Category Archives: Student Engagement

Habit and the Art of Behavior Change

I just realized that the theme for this week is “culturally relevant.” So I had to stop and take a look at the draft I had saved to see if it could be salvaged!

As it turns out, EVERYONE is talking about behavior change, so that makes it cultural, right?

I have set over a million goals that I failed to accomplish. How ’bout you?

Don’t you find it frustrating, for example, when you realize you are consuming too much chocolate-covered anything, set a goal to quit, and find yourself back in the cookie jar within 24 hours.

Not being perfect myself, I feel I am in a good position to share my method for success. It all lies in the thought process. I treat every day like a training session for the future and I am not obsessed by my goal. I do become slightly obsessed by the process, however,  until it becomes autonomic.

Most of us see someone we wish to emulate, figure out what they do, and try to do exactly what they do. This is like going from zero to 180 in 3 seconds and wondering why the car’s engine is all over the highway.

Repetitive, deliberate baby steps with only the baby step in mind, not the outcome, is the path to mastery.  Each deliberate baby step is a training session for your future mind. In the future, when the baby step becomes a habit, you will look back and be thankful that you remained true to each and every session. They weren’t hard sessions, but the were consistent. The foundation was being laid for the day when you were ready to take it to a new and more challenging level.

How do you know you are ready for the next level? It is when you get out of bed in the morning and you no longer have to convince yourself of the benefits of your goal despite the hardships. It just is.

It’s like the act of brushing our teeth. We don’t slowly walk up to our toothbrush, weighing the pros and cons of tooth brushing, struggling through every brush stroke. We don’t think to ourselves about how we can avoid it or what else we could be doing that is more fun. We just do it because it is part of the morning and evening ROUTINE that WE have created for ourselves.

Tooth brushing actually became easy because it is a short bout of activity with tremendous benefits. Can you think of anything in your life that you can do in short bouts that can bring you tremendous benefits, allow you to build a habit over time, and create a foundation where you can step it up when you are ready?

I can.

You can.

Your students can.

 

Week 1: The One Thing You can do to Raise Enrollment

A six week “how-to” series
Week 1, Step 1: How to Impact Enrollment. But first, a story.

My biggest failure happened when I was a wet-behind-the-ears youth leader. I was actively looking to raise money for youth activities and I had responded to an ad pitching a T-shirt fundraiser. The company featured exciting, fun, faith-based designs on sleeveless T-shirts, and, for a limited time, was selling the shirts at a steep discount. The deal involved paying in advance with no returns and no refunds, but these things did not matter because these sleeveless shirts would sell themselves. I used my tax refund money to purchase the shirts. The shirts arrived and we began selling. But, instead of buying the shirts, our friends and families asked: Don’t you have any T-shirts with short sleeves? It turns out that people are so adverse to wearing sleeveless T’s that the fundraiser tanked horribly. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it changed my life.

I learned to never make decisions “based on a hunch.” I came to love data informed decision-making, and I am not alone. In this data driven age, even the youngest consumers are making informed decisions by comparing products, pricing, and reputation, including incoming college students and their families.

You’ve probably guessed by now, the “one thing” you can do is based on what works, study proven methods, and not gut instinct. So, what is the “one thing” you can do to influence the student decision-making process, raise enrollment, and raise GCC’s reputation in an increasingly crowded marketplace?

Before I spill the beans, you should know that conversely, by not doing this “one thing,” you risk falling off your potential students’ radar completely, and losing them to a competitor. There is a lot at stake and much to be gained.

The first step:

Go to www.gccaz.edu, and type your last name into the search box. Take a look at your employee biography webpage. What do you see?  If you were a student, is there anything on your page that would make you choose you?

What’s ahead:

WEEK 2: THE “ONE THING” AND ITS POWERFUL SWAY
When it comes to students choosing your classes, leaving choice up to chance is not your only option.

WEEK 3: THE “ONE THING” AND IT’S NOT BRAGGING
Reputation is king. Making your achievements public enables people to make informed choices.

WEEK 4: THE “ONE THING,” AND HOW TO INFLUENCE ASSUMPTIONS
Learn the top trait people assess when viewing strangers’ photos, and how your face, wrinkles and all, makes people choose you.

WEEK 5: The “One Thing” Before and After
If two faculty are each offering the same class, who would YOU choose?

WEEK 6: The “One Thing” and the Final Step

 

Mindfulness in Everything

I thought the word mindfulness was a little overused and overrated. And then I started abusing the word myself. In the classroom, in meetings, with my friends, with my kids.

I have actually boiled it down to the one thing that could save us all from ourselves. If something is going wrong in your life, you are likely on autopilot. Handy for planes. Bad for most people…unless you are a really good habit builder.

Too much body fat…eating mindlessly.

Too little sleep…surfing (internet, TV channels) mindlessly.

Depressed…wishing mindlessly.

Anxious…fearing mindlessly.

I think we just do things because it’s the way we have always done them, never questioning why. Always on autopilot.

Mindfulness is about being present and focused on people and the world around us. On our thoughts, on our food, on our lessons, on quiet, on noise, on smells, on textures, on colors, on tastes and on how we feel about it all.

The mind is powerful and controls our body and ultimately our health. If you are having a hard time getting focused, start with your breath. You’ll will find stillness there and will eventually be able to expand your areas of focus.

I encourage my students to touch, feel, hear, see and question as they are learning. I encourage mindfulness in the classroom because it teaches the student to learn in new ways and reach surprising new levels of comprehension.

 

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!