Classhack: Two Words

keytermsToday’s classhack comes courtesy of Dr. YeVette Howard, director of our college’s QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan), which aims to improve our students’ reading and to foster a culture of reading on our campuses. At a recent professional development meeting, Dr. Howard served up a platter of practical ideas for discipline-specific reading. My favorite strategy can be summed up in two words. No, that’s it: two words. Really…”Two Words.”

Dr. Howard advised us to think of two words whose meaning our students should grasp at the end of the session “if they didn’t learn anything else that day.” We should write those two words on the board at the beginning of the day’s lesson. That sounds easy enough…until you try to do it. systems-thinking

Tomorrow, my students will charge headlong into the challenging topic of muscle physiology. The vocabulary is a thicket of unfamiliar terms, and the sequence of molecular events required to move a single muscle cell is difficult to track. So what words shall I write?

I’m flirting with “sarcomere” and “depolarization,” but I suspect I’ll still be debating on the morning drive to work.

We’d love to hear what words you choose for your classes, so comment or send us an email. Maybe we can start a collection.

How Do You Spell “Fallible”?

karenLately it seems that we might change the name of this blog from “pleasureinlearning” to “trueconfessionsinlearning.” Kristen opened the conversation with her interesting and admirable “How It Felt to Fail.” Brian picked up the thread with his remarkably honest tale, “Two Depressed People Ponder Education.”

Finally, Dr. YeVette Howard, director of our college’s quality enhancement plan on reading, offered an interesting and informative professional development session on reading in the college classroom. Dr. Howard is a well-credentialed and recognized expert on reading, but she revealed that she had great difficulty in learning to read. She also shared that when she reads for pleasure, she favors mysteries over the heavier works in the literary canon.

Reading or hearing these “confessions” from my colleagues made me like each of them even more than I already do…and these are people I like a lot. What is it about the sharing of less-than-flattering details about one another that fosters such warm feelings of comfort and goodwill? Maybe it’s that we take pleasure in knowing that we are not the only flawed  people on the planet. We do indeed belong to a group: the group of people who aren’t perfect. We belong to the group of people who struggle. Sometimes we earn admission to the group of people who have persevered in spite of our imperfections.bunny_facepalm_by_shlj23-d4s3yaj

My students in A&P seem to feel the same way. I continually nag them to improve their spelling of A&P’s daunting array of difficult words so that they “won’t look like ninnies” when they move forward in their careers. I confess that I am a poor speller who has the misfortune of being married to a bona fide spelling champion. They hear the story of my humiliation as a young student doctor on rounds, called out by the attending physician for misspelling “vesicular” as “vessicular” on a patient’s chart. I haven’t missed that one again, but I still wonder why “vesicle” has one “s” while “vessel” has two.

funny-quotes-spelling-is-hardThe advent of spell-checkers in word processing programs found me alternatively argumentative and horrified by years’ worth of clueless spelling errors. “Eliminate”? Seriously? Why not “eleminate,” like “elementary”?

So when I remind my charges yet again that “sagittal” has one “G” and two “Ts,” I also tell them that I have looked that word up at least a hundred times myself. I tell them that I almost despaired of learning to spell “hematopoiesis.” And I tell them that no one in the room, including the teacher, was born knowing any of this.

There is great pleasure in feeling that we belong to a group, especially when that group is the tribe of fallible fellow human beings. (And, yes, I had to double-check how to spell “fallible.”)

Tech Tuesday: Office Mix

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


Coming up to speed on new technology might not be your favorite thing, but I want to briefly introduce to you Office Mix.  It is an enhancement (Add-In) for PowerPoint.  Using Office Mix, you can enhance your PowerPoint in new ways!  You can easily add the following to your PowerPoint presentations before uploading them for students to view.

  • audio and video recordings of yourself
  • slide annotations
  • screen capture
  • quizzes

These, along with many other features can enhance your static PowerPoint presentations. I see the ideal use case being for online curriculum.

Click here for a 6 minute Office Mix presentation that introduces Office Mix.

Two Depressed People Ponder Education

BrianI was depressed enough in 1993 to live in a state run boarding house in North Carolina for people trying to recover and get back to work. The house was an old, three story house on a once historic street near downtown Charlotte. Four of us bunked in a room, and one was named Robert, who enrolled in several courses at the nearby community college. I couldn’t understand how Robert could be the slightest bit interested in college or have the focus to do it, whereas he wondered why I wasn’t doing more with the BA degree I already had. Each was an enigma to the other.o-depression-facebook


I don’t know why Robert was depressed. I was too depressed to ask, or remember. It just seemed absurd to be depressed and go to college, but some self-esteem and purpose in it drove him. It made him feel good about himself, like he was going somewhere, and he probably had gotten mired in dead end jobs. Maybe this was a fantasy, and he had no business going to school at that time. I watched him go off to campus with his books as I went off to a job with the temp agency, pulling orders in a warehouse. At night when others were watching television, Robert would study.

403298_351484364937146_1724505693_n I was just glad to be working, making a check, and looking for a better job. It took a while to see why Robert scorned my disinterest in education at the time. It’s easier to be disinterested with a degree, and no matter how useless and impractical a BA in English seemed, it was a bird in the hand and represented tons of work that didn’t have to be repeated.

As a college instructor, one might not know the stories behind students. For some students, just getting through with a C might be monumental, given other life circumstances. At any time, a student might move to the B tier, or even the A plateau. Any accumulation of courses successfully taken means a body of work to build on.4232232092_2be61c1467_b

Later, I was able to build upon my BA. I don’t know what happened to Robert, but I commend him for not sitting around in his depression. He got into the game, and you can’t play if you don’t get into the game.



Ending on an Up Note: Thanksgiving “Pleasures”

Thanks to the good folks at mental_floss for allowing us to share this. We think it’s a hoot. You can see more great stuff at

7 Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals, According to Sociologists

thanksgiving-dinner-rituals_6The carving of the turkey, the saying of the grace, the watching of the football. If a Martian anthropology student asked us to name some cultural rites of Thanksgiving, these would be the first few to come to mind. But students of anthropology know that a society is not always the best judge of its own customs.

The first major sociological study of Thanksgiving appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research in 1991. The authors conducted in-depth interviews with people about their experiences of the holiday. They also had 100 students take detailed fieldnotes on their Thanksgiving celebrations, supplemented by photographs. The data analysis revealed some common events in the fieldnotes that people rarely remarked on in the interviews. Here are some Thanksgiving rituals you might not realize are rituals:

1. The giving of the job advice

Teenagers are given a ritual status shift to the adult part of the family, not only through the move from the kids’ table to the grownup table, but also through the career counseling spontaneously offered by aunts, uncles, and anyone else with wisdom to share.

2. The forgetting of the ingredient

Oh no! I forgot to put the evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie! As the authors of the Thanksgiving study state, “since there is no written liturgy to insure exact replication each year, sometimes things are forgotten.” In the ritual pattern, the forgetting is followed by lamentation, reassurance, acceptance, and the restoration of comfortable stability. It reinforces the themes of abundance (we’ve got plenty even if not everything works out) and family togetherness (we can overcome obstacles).

3. The telling of disaster stories of Thanksgivings past

Remember that time we fried a turkey and burned the house down? Another way to reinforce the theme of family togetherness is to retell the stories of things that have gone wrong at Thanksgiving and then laugh about them. This ritual can turn ugly, however, if not everyone has gotten to the point where they find the disaster stories funny.

4. The reappropriation of the store-bought items

Transfer a store-bought pie crust to a bigger pan, filling out the extra space with pieces of another store-bought pie crust, and it’s not quite so pre-manufactured anymore. Put pineapple chunks in the Jello, and it becomes something done “our way.” The theme of the importance of the “homemade” emerges in the ritual of slightly changing the convenience foods to make them less convenient.

5. The pet’s meal

The pet is fed special food while everyone looks on and takes photos. This ritual enacts the theme of inclusion also involved in the inviting of those with “nowhere else to go.”

6. The putting away of the leftovers

In some cultures, feasts are followed by a ritual destruction of the surplus. At Thanksgiving the Puritan value of frugality is embodied in the wrapping and packing up of all the leftovers. Even in households in which cooking from scratch is rare, the turkey carcass may be saved for soup. No such concern for waste is exhibited toward the packaging, which does not come from “a labor of love” and is simply thrown away.

7. The walking

After the eating and the groaning and the belly patting, someone will suggest a walk and a group will form to take a stroll. Sometimes the walkers will simply do laps around the house, but they often head out into the world to get some air. There is usually no destination involved, just a desire to move and feel the satisfied quietness of abundance – and to make some room for dessert.

* * *

What are some Thanksgiving customs that might be unique to your family?

This story originally appeared in 2012. (

Enjoy your weekend.

Classhack: Finest Quotes

finestquotesStudents respond to quotes in surprising ways. A pithy or humorous observation on the topic at hand has the power to motivate and inspire, especially when the topic at hand is motivation itself. In an earlier post, I described my discovery of a student’s forgotten textbook with many of the quotes from class handwritten inside the cover. We never know what may resonate with and empower a student.

The internet offers an array of great sites for finding appropriate quotes. My current favorite is The site will send a new quote to your inbox everyday if you like, or you can use tabs to review quotes by author and topic. The site even offers a list of memorable quotes from a variety of movies and a set of “Picture Quotes” like this one:


Sign up for a daily quote or browse the site, then enjoy a satisfying, easy way to personalize and pleasure-ize your classes.