I’ve Moved

1 Comment

Please check out my new website at heyteach101.com.  This site is going to focus on providing materials for adults who want to improve reading and writing skills and build vocabulary.  It’s definitely a work in progress but I am pleased to have it up and running.

toreadtowrite (this site) will still be up and if I have more to say about teaching adults to read and write better I will post it here.

Thanks for following!

Coming Soon…

Leave a comment

HeyTeach101 is coming back!  I am preparing to come out from behind this anonymous mask – the limitations proved greater than the advantages.  While the anonymity allowed me to write about students and teaching in a way that I never could have written had I attached my name and university affiliation, it limited my online presence in a way that doesn’t work for me any more.

I am also inspired in this renewal effort by my latest book find – Austin Kleon‘s Share Your Work.  He urges those of us who create, whatever our product, to build our online presence by sharing not only the final product, but the process as well.

So for the duration of this experience of creating a new website, I am going to be chronicling my efforts and discoveries right here.  So far my process has mainly been sliding down one rabbit hole after another, looking at website hosting, logo creation, and the trademarking process – I will share those explorations in future posts.  This will get me back into the habit of writing with visibility and it will also hopefully result in a gorgeous new website.  Stay tuned!


Leave a comment

Mplsruins6copyThe echoes of neglect are deafening.  I just took a look back at all my posts, knowing it had been a while since I last wrote, but I was dismayed to discover that I haven’t written here since last January.  All my mental excuses were for my summer neglect, although even those sounded pretty lame when I listened to myself trying to justify my resistance to writing.  But to discover I hadn’t published a single post during the spring semester either is just plain embarrassing.

Spring semester was good, students were a pleasure to work with, no one was mentally ill or always angry or frightening in any way.  Students seemed to enjoy our time together, attendance and participation were good.  So what was there to write about?  Apparently I needed trauma to motivate me to write.  (Notice the past tense – I am in change mode as I write – no more crisis-driven functionality.)

Another issue that has challenged my writing on this blog is the choice I made for anonymity.  I stand by it for the reasons I gave from the beginning, but it has limited me in ways I did not anticipate.  I cannot benefit from this work professionally because I cannot claim it, and I cannot publish any of it under my own name.

For those reasons I am working on a website under my own name.  I will continue to use this site to write about students and personalities that need to exist under the invisibility cloak, but information about teaching and learning will move to my new site.

I have several new subscribers (you are the ones who prompted this post – I am so very grateful to you for your interest!) and I hope you will find my new site when it goes live.  I will announce the new site here once I am ready to go live.  If you are not currently a friend or family and are interested in following me for the teaching information, you can always write to me at heyteach101@gmail.com.

Stay tuned for a discourse on student dynamics – classes start in a few weeks!

Gratitude for New Beginnings

1 Comment

Happy New YearHappy New Year!  Our semester starts early this year – classes begin tomorrow.  Half of our prep week was spent celebrating New Year’s Eve and Day, and since I am teaching a class I am not very familiar with I am feeling most definitely under-prepared.

But that discomfort is more than outweighed by the pleasure of knowing that I am starting fresh with this new batch of students.  I can teach differently, teach better.  Maybe this will be the semester when I figure out how to get everyone on board.  But whether it is or not, it is a fresh start, and I love that about teaching.

We don’t have to carry our baggage with us when we start a new semester.  My mentally ill students and the damage they did to my confidence are in the past.  I learned and hopefully I have moved on to a better place should I encounter such troubled students again (ah, the equanimity of those final days before classes start and reality sets in!)

I am teaching study skills, which can be a fun class to teach.  I am excited about the creativity that is encouraged by the textbook, which is full of diverse ways to teach and learn each topic.  It is the new pencil/new notebook syndrome: everything is fresh and new and full of possibility.  That is the gift of teaching – no matter how badly you screwed up last semester, the next semester is a new beginning.  I am so thankful to have this opportunity to perpetually be able to begin again with a clean slate.  I wish you the same – an ongoing supply of second chances.

Nov. 27 – Student Conferences

Leave a comment

I like to get feedback from students at every point possible throughout the semester.  It starts during the first week of class, when I block out time to meet with each student individually.  This means canceling classes for at least a day, usually two.  I have debated whether or not these initial conferences are worth the lost class time, and I even tried doing without them one semester.  When I didn’t have those meetings in the first week I never felt like I knew the students as well, and I realized that I use the information gathered in this initial meeting throughout the semester.  I returned to those first-week conferences the next semester and have done them ever since.

I have students fill out information forms before our meeting, and the information they provide gives me a basis for an introductory conversation.  Aside from the usual demographic stuff I ask them about their reading – what do they like to read, what do they most want to improve about their reading, what is their greatest strength as a reader?  Sadly, far too many students draw a total blank when trying to answer that last question – “I don’t have any strengths.”  sigh.

I also ask them if they are upset about being placed in a non-credit “developmental” reading class.  Most say they are resigned to taking it, though many don’t understand why they have to do so.  Some are honest and say that yes, they are angry about being forced to take a non-credit class they don’t think they need.  I find that acknowledging and addressing that resistance right away as honestly as I can is the most effective way to defuse it before the mood of an entire class is affected.

I also meet with students at the end of the semester in lieu of a final exam.  We talk about the semester and what should come next for them.  For many students it is a formality but for some it is a powerful moment of affirmation and connection, and for me it is a time to say “Well done” or “I know you’ll do better next semester.”

And now, in addition to these two meetings, I think I want to start having midterm conferences as well.  I have avoided them for a couple of reasons up until now: the additional lost class time and the question of how to just meet with the students I need to meet with, i.e. the ones who aren’t doing as well.  I thought about allowing A students, or perfect attendance students, or some such criterion students a pass on midterm conferences, but that seems to send the message that if you’re good you don’t have to do this thing, which makes “this thing” not a very appealing thing at all.  But why take the time to meet with students just to say “you’re doing great, keep it up?”  Or even more so, with the passively competent students who have absolutely nothing to say and look at me like I’m crazy when I thank them for coming in and ask if they have anything they want to talk about.

But I think it is so important to meet with the shaky students – the ones I might not lose if I reach out at the right time.  It’s so hard to know, and I do try to remember that I am not the only influence in their lives; so many of my students’ lives are so complex, with so many demands and challenges, that sometimes it seems a miracle they get to class at all.  Maybe I will come up with a journal assignment that will give all of my students something to say in a mid-term conference.  That way it is at least not a punitive event, and we might even have some enlightening conversations.  And maybe those good students need to hear that they are doing well.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget the quietly competent.  Don’t want to do that.  Here’s to all of the quietly competent – I think I will make these conferences as much about them as about the strugglers.  That will certainly make for a change of pace, and it will provide me with a new challenge as I design my conference plans next semester.  huzzah.

Nov. 26 – Teaching Vocabulary with Image and Rhyme

Leave a comment

photo made available by Creative Commons license from:
“Alright, we’ll take your word for it.”

Our brains are hard-wired to recognize images – we see image so much more clearly than we do text.  I am convinced that there is a way to make use of that wiring to teach college students new words.  This semester I decided to move beyond my own paltry imagination and lack of drawing skills and try out some of the college-level vocabulary cartoon books.  I made a list of the words for which I had cartoons, then we chose words to learn from that list.

For each new word, I shared my vocabulary cartoon resources with my students, then looked for feedback.  In quizzes, I asked them to identify which words triggered a memory of the cartoons and which of those remembered images helped them identify the meaning.  Many more students remembered the images than the meanings, which tells me that, even for professional vocabulary cartoonists (?) it is not easy to effectively connect meaning and image.

In previous semesters I have had the students create their own images, and I think that turned out almost as well as using these pre-made cartoons.  There is a lot of initial resistance to creating their own cartoons for their vocabulary words, even after seeing my pathetic stick figure drawings on the board.  Lack of self-confidence about drawing skills is rampant.  But I think that if I use the extensive context example practice first, we could come up with images for the words as a class.

Image is such a powerful trigger for memory that I don’t want to give up on finding a way to utilize that trigger as I struggle to help my students build up their lexicon, to even their chances of succeeding in the academic world.  A worthy goal, a mighty summit.  hi ho.  Next semester for sure.

Nov 25 – Avoidance Addiction

Leave a comment

Hiding in the flower pot by Ray Closson
fotocommunity.com made available by Creative Commons license

Well.  I didn’t write on Thursday because it was, after all, Thanksgiving.  Family day.  Food and football.  Perfectly justifiable.  Then Friday rolled around and I felt I could still call it being on holiday, so to speak.  Then yesterday I spent much of the day giving myself reasons for putting off writing just one more day.

As I lay in bed last night, berating myself yet again for my eagerness to not write, I made a new connection.  A dear friend of mine is a recovering alcoholic and, while I don’t want to belittle the challenges inherent in that condition, my behavior reminded me of an alcoholic’s addiction.  My addiction is not for alcohol but for avoidance; as soon as I take one day off from writing, thinking “I can handle it – it’s just one day,” I find myself still not writing days later.

I have somehow made not writing a reward, a holiday, a special treat.  But I know in my heart that writing, communicating, expressing, creating – that is the real treat.  I read an article somewhere recently about the metaphors we make and how powerful they are in shaping our lives and our attitudes.  So, I need to change my metaphor for writing from duty to beauty, from a chore to let’s explore, from a weight to a date, from something to shun to nothing but fun.  (Please accept my profound apologies for that, but it was fun.)

Older Entries