Tell me why…

When I was a girl, my mother would sing a song that started with those words. “Tell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue–and I will tell you just why I love you.”

Nothing except the first three words are relevant to this post.

Our students do not understand why they need our classes. They don’t know why we are assigning particular things. Two years ago (or so) I attended a colleague’s class and he started every class by explaining how this assignment fit the learning goals of the course. I didn’t ask him how he introduced the whole course, but I have tried (with more or less success) to explain to students why we are doing x and how x fits into the picture of xXXx that the course is designed for. Sometimes there are goofy rules and sometimes there are good reasons. I confess that I explain them both.

Here is a CHE post on the idea that we need to explain to our students why we do things.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute (although I agree with a lot of what OAP said).  So, because they want a vending-machine education we should give them one?  My son doesn’t like/want to clean his room but that doesn’t mean that I allow him to not clean it.  Students (in general) have never like to learn without some kind of external or internal motivation.  It hurts their brains too much and it takes time away from things that they’d rather be doing.  As much as I loved college as an undergrad, if given a choice between taking and passing Intro. to Chem. or sitting in my room reading something that I chose/wanted to read, I would have opted for the latter (and still would). 

I think that the answer is not so much giving them what they want but teaching them why what they want is less than what they deserve or what they should truly want or what will help them to become better people (or whatever motivation works).  We in academia assume that others see the academy through the same lens that we do and understand it in the same way that we do.  But they don’t.  They don’t understand the values  that we hold dear.  Perhaps instead of dismissing these students as hopeless and/or helpless, we should try to show them what’s so great about it and how it can add value to their lives as well.  When one of my students gave a persuasive speech on why colleges should do away with electives and the liberal studies core curriculum, instead of exploding in anger or shaking my head in silent disbelief and disgust, I tried to explain to them and the rest of the class the reasoning behind the system and the values that it adds to their education.    I make an effort to teach my freshman comp. students not only what we do but why we do it.  They seem to appreciate it.

changinggears. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2374.” chronicle.com, 29 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html

ESL Teacher Orientation

I am teaching an ESL class this semester and had a meeting this morning with the entire faculty of the program.

There are four instructors and two staff/faculty positions involved. I have met three of the six folks previously. Now I have met everyone.

The classroom has been painted, updated, and decorated. It is a very pleasant room. I wish we could do that for all the rooms we teach in. They tend to look very institutional.

I learned quite a bit about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERF), which is what we are using to base our assessments on–both incoming and outgoing.

The level of writing that I will be teaching assumes B1.

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise while traveling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and dreams.

Before they get into on-level classes, they need to achieve C1.

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.

Students and teachers will all be challenged this semester.

2 Ways FYC Does Not Match Student Expectations

Increasing difficulty:

In most courses the assignments are level. The information across assignments is different, but the level of difficulty stays somewhat consistent. Unless there is a clear jump (such as between a regular exam and a comprehensive mid-term), students assume that they did the last assignment well and they know everything they need for the next assignment.

This is not true in second-semester freshmen composition. The course is scaffolded, so that the easier assignments are earlier, but the assignments throughout the course get increasingly harder, even while building on previous assignments.

Grading:

Students in writing (and other) classes assume that the first assignment will let them know how the teacher grades and that the next assignment, done the same way, will allow them to earn the same grade.

This is NOT true when the assignments are scaffolded. Each assignment increases the level of complexity. That means that if the student does not learn and apply the requirements in equally increasing complexity, the grades will decrease with each assignment.

Black Widow and the Marvel Girls quantitative study

In 2015 I attended a talk by Heather M. Porter, whose real job is/was producing reality shows in LA.

The talk she gave looked at 9 of 10 movies, not Hulk, which featured Black Widow.

Black Widow basics:
First appeared in 1964
Joined Avengers in 1966
8 issues of own comic in 1970s
appearances in other comics until 2010…
In Iron Man 2 in 2010
Relaunched series in 2010
Action figures
Solo movie

Bechdel test
Had to appear in 2 of the films
Bechdel test (2 named female characters, talk to each other, not about a man)
Avengers doesn’t pass.

Many films that pass with poor depictions of women.
Major issue of this test is that it only requires small changes.
Fails to look at bigger issues.

Complete female character
Named, speaking character
Has a back story
Has a personality and skills that define them beyond their looks
Has agency
Has flaws
Has audience relate-ability

Black Widow character development
Spy from childhood, originally Russian KGB
Many espionage skills
Out to make amends for her past
Dark past and is cocky
Can be vulnerable, cares for her team members

Quantity is also important
Screen Time –how long on screen
Scenes—how many scenes appeared in

Black Widow 21% of Iron Man2
Avengers 27%
other 29%

Women in each movie
27%, 38%, 49%, 35%, 41% 26%, 58%, 40%
(through the different movies)

conclusions:
trend of increasing complete female characters
Black Widow carries through most movies.
Not a lot of characters carry through.
Phase Three shows promise of more of these characters with Captain Marvel movie on the slate.

Domestically only $3B

19th movie before woman lead
Black Widow won’t have her own.

Gina Davis Disparity
29% of speaking roles in all movies
2.42 men = 1 woman

Heather M. Porter now has a chapter published in Marvel’s Black Widow: From Spy to Superhero edited by Sherry Ginn. Here is a link to the Kindle version.

Teaching Comics as Visual Rhetoric

There is a dissertation online called Sequential rhetoric: Teaching comics as visual rhetoric.

The first chapter talks about visual literacy barriers and writing about comics.

The literature review includes definitions of visual rhetoric and comics.

This might be a good resource for the Visual Rhetoric of Comics classes this fall.

D = Deliberative Practice

“Deliberative practice is characterized by a high degree of focused effort to develop specific skills and concepts beyond one’s current abilities” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 39).

Students (and perhaps faculty too) often mistake practice for deliberative practice.

Our memories have limited capacity, so we can’t learn too much at one time. Therefore we need to chunk information–for ourselves and for our students.

“Over time, engaging in deliberative practice changes people’s knowledge organization, making it more specialized for the tasks they regularly face” (43).

That is an interesting aspect of the idea of deliberative practice and may help students understand why they have to have another writing class when they have been writing for the last 12 years in school.

Deliberative practice, however, doesn’t take place during the meaningful activity itself. This means if we want students to practice changing their sentences for style (a fairly basic point), they should be practicing BEFORE they write their next essay. How do we add that to the curriculum?

Obviously exercises, where we provide the sentences and they change them, would work. But then they aren’t their writings.

Maybe start there. Then have students find a paragraph they have already written and have them change it. Then perhaps incorporate the exercise into a standard class exercise, like the four-minute writing at the beginning of each class session.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair.

C = Contrasting Cases

Showing things that are similar to each other help us understand what a thing is.
Showing things that are different also help us understand.

I find it odd that these were presented in the chapter in the opposite order. When I came to write down notes, that order seemed problematic, so I changed the order (book had contrasting/contrasting, then showing/showing ideas).

Contrasting things that are very different show fundamentals.

Contrasting things that are similar to each other highlight the things that are different. These can be very subtle and they are usually more important than the differences highlighted with very different examples.

When giving contrasting examples, make them specific to individual things. If you wanted to learn how to tell other flowers from daisies, you might get individual “not daisies” that have a single difference and have multiple “not daisies” which have differences in color, petals, stems, and leaves.

Compare/contrast alone does not allow the students to see what they need to be looking for.

Instead compare/contrast with a specific function or feature in mind.

I am trying to imagine what this would look like if I were having students c/c emails during the section where I teach email etiquette.

Could we have multiple examples of subject lines and have students identify whether or not those are appropriate? Or rank them according to how specific they are? (Specificity increases readability in the emails.)

I could make these up or I could go back through my emails and use actual examples (though removed from the actual emails) to give contrasting cases.

Okay. I can see that working.

How would I do this with introduction options–ways of writing introductions? Do I make up my own? Have to think on this more.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

B = Belonging

I want people to like me. I want to be seen as being worth listening to. I want people to miss me when I’m not there. That means I want to belong.

My students want to belong, too.

“Learning is social” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 13) and the classroom particularly shows the social aspects of learning.

Students are placed into a class and we then say they belong there. BUT if they don’t feel they belong there, they will not work optimally.

They might feel they don’t belong because this is too easy for them. How can we get them to feel they belong? They are the leaders? They can offer others their expertise?

They might feel they don’t belong because they perceive the work as too hard for them. If that is their feeling, can we talk about placement and how we can support each other?

Changing Feelings of Belonging:
For at-risk students
There was a study (Walton and Cohen 2011) that had students read essays written by college seniors saying that as freshmen they felt like they did not belong, but that as they engaged with the learning environment they came to see that they did, in fact, belong in college. Students then wrote about their own feelings and recorded them on video.

The study found that some students who did this was were more successful than those who did not. AND that students who had been at-risk (in this study African American students who generally had a lower GPA than the European Americans, but I can see where it would matter for first gen folks too and probably other at-risk groups that I am not thinking of) closed the GPA gap between themselves and the non-at-risk by 79%–which is a significant improvement in GPA.

This particular study did NOT find an impact on the European Americans.

For all students
Facilitate discussions about classroom norms and values. What is most important? Turning in homework on time or checking understanding and asking for help? Students might think that turning in homework on time is most important because that is what I grade. BUT if they check understanding and ask for help, their homework will be easier and will be done correctly and they will see the reflection of understanding and getting help reflected in the grade.

Students can see themselves as belonging to the group through collaborative activities and discussions.

The first few days are probably particularly important for creating a feeling of belonging. Having students meet each other in groups right away might be useful. Or having everyone in the class introduce themselves, using Vicki’s toilet paper idea, might be better. After that perhaps have groups discuss ideas about some other aspect of the class or classroom. I definitely need to think about this before school starts in the fall.

Belonging increases persistence, so feelings of belonging challenged when the work gets harder needs to be countered so that students persist in the course (19). This is relevant right now as well as at the start of next semester.

Being part of a group within the class increases persistence. For FYC-semester2 the casebook essay groups would increase persistence. Perhaps also dividing the research paper groups into categories (like social science research or health research) might increase persistence. That is worth thinking about.

For middle school students
Middle school students who were asked to do a self-affirmation where they wrote about their most cherished values reduced negative issues and had improved performance in both the course they did the self-affirmation in and their other courses.

While I don’t know if this would translate to college, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t and having students write about their most cherished values could easily be a second-day exercise. It would introduce me to their writing and it might give them a stronger sense of connection to the course.

Would it be worthwhile to discuss these in small groups? Would it be counter-productive to ask how the values apply to the class?

Reframing Beliefs:
A student may seem feedback as the teacher saying “where they aren’t any good” OR as “a place they can improve.” How do we get students to see feedback as something they can improve?

RIGHT NOW: I have no idea if it will, in fact, make a difference, but if I go change the titles on the rubric from Excellent, Good, Needs Work to Done Exceptionally Well, Done Well, Can be Improved maybe that would make a difference. Need to do this.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair