gone was that he had perfectly aligned the cube by the end of the class period and was just sitting there waiting for me to notice.  I wanted to be able to announce this to everyone! How many of us have tried and failed at this?  But, I realize now, he may not have wanted this kind of attention.  Lesson learned.

I had a student in one of my Honors Classes who would not look me in the eye.  He would talk to me and answer questions and was paying attention.  But I had not learned enough about all of this yet.  Having been an advocate for all things spectrum I kept trying to catch his eye.  I finally caught it one day when he was leaving the classroom.  But it was not a moment of jubilation.  If anything, he just wanted it not to matter.  Lesson learned.

The one individual I have worked with the most is the one that has come the farthest.  I’m told he weighed less than one and one-half pounds at birth.  It’s amazing how babies have an innate sense of fighting for their lives. This young man worked on executive skills and impulse control, transitions and focus. He’s worked on the hope that he wouldn’t be bullied and stood up for himself when he was.  He has had fabulous medical and educational help to teach others what he needed at every step.  One physician stated that the college administration would never have any idea how far he’d come. They would only see what he is today.  If only they knew what he’s fought just to get to this moment.  Lesson learned.


Honors at GCC and Inclusivity

"Learn communication strategies that influence diverse audiences. Express ideas and concepts precisely and persuasively in multiple formats, and employ writing conventions suitable to research and/or creative processes."

     Above is one of the learning outcomes in the honors program here at GCC. As both an online teacher and an honors instructor, it should come as no surprise that creating content that is accessible (and inclusive) to all learners is at the forefront of my mind. So when I set out to design a project for honors students in my Survey of Gothic Literature (ENH235) class, I wanted their presentations to include all audiences and to get at meeting this learning outcome.

     Creating a video screencast and using YouTube's Classic Studio to edit closed captioning seemed to be the best combination of accessibility goals and Universal Design for Learning principles--the videos would be accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing and also create benefits for all other students:

  • students absorb more by reading,
  • students who have English as a second or third language can listen and see the words, and
  • any student can pause the video and record important vocabulary in their notes.
     I met with students in person or via Google Meeting to explain the project. When I explained that they would need to caption the videos, that this meant more than just the auto-captioning from YouTube, and that one of their learning outcomes was to be able to communicate with diverse audiences in multiple formats, I was happy to get lots of head nods of agreement at the value of including all students.
Image from student video presentation used with permission.

     I believe students in this class are meeting this learning outcome by using a video format and writing (or editing) their closed captions. They are creating content that is inclusive of all learners and, I think and hope, learning a variety of other skills as well. 

The Assessment Wheel Goes Round and Round

I would like to share a few thoughts on assessment, if I may.

I have to begin with a slight clause to this week’s blog by saying two things.  First, I am into assessment. When Julie Morrison came out in her “Get Your Assess in Gear” t-shirt, I had the biggest smile on my face.  What a great way to promote the positive aspects of assessment and how important it really is!  

Second, I am a big believer in refreshing one’s self. I make a point of regularly attending different professional development opportunities when they are available, in part because keeping my knowledge up to date is important, but also in part because I know I have forgotten some of the ideas I have picked up over the years as I have tried new things, ideas that work and that I want to try again. Last week, I attended the CTLE’s workshop on “Keys to Unlocking Effective Assessment” as a refresher on effective assessment approaches and to ensure that my understanding of assessment is compatible with GCC’s understanding of assessment. Therefore, assessment is right at the forefront of my mind.

It was a great workshop.  If you haven’t participated, allow me to encourage you to do so.  It is a workshop, not a lecture series, so it is involved and interactive, and I really enjoyed it. Thanks, Meghan!

Thinking back, I can recall horror stories about how hard the assessment course was in my Master’s program, but the class was not only interesting, it was fun and I really understood the way assessment worked as an intentional aspect of course implementation and how it operated in a way to promote student success.  The teaching practicum in my MA required students to come together and collaborate on ideas for incorporating formative assessments as well as the “big” summative assessments and using indirect and direct measures for different feedback in the composition courses we taught. I learned to think of assessment as a living breathing part of the teaching approach rather than a separate entity, a consistent feedback loop that allows performance to engage with working towards strategic objectives or learning goals and encourages self-awareness.  

As a result, I don’t see assessment Data (big D) as numbers. As an English faculty, my mind lends itself to words more easily than it does to numbers. Numbers don’t scare me, but I find it easier to work my way through information in a linguistic fashion. My experiences with assessment in my MA program approached the data more holistically in a way that encouraged my ‘English’ mind to weave the information garnered from the mixed assessments into the teaching and learning process as a whole. Not numbers, concepts and ideas. Data isn’t the numbers, it is what the numbers mean. 

So, in my experience, assessment is continuous. It enables adjustments to teaching-strategies and methods. It provides a constant feedback cycle that allows the students to become self-aware and encourages self-confidence as they learn what they know and what they don’t know and start asking the right questions to expand that knowledge. It helps me as a teacher properly support the student at the right time and in the right way.  It helps me to make adjustments to what I am doing in the classroom to make sure the students are achieving their goals as well as my own. 

The continuous assessment cycle doesn’t just impact my students, it impacts me. All that feedback, all that ‘Data’, provides me with the opportunity to improve, to grow, and to adapt as the educational environment changes around me.   With my students, I have a moment in time to “assess for success”, and yes that can have a huge impact. On the other hand, the continuous assessment also provides me with ‘Data’ on what is working for me in the classroom. What approaches are working? What methodologies are working for the current student population? What activities are providing the best interactions with the content? What areas do I need to approach differently? Which projects are the students embracing as a vehicle for understanding? To put it simply, what works and what doesn’t?  

The Keys to Unlocking Effective Assessment began with a quote, and I am going to end with part of it here.  “Perfection is always just out of reach, but continually striving for perfection contributes to keeping both our instruction fresh and our interest in teaching piqued.”  -E.S. Grassian

And that is why I embrace continuous assessment.

This week’s genially infographic on assessment can be found at this link if the embed code isn’t working.


Assessment Success in the Mathematics Department

Written by Dr. Ashley Nicoloff and Dr. Krysten Pampel

As the department assessment coordinator (DAC), I have the opportunity to help my entire department assess each of their sections in the fall semester and analyze the assessment results in the spring semester. I would like to use this opportunity to share the yearly assessment process that our department goes through.

In the Fall we assess every section taught in the math department using google forms. This means that our 300+ sections of MAT and CSC courses are assessed. The course level assessments that we give are built by the course coordinators and the team of instructors that teach that course. Each assessment is roughly 7 questions in length and is projected to take no more than 15 minutes of class time.

As the faculty are giving the course level assessment through the fall, I as the DAC, record which sections have taken the assessment. I then send out reminder emails about the course level assessment with the number of completed sections so far. Many of the instructors like to use the course level assessment as a quick review near the final which makes me nervous since it always feels like there is less time near the end of the semester. During finals week, I send out the results of the number of sections that took the course level assessment.

In the Spring, I meet with all the course coordinators during the week of accountability to clean and review the data. We also take the opportunity to report the findings of the data if time allows. During the spring semester, the course coordinators meet in person or virtually to discuss the results with their instructional teams and how they want to proceed for next year. Sometimes there are rewrites to an entire course-level assessment, sometimes we change the placement of answer choices, and occasionally we leave everything alone in order to collect more data. I take all the changes that are requested and I update all the course level assessments in digital and google form format.

Before the fall semester, I meet with the course coordinators to have them verify the changes to the course level assessments and ensure that the assessments are ready for responses. This meeting also allows me the opportunity to update them on any changes in assessment for the academic year. This could be anything that I learn from the DAC meetings or something that comes down from the district.

I am very proud of the math department sticking with this assessment cycle and being willing to give up some class time to assess their sections of students. This information has helped us guide instructional moves and department-wide strategies to provide our students at GCC with the best MAT and CSC instruction across all sections we teach. The data we collect also assist the college in keeping the accreditation status with the higher learning commission.


Speech & Debate & INCLUSIVITY

One area where I have repeatedly witnessed inclusivity on campus is with in the Forensics team, sometimes known as the Speech & Debate Team. Since this is an academic team compared to athletic team, the skills required are more mental and social versus physical. (Although some competitions are quite physically demanding!) Because of this, anyone can join.

I have encountered the most diverse group of people in my years of participation within Forensics. I have been a competitor as well as a coach. My teammates and my students run the gamut of representation including people of a variety of races and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender identities, religious beliefs, mental and physical abilities and disabilities, different geographical regions and nationalities, and all types of political and social beliefs.

People often ask me why Speech and Debate is called Forensics. In Latin, forensics means “public forum” or better translated as something “suitable for courts of law.” So when people refer to forensic science, they are discussing the study of science within a public courtroom (usually as it is applied to gruesome crimes on CSI). In competitive Speech and Debate, this definition extends to a variety of topics and competitive events delivered in a setting structured like a forum. All events are judged, similar to a courtroom.

There are events that focus on different styles of performance: speeches, acting, debate, etc. But regardless of the type of event, Forensics values learning. Even watching a poetry round, which is very artistic and linguistic in nature, the performer still makes an argument to teach the audience something new or show them a new perspective.

Forensics gives students a voice, literally and figuratively. Forensics provides a platform for students to discuss issues that affect them both directly and indirectly. One way students can demonstrate ethos or credibility is to show how a topic relates to them. Coaches frequently ask students, “Why is this meaningful to you? How do you relate to this topic? How can you show the audience your passion!”

Therefore, competitive topics are as diverse as the students. I have coached a Muslim student giving a speech about Islam a phobia. I have coached a psychology major giving a speech about under diagnosis of ADHD in women. I have coached a white male student in a speech about white fragility. The possibilities are vast. If there is a way a student is marginalized, we can discuss that issue in a performance. If there is a social issue that needs to be addressed, we can address it.

Clearly, my bias is showing. I am a communication professor, a coach on the Maricopa Forensics team, and a former competitor on the GCC Forensics team . There are definitely skills required to be successful in speech and debate. But, in my experience, the competition is only one aspect. The opportunity to to speak about important events and information as well as the camaraderie of a team provides an amazing and inclusive opportunity for our students. While the point of this post wasn’t to give a plug to the team… if you happen to have a student who is a dynamic speaker and a solid student, we’d love to see more students experience the inclusivity and the opportunity of being part of the team.