Ending on an Up Note: Fun Fact

Bell-ringers are an effective way to grab students’ attention at the beginning of class. If you have students guess the answers in teams and offer a little reward to the winners, bell-ringers can also help build a classroom community.  Most of my openers are related to the anatomy & physiology topic of the day, but I make seasonal exceptions.  Here’s a spring favorite:

What percentage of Americans believe that chocolate bunnies should be eaten ears first?

Here’s the picture I use to illustrate the slide:

My_butt_hurts_by_norbert79The answer? 76%

Enjoy your weekend…and your bunny, no matter which end you much first.

To Read, Or Not to Read?

ReadingthuRsday-R2I read to become a woman. I read to become a Native American, and I read to become a Russian during the age of Czars. I read to become poor, and I read to become a Nazi and a Jewish girl hiding in an attic in occupied Amsterdam. Reading is a way of being. In Seattle a couple of weeks ago, I participated in a discussion in which we discussed writing from the point of view of a persona, someone clearly not the “author” of a poem, and we discussed the power of this to foster empathy in the mind of the writer. Granted, we were discussing writing, but reading and writing are part and parcel of the same thing, and I believe that reading also fosters this ability to empathize on the part of the reader.empathy4
A number of years ago, in the context of some long-forgotten conversation, I was made aware of a concept referred to as “the primacy of the image.” The term addresses, as I understand it, the fact that humans, as a species in general (I am not talking about myself of course), are, well, lazy. We strive endlessly to do more with less, to get more for less, and to accomplish things with less effort expended. This is just the way the human brain is programmed–toward the conservation of energy. Easier is better. More for less is always better. At any rate, “primacy of the image” was explained as referring to the phenomenon of the power that images have. We would rather “watch” than read and have to interpret. But what we gain in time saved also comes with a price.

readingempathyI believe that this phenomenon is antithetical to empathy and compassion on some level. When we “see” something, we are one step removed from “being” that thing. It’s happening to someone else. It’s happening outside of us. It’s “them,” not “us.” Reading, in this regard, works differently. I ask my students what happens internally when they are reading a novel or a short story and they tell me that a type of “internal” film plays. This “film” engages not only their senses of sight and hearing, but all the senses. In reading, ALL of our senses are engaged, and it happens inside of us. We see and hear and smell and taste and feel. empathy-in-actionConsequently, reading is a much more holistic and personal activity than watching a film or even playing a video. It allows us to become. It allows us to be. It allows us to be wizards if we are muggles, men if we are women, women if we are men, Muslims if we are Christians. And maybe that’s what this world needs: the ability of people to empathize, the ability to become “another” more completely. So read. Read to be. Read to become another. Read to save the world.

Stupid vs. “Smartless”

karenPearls Before Swine, a syndicated comic strip drawn by Stephan Pastis, always makes me smile.  The Sunday strip on March 30, 2014 poked fun at the rise of politically correct terminology. You can view the strip by clicking here.

In the strip, a Zeus-like “Word Decider” determines which linguistic terms are acceptable, culminating in the decree that “Stupid is out! Smartless is in!” (Ironically, The Washington Post felt the word “midget” was too much of a slur and pulled the strip.  You can read about that decision here.)pearls_logo_2797

When the chuckles stopped, the thinking began.  Some colleagues and I had been bemoaning—as teachers are wont to do—some of our students’ more hapless attempts at  completing assignments.  “What are they thinking?” we wondered. “Are they thinking at all? Are they just incapable?”

No, maybe they are simply smartless.

medium_duncecapHere’s the thing: “Stupid” implies an intrinsic lack of intellectual ability. It is an ugly word. It does not suggest the possibility of improvement.

Smartless, however, offers a glimmer of hope.  After all, a thoughtless person can, with a bit of sincere effort, become more thoughtful. A careless person can learn to be more attentive and cautious. A helpless person can become more self-reliant. A penniless person might find a way to earn some cash.

This weekend I ran into a student who took my class twice.  Her first trip was disastrous, so I was surprised when she signed up again. The second trip through A&P was completely different. Her performance improved so dramatically that I pulled her aside to ask what had caused the change.  She replied that she just hadn’t put forth a real effort on her first attempt. She’s now enjoying a successful career in a job that she loves. I’m sure that the people whom she serves love her as well.

When I first met her, she wasn’t stupid…just smartless. lightbulb_idea_thinking_veer_3x4

So often, I assume that a student who struggles lacks the intellectual ability or educational background to succeed.  Sometimes this is true. But when I take the time to talk with students about their problems, I often learn about obligations outside the classroom that stretch them to the limit. Sometimes I learn about distressing past experiences and poor perceptions of their own abilities. Again and again, I am struck by the difference that a little coaching, reassuring, and plain old listening can make.

I’m considering a new personal mission statement: Stamping out smartlessnesss, one student at a time.

Tech Tuesday: Formatting Fairy Series, Part 8

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


This article is part of a multi-part visit from the Formatting Fairy.  Read on to see how to exorcise those Formatting Demons.  Comment and tell us about your Formatting Demons.

Want some page numbers on your document?  A picture may be worth a thousand words in this case.

Page Numbers


Hearing the Real Question Asked

BrianIt’s spring, with sunnier, warmer days on the increase. Night temperatures, however, can still drop into the 40s, calling for the furnace to run. Tandy sets the thermostat on 62 at night. When I woke up the other morning, I donned my familiar sweatshirt, brewed the tea, and sat down to the computer without thinking of the temperature one way or another.

When she got up an hour later and came down the hall, she quizzically asked, “You weren’t cold this morning? I notice that you didn’t turn up the heat.” morningteaI replied that I hadn’t noticed, had my sweatshirt on, and had been drinking cup after cup of hot tea. Then it hit me: I hadn’t turned up the heat as usual so that she would get up to a warmer house.

I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t take care of you this morning.” She smiled—not about the heat but that I had figured this thing out after a minimum of babbling about not being cold.

person20question_11 Husbands—the learning curve is always curving. I’ve been in marriage school 42 years and have numerous degrees in marriage. But with marriage, no degree is terminal—unless the husband wants to be terminal.

A similar truth holds with student questions. I’m sure instructors everywhere get dumb questions. Scraping my nerves the most is “When is the assignment due?” The course web site has the assignment calendar. Other tedious questions include ones about what I have just talked about with arm waving and voice inflections; or they are about things covered in detailed written instructions that the student hasn’t thought to read.stupid-question

There is an upside to this. Sometimes a student wants a sense of participation, thinking, “If I ask a question, it shows I’m interested.” It’s a way of reaching out to connect with the instructor, not necessarily a mindless thing. Granted, a more carefully thought out question would be more pleasing to hear, but often, the point is to initiate or maintain the sense of care and concern.

Instructors want students to be interested in learning. Students also want a little TLC, and the cost at times to the instructor is hearing the real question behind the one asked.

Ending on an Up Note: Funny Stuff About Serious Stuff

This week in Anatomy & Physiology we discussed the factors that contribute to skin color. (We know you’re wondering: melanin, carotene, and hemoglobin.) We reflected on all the problems that have sprung from such basic elements of the human body.

Here at pleasureinlearning.com, we believe that humor is one of the most effective teaching tools. Humor can command our attention by surprising us.  The neurotransmitters released when something is funny encourage us to keep coming back for more.  And humor can help us open our minds and our eyes to our own foibles. Commedian Hari Konabolu coaxes us to consider some of our ideas about race in this clip from The David Letterman Show. When I first viewed this via The Upworthy, I especially enjoyed his take on the word “tolerance.”


Enjoy your weekend.

Reading and Critical Thinking = Critical Reading

ReadingthuRsday-R2pleasureinlearning is pleased to introduce Ryan Ray, an assistant professor in the Professional & Technical Studies division. Like his colleague Stuart Zieman, Ryan encourages his students to use reading to solve real-world problems.

I was asked to write something about reading in the classroom and how it affects my class. I am a teacher of accounting, so to me most reading is centered around problems and situations that require critical thinking skills.thinking-cap If you are unaware of a subject that you are reading about, how can you understand a problem or come up with a solution on that subject unless you not only read well but critically? If the problem is presented in exactly the same manner as a text does, perhaps you may memorize the format alone and not attain any understanding of function. What happens if the format changes, the wording changes, or the question is simply asked differently from the original? In most cases students get the question wrong and, more to the point, they fail to learn the required skill.

RSCCD-OrangeThe trend of decreasing reading scores, skills, and not reading at all in the past few years has led to progressively lower scores. As a result, many instructors in critical thinking fields have begun to constantly re-evaluate the methods they use.
In my current courses, I use the following approaches to try and coerce the skill of reading from my students.

  • My textbooks are chosen with real world and current examples. Many of the problems relate to current trends in business to catch the eyes of students in a field where they are already curious.
  • My testing requires essay questions for some portions of the exam.  Many times, the textbook alone cannot give a complete solution. For instance, I may offer a compare-and-contrast essay or a question that requires the student’s own thought along with contextual material from a text.
  • I occasionally have writing assignments where I ask mainly analytical questions so that I can ascertain how much is merely a “copy and paste” of knowledge and how much is the student’s mind trying to grasp the concept. I mentioned critical thinking and that is where I focus. Without reading, that is not possible.
  • The final area that I really think encourages students to read in snippets or sections, if not the chapter as a whole, is in the problem multiple choice questions on my exams. There are very few questions in the text that appear in this manner. My questions are usually setup in problem/essay form.

critical thinkingThese types of analytical questions in accounting require students to not only dissect the wording of the question and the individual answers but also  to take the concepts and applications within the book and place them into use. Most often students have to combine two elements from different sections in the book. The better students understand the connections between the concepts and the problems, the better they seem to perform on these questions.

So that is my methodology and focus in the accounting area: creating student success by coercing knowledge dissection, extraction, and reformulation… basically, mixing reading and critical thinking to yield “critical reading.”