If you can’t walk, crawl.

Joe (the amazingly articulate and involved art teacher) wrote on evaluations:

I was on a Fulbright Scholar’s Grant to the Palace Museum in the early 1960s, being caught up in Chinese thought, painting and culture. All the Fulbrighters traveled in a bus across the island to I-Lan, a small village on the eastern shore of Taiwan. Our hotel was high in the mountains, overlooking I-Lan, and I was restless. I went for a walk.

Across a ravine, on a moonless night, with a raging river below, I could see the outline of a pagoda which I wanted to visit. I found a swaying footbridge and confidently started to walk across, hearing the rushing water far below in the ravine.

My courage failed me in the middle and I crawled the rest of the way to the other side.

Then, I explored the pagoda. It was marvelous. When I decided to return, the only way back was across the footbridge. I walked again halfway and crawled the rest. I find that when I get into the unknown in my own creative work, I still use that technique. It taught me that if you want something bad enough, crawling to get there is worth the embarrassment. Getting A’s is nice but it will never compare to that pagoda on a moonless night in an unknown land (an undiscovered country) in search of “wonder”.

This is from my adjunct certification course.

Engaging Techniques: Kindergarten Week

This week we’ve been preparing to write a descriptive paper in class.

What is a very focused description? A riddle.

So on Monday we read riddles. I did a historical introduction to the ones I used.
(“This will be easier if you played a particular children’s game growing up.”
And “George Washington probably heard this one when he was growing up.”)

Eventually I gave everyone five riddles from the Exeter Book (circa 950 AD) translated into modern English. I tell them that the riddles are old.

Then I had them come up with answers on their own.

The students still came up with modern answers. But even those were interesting.

There is one riddle that scholars disagree on the answer. (The book has no answers in it.) I had the students get in groups and told them I would give them extra points if they could figure out what all the possible answers were. Everyone got it!

Wednesday I brought in art cards.

(Did I already tell this story?) I handed each student one and told them not to show it to anyone else. Unbeknownst to them I had at least three others that were very similar to theirs.

Then I told them to write a one line or sentence description of their piece. Then I took up the cards.

I had them give me their line and then I showed them the cards I thought might be theirs. They were surprised by how many cards fit their description.

Then I gave out another set of cards and had them describe the picture they received. This time when I took up the cards I placed them with other similar cards on the table at the front of the room. Then I had them exchange descriptions and come up and find the card matching the description they got.

It was a lot of fun. People were flabbergasted at how many of the cards looked similar. Overall, though, the students were able to find the cards with those second descriptions.

On Wednesday one of my students asked if we were having kindergarten week. Another student thought that would be fun. I laughingly said we would be playing hide and seek. Several of them were excited about that!

Then Calandra gave us the “non-astounding” alphabet technique.

So on Friday, I had them brainstorm on people, places, and things. Then I had them pick one and come up with 26 details starting with letters of the alphabet. I allowed one skip. And for each they came up with extra letters for, they received extra points.

I learned a new word, “xanthic.” It means yellow, which was some special someone’s favorite color.

It expanded their thinking and gave them a finite number of details to shoot for. They loved it! Thanks, Calandra.

Something that didn’t work so well:

I’m not very fond of group work. Mostly because I was always the kid doing all the work for everyone’s grade.

But I have been trying to include more of this for the sake of the students for whom it is a blessing.

I’ve found that if I want them to have productive group discussions I have to be very clear about what I want them to discuss. If I just say “discuss X” they will talk for less than two minutes on topic and then get off on their own lives.

I can give them a checklist or a set of questions to help stop this.

And I tell them I’ll be calling on them for answers afterward.

This is from my adjunct certification course.

What to do when things go wrong

When I used to run an art museum as a director, a good friend who was an old hand at this business told me: “There are at least four ways to cope with a situation that is a disaster:
1) solve it the next time and fix it up this time,
2) give it to an assistant to take from the disaster stage to success (a feather in another’s hat),
3) work your butt off to transform the whole situation and if it remains a disaster
4) walk away and forget it ever happened (except that you make a report to yourself to file away in some obscure filing case, just if you are tempted to do it again).”

When I retired from the museum business in 2001 (have not retired from a 50-year career teaching), I walked away and forgot most of it (although I have extensive files). Therefore there are some courses I do not teach (although I have the credentials to teach them). I find that the system of teaching them and the academic system that supports the teaching of them is an anathma to my best teaching self. Even if superfacially they appear as successes, I know deep down that for me they are “disasters”. Those are the ones that I walk away from and forget. The files are for others who might pick up the work from where I left off.

I now teach one course (at least two sections) that I am more than good at, Art Appreciation, no more, no less. Could I teach others? Yes, but don’t! I totally understand Suzette’s walking away from one course that does not fit her idea of “exceptional teaching.” I love now being an “adjunct professor”; I was a “full” one for years. It is like Donna Brazile being an “adjunct” at Georgetown University while she is also involved in Democratic politics and a commentator for CNN. As an adjunct, you are free to choose.

I also do not stand on a railroad track when a “disaster” train is coming.

This is from the adjunct certification course and is one of Joe’s comments.

Tip 30: How to Make Lectures More Interesting

Academics have a tendency to lecture, as this is the way we learned. Some things, indeed, need lectures. But most of us can improve our lectures. Here are some simple ways that lectures can be improved.

Vary the voice style.

Move around the room.
There’s Joe’s picture plane. (He says that teachers tend to stay within a “window” away from the students, like there is a piece of glass between them/us and the students.) I go to a part of the room where I am not normally. Or I take two parts and move back and forth between the two spaces.

Keep lectures short.
Of course, I think 15 minutes is short and the students think 30 seconds is short.

Start the lecture with a question that the lecture is aimed at helping the students to answer.
For example, You will have to write an essay later giving examples for this question: “How has the world changed from Old English to Middle English times?” One of the examples you could discuss is women’s roles. Then I give my Old English lecture on women’s roles.

Include an activity or assignment immediately after the lecture that involves the lecture.
Example, “List five things that differ from Old English literature/culture that you could note and write down as we read through Medieval literature.”

Prepare a handout.
This could be the main points OR
it could be the important concepts left blank with some of the notes filled in.

Tell stories.
People like jokes; they like stories. Give them something they can relate to and let them hang the information on that.

In the discussion of content of literature of the era, I talk about informing the uneducated. One part of this was the stained glass windows, which told stories from the Bible and acted as a picture Bible.
I bring a picture of a stained glass window that matches what the literature is about.

Relate the new information to previous information.
Remember that OE/ME essay you have to write? This is the second half of the information you need to use.

Create an activity or an assignment that applies the new information to the overall themes of the course.
We are looking at the intellectual and moral aspects of literature. What part of the contextualization would help us identify these?
–Answer: Content. This is the section that lists things like “strong belief in faith” and “plays that instruct illiterate masses in morals and religion.”

What is significant learning?

Significant learning is when the students “get” what I am teaching in such a way that they are able to use and apply it.

An example from grammar is critical to what I am doing in my classes. If a student understands the grammar rule and can do every exercise correctly, then they have made progress. But if the student still cannot apply that rule to their own writing, then the level of learning for that student is still too low.

It is all well and good to be able to memorize or figure out the answer in an exercise. The most important part of my class, though, is applying what you have learned to your writing. That would be “significant learning.”

This is from the adjunct certification course.

Teaching and Testing

I think that the concept of teaching to the test is mostly, though not entirely, a function of the accountability process put into place in our K-12 system. Most people who teach to the test in this environment are doing so with the expectation of teaching their students the fundamental knowledge which is necessary for them to pass on to their next stage of learning.

Sometimes this is essential and useful. What if there were no understanding of end outcomes for a course/class/year/school? Then each one would be different and a student from one would not have learned or even studied the same things that a student from another did. We would not have anything like a basic level that could be assumed within education.

And this can be useful for a teacher as well. I went to high school in New York, where every student in a course must take the statewide final exam in their course. It did several things for the teachers.

First, it removed the onus of “it was too hard for X” because it is a statewide requirement that you know how to prove that a line has 180 degrees (or whatever).

Second, the final was useful because it gave the teachers a clear set of objectives to be aiming for. World history wasn’t just supposed to talk about the history of a single country outside of the US, but was supposed to cover art and architecture and politics throughout world cultures. European history wasn’t just modern or early, but covered everything from the Etruscans forward.

Third, it allowed teachers a bit of flexibility in grading. This was not mandated (like it presently is in Dallas or Pittsburgh), but a student not doing well in a course, but TRYING, could be given a low passing grade with the clear understanding that the student would not pass the course if they could not pass the final. That was a statewide requirement. So a teacher could reward effort of a student without doing social promotion or effort promotion for the entire course.

Applied to college teaching:

But since we are all college teachers, the question should probably be applied to college teaching. I think that in college teaching to the test is problematic.

College teachers usually create their own tests. They know what is on them and they should certainly make the information available to the students through discussions, readings, lectures, activities, and assignments.

But students often expect a review handout that covers every single question on a test, rather than types of questions or types of information. If the teacher says that is what the review handout is for, then clearly it should do that. However I often see students not studying, but memorizing the review handout. Then, when they go to a test, they are upset because the question, as presented in the review, was not on the exam. That’s ridiculous. Why should you need to come to class if the review handout is all you need to know for the exam?

In addition I have upon rare occasions had a teacher who taught only what was on the test and nothing else. Each class period consisted of covering ten or fifteen minutes’ worth of material which was boiled down to a single question on the exam. And that was all the class consisted of. I am opposed to this approach.

Thankfully I am in English and for freshman composition, my most common course, the tests of all kinds are writing. Since the focus of the course is writing and the students are writing and the tests are writing, there is a clear confluence of testing and teaching coming together. (At least that is the goal.)

In my British lit course:

In my British Literature course, I primarily use out of class papers, where the students have to integrate what they learned in class and what they have found or discovered on their own. I do have two exams, though, which cover factual materials in a paragraph form. In those exams the students must write about the work addressing a certain question.

Because the course is involved and we do lots of reading, I allow the students to use their notes. They cannot use the book, but they can use anything that they created. This does two things. It encourages reading as we go along (because there is no way they can do all the reading before the exams) and it encourages them to take extensive notes on my lectures, our discussions, and the texts themselves.

Some teachers might feel that they ought to remember the issues on their own, but I feel that the way I have created the test allows me much more flexibility and gives the students a greater likelihood of doing well.

I don’t expect them to have memorized Beowulf or Paradise Lost. I don’t expect them to remember every description of the characters in Gulliver’s Travels. But I do expect them to have a general grasp of the work (both for the test and afterwards) and to be able to find the more specific information (either in their notes for the test, or on the internet throughout their life).

In addition, for the final, I ask the students to create questions based on the information we have covered in the course. I usually use at least two of those and if they come up with a question I was already planning on, I let them know that as well. …In a class with twenty questions, I will say, “Four of these will be on the test. Two of them were already on the test and two of them have been chosen from your suggestions.” I do not, though, tell them which those are.

Department-wide final exam in freshman composition:

One thing that one of my other colleges had and that I wish we had here was a final exam that was department-wide for freshman composition.

For the exam, there would be five or six writing prompts chosen by teachers and could not be prompts used in classes that semester. Every freshman composition student would take the exam. Then each teacher would grade two exams for every student they had in their classes, but they would not grade their own students’ exams.

These grades would be on a scale from 1 to 5. When the exam was first created and used, teachers were required to get two grades next to each other. So if one teacher gave it a 1 and another gave it a 5, someone else had to grade it and either give it a 2 or a 4 for it to pass. Obviously those with two 3s or whatever were looked upon most favorably. Because of the growth of the English department and the class sizes, however, that school now only requires that they be within two points. So a 1 and a 3 would be a match or a 2 and a 4. Then they would get the average as their final grade.

What this did was allow the students an outside, nonpartisan grader examining their work. It eliminated any discussion of bias on the part of the teacher (at least for the final) and it allowed the department to know about any outliers. If, for example, my student got a 3 (a 70%) on the final, but they had a 98 in my class, there might be an issue. Or, on the other hand, if I consistently gave all my students better or worse grades than they earned on the final, this was also clear when I turned in my grades. (We had to give the final exam grade and the final average.)

This also let us know of any grading outliers in the department. If someone consistently gave significantly better or worse grades, their averages could be looked at and they could have extra norming help.

It created an interesting experience once when the first two graders gave a paper a 1 and a 5. The 1 was given because the audience (the teacher) was told that English teachers were idiots and the whole paper focused on how much smarter the student was than English teachers. The 5 was given because there was not a single grammar error in the whole eight pages of the paper (written in two hours). When other readers also failed to come to agreement, the entire department got back together to grade and discuss the paper.

Joe was almost as wordy as I was:

It is interesting to see how other English departments work. The only one that I had close relationships with is mine at Dartmouth College (where I was an English major and art major).

Unlike many other schools in the Ivy League, the English department had each major write a thesis before they could graduate. My thesis class was in the work of Josef Conrad. I wrote a paper every two weeks or sooner on what I read and ideas that came from the novels. In one course, we had to read of Conrad’s major works. Some papers I got a low B, some an A, and a few a C (where the instructor felt that I missed the essence of what I was reading but did a journeyman’s job in writing).

In the time before a final grade was given, I took one paper where I jumped off a cliff of risk (not caring if I landed or not), got an A because the professor could see that something was happening which was unique, and expanded upon that short paper for the thesis. I had to go in an defend my writing (which took Lord Jim and Monet and discussed the underpainting in each and how (in Conrad) it came subtlely through the surface of the writing of the novel, just as underpainting by Monet gave added meaning to his paintings. It was defended like my two master’s degrees had to be defended, they meet, discussed my ideas, and then I set up a meeting with my primary professor. I got a A for the thesis, an A for the course (although my comulative grade average was proprobly B+), and graduated with English Honors. I am telling this not to blow my own horn but to say that “failure” in some papers (some endeavors) can be “learning experiences” that leads to higher accomplishments.

Randy Pausch, the famous computer professor at Carnegie Mellon, who died recently after his “Last Lecture” was made viewed by millions worldwide, gave some students in his class the “First Penquin Award” (it commemorates the first penquin who jumps from an iceberg into predator-infested waters) to the student who tried something really difficult and failed to bring it off.

[Here is his Last Lecture.]

My friend Robert Wilson works on his 19 hour play, “civilWars,” for 5 years in six different countries, doing only acts in each, expecting to put it all together at the 1986 Olympics in Los Angeles. Los Angeles never came up with the money to bring all the theater companies together for the play so it never happened. No one has ever seen Bob’s efforts, but it made his professional life. Some may call this a failure. I see it as “experience” gained for the future (which he has used and made his name a part of the contemporary avant-garde scene).

At Dartmouth they did a survey of successful graduates, and the ones who were most admired for their accomplishments were the B and B+ students, not the book worm who got the A’s. There is more to success than what most tests ask a student to show. I would like to see a time when student give themselves a grade after five years out in the world. How much of the information was useful? How much was obsolete the day after they got their diplomas? What thinking did they receive that helped them unlock the systems of the world?

The mind today is not a toolbox of data; it must be, in my thinking, a sorting computer that unlocks systems and opens doors to data. A leader does not have to have or retain all the data but must hire those who do and be able to see the world from a satelite point of view. Those who are successful are able to jump the “brickwalls” placed in their path. They are able to find the keys that unlock the systems of the world and make them work for them and others. A teacher is one of the first mentors in this process (parent, school instructor, senior advisor in any business, role model, friend, partner, etc.).

Still, I enjoyed reading your ideas of testing, even when I see other ways to get there. We both agree that only teaching for the test leaves a student inadequately prepared for life.

Due to the foibles of the internet, I answered back in a concise manner:

Long post was lost… Short version:

In this day of legal issues, I would not feel comfortable grading someone for their effort. I think I would have a hard time defending such a grade for one person and not for another. (How do I know how much effort the person put in?)

I like the idea of the First Penguin Award, though, where the teacher identifies the effort/stretch and gives additional points for that.

I am not sure after-the-fact grading would be a good idea. What would they be grading? The class? Their memories of the class? The things they got out of the class? The usefulness of the class?

This is from my adjunct certification course.

The Psychological Environment: Theories of Intelligence

This last year I was introduced to entity and incremental theories of intelligence. In one, the student says, “I am good at this.” (Or bad at it.) In the other the student says, “I worked hard at this and I got it.” (Or didn’t work hard enough and didn’t get it.)

While it is true that some things a student may never get (I, for one, have never gotten geometry.), most things the student can get if they will keep trying.

According to research incremental theorists are more likely to succeed across diverse fields. Someone who is “good at math” may not use the same skills that make them good at math in English because they don’t realize those skills transfer.

The researcher I read said that process-oriented feedback from the teacher can help our students realize that they have incremental intelligence. “Good job! You are becoming a better writer. Keep up the good work.” Or “Study a little harder for the next test. Ask any questions you need to during our review.”

This difference made sense to me. I’ve decided to try it out. This is the first semester I have tried doing incremental encouragement, so I do not know how well it will work. But I think it would have helped me as a student.

Joe, an art teacher, answered:

This last year I was introduced to entity and incremental theories of intelligence. In one, the student says, “I am good at this.” (Or bad at it.) In the other the student says, “I worked hard at this and I got it.” (Or didn’t work hard enough and didn’t get it.)

While it is true that some things a student may never get (I, for one, have never gotten geometry.), most things the student can get if they will keep trying.

According to research incremental theorists are more likely to succeed across diverse fields. Someone who is “good at math” may not use the same skills that make them good at math in English because they don’t realize those skills transfer.

The researcher I read said that process-oriented feedback from the teacher can help our students realize that they have incremental intelligence. “Good job! You are becoming a better writer. Keep up the good work.” Or “Study a little harder for the next test. Ask any questions you need to during our review.”

This difference made sense to me. I’ve decided to try it out. This is the first semester I have tried doing incremental encouragement, so I do not know how well it will work. But I think it would have helped me as a student.

And Joel, a math teacher, chimed in:

I didn’t know I was practicing incremental intelligence theory. I had been applying the idea to my students as well as those I tutor. I don’t have any quantitative data that shows it works. But intuitively, I think it works.

This is another comment thread from a discussion post in the adjunct certification course.

Does effective = good? And the tale of a great teacher.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about what makes a good teacher. I’ve surfed the net for hours to find out what other people say about this.

Does effective = excellent? Not necessarily. I think that all excellent teachers are effective, but not all effective teachers are excellent.

Thinking back about my favorite, most inspiring, teachers, I have found that they are the ones who not only have classroom management skills, know the subject area, and can explain well, but those who have an enthusiasm for the subject and an enthusiasm for their students.

For example, I wrote a research paper for my ninth grade history teacher. I spent a lot of time on it. I did my best. It was much more work than was required for the assignment and really was several research papers in one binder. There were some problems with it. But I had worked hard on it.

Mr. Klinger gave me an A+ and included an op-ed piece from the NYTimes with my research paper when he returned it. This op-ed was written by a man whose wife was a teacher. She read him a paper because she thought it was so far above the other papers she had received over her years of teaching. But she was giving the student an A- because it wasn’t perfect. “Isn’t this the best paper you have ever received?” her husband asked. “Yes,” she answered. “Then why not give it an A+?” “Because it is not perfect.” The writer said that he thought the best paper she had ever received deserved an A+ even if it wasn’t perfect. And so, in one simple reading, Mr. Klinger made clear that my paper wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the best he had ever received.

I still have the paper and the op-ed piece. It has encouraged me many times over the years.

Mr. Klinger was an excellent teacher.

Joe responded:

Very good description of effective versus excellent. Of course, I agree with the statement “all effective teachers may not be excellent but all excellent teacher are effective.” You can be effective and teach intolerant, dishonesty, misinformation, etc.

When I wrote my essay I took “teacher” in an academic setting, but some of my most “excellent” teachers were not accredited as such (especially opening the mind after basic academic training): two examples: 1) One day, twenty-five years ago, I got a call from B. Rapaport in Waco: “You are the Joe Kagle who wrote the Sunday Op-Ed page today. I liked it. We must talk. Call my secretary and we will have lunch.” For that moment on, B and I had lunch once a month. He learned about the creative process from me and I learned about business, politics and being Jewish in America from him. He was an excellent teacher. 2) My roommate in college also came from Pittsburgh. I did not know him before then (although we went to the same high school and was in one math class together). Harry was one of those guys who could read a book and remember pages word for word. He became a lawyer. I have a visual memory, walking through a gallery and can tell you strokes on a painting, years later. I became an artist, teacher and museum director. After college, we stayed in contact, no matter where in the world we were. Many times our conversations started with “Who is the third best writer in the world that few have heard about?” or “Who is the third best American artist in the 20th century?” It was never our answers but the conversations on the process of answering that livened the talks in motion. In both instances, (with B and Harry) we were excellent teachers for each other becaise we came to the table of friendship with gifts to share.

And I, of course, came back with an equally developed post:

Absolutely not all good teachers are academic. I learn best from stories (or “case studies”) and I enjoyed reading about your two friends. I have to admit that I don’t know three American 20th century artists, though I know several excellent 20th century artists. I’m intrigued by that question.

As an English teacher, I think I ought to have an answer to “who is the third best writer that few people know about,” but I am going to have to think about that one.

For my literature courses, one of the questions I think about is “What texts are often referred to among educated people that the students haven’t read?” That question brought Frankenstein, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Gulliver’s Travels into several of my syllabi. I collect popular culture or news references to literary works and file them so that I can discuss relevance with my students.

The ability to ask thoughtful questions is part of what makes life interesting.

I have found that sometimes my students can be the ones who are asking those questions. My first year teaching developmental writing, I learned more about the whys of grammar than I had ever even thought of before. This last semester I had a group of highly inquisitive and motivated students. They also kept me learning.

I wonder if I could do more to elicit those kinds of questions from my students… Hmm. Maybe in Brit Lit I could ask them what they would have wanted to learn about a section that I didn’t cover. Since it is a required course I am not sure that asking them what they want to know would elicit any useful information. I’ll have to think about that.

Joe answered:

One thing that I have used (because it worked for me) is: If you change the venue you sometimes may create the inherent questions that follow. Let me give you an example: I was in charge of an art festival at Washington and Jefferson College in PA and I asked Kimon Frair to attend and give a lecture on The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis. He came, was marvelous, started some questions in my mind, we ate and drank together, and he left and returned to Greece. Shortly after that I was asked to teach on World Campus Afloat and we anchored in Athens harbor. Kimon took my wife and I around to all the sites, danced and drank with us in the tavernas, and told stories of Greek myths and modern adventures by Kazantzakis and others. It was life changing. It opened questions for me that I am still pondering. When I returned to the States, I asked myself: “Why can’t we change the venue for students in their own background? We are all foreigners in our own neighborhood.” So I asked the students to read Coleridge’s Kubla Khan for romanticism, view the works of artists after the French revolution, visit the Buddhist church in Houston, visit a neighborhood that they had never visited around here, and then write an essay about Romanticism (“about feeling” that they found in one work of art).” Of course, some took the exercise to heart and some just went through the motions (having wonderful excuses for not extending their reach).

In the same class last year I brought in a Buddhist monk (a friend from Japan who was originally from Germany) to talk to my class about dedication and how one got into the monestary to study Buddhist. It was, again, for some, a life changing experience and for at least 2/3 just “something else” they had to endure to get credits. We teach for the many but we really only reach a few deeply. Still, changing the venue from the genre to the “new” does help some (in part all) to relate and ask questions.

This is a rumination from my adjunct certification course.

Change can be scary.

This is a conversation from my adjunct certification online course. That was the tiltle of the discussion thread. I titled my comment “teaching innovations.” (A title was required.)

My comment:
I like teaching new things in new ways. Tweaking small changes is easy because it won’t necessarily make a lot of difference if it doesn’t work. Teaching a new course is fun because it is novel. But it can be hard to change at the intermediate level, to throw out a whole unit in order to try a new one that might not work.

Joe, who was on all the time, replied:
It is interesting. I agree with you totally about teaching something new, but at this stage of my career, the new happens in my own work of writing and painting outside the classroom. I share this with my students by giving them my websites and it is an aspect of what the material is that happens in class (as an added element to the core material) but still, it is outside, not part of the curriculum (at least, not directly). OK, given that: talking about working with or creating “something new” in the classroom (or my studio), I have always believed: “First you shoot the arrows and then paint the targets (told to me by a friend in graduate school and has become a mantra that I use when approaching the “unknown”). Also there is a Chinese saying, “A journey of a thousand miles start with the first step.” Lastly, another of my rules in my own painting is: “If I don’t know where I am going, any road will get me there.” It makes a work of art like opening a present at Christmas. Just some thoughts!

And then Joe replied to himself:
It is always curious to respond to yourself as well as someone else’s thoughts (yours, Dr. Davis). So after working out at the Y, on the bike and the machines (I do some of my best thinking while my body is someplace else in exercise), I thought about my saying that I do not do many “new” things in my Art Appreciation course (my passion to teach because if I can turn the students on, it works for all the other professors that they will have after me). First, it is not true. I tweak little things all the time. Second, I should take a hard look at the section of the course where my passion is not as high: teaching linear art history from cave art to Surrealism (30,000 BCE to Picasso and Miro). I find that as “something that must be done and that the student definitely needs” therefore I do not bring the same enthusiasm to those four weeks. Oh, they get the material and thank me at the end for presenting it but it is not a section that I love to teach. I would not change the beginning or end of the course, just this middle. There has to be a way to inject what I believe about art history (it is not “back then” but “right now”) into how I teach it. That might be my project for this Adjunct Certification session that we are taking. It is, at least, a challenge. Thank you for nudging me out of my own routine. I have made small changes but not a major change here for several years.

My response to Joe’s comments:
You said

There has to be a way to inject what I believe about art history (it is not “back then” but “right now”) into how I teach it.

What if you teach art history and show how we are still doing it?
Cave paintings = graffiti or large wall murals

… I don’t know enough to keep going, but I am fairly sure that you could do an approach like that, thus giving them a linear view of art history while still having the work apply to what we are doing now.

Stuart got in on the conversation:
I have a question. Do you fnd that your teaching is drastically different from one class to another even when it is the same subject or course you are teaching?

I find many times, even by accident, that I told one class a anecdote or story that I did not tell my other classes.

I answered Stuart:
I do find that I tell different stories in classes. I think I respond to different questions with stories. So some students will hear one story while another class will hear a different one.

I worry about that sometimes. I wonder if one class is hearing the same story three times and one story not at all.

I also find that sometimes my explanations become streamlined as I see what helped the students and what didn’t. So the first class is an hour long, the second is 55 minutes, and the third gets out ten minutes early.

Most of the time, though, if I am teaching the same course the same semester I try very hard to do the same things with each class. (Unless something clearly didn’t work.)

Suzy has the same thing happen:
I’e had the same thing happen to me, Dr. Davis! I sometimes call my second class a “Cliffs Notes” version of the first. It was worse when I taught four 1301 classes back to back. I lost track of what I said to which class. Luckily, I’ve changed my schedule, so it happens less frequently now.

Mike said:
I’ve read the string of messages initiated by your comments, but I return to your original message to reply. I often think back of my first classes taught at Kingwood (Fall 2006) and feel sorry for them.

Joe came up with one of his perfect quotes:
Several years ago, I found a quote from the Dalai Lama which has helped me in many ways (in the classroom and outside in my own creative work): “If you do not think that small things make a difference, spend a night in a room with a mosquito.”

Suzette had the last word:
Okay, I can’t help but laugh. I have spent a night or two fighting for hours with an elusive mosquito. But seriously, small things do make a difference. You may not see the results immediately, but eventually you do see it. Thanks for the quote. I’ve added it to my journal. : )