Lost Password

I’ve lost the password to what used to be my life.
The air is strange and I’m losing my sense of balance.
I search through remnants scattered in the home I sold,
Wondering what to keep, or sell, or trash.

In the coffeeshop, the chatter is of family discord:
Recent losses, expected deaths, and mangled hopes
Fall like tears from the balcony, splashing on me,
Where I sit, trying to create a new password.

Learn by Going

I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke – The Waking

I have learned
to walk
without a destination,
except movement,
grateful for the places
unfurling before me. 

Where the twisting path
where I have gone
my distance,
is carefully
limited now. 

I rest briefly
then rise and continue
alert for random beauty,
walking forward
till the destination we all encounter
halts me. 


I’ve just read a very interesting post on a version of dyslexia that deals with numbers –  http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about-dyslexia/schools-colleges-and-universities/dyscalculia.html 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 –  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/

Why I Like gMail’s New Tabbed Inbox

This might make some of the people and organizations that send me emails unhappy, but why I like gmail’s new tabbed Inbox is because it makes it so easy to sort my mail, and throw out what I’m not interested in. Let me explain. I sign up for lots of stuff; I like having blogs I follow come into my inbox rather than using RSS.  and a Reader. Lots of people, especially the highly tech-able ones, may criticize that, but it’s my habit, and I’m sticking to it. What this means is I get a lot of mail, and only some of it interests me. gMail’s new Inbox makes it easy for me to continue in my subscribing habits without being too overwhelmed or annoyed by piles of messages. Here’s what I do:

After checking my Primary tab for personal and important messages ( To learn how move messages so they land in your Primary tab – see https://joanvinallcox.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/gmails-new-inbox-tabs/ ) I go to one of my other tabs. The first thing I do is click the little box just above the Primary tab.

Select all above the Primary Inbox in gmail
Select all above the Primary Inbox in gmail

This will select all the messages in that tab.

All messages are selected in this tab
All messages are selected in this tab

(This works best on my laptop, and not so easily on my tablet or phone.)

I de-selecting the messages I want to keep, which I find easier than individually selecting the ones I have no interest in.

Once I’ve done separated out the ones I want to read, – –

gmail tabbed inbox with some messages selected
gmail tabbed inbox with some messages selected

I simply click on the trash can –

gmail's Trash
gmail’s Trash

and all the checked and highlighted messages that I don’t want disappear. Easy and time-saving. I could individually check the boxes on the ones I don’t want, but I find it emotionally easier to make one (large) negative selection by clicking the box at the top, and then saving (unchecking) the ones I do want.

The nest and final post will explain how to get rid of the tabs and go back to the previous plain, untabbed gmail Inbox. Coming soon.

When Obligations Collide



When obligations collide, my heart unfolds.
I try to read what is written for tomorrow
without my glasses. I must decide.
This slippery road leads me into strange spaces.
The centre collapses unexpectedly, but the periphery
may knit into a new street view. I search.
Steering blindly by what is yet hidden
I try to avoid the road rages of others
and drive cleanly into the mystery. I meditate.
 May 1, 2013 – Joan Vinall-Cox


Getting Older

A poem I wrote about the experience of getting older –

Getting Older Stings

Like a spray of hot pebbles – little stings that you feel but shrug off.
Slowly blisters form: skin over tears.

Nodding off during the news,
Getting no questions when I ask for a senior’s discount,
Noticing I think anyone under 50 is young,
Going to retirement parties,
           Little stings.

Learning I’m two inches shorter,
Noticing I can’t run up stairs anymore,
Wobbling if I walk too far,
Hearing that child call me an old lady,

Socializing at funerals,
Listening for ages in death announcements
Fretting because I haven’t updated my will,
Wondering who that I love will ‘pass’
            before I die.

Joan Vinall-Cox 2012

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.


How to Target a New Tab for an Image Link

Here’s a picture I want to link to another website and have it open in another tab or window:


The image above links to the website it’s from, but opens on the same page as this post, replacing this post.

I click on the image (in Edit) and choose the far left icon of a picture, and check that the link I want to target is there:

Then I click on “Advanced Setting at the top, and scroll to the bottom of the next screen

Click beside “Target, and now, your link will open in a new tab or window:


2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 62 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 548 posts. There were 48 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 10mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was March 31st with 57 views. The most popular post that day was Kluging: An LMS Alternative.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were teacher.pageflakes.com, c4lpt.co.uk, twitter.com, ianmason.net, and browse.workliteracy.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for visual literacy, fotobook editor, udutu, google cheat sheet 2010, and google search cheat sheet.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Kluging: An LMS Alternative October 2008


Visual Literacy and Visual Thinking July 2008


Joan Vinall-Cox’s E-Portfolio September 2008


Photobook Adventures (and advice) December 2008


udutu – Free, Easy, and Perhaps Unnecessary August 2008