Category Archives: Student Engagement

Repairing the Damage

I’ve always loved reading and writing. Throughout most of my education, it was never particularly difficult for me to complete English assignments, even if I wasn’t particularly engaged. I wrote the assigned essays with relative ease, even if I didn’t care about the topic, because I liked having my opinion heard. I read the books I was given, even if I hated them, because I loved reading. Reading and writing came easy to me, and I took it for granted everyone else was the same way.

Of course, it helped that I had teachers that encouraged my interests and skills. With the exception of one teacher: Mrs. Michelson, sixth grade Language Arts teacher. To this day, I don’t know what I had done to aggravate her, but she seemed to have it out for me. She actively discouraged my point of view on matters discussed in class, to the point where I stopped raising my hand or speaking up entirely. Further, she often criticized my assignments as having “too many details” or being “too long;” she only marked the issues and never gave me any praise on what I had done well. Nothing I submitted to her was good enough for her approval, nothing I said was worthy of leaving my mouth. My voice was stifled, my opinions outright discouraged. I learned to hate English class, and perhaps would still to this day had it not been for my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Ms. Smith.

When I decided I wanted to be an English teacher, it wasn’t because I was thinking of all the supportive and wonderful English and Language Arts teachers I had had throughout the years, or all the encouragement I had received to pursue my dreams. Instead, I thought of all the burned out teachers my friends and I had witnessed over the years. I thought of all the negative experiences inside of a classroom. I thought of Mrs. Michelson. Of course I wanted to emulate the teachers who had inspired me, but more than that, I wanted to be the teacher who undid the damage of the bad teachers, the burned out teachers, the teachers who had simply stopped trying. I never wanted my students to feel the way I did in that sixth grade classroom, and in other classrooms in high school and university.

That’s why I do what I do. I like teaching English here at GCC because it gives me the opportunity to begin reversing the effects of the teachers who had wronged my students, who didn’t make them feel that they were worth listening to. I do my best to engage my students in a multitude of ways, to get them to think critically and then transfer those thoughts onto paper. The writing is usually rough and needs a lot of work, but it’s a start. The goal is to have them not necessarily “master” writing by the end of the semester, but gain confidence in their own abilities and in their own voices. They may not leave my class at the end of the semester loving reading or writing, but they see the need for it in the college and university environment. What’s more, they feel that they deserve to be in the higher education classroom.

 

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.

 

Healthier, Happier and Smarter

Have you read Spark yet? It gave me goosebumps.

The book basically justified my persistence for the past 30 years in the field of Fitness and Wellness. Exercise is not just about getting fit, looking good, preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and the like. It helps keep you smarter!

I finished this book on a plane flight to Dublin last summer, on my way to see my family, but more specifically, my ailing mother who is suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The book highlighted many of the mental health issues we deal with, including Alzheimer’s, ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and addiction. And guess what? Exercise outscores medication in every case. It may not replace it for every case, but it certainly is a great complement to treatment.

It turns out that exercise is like Miracle Gro to the brain. It promotes the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which causes neurons to grow! It was only discovered in 1990! Since then, neuroscientists have been studying it like crazy. Exercise lays down the foundation for our students to learn.

In his book, Ratey devotes an entire chapter to the “Learning Readiness PE” program in Naperville, Illinois. These high school students are outsmarting their Japanese and German counterparts on the TIMMS test! You can find out more in this video!

It is my intention to make a difference in the lives of our community college students, faculty, staff and administration by raising awareness about the importance of movement throughout the day.

Just yesterday, the following bill was passed in Senate (SB211). I read it excitedly to my students this morning! Positive change is finally happening at the national level!

“A program of physical activity (i) that consists of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year available to all students in grades kindergarten through five and (ii) with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year available to all students in grades six through 12. Such program may include any combination of (a) physical education classes, (b) extracurricular athletics, (c) recess, or (d) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of implement such program during the regular school year.

…That the provisions of this act shall become effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.”

Elementary schools and high schools will finally see the benefits of more movement on the brains of the students. I hope we can continue this trend at the community college level. It is critical to the success of our students.

Source: Ratey, J. J. (2012). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company.

 

An Unexpected Turn Of Events

An Unexpected Turn Of Events
Prompts An Unexpected Change In The Way I Will Teach.

Over the six semesters I have been teaching the Art of Storytelling, I have had three classes with deaf students. I sign a little, but thankfully the college provided two interpreters for each class. They were all wonderful as they interpreted for the deaf students, and also voiced for them when they performed a story.

So it was only natural that when I got a case of laryngitis that I thought, “No problem, I will just get an interpreter to come in and ‘voice’ for me.” I E-mailed the disabilities department and asked how much lead time they needed. Unfortunately, the supervisor wrote back that they only provided interpreters for the students, and I would have to contact HR. So I did.

The HR Department wrote back that laryngitis does not comply with the definition of an ADA disability and that if I were sick, I needed to contact my department head and arrange for a sub. I replied that I was disappointed and that, “I’m not ill. I don’t need a sub, just a voice.”

Step two: time to get creative!

I wondered what I could do. I have a small P.A. system and tested it out. I whispered into the mike, and it seemed that the amplification would work.

Now the lesson plan… Continue reading An Unexpected Turn Of Events

 

It’s All About Your “Hook”

 

As I was choosing new song lyrics for my students to infer as an activity today, I was thinking about how important it is that I ” hook” my students into a lesson, and this requires constant change, as each semester I see new faces…

Coming from an education background, it is still ingrained in my lesson planning that idea of incorporating an exceptional anticipatory set, or “hook.”

I find this step so imperative in activating my student’s prior knowledge/ schema when introducing a new topic.  The change comes when I monitor and adjust the videos, activities, visual aids, and realia I implement each semester as I reflect upon each class. Here are some of my examples:

Video Clips: My RDG 081 students were reading a article on child-rearing styles, and after they read, I chose to have them watch a video clip that  added a different type of style than what the article listed. The feedback from the students was very positive, as the video did a nice job of presenting the attributes of each style.

Activities: For my RDG 091 students I use fortune cookies to introduce patterns of organization and transition words. I have them work in small groups of 4-5, and they have to create a paragraph using everyone’s fortune. This type of application makes them think and builds their collaboration skills.

I also use visual images. A perfect example is when I introduce propaganda…I have the students look at different types of advertisements with a partner, and label each advertisement with a sticky note. This is a perfect introduction, as it is relevant, and makes that connection for them as they then have to transfer this skill  to reading actual text…

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As I plan my lessons….I think ……What can I do to create that spark of interest to engage their minds and curiosity in what they are learning about?

So bottom line is…..Yes, it’s all  about your hook!

 

 

 

 

Canvas and Face-to-Face Classes

When I returned to college-level teaching (after almost 20 years break), I felt intimidated by the prospect of using a Learning Management System. Talk about change … we were just barely using email over dial-up on a UNIX prompt (no web browsers yet) last time I was in academia. It wasn’t the technology that intimidated me – it was the fear of using technology as part of my teaching method. I felt outdated, and out-of-touch with new teaching technology.

I couldn’t have been more wrong! Using Canvas as a part of my class has freed me from creating and maintain spreadsheets, updating grade reports, grading tests, and much more. It has also enhanced the learning experience for my students by allowing them to discuss things online, providing a running tally of the assignments due, and providing grades and feedback as soon as something is reviewed or graded by me. It also allows me to communicate with students on a more real-time framework, and it keeps all the paperwork associated with the class in an easy-to-access, organized fashion.

Here are some of the ways I use Canvas for face-to-face classes:

Gradebook – I love this feature. I can set up weights on grades and offer extra credit without having to do much math at all. After I do a set of grading, I usually look at the overall total for each student to see how they are doing in the class as a whole.

Front Page – I have found a way to set up a table for the course home page that I can update each week. I put some kind of picture that represents the area of study and a quote by someone regarding that area of study. I also have spots for Important Links, What is due in the coming week, and a section for honors. I can also put a big, red announcement across the top of the page to emphasize something important (like test dates, etc.).

Assignments and Rubrics – I set up all assignments in Canvas for several reasons. First of all, I must to that to use the gradebook feature. However, by setting up the instructions for the assignment online, I don’t have to worry about students losing the printed assignment instruction sheet. I also set up rubrics, so when I’m grading, I can remain objective and accountable.  I also ask students to turn in assignments via Canvas whenever possible – I know exactly when an assignment was turned in (late or on time), and I never have the fear of losing someone’s paper. Also, students can’t claim they turned something in when they really didn’t.

Tests – I hate tests. I like to use projects to assess how students are understanding and applying the material, but I also know that tests are a necessary evil. I also like to use interaction, small group activities, and active learning in class, and I feel that class time is better spent in discussion and activity than in taking tests. I set up quizzes in Canvas, and students must take them within a certain amount of time. The time limit prevents them from looking up every answer, so they must know a bit about what we’ve been discussing in class. However, as we all do in real life – if there is something they are blanking on, they can use notes and text to find the answer.  By using this strategy, I have gained three additional class periods that would otherwise be used in testing. … And no more scantrons! Canvas grades them for me, so all I do is look at the statistics in case I have to revisit any of the questions or material later.

Small Group Work – this semester I have assigned small group projects that require a bit of work outside of class. By using the groups feature, students can interact with each other online, which makes it easier given their busy schedules.

Discussions – I use these to make students accountable for preparing for class. I ask them to post one or two things about the reading material, and then comment on someone else’s posts. Then when we use and apply the material in class, they aren’t totally left in the dark, and I don’t have to revert to lecturing.

It’s not a hybrid class, but using the features of Canvas to support my activity in class has opened up all kinds of possibilities to reduce paperwork, but more importantly, enhance student learning. Change, in this case, was good!

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

The fitness industry is booming these days. What changed, you may ask?

For years, the medical community has been focused on fighting communicable diseases. Vaccines took care of most of these problems. Today we are faced with a more challenging problem…hypokinetic disease…or the disease of inactivity.

The act of sitting too much has made us sick. It is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, cancer, back pain, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and many diseases and disorders related to mental health.

Trillions of dollars are spent on this “sickness” industry each year. I cannot fathom “trillions.”

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Positive change is afoot.

In 2007, the American Medical Association joined forces with the American College of Sports Medicine to ignite an initiative called Exercise is Medicine. (You have probably heard about it because we are embracing it at GCC!) They are simply asking that exercise be recognized as a medical vital sign. If patients are not getting enough exercise (150 minutes per week), they should be referred to an exercise professional.

A long time ago…before times changed…the exercise professional was the person who liked sports and spent a lot of time in the gym. If you had muscle definition, you were considered an expert.

The fitness professional has evolved, thank goodness. We now have reputable organizations that certify and demand excellence through continuing education. Today’s fitness experts have a solid understanding of the skeletal and neuromuscular systems, they understand the inner workings of the heart and lungs, and they know how to fuel the body with optimum nutrition. They can design individualized exercise programs for a variety of populations, they know how to motivate and lead, and they understand their scope of practice within the allied health continuum.

The other thing that changed that has led to a booming fitness industry is the number of baby boomers hitting retirement. Sedentary baby boomers…

This is great news for graduates of the GCC Exercise Science and Personal Training programs who are looking for immediate entry into the workforce. Back in 1985 GCC was one of the first colleges in the country to offer a personal trainer certification. We were innovators on the cusp of a health revolution.

This health revolution is preventative medicine. It is very simple and it does not require any pills. It simply requires that we move more.

What does this change mean to the faculty, staff, students and GCC community? It’s time to “move” in the right direction and stop sitting so much!

 

WHAT’S MY PASSWORD?

I don’t know about you but when I transitioned from high school to college I was not ready.  Funny thing is when I talked to my dad about it he also indicated that his experience was the same.  Both of us bombed out of courses that first semester and had to recover.  However he was quicker than me as he went on to get his degree in a few years and I took…20!  I was a retention/persistence nightmare student.  I never saw an advisor, declared all sorts of majors, went to several colleges, and took a WIDE variety of courses.  Now I advise new first year students, Waahahaha!

I am sure it is easy to see why I can identify with the new student.  When a student walks onto our campus for the first time it is at that very moment life changes drastically. So much is coming at them that even something as common as setting a password becomes foreign.  We expect them to instantly understand, even know, common used words, processes, and requirements.  I don’t know about you but I only know what I LEARN and I learn faster if someone takes the time to teach me.  FYI, letting a student struggle to figure all this out is NOT student empowerment, that’s just laziness on our part. Going the extra mile will help our students go further down their educational path.

Each time we engage a student we have the opportunity to share in a learning experience.  It is in these sorts of engagements that we can create change in our students’ lives, change in our campus, and change in our community.  We need to understand that change takes time and it is our job to be patient.  Each of us have the POWER to stimulate change in those we encounter by simply taking the time to share our knowledge.

I think Spiderman says it best…

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I’ll miss you when you’re gone

Most of us who work as teachers find that working with students is the most important reward of the job. I believe it is beneficial to build some kind of relationship with each student in the class to help determine how to best to meet individual learning needs. These relationships are build over the course of the semeseter – and all to often, they end after final exams.

On the first day of a new semester, I often wonder how I will make the class have a cohesive camaraderie, and if it will live up to the one I taught the previous semester, or in previous years. People are often quiet and shy, and are not showing their true colors yet.

I spend a bit of time getting to know them by hanging out before and after class, providing comments on work turned in, walking around and interacting with small group discussions, sending emails regarding missed assignments, and offering help whenever its appropriate. In some cases, students will offer information about themselves – like work scheduling, family obligations, and outside activities. This gives me the opening to talk with them individually about more personal things.

Right around mid-semester, things start gelling, and people are talking and interacting. I know all the names in the class, and I generally know a little bit about each student other than just their student life. They also seem to be more comfortable with each other, and are more willing to contribute in class. The begin forming community.

By the end of the semester, the students genuinely enjoy being with each other. I have bonded with them, and we have a thriving community atmosphere. Often, as we are wrapping up for the semester, I might mention that we only have 2 or 3 class sessions left, and some students are visibly disappointed – and I am too.

Once the class is over, I miss the students. It seems like I only have them for a short time, and I want to know how they’re doing, and what they’re up to.

I am always so happy to run into former students at the college, or in the community. I saw one student in the enrollment center one day, and she emailed me later expressing her difficulty scholarship funding. I was able to share her story with the right people, and she was able to get what she was promised – and it made it possible for to continue going to school. Another group of my former students coordinated their schedules, and are purposefully taking classes together this semester.

Our time in class is short, and I have memories of many students long after the semester is over. I often wonder if our impact on students is limited to the time we have them in class. I know they have impacted me. I would love to see some comments on how others have retained contact with former students.

 

The Energy Enigma

It’s a weird thing about energy. It’s hard to capture. At the end of a hard day at work, it can completely evade us. On most Friday evenings, I think it gets buried in the sofa cushions with all of our lost articles.

We have all learned that energy cannot be created or destroyed. So where does it go when we are searching for it the most? Maybe there is a different formula for the type of energy we are all looking for?

Would you believe me if I told you that energy could be created by expending energy?  i.e. Energy begets energy. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it. How can I create energy if I don’t have any?

Personal example: Today I came home from work after eight hours of interviews, which consisted of sitting in a chair for most of the day. My energy meter was hovering around “empty,”  in the red zone. I had 20 minutes of free time before going to pick up the children.

I had a choice: I could melt into the sofa for a 20-minute nap (sounds delicious); or I could put on my running shoes and go run around the local park. I’m not much of a runner, but the weather was so nice and the park looked so inviting. I opted for the run.

Miracle of miracles! My energy meter was back in the green zone, and I was back in action and singing songs with the kids in the van. My brief exercise session also gave me the energy to write this blog before the Friday night deadline and fully engage with my online classes for the evening.

When you repeat this type of behavior on a regular basis, you come to rely on a brief exercise session to get your energy back on track. In fact, a brief exercise session can function just like a cup of coffee in the morning, but the benefits are far greater and last a lot longer.

There are hundreds of personal testimonials and research studies to be found on this topic.  Here is just one such post that I enjoyed reading.

If you are up for a challenge, try replacing your morning coffee with an apple and a brisk walk. I guarantee you that your energy meter will soar! (I triple dog dare you to write a blog about your experiences.)

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Photo “borrowed” from Dr. Alisa Cooper.

p.s. I know you have an apple in your office if you have been keeping up with your Write 6×6 blogs!  :O)