Many years ago, I had to take a course in Anglo-Saxon literature. It was intense because I was one of only 3 students so I couldn’t even skip occasionally – and I would have liked to. The only thing I remember from that course was this chorus from a long poem. As I remember it, (not according to the modern translation,) the poem was about feasting at the high table, followed by the chorus –
“That passed away, so shall this.”
Later, another verse about being in the middle of a storm on the North Sea, followed, of course, by the chorus –
“That passed away, so shall this.”
When I think of the Biblical quote about there being a time for everything, or the Buddhist concept of impermanence, I remember the message of this Anglo-Saxon poem – everything changes; nothing stays the same.
I’ve been fully retired for a year and a half now, and I deleted all my teaching files a couple of months ago, so I can’t pass along any specific course materials. For Labour day, though, I’m going to share the distillation of my 40 years of teaching college composition and other language skills to college and university students, and my studies on how people learn to write from two advanced degrees in mid and late career.
1. Many community college students come in already resistant to taking English, and convinced they can’t write. It was my experience that many students were dyslexic and/or discouraged. Many believe that if they can’t write grammatically perfect, with no spelling errors, first drafts, that means they can’t write. They’re wrong, of course, but it takes a while to convince them. And sadly many college English courses insist on using the same decontextualized drill and kill exercises that had no benefit for them in their high school English courses.
Here’s what works in my experience.
Whenever possible, get students writing about something they know about and care about. Many of my students were visual, so I’d get them describing what they could see. Sometimes it helps to get them to describe how to do something they are good at, and encourage their use of detail.
Remind them over and over, directly and indirectly, that their first efforts will be messy and encourage them to NOT WORRY about messy-looking, roughly planed first drafts.
I learned how to make it a ritual to start classes with what I called a “free write” – students had to turn off their screens or reduce the page to an unreadable size, and then I’d set a timer for five minutes. The rule was that they had to write about whatever they wanted to and they couldn’t stop and think, they couldn’t stop moving their fingers; they had to constantly be writing. If they had nothing to say, they had to write something like, “I have nothing to say” over and over till they had something to say. After the 5 minutes were up, I never looked at what they written, but they could use any ideas or stuff they’d written for class assignments, or not. Some thought it was a waste of time but if you have them do it, and model for them by doing it yourself too, with them, at the very least their keyboarding facility increases, and often their ability to string words together gets stronger too.
Sometimes I’d have students work in pairs or small groups and read their drafts aloud to each other. This helps them feel the flow of what they’ve written and gives them ideas from hearing each other’s work.
I had 3 rules for feedback –
Everybody has to give solid feedback to everybody. No “correcting” or suggesting allowed.
Ask questions where you the reader / listener need more information to understand or are just curious and want to know more. (This helps students learn more about audience reactions.)
Tell writers SPECIFICALLY what you like. Never, never. Never just say “That’s nice.” And let it go at that.
Put them to work. There are a lot of sites that give writing and grammar advice, like, for example, Grammar Girl – http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl – get students to find as many as they can and maybe have them compare them in small groups, or do brief presentations on why they think they’re helpful, or not. This sets them up, possibly, to know how to support their writing when they’re working independently in other courses or on the job.
Some technical suggestions:
If you’re in a computer lab, I’d suggest you get them on Google Docs – they can access their Google Account on their own or other computers or tablets and work outside of class. Google Docs is similar enough to Word that it’s no trouble to learn and it’s free.
If you create a PowerPoint and you want them to have a copy, move it to, or create it in, Google Slides because you can then give them a link and they can access it themselves.
Much respect and gratitude to those teaching as this new school year starts!
I have trouble with left and right, and trying to read maps is painful and embarrassing. I also switch numbers (1,2,4,3,5 etc.) if I try to read them quickly. I have to be VERY careful with large numbers as I can confuse 1000 with 10,000, etc. Plus it’s very hard for me to remember telephone and other numbers, even dates in history. So I think I have dyscalculia. I am also mildly dyslexic, and have some trouble with spelling, but I love words and writing. Despite those limitations, or maybe because of them, I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m a good teacher, good at helping people learn.
I am deeply grateful that I was able to learn and develop tactics that allowed me to survive and thrive as a student and as a teacher. Both as a teacher and as a learner I have observed that people often don’t remember how they learned something; we just own and use what we’ve learned and move on. So I can’t remember how and from whom I learned my tactics for surviving my weaknesses by adapting my strengths to cover for them. The only way I can express my gratitude is to show others alternate learning and performing routes that might work for them. And share with everybody what I learn about how our human minds work, and how differences in how they work can be dealt with compassionately.
Giving people the space and opportunity to learn how they learn, and how they can deal with their weakness as well as their strengths is not only wise and kind, it creates a better world for all of us.
If you are reading this and think you might be dyscalculic, check out your sense of self-worth and see if you have learned to focus on adaptations to help you survive, or if you dwell too much on what you struggle with. Perhaps you need to acknowledge how hard you work, as much as what you can’t do easily. To boast and inspire, I eventually got my Ph.D. and posted my thesis on line – http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/2063617 and here’s my not quite up-to-date e-portfolio – https://joanvinallcox.wordpress.com/my-e-portfolio/
My experience teaching university students has led me to believe that they don’t know enough about how to attribute images that they haven’t created themselves. From my own experience as both a student and a teacher, I am familiar with applications that make creative bibliographies much easier (BibMe, EasyBib, etc.). I am also familiar with what happens when it’s easy to correctly create bibliographies and citations; I (and others) are much more likely to make sure we’ve give credit where credit is due.
All learning is contextual, in my opinion. You have to already know some aspect in order to learn more. I remember my Psych 101 prof, many, many years ago, saying that any book with more than 10% new content would be unreadable. So this video, found through krea_frobro747 on Twitter, appeals to me because it makes sense of my experience both as a reader and as a teacher of reading. Anyone concerned children learning to read, here’s foundational knowledge. (Might help mild dyslexics, too.)
In fact, when I roam the web trying to learn, I have problem trying to understand posts where I can’t bridge the gaps because I’m missing crucial knowledge. I guess the real take-away from this video is the more content you know, the more texts that are accessible to you, and the more you can teach yourself.
It’s like watching (or reading) the news. Initially it’s all disjointed and confusing. But watch and read long enough, and you pick up what you need to know to understand it. You see the patterns; you learn more faster. That’s why experience is valuable; your knowledge net is large and finely detailed.
I’m attending the PBWorks Camp for teachers, and this is my homework for my second week, a screencast made using Jing on how Styles in MS Word can help in writing long pieces such as academic papers or business reports: 2009-07-02_1211
I re-did this a number of times, dealing with –
fitting what I wanted to say to the time available
figuring out what to leave out
making sure my set-up worked
reducing the size of my Word screen so I could fit everything into a smaller frame
stumbling while I was recording
I really like learning from screen captures myself, so I enjoyed creating one