We’re Out of Here!

As another school year draws to a close, we want to thank our loyal readers and especially our many contributors. We’ll be recharging our batteries over the summer. As we stroll the beach or hike the trails or ride our bikes, we’re certain to be thinking about learning and how to make it more pleasurable. Our summer reading will include the usual guilty pleasures, but we’ve also already added some books about learning and teaching to the stack. We hope you’ll check back with us in the fall.  In the meantime, we feel like this little fella:

Enjoy your summer…every last minute of it!

Pleasure in Completion

Brian picRunners compete in races of varying length, or they simply run a race as an achievement in itself, with no concern for placing or winning anything. Golfers do the same; in fact, most golfers do the same. Goals run a wide spectrum, and sometimes the goal is simply pleasure, or perhaps simply, “I did that.”

The school year is almost over, and it is an accomplishment to complete it for faculty as well as students. A year completed is a year of experience. For students, it means a year closer to a degree or credential. One of my students is finishing college algebra and English 102 and wrote in a journal entry, “I am burned out with math and writing and am glad that there are only two weeks left in the term.”110401-N-HC601-027

Soon that feeling of weariness will fade into the background, and the pleasure of completion will far outweigh the tedious, cumulative burden down the stretch, as the end appears in sight. Most classes have students who can go either way in the closing weeks of a term or school year. It is a special thing to behold resolution set in for those who choose to persevere to the finish, or even stretch for a better grade.

bravoAn old mentor used to talk about three things: commission, cost, and completion. Commission is a time of fresh desire and enrollment. Cost, of course, means the sweat and price paid. Completion is the crown, even if it is your own crown of your own intention.

Ending on an Up Note: Needs at the Crux

nathon-fillon-exasperated-wtf-gif“We’re all wired to learn and grow. The research on happiness is pretty clear that continuing to learn and grow and master something is a big piece of what makes us happy and satisfied in life. It’s why we take up hobbies in retirement. It’s why we stick with golf, right? Because that occasional good round gives you the illusion that you’re getting better. It’s very satisfying.

The problem is that there’s a second human need, which is a need to be accepted and respected and loved and to feel safe just the way you are now. And the very fact of feedback suggests that how you are now is not quite okay.”

—Sheila Heen, co-author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, in an interview with Ross Reynolds of KUOW  94.9FM Seattle News & Information, March 19, 2014.

So sign that darned evaluation…and then enjoy your weekend.

Summertime and the Reading is Easy…

ReadingthuRsday-R2I am gearing up for summertime. I found my flip flops. I bought some sunscreen. I decided on some projects I want to complete. More importantly, I started my reading list for summer. I started tracking down where I can borrow most of the books, and of course, my local public library was my first stop. Happily, I am able to obtain almost all of my books from the library.090528-vacation-reading.hmedium

Summer reading is different from winter reading. When I read in the winter, I almost always curl up in a warm spot in the house. A cat usually helps me read by either sitting on me or trying to sit on my book. However, when I read in the summer, I am all over the place. I read inside the house and outside, seeking either shade or sun depending on the temperature and mood. I usually hope to read on an airplane. I always wish to read on the beach. The feel of sand on my feet and a book in my hand is just too grand. I find I am a little more adventuresome in my reading choices in the summer because I have the illusion of more time to read. I seek the air-conditioned library a little more often. I dream of going to secondhand book stores and yard sales and finding some literary treasures.

hammockSummertime and reading are joined together in my mind. I think this relationship goes back to riding the bus during the summer as a child and traveling to the local public library. I can still remember the feel of going into the library to seek new books to read for a few weeks and then reading one all the way home. My mother wanted quiet, and I just wanted something to read. Sometimes my choices were books I had already read because I liked the way they sounded, or I liked the stories so much. More often, my choices were new books I had not encountered. Whatever my choices, I loaded up as many as I could legally check out. While I know we did not always ride the bus to the library, it is that image of me sitting on the bus reading all the way home that stays with me so many years later.Kid-Reading-in-the-Car

So, this summer I once again begin my journey with books. I have some favorites I wish to reread. I have some new authors I want to try out. I also have plans for some library browsing and book shopping to round out my selections. I hope each of you has some time to read in the sun, hopefully, at the beach.

We are taking a break from our blog over the summer. We begin posting our blog back in August. So, as you can see, I really will have some extra time to read. Enjoy!

Coach, Mentor, or Both?

karenA couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts inspired by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s new book, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Stone and Heen, professors at Harvard Law School and partners in an international consulting firm, have identified three distinct elements in fully developed feedback. A post on April 15 considered how the first element, appreciation, might look in a community college classroom. The second element is actually a tandem: coaching and mentoring.

Stone and Heen don’t draw a sharp line between coaching and mentoring, but my relationships with my students suggest that there is a difference, albeit a blurry one. My discipline, anatomy & physiology, is challenging, so I typically assume a coaching role. MDHSPractice-Aug11-007-300x256Coaches are concerned with performance. To enhance performance, we set goals, employ training techniques and measure progress. In A&P, this looks like online assignments, in-class activities, and frequent assessments. I offer mnemonics, worksheets, class displays, and individual tutoring. Above all, I insist that each student can and should improve her performance. No apologies for asking students to work hard, since that is the only way to get better.

The mentoring role is different. Our college is considering a more deliberate approach to helping our students acquire “soft skills,” and mentoring can be the vehicle for teaching these. (By the way, will someone please come up with an alternative term? I’m already weary of hearing and using the “SS” phrase, and it reliably triggers a nearly anaphylactic reaction in some colleagues.) Mentoring isn’t about teaching body parts and functions. Mentoring is helping students learn how to learn. Mentoring is encouraging students to fall in love with a subject. Mentoring is helping students assume responsibility for their own learning and ultimately their own lives.

MentoringHow do we mentor effectively? There are shelves full of books on that topic, but it seems best to start with the materials at hand. First, I share my own vulnerability. I’m a lousy speller, so I work on my spelling. I don’t have all the answers, so most evenings find me researching a topic posed in class. I wasn’t born knowing anything about A&P, so I openly confess that I spent a lot of long hours at my own kitchen table with one finger in my textbook and one on my notes.

Second, I try to model the behaviors that I most want to see. I show up. I don’t make excuses. I respect my students and my colleagues. I try hard to tell the truth consistently and kindly. I share the best advice that I’ve been given. Sometimes this means steering a student toward a different goal than the one first chosen. Often it means encouraging a student to dream bigger than she’d previously dared.

Next week, I’ll complete this little series with the third element of feedback.

Classhack: Pass It On

paperworkIn his book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, Author Doug Lemov describes many simple techniques that are of value in college classrooms as well. He credits a time-saving strategy to Doug McCurry of Amistad Academy in New Haven, Connecticut. Noting that passing out or taking up papers is a recurrent event in his classroom, McCurry uses a stopwatch to coach his students toward completion of the task in the shortest possible time. By saving one minute per paper pass, he estimates that he saves the equivalent of eight instructional days per year.

You may not save that much time in a typical college class, but, as Lemov notes later in Teach Like a Champion

“Time is water in the desert, a teacher’s most precious resource: to be husbanded, guarded, and conserved. Every minute matters.”

What is the best way to pass papers? Lemov suggests across rows, rather than requiring students to perform a 180° turn to pass papers back or receive them from behind. He also advocates having packets on a table for students to pick up rather than passing documents out at the door or during the class. Since our copy paper tends to be diabolically sticky, I find it helpful to divide the papers into counted stacks before class. Being efficiently well-prepared sends a message to students that you are serious about their learning and that you value your time with them.

Do you have a favorite way to distribute papers or another time-saving technique to share?

Don’t Scratch That Itch

Brian picOk, you get an itch. You scratch it a time or two and then think, “I won’t scratch it any more.” But you do. That’s the way use of fragments can get when writing. A fragment now and then sounds catchy, even literary. But once restraint is relaxed, look out, because the fragments can pile up fast.scratch

When drafting, fragments are nothing to worry about. Normal revision will attach a fragment to a neighbor sentence or turn the fragment into a complete thought. For those who fall in love with fragments, or just plain don’t recognize them, however, those dependent word groups can chop up the style in a piece of writing and make it bumpy prose.

speedBump-717474This semester, a very expressive student wrote a terrific paper on the 2004 film version of Phantom of the Opera. The paper made a B though because of five fragments. Really, the deduction could have been more, but the paper was so good that I wanted to use it in upcoming courses on Blackboard where I post, with permission, samples from previous students.

I told this student that if she corrected the fragments and stopped using them the rest of the course, I would give her back the lost points (tks to Pat Riley for the idea). She was excited to correct the paper and resubmit it. When the next theme came due, I walked over to her and asked, “Have you checked that for fragments?” She vehemently said yes. Sure enough, I didn’t find a single fragment in that theme when I graded it.