Reading is My Art, My Practice!

I’m shedding my thesis library quite deliberately. I won’t be reading any of them again. That part of my life is over. I sat and pulled off all the very many markers I’d added to these books, while reading almost nothing of what the makers had indicated was important to me, years ago. While doing so, it occurred to me that reading has been my life art. I read for solace. I read for information. I read for concepts and thought maps to help me understand my life. Why is reading not thought of as an art? Look what I did to one of the many, many books that fed me!

I dove into books and swam through the ideas and language, then rewove my mind experience with memories of my experiences and into future understandings and behaviour. I created, not just a Ph.D. Thesis, but experiences in the classroom for me and for the students. I learned. I grew. My perceptions became more intricate and detailed. I read more, and grew more. This has been the great joy in my life.

Things Change

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.

40 Years Teaching College Composition


a teacher
As a young teacher

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 –
    1. Everybody has to give solid feedback to everybody. No “correcting” or suggesting allowed.
    2. 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.)
    3. 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 – – 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!

Good luck and happy teaching,

Learned or Learner: Do you learn more than your students do? — Douchy’s Blog

A big part of the teacher’s role has always been to serve as an example to their students, of what it looks like to be educated. When knowledge was the key to future success, a teacher was the living, breathing example of a learned person. Students could look up to their teachers and aspire to […]

via Learned or Learner: Do you learn more than your students do? — Douchy’s Blog




What does it mean
to love yourself –
other than the herky-jerky
I’m okay; I am okay; I am okay?

What does it mean
to be compassionate with yourself
other than accepting the lust for
more chocolate, more wine, and even the occasional secret

What does it mean; what does it mean?

Who am I
and why do I want
to know this?

What does it mean?


I’ve just read a very interesting post on a version of dyslexia that deals with numbers – and now I understand a lot more about how my mind works, and doesn’t work.

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 – and here’s my not quite up-to-date e-portfolio –

The News and Learning


If you don't know the answer to the question in the image above – "But just what does [proroguing] mean?" You are likely out-of-touch with Canadian political news. If you want to learn more about Canadian, or any other politics, just start paying attention. That may initially seem unattractive, but let me tell you a story.

In my mid-twenties I knew little about politics of any sort. But I had a boyfriend, later a husband, who paid close attention to all the news, including Canadian and American political news. When I was with him, I was subjected to radio, television, and even newspaper news, often several times a day. At first, it was boring. But a strange thing started happening. I found myself knowing more about the news. 

At one point early in my career, two older colleagues moved from talking about workplace gossip, which all three of us took part in, to talking about politics. I listened for a while and then I surprised myself by having something to say, and I said it. The three of us continued our discussion, and I enjoyed being part of a conversation with fellow workers whom I liked and respected. Later,one of them stopped me in the hall and told me he hadn't realized I was so knowledgeable and thanked me for my contribution to the conversation. I was thrilled, and it was good for my reputation where I worked, too.

So what does this have to do with learning? Well, I learned about politics without even trying. The thing about learning about politics is that at first you know nothing, so it's boring. But if you keep watching, listening, and reading, everything gets repeated with small changes, over and over again, and some of the stories start to sink in. Then one day, a piece of news gets reported and you'e surprised to notice that you have a question or opinion on it. Without doing anything except hanging around when the news was on, I found myself with a foundation of knowledge, and it became easy and interesting to keep up with the news.

So here's what I suggest if you don't know what proroguing parliament means:
  • Go to Google or some other search engine and see what you can find. 
  • Check the dates on articles or blog posts to see how recent they are. (Check the image above; you might be surprised.)
  • Find a site that appears to explain it – (or a better one).


  • Even better than looking it up, find someone you know who knows politics and ask them.
  • Start going beyond the headlines and see what different political parties are saying, and try to find out the facts underneath what is being said and don't just fall for emotional one-liners.

Political news can be a great conversation-starter, but be discreet, politics can also be a conversation-stopper if you disagree.

I recommend you just hang around news sources for a little time each day, and see what happens ;->

Joan Vinall-Cox, PhD 
Social Media & Learning