Against Stereotyping

Beauty Everywhere- on the Streetcar

The older woman smiles at a baby;
the mother in a hijab smiles back.

The man with a tattoo sleeve
thanks the driver for his transfer.

The proper older lady in her white-trimmed navy blue dress
is gently guided by a dreadlocked younger woman.

The woman in the seat ahead
wears a butterfly-print shirt.

The teen in his black hoodie stands and gestures
the young mother into his seat.

Beauty everywhere.


Beauty Everywhere – on the Sidewalk

The young woman in ripped jeans walks
her bike through the intersection

Inside the coffeeshop an older man stops
reading to talk to a kid.

A woman in Tibetan dress walks
with a boy wearing a Spiderman Tee.

A little girl wearing a red polka-dot dress
waves at a streetcar driver.

A woman uses her phone to capture
a front yard flower for Instagram.

Beauty everywhere.

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,


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 –

Dreaming The Curriculum – A Re-Post from 2006

With the rapidly changing web environment, much writing is ephemeral, and becomes lost in the past. This is a post I think worth re-posting, about the process of creating curriculum. Most of the links no longer work.

From 2006 –

Dreaming the Curriculum: Oral Rhetoric

This past winter term, I taught a course, Oral Rhetoric, a third-year university course, for the second time. The first time, I taught it using two-hour classroom meetings, once a week for the term. The second time I taught Oral Rhetoric, I used Web-tools to supplement the classroom time. This is the story of the impact of a community blog on Elgg, a course wiki on Wikispaces, and the audio-editing freeware, Audacity on this course. This is a story about Web 2.0, the Social Web, and learning.

My story begins, sort of, with my initially agreeing to teach Oral Rhetoric. The name caught my imagination, because, as an English teacher, I had studied “oracy”– the practice and impact of speaking, – and I liked teaching people how to speak well and powerfully. I taught both theory and practice to the students in the first iteration of this course. Most of them learned more about how to speak, a little linguistics, and some theory about language and speaking. But when I planned to teach Oral Rhetoric a second time, I began to dream up some changes. (I rarely teach exactly the some material exactly the same way twice, because I learn something from each class, and I am constantly learning more about communicating.)

Another beginning to this story is tangled up in my belief in teaching from the past and into the future. When I planned the most recent iteration of this course, it was 2005, the year that the word, “podcast” was declared Word of the Year. The Web, and Web 2.0 in particular, had implications, I believed, for oral rhetoric, as did Aristotle’s work, Walter Ong’s theories about “secondary orality”, Deborah Tannen’s research on linguistics, Marshall McLuhan’s concepts about the impacts of the media, and, of course, the digital generation’s facility with the online world. I resolved to use the communication tools that are evolving in our culture as part of this course, because that would support an understanding of the craft of speaking (and communicating) as it is developing online today.

I would teach cultural roots and, using theory and practice (which includes technology), create a learning environment where students could build a foundational understanding that would allow them to extend and develop their learning into the future. My ambition was to have students understand the power of communicating using the physical voice in a variety of modes, from face-to face to media-delivered situations. I wanted them, in our media-saturated environment, to understand how media alters the impact of individual voice communications.

I decided to focus on storytelling, formal presentations, a requirement to be filmed, so they could see and hear themselves speaking, and the creation of an audio file (an mp3) of their story to be posted online. I wanted them to understand, as speakers and listeners, on a visceral as well as a theoretical level, how the physical voice communicates. My research evolved out of what I was already studying: Aristotle, Havelock, Ong, Farb (Word Play) Tannen, McLuhan, and, of course, Web 2.0. (I had been building my knowledge in these areas for years, using fascination, work assignments and graduate studies.)

As I began developing my upcoming iteration of Oral Rhetoric, I, almost accidentally, set up a situation that came to inspire me to take early retirement. When I was presented with a fulltime work assignment that was uninspiring and unattractive to me, an assignment that might interfere with teaching this part-time course the way I wanted to, the way I believed was most valuable to the students, I baulked. After a brief review of my situation, I decided to leave my long-term fulltime employment, and focus on this part-time teaching, some tutoring, and consulting on educational uses of Web 2.0.

My focus on planning Oral Rhetoric intensified. I am an elder in the field of education, both in terms of my hands-on experience and my studies. I have been teaching for the great majority of my working life, over 35 years. During that time I have studied, both formally and informally, how people learn to write, read, and communicate. I have also studied, both theoretically and through my teaching practice, how people learn. I know a lot about pedagogy (or androgogy) and curriculum theory, but I don’t think and plan using theories directly, except sometimes as final checklists after planning. As a teacher, I intuit, I use my tacit (Polanyi) know-how about what will help people learn. I have learned the theory, and use it, but I don’t label what I’m doing with it. (For me, planning is like dancing, and, in dancing, if you think directly about the moves, you become clumsy.) At this stage in my career, I design and plan by imagining, by almost feeling how something will work for learning. I get indistinct ‘senses’ of what is possible and develop them by talking and/or writing about how and what I want to teach.

While planning Oral Rhetoric, I talked to my husband, Jim Cox, also a career teacher. Our rich conversation has extended years as we discuss, in phenomenological detail, with conceptual overviews, how we humans perceive and learn. I also discussed my ideas with Guy Allen, the head of Professional Writing and Communications at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, the program hosting Oral Rhetoric. (I had read Guy’s work on how people learn language developmentally (Allen, 2002) and audited him teaching the required introductory course and I was delighted to be teaching in a program with a pedagogy that matched my experiences and understanding of how people learn language.) In particular, Guy’s suggestion of using the CBC program, Outfront, became central to my thinking about Oral Rhetoric.

The other place where I got help was online, both in my ongoing survey of the blogosphere, focussed on education and technology, and through my Elgg blog. I searched and read about podcasting wherever I could, but found it technologically intimidating. Although I have taught myself enough html to be able to add bits to my blog sidebars, and copy and paste RSS feeds into my Bloglines account, I am not from a technical background; I am from a communications background. I knew about Audioblogger, and had played with it, but I wanted something more sophisticated. Somewhere online, I read about Audacity, a free, downloadable application for recording and editing sound. It had very positive reviews, so I downloaded it and began playing with it.

My husband had taught audio, and although he wasn’t familiar with Audacity, it resembled other (more sophisticated) audio recording and editing applications enough that, between him and the online tutorials, I created my very own mp3 of myself lecturing. Somehow, I can’t remember clearly how, I realized that I could use Elgg blogs to post mp3s, and you can see and hear the result here – a rather dry recording. When I listen to it after hearing the work my students did, I would give my recording a ‘D’. But what was central was that if I, a non-technical “digital immigrant” could create and post an mp3, I reasoned that my students, “digital natives”, could surely do the same. And if any of them couldn’t, for sure they would be able to use a phone, which is all that is required for Audioblogger. I explored the Elgg site a little more and discovered “Community blogs”– where I could set up my class so all the members could post in the same blog, and add their mp3 assignments.

I needed one more technical component. With blogs, postings are chronological with the most recent at the top. With wikis, pages look like a regular Web site, but you can create and edit them online, without using html or ftp. I had used a wiki application in a previous course, JotSpot, when it was in beta (or development) and free. It was visually attractive, and as easy as using a simple word processor, but no longer completely free. (Free Web applications are handy because students can download them on their own computers, and because teachers don’t have to ask for funding, i.e. permission.) After some exploring, I found Wikispaces, which was free, if you accepted the ads along the side, and WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”) meaning little technical learning was needed. So I had the technology and some of the ideas lined up, but I needed more thinking. So I wrote in my personal Elgg blog, imagining students as my audience  I found the feedback both affirming and helpful. It was time, and I was ready, to open a calendar and a calculator and begin the onerous task of planning what assignments, worth how much, and when due. The dreaming was mostly (but never completely) past and the intensive planning was next.

I will post on those specifics in a few days.

Works CitedAllen, G. (2002). “The ‘Good Enough’ Teacher and the Authentic Student”. In J. Mills (Ed.), A Pedagogy of Becoming (pp. 141 – 176). NYC: Rodopi.


Earth Hour

I don’t know if I did it “right”. I turned off all my lights and my computer, but I didn’t unplug the microwave, or the clocks, or the tv (though it was off) but we had a candle lit and our wood stove going. most people on our street appeared to have lots of lights on, so we were maybe a bit better. It was lovely, though, to sit by the fire, with candlelight and just talk. We should do that more often.

Why I Use More than One Social Bookmarking Service

Not that I’m paranoid (or maybe I am but I like to call it cautious skepticism) but I am always aware than any of the free web services that I use, or even ones I’ve paid for, could go belly up and my stuff on it (them) could vanish into a black hole. So when I read about speculation that my wonderful collection of bookmarks on could disappear, I feel my paranoia is justified.

Internet search marketers could lose some invaluable free tools from Yahoo such as their Site Explorer. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb was concerned what the deal meant for Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS), Yahoo’s search developer platform Search Monkey and social bookmarking service Delicious, which he described as “one of the last era’s most heartbreaking symbols of untapped potential in social media”.

Bing is exciting as an effective challenger to Google, but if that competition comes at the cost of cannibalising Yahoo’s innovative search work – then we won’t be so excited about Bing any more.

I also celebrate that I have a strategy to deal with this. What are the odds that two similar web services will disappear at the same time? Not good, I hope.

My web stuff paranoia has led me to set up another social bookmarking service called Diigo. So I have two active accounts on different social bookmarking services.

So does that mean I have to save everything I like twice? Well, sort of, but that’s because I’ve recently taken to using Evernote, a broader and more visual saving application. But back to strictly social bookmarking. I only save once.

How? you ask. In Diigo, under my account name, I go into “Tools” where I can “Import Bookmarks”, but more importantly, I can “Save Elsewhere”. I have added my account here, and every time I save to Diigo, I also save, without any extra work, to

So I’m prepared! If Yahoo and Microsoft let die, I still have all my bookmarks in Diigo. (Same thing if something happened to Diigo.) And I have Evernote too!

Posted via web from joanvinallcox’s posterous

The Web is a Bottomless Toy Chest

I like to play on the web, and my biggest problem is my “I-can’t-catch-up” anxiety. There is always more to explore. And for free, either for the basic version or for a month. I can never try everything out. I can’t catch up. Ever.

I make things even more intense by following people who suggest really interesting web toys. Like Jane Hart, with her Jane’s E-Learning tip of the Day

If you teach or train, or just like to play on the web, you should check out her blog, and subscribe to it.Another of my current people to follow ’cause they give really neat toys – whoops, I mean URLs – away, is Steve Rubel – – Twice he mentioned Posterous. The first time, I tried it but left it orphaned. The second time, months, maybe years, later, I found my original account and started playing, even sort-of lifestreaming, copying him. Great fun.

His constant exploration and evolution is inspiring. Check him out, and subscribe to him in Posterous, and maybe to me too;-> As they say on tv, “Time well wasted!”

Posted via email from joanvinallcox’s posterous

Styles in MS Word – A Jing Video

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:
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