Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

Faking it

When was the last time you saw a film or television show where someone was supposed to play an instrument or sing well?  When that moment of reckoning occurs I always hold my breath and wait for the tell.  The tell is the point where it is clear that the actor is faking it.  That actor may be faking it successfully or poorly – or, of course, the actor may actually be a musician, as many are, and is not faking it at all.   But if faking does occur, an editor often gets involved to fake it further.  We see, we listen, we constantly assess.

When we assess students isn’t this ultimately what we are trying to determine? Are they faking it, or do they know and understand the material? As a musician, do they know how to play musically or are they simply playing the notes?

When we assess aren’t we also looking for those who fake it well?

One of the jokes among instructors of applied music (performing music) is when the teacher corrects the student and the student says, “Well, I just don’t understand. It sounded perfectly fine in the practice room.”

What that means is that most of the time (not all) the student can’t tell the difference and is, ultimately, faking it.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

I remember a student who was excellent at mimicry. I learned never to play a piece for her because she had too good an ear and could fake it. The problem was that she could not read music. She was a good pianist but when asked to play something that she misheard or ostensibly misread because it was incorrect she could not “replicate the results.”

I have tremendous respect for her because she had been playing for many years and had to face the fact that not only was she faking it but she had to face the degree of how much she was faking it. If she wanted to continue lessons she had to re-learn how to read music after many years of classical piano lessons, her chosen genre.

There is a part of me that thinks she always knew how much she was faking it but she had choices moving forward. She could have stayed at the level where she was because she could fool many. She could have gone on her merry way and continued to play the way she did. She could have walked away and given up. Music was not her major so that might have been the easiest choice. She chose instead to go back to the basics and learn how to read music. It was a daunting task and I commend her for her perseverance. It was a lesson in patience because, in this case, one does not fake it until you make it. She’d already been down that path.

Two Studies that May Surprise You

I love surprising students (not that you are students) so I leave you with two listenings of people who are not faking it – or are they? In the first example, Bence Peter’s Fibonacci series moves to a video image which allows him to re-sequence the series so that it can go backward, using digital editing. This video clip often offers my students a new “take” on music and they are surprised because they are hearing something different. If you are using speakers, turn them up. In the classroom, I usually turn off the lights.

The second video clip shows an interesting twist on talking and singing where he includes the spoken word. Is he having trouble or is he faking it? Here is Al Jarreau.

 

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.

 

Flying Books Deliver Daily Inspiration

This is my reality: All day…every day, books fly through the library and ultimately land in my hands. It’s as if these items take flight from the book stacks and land right on my desk… This experience of coming into direct contact with countless, random books every day inspires me tremendously. I wish I could track how much I’ve grown and learned, professionally and personally, since I joined the GCC Library family. Working in Access Services at an academic library is certainly a dream come true for a bookworm like me. A sample of our library’s extensive collection materializes each day. On every horizontal surface, books perch patiently, inviting me to take a closer look.

The written word speaks to my soul. Spoken words are fine, but reading words on a page transcends an auditory experience. Silent and deep, books change my life, one sentence at a time. Each book feels like a stepping stone. Or maybe more like shells on the beach…I ignore most, but certain gems capture my attention. In the same way, some books go unnoticed while others introduce me to a perfectly-timed message with lasting effects. It’s magical actually.

Momentary, random encounters can yield deep thoughts.
Recently I found the words of Octavia Butler and Brian Bilston.  In the library, inspiration is just a page away…

Refugees by Brian Bilston

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

          (now read from bottom to top)

 


 

An Ounce of Prevention to Stop Cheating

studentcheatingCheating and plagiarism are common and unfortunately prevalent parts of the academic environment. Some data suggests that 60-70% of undergraduate students admit to cheating on written work or tests. Cheating is not limited to a certain type of student, and data supports that academically high-achieving students and low-achieving students cheat at the same amount (Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, 2008). Research has varied about if age, marital status, or other demographics are correlated with cheating. One area where there does appear to be a correlation is with interest in the subject and cheating. If a student isn’t interested in the subject, then they are more likely to cheat (Anderman & Murdock, 2007). With limited data it is very difficult to accurately predict the “type” of student that will cheat. Instead of trying to identify who might cheat, let’s focus on how we might prevent cheating.

Cizek (1999) did considerable research on strategies to prevent cheating. Beyond the specifics of better proctoring tests, Cizek felt that, “Communication about honest and dishonest behavior is surely critical to deterring cheating” (p. 187). Cizek cautioned that focusing on individual test takers and test givers is not as effective as “…heightening general awareness about the problem, implementing systemic changes, infusing the educational environment with a concern for integrity, and construing responsibility for integrity as the province of everyone in the learning community” (p. 188). According to Cizek, the best strategy to prevent cheating is to make it as clear as possible, what is considered cheating. Faculty can’t just leave this to a statement in the syllabus that they assume students will read. A recent study in Australia found that only 50% of student read the academic honesty policy when it was left up to them (Gullifer & Tyson, 2013). It is important to provide this information and read it with students so we can explain and clarify what is meant by this policy.

Institutions can also clearly inform students of their expectations. Institutions with an honor code that defines expected behavior found cheating decreased by more than 50% (McCabe & Trevino, 1993). Being reminded of the honor code before a test or completion of a paper can also make the agreement more salient and further discourage cheating. Maricopa has a student conduct code and clear information regarding academic misconduct, but an honor code that students sign at the course level may be an additional benefit.

Maryellen Weimer, who writes the Teaching Professor blog, addressed this issue and provided three suggestions for what faculty could do to help prevent cheating. These items were talking more about personal integrity, discussing the bigger implications of academic dishonesty on our society, and to demonstrate integrity by following our stated policies like grading timelines and attendance at office hours (Weimer, 2015). These ideas make integrity and dishonesty a part of the fabric of a course as faculty discuss and demonstrate these ideas.

While we may not feel we have many tools to stop cheating, clearly stating what cheating means in our class, building expectations into an honor code, and ongoing discussions about integrity can help to curb some of the cheating. This ounce of prevention can also be a lot easier than trying to catch and prove that cheating occurred.


 

References and further reading:

Anderman, E. M., & Murdock, T. B. (2007). Psychology of academic cheating. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Cizek, G. J. (1999). Cheating on tests: How to do it, detect it, and prevent it. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology (2008). Cheating. Retrieved January 3, 2016 from http://www.gmu.ac.ir/download/booklibrary/e-library/Encyclopedia%20of%20Educational%20Psychology.pdf.

Gullifer, J. M., and Tyson, G. A., (2013). Who has read the policy on plagiarism? Unpacking students’ understanding of plagiarism. Studies in Higher Education, 39 (7), 1202-1218.

McCabe, D. L., & Trevinko, L. K. (1993). Academic dishonesty: Honor codes and other contextual influences. Journal of Higher Education, 64(5), 522-538.

Miller, A. D., Murdock, T. B., Anderman, E. M., & Poindexter, A. L. (2007). Who are all these cheaters? Characteristic of academically dishonest students. In E. M. Anderman & T. B. Murdock (Eds.), Psychology of Academic Cheating (pp. 9-32). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Weimer, M. (2015). Promoting academic integrity: Are we doing enough? Retrieved on December 22 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/promoting-academic-integrity-are-we-doing-enough/

Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1998). Factors associated with cheating among college students: A review. Research in Higher Education, 39 (3), 235–274.

Image from Vozach1234

 

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.

 

Believe You Can Float!

As a Storyteller, I go to as many workshops and conferences as I am able. Learning more about my craft is an ongoing quest. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an all-day workshop with international Storyteller and Mime, Antonio Rocha (pronounced “hosha”), originally from Brazil. Antonio is an incredible performer. I swear that I have seen him “float”!

At the beginning of the workshop, Antonio asked each participant to voice what they hoped to get out of the day. In addition to some specifics, I said, “Oh yeah, and I want to learn how to float!” Antonio’s response set the tone for the whole day: “The first step is to believe you can float!”

There were many things that I learned and gleaned from the workshop, but one of the most important, and most revealing was the actual “coaching” that several people got from Antonio. As each person told their story, I had my own ideas about how they were doing, and what might be helpful. It was quite amazing when Antonio’s suggestions affirmed my own thoughts. To be “in sync” with a master that I admire confirmed for me that I was “on the right track” with my own assessments.

Then came my turn to be coached by Antonio. Try as I did to affect what I had already learned from the workshop, I was not completely successful. Antonio was gentle and affirming in his suggestions for me, “You can do this. Believe you can!” It was in the “doing” and putting myself out there that I learned the most.

My advice to all who wish to improve themselves, in whatever endeavor: study, learn from the masters, get coaching from a trusted and admired mentor/colleague.

The first step is to believe you can!

 

Professional Development: What have you learned lately?

One of my best sources for professional development is peeking over the shoulders of my colleagues.  No, I’m not a stalker.  Specifically, I

  1. Sub for absent colleagues. I can really see how their courses connect with mine.  For example, today I was with a RDG091 class.  I can see what I should be doing in RDG081 to prep my students as well as see how their work leads up to CRE101.  I can also see different ways of delivering the content, whether it be in class or through Canvas.
  2. Tutor in the Writing Center. I am able to experience a wide range of writing expectations across our campus, and I always get good ideas about assignments and rubrics used by my colleagues.  I also stay in practice with having to explain things in a new and different way.
  3. Review online courses using the Gold Standards. Some of my best “ah-has” have come when I look at the modules or feedback strategies or resources contained in my colleagues’ awesome courses.  What good ideas we have here!  It really stretches me when I go outside of reading or education to see the way others view the world of Canvas.

I get so many good ideas every week that I’ve had to create Google docs and Google mail labels to capture everything.

My greatest personal growth lesson recently has been to implement just one or two things at a time.  Once I’m comfortable, I go to my files and find something else to add.

 

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

 

Life is Not a Multiple Choice Test

… well I suppose it can be, if you know what the choices are. In many cases, however, the available choices are not fed to you. There is no bubble sheet to fill in. It’s up to you to figure it out with no hints from a prompt.

Many of our younger students have been tested to death. One thing is for certain, they are comfortable with multiple choice options.

Last semester, I told my students that I was assigning a final project instead of a final exam. They begged me for a multiple choice test instead. To their credit, I had assigned a large number of projects throughout the semester, so I caved and wrote a final exam for them.

I do believe, however, that a degree means more than regurgitating facts. There are a number of other skills employers expect when they hire someone with a degree. I think these skills are learned through the college experience as a whole.

I came across this list of traits that we really cannot measure with tests today:

Whether or not we use multiple choice tests for factual knowledge, I believe the experience of going to college and completing practical application projects helps develop these characteristics.

Next time I work with a student who is frustrated, doesn’t like group projects, writing assignments,  or has roadblocks and other issues in the way – I will come back to this list, for no matter what a student’s major is, these skills come along with it. And we all get to contribute to that!

 

 

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!