All posts by Cindy Ortega

Why am I here?

As I sat here contemplating my answer to the prompt, this message popped on my screen:

 Dear proffesor Cindy,

             I am so sorry for wasting your time today 😀 

             I love you so much 

 So that is my answer: I am here to waste my time helping students.

I am here to waste my time helping students, because there is nothing like wasting my time to help one who stays after class until we figure out the technology. There is nothing like wasting my time explaining the homework for the 17th time because they didn’t understand the assignment sheet, the directions in Canvas, OR the directions I provided in class. There is nothing like wasting my time helping a student rewrite a reflection because “the directions weren’t clear.”

There are many more; but in the end, I am here wasting my time because I love my students so much!


Every day brings something good!

So what is the “real main idea” here, Miss?

At the beginning of each unit, I present my mini-lectures on reading skills. It never fails that as I am talking I suddenly focus in on my students’ faces and think, “Really, Cindy? Do you think they really care about the main idea (etc.)?” Just this semester, I have a student whose 12 year old sister threatened to commit suicide, a student who was “working 2 jobs totaling more than 60 hours, taking care of her sick father, and taking 4 classes,” a student who “just wants to play baseball,” 2 students who told me they “are just here to play football, nothing more,” and a pregnant student who feels sick all the time. (I’m sure you have the same “stories” sitting in your classroom.) And I want to talk about main ideas! I feel Charlie Brown’s pain!


So let’s talk about the “real main idea” here:

I just read a book called Mister Owit’as Guide to Gardening: How I learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart; an unexpected gem because it happened to speak to me in my life right now. Through his work in her garden, Mr. Owita teaches Carol a thing or two about life. An unexpected friendship develops and the two help each other through personal crises and to reach a greater understanding of how to deal with what life deals us. Yep, sappy! Long story short, the book ends with this line: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good!

As I finished the book this morning (Tuesday, 3/9), I stepped out into our back yard and thought about my teaching day ahead. Aargh, 4 more days and then spring break! TG! Then, as I glanced down, I saw a rose bud on my brand new yellow rose bush called “Easy Living.”

YellowRose The main idea: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good! I can’t wait to answer my student’s question!


Out With the Old, In With the New Part III

Death by PowerPoint vs. Getting My Act Together With Power Point

Many years ago I attended a workshop presented at Phoenix College by Liz O’Brien, Communications professor. It was called “Death by Power Point;” the purpose of the workshop was to demonstrate how “power points” kill active learning and engagement in the classroom. She modeled how to use power point presentations to guide your lectures and structure the class time. She listed all the “Do Nots,” including too many words, regurgitation of lecture, etc. In the few cases I have used power point, I think I have usually followed her guidelines closely. The most difficult piece for me, of course, is to limit my words. I also find attending power point led presentations boring and monotonous. As a result, I rarely use them in my teaching.

After observing my mentees and their dedicated use of power point, I had an epiphany: Maybe I was being close-minded! :0

I am at the opposite end of “minimalist” on the neatness spectrum. Basically, it’s how I work! After grading a set of papers, you will find mini-lists of points to review when I return them, sticky notes with notes to students, more sticky notes with reminders to myself, and more sticky notes marking places to remember to review or emphasize to students (and that may include a sticky note with an example or two.)

photo (6)

Yes, I overwhelm myself!

SO…I gathered an entire folder of sticky notes and other notes and created a power point presentation! I now have a chapter-by-chapter review of American Wasteland to share with students when I return their RRRLogs (reflections.) Most of the comments, reminders, clarifications, and points to emphasize are the same semester-to-semester so I will not have to rewrite them. I can add/remove as is necessary, it is all in one place, and students can “see” what I am talking about. I do not think I will “put every thing on a power point” but I like the way this little project played out! One more lesson for the mentor from the mentees! Thanks Sherry and Sara!


Out With The Old, In With the New Part II

Two Is Better Than One…

I think we probably all have those lessons that we have taught for years and feel pretty good about. Why fix something that is already working, right?

Sherry and I discovered a way to improve our unit on point of view – give them two points of view! When Sherry and I decided to combine our classes we did not expect it to be so successful…in fact it was mostly an ingenious way to get in my PAR observation of Sherry before the end of the semester!
SHERRY: Lesson Transformation…

I admit I was a tad nervous team teaching with Cindy, but the overall lesson actually flowed beautifully…

We had our CRE 101 students come together for a mini-lesson on point of view. When planning we sorted and chose different current event cartoons to use. We had our students intermingled from both classes; it was interesting to observe the change in dynamics of some of our student’s personalities.

The eye-opening part of this experience is Cindy and I transitioned well with each other, added comments based off what we were each saying, and the students’ responses and questions monitored and adjusted where our lesson headed.

Upon reflecting, we commented on how comfortable we both felt. Both classes were also given the opportunity to reflect, and clearly enjoyed the experience. They made comments on how it was interesting to see what students from the other class were thinking, and what type of questions they asked. They also commented that hearing the lesson from two teachers enhanced their understanding.
CINDY: Combining our classes benefited both teachers and students. In total our students were together three times, including one information literacy lesson taught by Renee Smith. We tag teamed very well – filled in for each other as needed and did it naturally so students were equally comfortable. And Sherry is right – the most valuable lesson for me was about timing. Even after all these years I always seem to over plan and run out of time. I sense that it stresses out my students as much as it stresses me out! And surely it is not effective teaching!

Once again the mentor-mentee relationship is reciprocal: Sherry is modeling for me how to plan and pace my class time more effectively. When we taught together, the lesson flowed better, students were engaged and interacted with each other, and we feel they received a better presentation on point of view – 2 points of view!

SHERRY:  As we have continued in our planning, it is evident that we bring out the best in each other….for example….I make it relevant for the students and I share my time management minutes, right Cindy? 🙂

Cindy keeps me on my toes by asking the hard questions that connect to our student outcomes, and keeping our expectations high!



Learning is hard work!

In “Enhancing Rigor in Developmental Education,” the Scaling Innovation team discusses productive struggle: “the ultimate goal of instructional activities that require productive struggle is for students to develop a healthy disposition toward uncertainty in their pursuit of skills and knowledge they will later revisit and apply in other contexts.”

My favorite story of the week exemplifies productive struggle.

Students were to read about critical thinking and define the 15 critical thinking terms used in the article. My goal is to have them start using the language of critical thinking. Not surprisingly, they returned with 15 dictionary definitions that did not mean much! My next goal was to get them to use the dictionary to learn all they could about the words (as opposed to just copying down definitions they didn’t understand.) They read through dictionary entries and found new synonyms, learned how to use the pronunciation symbols to figure out “how to say it right,” discussed etymologies and how knowing the word history helped them remember and understand how the word came to mean what it does, realized how knowing the part of speech helped them use it correctly in a sentence, and argued about the “appropriate definition for the context” in the article.  Sounds boring but they were engaged and admitted that maybe is not always the best option for really learning new words.

When we were finished, a  student said, “Teacher, when I came in here I thought I knew everything but now I know I knew nothing!” I asked her how that felt and she replied, “It feels great! There is SO much to know!”

Learning is hard

Getting students to work hard is hard work! From the grumbling gentlemen in RDG081 who refuse to justify their answers to critical reading students who can’t write in complete sentences, it takes me several weeks to get them to struggle productively but it is beginning to surface that they are learning and that it feels good!



The Beach

The Beach

Reading the winter issue of my alma mater (California State University, Long Beach), brought my focus back to where it needs to be! After a rough fall semester, I found myself questioning my work and what I do at GCC. My entire career has been in teaching developmental reading and it has always been “the place I want to be.”

In “The Beach” the college president was quoted as saying: We have to get over this notion in higher education of blaming the student, the student’s high school, family or low-income status. These are students who already have beaten the odds by showing up at our door. We can define paths for their success.

 I realized that is why I am here – to define my students’ paths for success. The program they are in, where they came from, where they have been are important, yes! However, in spite of it, I am here to teach them how to read and “I am here to transform them!” That’s what I want to be doing and that’s where my heart really is.

Yesterday, a colleague asked how my semester is going and we concurred that we really like our new students and are looking forward to this semester. It occurred to me that maybe it’s not just the new students but my renewed focus for my work! Yes, it’s going to be a great semester! (Thanks to The Beach!)