Tag Archives: learning

The Mark of an Educated Mind

The ability to think critically is the most important tool education can provide. It is a universal skill that is advantageous regardless of experience, background, or future ambitions. It should not be a surprise that one of the few common themes between my three years of writing for Write6x6 is critical thinking.

Since I transitioned to online teaching, there has been one series of assignments that I have continued to incorporate into all my courses. It starts as an entry-level writing assignment where I first give students carte blanche to defend a personally held belief. Next, the students summarize their defense into a discussion post and then play devil’s advocate with other students’ submissions. The final stage is writing a defense of the opposing viewpoint to their original work.  The overall goal is to introduce students to the concept of understanding, without adopting, differing opinions.

A favorite quote of mine comes from Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”. I felt, and still feel, these assignments put that wisdom into action.

The assignment originated from a journal prompt I gave before doing a lecture on critical thinking in my face to face courses.  In those courses, the students were able to get a full lecture of context before they were challenged to “put on someone else’s shoes”. The online assignments evolved into a background to a larger module of materials.

Without the face to face lecture to provide specific context, I received some impassioned pushback when I first started using the series of assignments. I still have an e-mail archived away from a student who accused me of pushing my personal political bias on them for making them write an opposing viewpoint on the issue of abortion. This was, of course, the topic the student had chosen to defend in their first assignment.  I will say it was one of the more heated and accusatory letters I have ever received from a student.

The letter probably had the opposite impact the student hoped for. It serves as a continual reminder to me that critical thinking skills are the true definition of “educated”. I have since added more context to the assignments, but I have every intention of keeping a similar assignment early on in every course I teach for the rest of my career.

I plan on elaborating more on the need for critical thinking in politics in my final Write6x6 post, but the need expands well beyond politics and permeates the fabric of our society. The first and last lines of defense for critical thinking are educators, so find your battlefield and dig in.

 

To bend WITHOUT BREAKING

Several years ago, I had a student at GCC who taught me that a major difference between success and failure as an educator is malleability.

Stock photo of a reed bending in the wind.
“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

― Confucius

When I received the notification that I would have an American Sign Language interpreter in my class for the first time, I was excited. My mother is also an educator, currently in administration, but taught ASL early on in her career. When I was a child, she could not afford a babysitter and frequently brought me along as she taught late night ASL college courses. I never learned sign language outside of the alphabet or how to ask and answer basic questions, but was excited to make use of what little I knew from my mother’s teachings from twenty years earlier.

Childhood photo of Mr. Moore
A very young Mr. Moore…

Overconfidence leads to cruel reality checks. I was not prepared or capable of communicating with my student without the help of the interpreter. The interpreter was very kind about my attempts, but I had to give up on using any sign language as to not create confusion. I quickly reverted to my default teaching method, which is high energy and high speed.

After the first few writing assignments, I knew something was wrong. It was obvious that the lessons and lectures were not getting through. The reality is that I was the one struggling and not my student. I had become rigid in my methods after three years of teaching the same curriculum and using the same PowerPoints, videos, and handouts. Those methods were directly leading to an obviously gifted student failing my course. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not want to adapt, I defended my stubbornness by telling myself that I should keep doing the same thing I had always done because change would hurt the rest of my class.

My student’s first essay broke through that stubbornness. I still remember her conclusion on how the deaf still hear the music of life. There were grammatical, mechanical, and formatting errors aplenty, but the poetry of her language revealed passion and talent. I could tell she was upset when she saw the grade. After class that day I sat down with her, pointed out her gift for language, and did my best to encourage her. Once she left, still downtrodden, I had a conversation with her interpreter. They confirmed everything I already knew I was doing that was making learning more difficult.

I needed to slow down the speed at which I went through lectures, re-work my materials, and dig for relevant videos with subtitles. I won’t say it was a perfect transition, but over time my methods improved and the entire class, not just one student, benefited. She ended up passing that course, and the next level course after it.

Image of the entrance to High Tech 2 on the Glendale Community College Campus
Home to the CTLE and one of my favorite locations on the GCC Campus: HT2

One day, a semester later, I saw her in the curved glass hallway in the HT2 building on campus. She waved me down and walked up with a contagious smile. Without her interpreter the conversation was a bit awkward, but I had learned if I spoke slowly enough she could lipread incredibly well. After a short update on her coursework, she thanked me for helping her pass English. It is hard to put into words, but her genuine excitement created a memory I still treasure now. I was able to reply with one of the few signs I did know: “Thank you”, and that was the last time I saw her.

I like to think that she is now nearing a decade into her career in art design. If I could, I would elaborate on my final words to her: “Thank you for making me realize that malleability isn’t a bad word, that sometimes we have to bend if we are to evolve into a better version of ourselves.”

Animated image of "Thank you" in American Sign Language.
Thank you!

 

The Professor and the Politician

This is my third time doing a six-week blog for Write 6×6. In previous years, I focused on the prompt and sort of went spur of the moment with what I talked about with very little connection or theme between posts. I wanted to shake things up a bit this year. Over the next six weeks, I am going to take an in depth (or at least as in depth as six blog posts allow) look at the skills that teaching develops and how those skills can be useful in other arenas. Before I get into specifics, I need to provide a little context…

author and wife dancing at wedding
The happiest day of my life

Those who know me know that my life has undergone some significant events in the last half decade, starting with my marriage to my partner of (now) 17 years. In 2017, the first year I participated in Write 6×6, I was still in the process of adjusting to life in a new area and trying to get both my physical and emotional well-being on track. Life’s track is more like a roller-coaster and finding any sort of balance was near impossible, but through the ups and downs I began to find bits and pieces of a better version of myself.

Moving forward to 2018, I had become active in my local community by serving as a member, and eventual chair, of the Economic Advisory Board. That volunteer service forced me to expand my knowledge of web design, photography, videography, content creation, and marketing. The reason I say expand is because being an online instructor had already provided me with a base knowledge in most of those areas. My skills as an English instructor specifically became invaluable when I was placed on the Planning Commission. This may come as a shock (/sarcasm), but how laws and municipal code are worded can have a major impact on their effectiveness (and legality).

Snip of Municipal Code
Boring essay? Try legalese…

In Summer of 2018, the unexpected happened. One of our local council members had to retire for health concerns, and I was appointed to fill the vacancy. It was both exciting and horrifying at the same time. As a teacher, I have always striven to see the good and promote the best in those around me, and that effort was almost always reciprocated in kind. I discovered in my time as a volunteer the political arena had the potential to be a much uglier experience, even with the best of intentions.

Image of author and Mayor shaking hands after appointment.
The smile hides the fear of my appointment.

Without going into specifics, I will say that both my excitement and my fear have been justified on multiple occasions. Outside of the support of my amazing wife, the thing that has kept me from drowning in the stormy seas of politics has been the experience and skills I acquired over the last dozen years of teaching. Over the next few weeks I want to elaborate on those skills and why they are so important and underrepresented, and exactly the sort of skills communities need. I hope that maybe (just maybe) in the process I will encourage fellow instructors to get active in their communities as well.

Best case scenario: I succeed.

Worst case scenario: I educate.

It is a win-win.

 

Making up for Week 3

I was recently blessed to become a mom to a wonderful little boy.

I knew that becoming a mother meant that I would have to give up some of the finer things I enjoyed. Like sleep! Especially sleep! What I didn’t know was how much I would gain in becoming a mother.

I have always been a Type A personality, to a fault at times. The best part about children is their lack of concern about the plans you make.

My son does not care if I was planning to wear a certain outfit to work. He is more than happy to spit up all over my clothes. This reminds me to be flexible.

My son does not tell me exactly what he needs but instead cries for everything, i.e. food, diaper, pain, etc. This forces me to listen carefully to his cries. There are subtle differences that can be made if I choose to enact good listening skills.

My son reminds me that setting small goals and enjoying the moment is important. Since some days I feel very accomplished if I can take a shower.

My son has also shown me that I can be gentle, kind, and loving. These are all things that I felt like I was lacking prior to his arrival. I feel blessed to be a mother and I am excited for the life lessons I will learn as parent.

 

Week 4: The “One Thing,” and How to Influence Assumptions

Welcome back to Week 4 of “The One Thing You can do to Raise Enrollment,” a six week “how-to” series.

Data is a powerful thing: It can confirm our assumptions as well as confound them, as in the story I shared in WEEK 1.

WEEK 2 empowered us upon learning that, when it comes to students choosing YOUR classes (and thus GCC), leaving choice up to chance is not our only option.

In WEEK 3 we covered how reputation is the most important factor in influencing people’s choices, and the importance of making our achievements public to enable people to make informed choices.

This week, let’s talk about your face.

Face Facts: Numerous published studies provide countless evidence to support the fact that, when viewing a photo of a stranger’s face, it takes us less than a second to formulate an impression .

Assumptions about the character of the person pictured are formed quickly.  One Princeton University study published by the Association for Psychological Science is a great example:

“Willis and Todorov conducted separate experiments to study judgments from facial appearance, each focusing on a different trait: attractiveness, likeability, competence, trustworthiness, and aggressiveness.” The results? Of all the traits, trustworthiness was the one participants assessed most quickly.

We cannot escape the fact that photos influence choice, so we will harness this fact and use it to our advantage.

Fear not – the good news is, people want to see trustworthiness and competence in your face, not a glamour shot.

Consider the following photos of these notables: Albert Einstein, Delores Huerta, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Conrad Wolfram.

    

The reasons for not wanting to post a photo:
  • I’m not photogenic.
  • I don’t like the way I look.
  • My face will break the camera.

 It’s not about vanity. It’s about character. It’s time to embrace the powerful sway your photo can have upon a stranger’s choice.

The employee bio page is the most underestimated tool available to you. A photo of your face, backed up with a personal quote, your areas of expertise, and a list of your achievements works to establish YOUR personal reputation while raising GCC’s reputation.

By doing this “One Thing” you enable the public to make an informed decision to choose… you.

WEEK 4 Homework: Because you are your own worst critic, your homework is to recruit friends and family to help you sort through photos of yourself to find one that captures the characteristics of trustworthiness and competence. The photo chosen by others just may surprise you.

TIP: The size of the photo on your employee bio page is 280×280 pixels. Make sure the photo your choose is cropped as a perfect square.

For tips on how to choose a photo, read Lydia Abbots’ 5 Tips for Picking the Right LinkedIn Profile Photo.

If you can’t find a photo, a GCC photographer is available.

Come back for WEEK 5: The “One Thing” Before and After

“You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

 

A Fly on the Wall

     In my previous classroom, I kept a fly swatter in the shape of a flip flop. The students loved it and often volunteered to take out any annoying, flying anything that happened into the classroom. And there was much excitement and cheering and relief at the death of these little creatures. So I know to wish to be a fly on the wall on campus is a potentially dangerous risk. I would be willing to take on the risk, though, because the benefits would be great. Note: This scenario assumes I could then switch back to myself as teacher and not have to live out the rest of my life as a fly.

     I know that “fly on the wall” usually has connotations of wishing someone could observe something secretly, that there would something scandalous gained from listening in on a private conversation or watching some tantalizing situation. I am not using the phrase in that sense at all. Were I to be a fly on a wall, it would be purely to observe and gather an intel of sorts. I would be more like a tiny thief. In fact, if I could, I would choose to be a fly on the wall of every classroom on campus.

     I would take notes on a tiny pad of paper with my tiny mechanical pencil. Additionally, I would listen to every word uttered and then watch the reactions of the students, studying their faces to gather data on how they perceive the information or tasks. I would visit all classrooms regardless of discipline, and I would listen to the voices of hundreds of teachers.

     Ideally, at the conclusion of my life as a fly on the wall in classrooms across campus, I would be able to return to my previous life as a teacher. But I would be a new and improved teacher, a beautiful pastiche of all the best of each teacher on campus.

 

Week 3: The “One Thing” and it’s Not Bragging

Welcome back to Week 3 of “The One Thing You can do to Raise Enrollment,” a six week “how-to” series.

Study after study has produced empirical evidence to support the fact that reputation is the most important factor influencing people’s college and class choices.

Without a strong reputation, colleges are unable to attract the resources necessary to build an effective educational environment. Institutional reputation attracts everything from the best professors and research talent to philanthropic donations and star students. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team, and in education, that means investing in the best academic brand,” writes Joseph Torrillo, vice president of Reputation Management.

As employees, we cannot sit back and passively place our hope in the power of the marketing department alone to define and manage our institutions’ reputations. Why? Because no amount of marketing can trump a personal experience with a brand.

I love this definition: Brand equity “is the intangible asset of added value or goodwill that results from the favorable image, impressions of differentiation, and/or the strength of consumer attachment to a company name,” writes Michael Belch and George Belch in their book,  Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective. (if this were a paper, the attribution would read, (Belch and Belch p. 56) …go ahead, makes me giggle a little, too.)

When a student has a good experience with a GCC employee, a curious thing happens: The student does not say, “I love that GCC employee named Lupe.” No, the student says, “I love GCC.” A single good experience with a single employee packs a powerful boost to GCC’s overall reputation. Suddenly someone is singing praises of GCC to their friends, family, and strangers on social media.

However, experience is a double edged sword. When a student has a bad experience with a GCC employee, it’s not the employee they heap coals upon, it’s the overall institution.

Last week you spent some time writing a few statements that speak to your personal humanity.

This week your task is to… take a deep breath…
list your achievements.The purpose of this task is to make public any information that enables students to make an informed decision to choose you.

“If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted.” – Francis Bacon

The simple act of listing your areas of expertise and accomplishments in your Employee Biography page serves to significantly elevate GCC’s reputation on a local, national, and international scale.

It’s not bragging.  You ARE the secret sauce in GCC’s reputation! You have a history of proud moments, achievements and accomplishments that needs to come up in a google search.

A bio page with secret sauce includes naming your areas of expertise, credentials, a personal quote, and some information that reveals your humanity and proudest moments.

Here is an example:

Name: John Doe
Credentials: AAS, M.A.Ed, Ph.D.
Areas of Expertise: Experiential Learning; Community Partnerships

Personal Quote:  “I got my Doctorate at Yale, but I identify more with the students who come to GCC.”

Bio: Example 1: Four generations of my family have come to GCC to get their first college degree. Ask me why…
Example 2: If it were not for my 9th grade math teacher, I would not be where I am today. He never gave up on me. I want to inspire my students the way he inspired me, and see what can be achieved.
Example 3: I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I was excited and scared at the same time.
Example 4: My proudest moment was when…
Bulleted lists might include: education, awards, specialized training, published research/articles/books, grant funded projects, committees, pro bono work, volunteerism, boards served, etc.

Teach others how and what to think about you, and it forms a reputation in their minds for GCC as well. Take this time detail what you offer – leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that not only are you are a devoted educator, but you are a nice person to boot.

Reputation wields compelling, persuasive, influential power.

Your homework this week: Begin listing the ingredients that make up your particular secret sauce. These may include your personal areas of expertise and scope of services, awards, thesis topic/description, published works, patents, specialized training, published news about you, your motivation, what inspires you, the thing(s) you love most about what you do, and…

…(at least) one thing you want to be remembered for should you drop dead tomorrow. 

It’s Presidents’ Day weekend, established in 1885 to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln whose reputations for honesty and integrity still inspire us today.

This weekend, carve out some time to work on defining YOUR enduring reputation. Then come back for Week 4. The “One Thing,” and How to Influence Assumptions

 

Frequent Formative Assessment

     At the end of class one day, one of my students uttered, “I learned that I didn’t know what I thought I knew.” It was such a perfect statement that I actually scrawled it down on some scrap paper, so I wouldn’t forget it. The statement came at the conclusion of a round of Kahoot (thank you, Caryn) on APA formatted in-text citations. Students had already been assigned some readings and a SoftChalk lesson on APA.

     The game was low stakes, and they played on teams–the same teams they are in all semester. They were currently working in the final days before their paper was due, so the game was supposed to be review with a few special circumstances thrown in that I knew would come up in their papers–things like a source within a source, the ampersand in parentheses for two authors, the title of an article with no author.

     The more frequent formative assessment I’ve been adding in to my courses with intention comes on the heels of having read Make it Stick: The Science Behind Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. One of the points made in the book is that frequent, low stakes assessment lets students check what they know and don’t know prior to a summative assessment. It gives them insight into their learning. This review that I used did exactly that for almost all the students. The student who spoke the phrase which could have been quoted from the book recognized that he thought he knew more than he did. He now had a starting point to work from while editing his paper. He got a chance to make corrections to his knowledge and application prior to the summative assessment.

     I have the sentence taped to my computer now. I want to remember the value that more frequent assessment has for my students. I’m using it as reminder to give my students more opportunities to check their own understanding prior to finding out they “didn’t know what [they] thought they knew” on a more significant test or essay.

 

Two P’s of Inspiration


     Sometimes I have to self-start  inspiration. These moments come at the end of semesters, week four of the semester, and other times of life that are filled with stress. I remember last semester being so busy and looking for something to inspire me. 

sage


     By late November, I had not planted my front, winter flowers yet and wondered why without coming up with a reason. I planted every year–why not this year?  So one weekend I went to the nursery, picked out some flowers–bright red petunias, lobelia, two rose bushes, dahlias–and potted them all in one day. I felt instantly better. I really did. I repeated it the weekend after with the backyard. Planting and nurturing those plants drew me outside, away from the distractions that don’t really feed me, to a quiet place where I can think and plan. Even though I was busy with work, I put it all aside to have that meditative time. Those couple of weekends, with my hands in the soil (gloves are for suckers), really fed me.

petunias


     And now those plantings are still bringing me some joy. And when I sit outside and watch them grow, my mind clears and is open to new ideas. When I periodically get my hands busy with pruning the dead from the living, I prune the old from my mind to make room for some new thinking.



 

Making an Entrance

In my heart of hearts, I genuinely want those around me to succeed, and I take pleasure in watching them do well as they develop. I’d rather help people work out their problems than tell them what they need to do. I don’t consider any of those things character faults, but very early in my teaching experience I learned that certain actions can be confused with weakness. Weakness in the classroom leads to problems that are not easy to correct.

To say I was nervous on my first day in the classroom would be an understatement. I made the mistake of not wearing an undershirt, and my  light blue dress shirt was a drenched dark mess by the end of the 45-minute period. I imagine I seemed as ridiculous as Sir James Martin from Love & Friendship:

That lack of self-confidence and abundance of nerves  lead to problems throughout the rest of the semester. I found out very quickly that if a classroom doesn’t respect you as a person, they also will not respect your lectures, your grading, or your discipline.

That was a difficult semester, but as time went on I gained confidence and my nerves subsided. This lead to better relationships with my students and more success in the classroom. Year to year things improved incrementally. Eventually though, something happened.

Image of Luke from Star Wars about Overconfidence.
Ah George Lucas, your horrible dialogue rings true.

With my nerves fully at bay, my inner-nice guy came out again. With it, the entire catalog of issues I had in my early years started to manifest themselves again. Why?  Because while my students may have liked me, they did not respect me.

So here we are at the heart of the lesson folks: Respect is key. Respect should always be in the back of your mind when standing behind that desk. Whether it was nerves or being “Mr. Nice Guy”, I lost the respect of my students, and with it, full control of my classroom.

It wasn’t easy, and I still make mistakes, but I have learned to balance my kind demeanor with the responsibilities of being an educator. I found that I can still joke, have fun, and be myself, as long as students know I am serious about my job.

The most effective method I have found to encourage a healthy classroom dynamic is to start off strong. I like to make my first week of class filled to the brim with activity. I like to give students things to do, show them the gamut of what is to come: a journal, a discussion, a short essay, a quiz, and a reading. I do it all, because it lets students know that the primary goal of my course is for them to learn. If we end up having fun in the process, that is a bonus.

The classroom is a world with its own environment, dynamics, and life. It has the power to evolve and overtake you if you let it. Start off strong, confident, and focused, and that classroom will turn into an environment that encourages both learning and respect.