Scaffolding With Midterms

Though the repositioning of my desk after such a long wait had me walking on air this morning, the fact that the women of Preparatory Composition were all present and accounted by five minutes after the hour made my heart sing. Their request for merengue on Pandora added to the lighthearted atmosphere. We placed the desks in a circle and got right down to the freewriting topic of the day. The Discussant had sent it to me in a direct message on edmodo in case she arrived late to class. She was early today – another triumph!

After writing for ten minutes, I took attendance, marking the men excused, and the Discussant facilitated seven minutes of conversation on her topic:

What did it feel like writing a 500-word essay?

Responses were stiff for the first minute or two. Hard. Okay, Difficult but doable. Then, someone chuckled and things began to flow. During my time freewriting 339 words I tried to remember the strength of each Midterm exam I’d just graded so I could couch corrections in more favorable terms – the better to soften the blow of required revisions. One had the most coherent paragraphs. Another wrote the most words. Another made the best use of references to the article we’d read. Two had the most legible handwriting. Scaffolding learners requires carrots and sticks, compassion and clarity of purpose and practice above all for both learner and leader.

When I asked for whom PREPing paragraphs was the most difficult all hands went up one after the other. So, instead of discussing what learning had been like for them as women (the strategy I had used with the men) I passed out old business cards and asked everyone to write a topic that was important to them on the back of it. We proceeded, one round at a time, to provide a Point, Reason, Example and closing Point for the topic on the card, passing the card to the left after writing a single sentence. We made corrections to spelling, sentence structure, capitalization and content on each of the sentences we received before writing the one following the pattern and discussed challenging or compelling ones as they appeared.

Though I did not ask at the end of class because I was concerned about returning the furniture to the assigned places before the next instructor entered the room, I had the sense that things had become clearer as we crafted sentences and tethered them to the work of the writer next to us. This provided practice for the peer editing assignment to follow the revision and allowed me to do a show and tell of Jeff Galin’s article On Revision on the course website where their revisions and peer editing checklists would be submitted.

Two students needed clarification on how to revise their essays using the conclusion as their introduction and so they followed me outside of class as the next instructor arrived before five minutes to the start of his class. I answered their questions sitting on the bench in the corridor and decided obedience is better than sacrifice.

Slowing Down to Ramp Up

Today I held Preparatory Composition for men only. Women will come to class Wednesday. A break to catch up and regroup after the Midterm may be a good thing to incorporate from here on. We’ll see what the women make of it. Today’s discussant gave us a choice of freewriting topics. The men chose to write about the drug Krokodil which “eats” users in lieu of writing about industry giants’ fight to squash a California referendum requiring all foods to have labels disclosing the chemicals used in their production.

From the discussion following seven minutes of freewriting we went to pairs answering the question, what has learning been like for you as a male, and then back to group discussion before revising the concluding paragraphs of each midterm to serve as the introduction to the revised one, due next Monday when both men and women will be in attendance.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.        Alvin Toffler

I’ve got more thinking to do about the effect of cohort education, technology and hybrid classes on the teaching and learning of composition. But this is a good start. In the meantime, one of my kids isn’t sleeping. I say ‘one of my kids’ because I consider them mine on loan for at least the semester. And this one while, like the majority who are young enough to be mine chronologically, is an island child and homesick. I mention that I noticed he seemed more quiet than usual as we emerge from opposite sides of the lavatory after class. He says he hasn’t been sleeping and that it is beginning to interfere with things. I listen as he elaborates, fighting his emotions. I tell him a few of the island resources available to him in this often unbearable desert and promise to shoot him a direct message on edmodo as I find more. For a moment, we are able to believe he is not alone. For a moment we are able to imagine there is something for this kind of displacement. I look over my shoulder as our paths diverge once down the staircase and outside. I see him disappear as if through the years of my own experiences with displacement, internal exile I have called it. These are the ones for whom I want to build and staff a dormitory even though we are at a commuting community college. These are the ones I wish never had to leave home, those precious members of a global diaspora who know who we are, who we miss and will.

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Grading Midterms, NOT

I come to the office on a Sunday evening to get a jump on grading midterms – or that’s what I tell myself. Instead, I think about technology and teaching, next year’s students. This year’s students have acquitted themselves honorably. I no longer worry about turning my back on the world if it were to be turned over to them tomorrow. I don’t know exactly what it is but there is always such a moment in each semester, earlier and earlier these days, in which I am confident my work is done.

In Basic Writing / Preparatory Composition classes, that moment comes one student at a time. In recent years, it was always the moment in which, reading their weekly Freewriting Analysis, I would arrive at their answer to Question #4: What do I need to make the changes I intend to make? In one way or another, each fledged student would avow, I have everything I need [to address the challenges writing places in front of me]. This year, thanks in no small measure to edmodo, that moment came just after Week 1, after the third time I sang their praises for having 100% submission rate on their first assignment. We are entering Week 5 of an eight-week semester and I am in the office to read their midterm essays. They look MAhvelous!

All but one student provided evidence of a writing process. All students wrote at or above 300 words after reading a thousand-word article including opposing views of The War on Drugs in less than one hour. We will see what tomorrow brings. Tonight, I allowed myself to continue the quest for electronic delivery and universal platform access to course resources and reading materials. I have read reviews comparing the Google Nexus 7 tablet, Kindle Fire, iPad and Nook. I’ve checked out the iPad, Samsung Galaxy 10-inch for ease of use with edmodo and Angel – though we’ll be using Canvas’ learning management system in the near future. I downloaded the free Nook reading &  Nook-Study apps to phone and desktop, a sample of their mobile study guide for Composition and Rhetoric and purchased American Copia for consideration for Fall’s section of the Migrant Lit course so I can test drive the software, portability and annotating capabilities. I’m trying to organize my life and my work around reading more and writing for publication. I am hopeful that technology will improve my chances of acting on such intentions. I want to make my desires inescapable. I believe it is, after all, up to us to walk the words Liz Brown of HarrisBrown Gallery in Boston once shared with me during an interview.

Art makes the struggle possible.

In this case, technology may just be the art that makes my struggle possible.

“To Dethrone Ourselves From The Center of Our World”

Team-teaching has its moments. This semester’s Migrant Literature presentations have had many high and teachable ones. One such moment occurred today when a team selected ‘language illiteracy’ as the form of oppression their team would provide steps to eliminate. Because they included understanding another’s feelings among their Steps to Living a Compassionate Life (part of our community guidelines inspired by the Charter for Compassion and the source for the title of this post) I was able to offer a course correction during the Question and Answer period after they’d finished.

I asked for their understanding of oppression and one member offered that it was something that kept someone down. Building on this I made a distinction between prejudice and the power to limit another person’s life chances. It also provided the opportunity to discuss blaming the victim. One by one the light went on for each student. I look forward to reading their Process Papers.

In an online College Success class, their team presentations are due next week, Tuesday. As can be expected online and off, teams run into setbacks, snags and slackers. One despairing member emailed her feelings yesterday and, receiving no response (until now) wrote again this morning asking if she could proceed on her own. The text of my reply follows.

While it’s all right to work on the midterm alone, Dear Student, you’ve put in enough time on the midterm as a team to benefit from it without making more work for yourself. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation are par for the course in school and at work. Working through them, forging new possibilities, and sticking together teach different lessons than soldiering on alone. Lessons of both kinds are valuable.

If it provides any comfort for you or reduces your stress in any way, know that only 20% of your Midterm grade depends on what you / your team actually ‘produces’, so whatever emerges is likely to have only a superficial impact on your grade. Responding to two other teams presentations (20%) and writing your own Process Paper (60%) comprise the largest portion / weight of your Midterm grade.

I hope this helps. Thank you for contacting me with these very valid concerns. To answer your ‘unasked’ but hinted at question in a previous email, one or more course objectives per person is acceptable. It’s up to each member to decide which will serve as the best organizing tool or theme around which to build a presentation and write a Process Paper.

Though it may not feel like it, you are doing very well and are in the home stretch. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember, it’s all small stuff!


And an imperfectly perfect day was had by all.

Integrity Matters

I sit at a booth in Panera Bread trying to stay warm as I grade Background Research submissions from students in Migrant Literature. Only one of the four submissions so far provides no evidence of plagiarism. It is a current too strong for me to strive against.

In class, I make remarks in passing and get a laugh here and there for my comic’s timing and delivery, but they do not attend, continue to steal, preferring to posture academically than be themselves. What more can I do after points have been deducted or assignments and classes failed?

Belaying the Mantle of the Expert

Class has ended and a Latina student has stayed behind again to ensure she understands the details of her part in the Collaborative Midterm Presentations taking place next week. We do this after almost every class, reviewing in Spanish what was presented in English so she can own the material. Today, for the first time, I heard another classmate respond to her in their mother tongue after the groups had disbanded. Progress. Our classroom is safe enough for more and more of us to be ourselves. She is wondering how she will present her themes of literature using an Octavio Paz poem, Between Going and Staying. The themes she has been focusing on while reading are displacement, the importance of family, and integration. She leaves relieved at the thought of presenting a portion of her material in Spanish.

In a Migrant Literature course it makes sense if one of your goals is perspective-taking. It makes sense if establishing an emotional connection with the material offers a valuable efficiency. It makes sense if flipping majority and minority ‘authorities’ for a few minutes will teach more in those moments than a lifetime of telling. It makes sense if you want the Course Objectives to walk off the page and into our lives the way the medium is the message.

As we walk down the hall discussing everything from Mitt Romney’s connections to Mexico and teachers who embarrass students whose first language is not English, she says she doesn’t think discrimination will ever end. Ending discrimination was the response to the day’s freewriting topic that received the most frequent and energetic response. I’m certain that the student who posed the question, If you could change anything about immigration history, what would you change, didn’t think he was skating on a volcano.

I was humbled and encouraged by the reasons students gave for the things they would change. Needing to reserve enough time for teams to organize, I simply summarized the comments gathered during discussion by asking for the assumptions behind the statements made to water a seed for their work together.


Today, September 11th, in Migrant Literature

I wanted to share a moment of silence and share a poem, Alabanza, by Martin Espada as a way in to preparing for the Collaborative Midterm. I ended up talking about how September 11th was a defining moment for me as an educator. I had no idea that the topic the discussant would select would give me time to process and explore what was underneath this desire. He’d simply asked:

What era was the most interesting to you and why?

I began writing and found at once that pre-911 is the most important era in the life of my heart. In my life as a teacher, it has become the line in the sand I can not cross over. Now, it is the questions that I find most compelling, not the answers. Why do we believe what we believe, not what. How do we know who we are? Does who we think ourselves to be have to come at another’s expense? The Lesson Plan that went, for all intents and purposes, out the window is pasted below. And yet, perhaps my mission was accomplished after all.
Lesson Plan
Date    11 September 2012
Class    ENG 223
Action Items: Building Community Through Contradicting Conditioning
Course Objectives Purpose (Objective)
By the end of this activity, students will understand how to complete and submit Background Research and why each element is required.
Demonstration of Mastery
Evidence of mastery includes ability to identify and discuss:

  • choices they have made based on conditioning choices they have made based on free will, rational thinking
  • elements of the Team Teaching / Collaborative Midterm
  • the impact of who they are and how they see the world
  • interplay of key ideas, attitudes and social justice issues related toBig 8 social identifiers
  • literary vocabulary
  • apply schools of criticism

Modalities Visual, Auditory
Intelligences Verbal-linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal
Seven Habits    1 Be Pro-active, 2 Begin with the End In Mind, 4 Think Win/Win, 5 Seek First to Understand, 8 Voice
Methodology    Large Group & Cooperative Groups
Freewriting / Anticipatory Set
Anais Nin Quote: We see the world not as it is but as we are.
Individuals select a number from 1-12 and a letter from A-E these correspond to Steps to Living Compassionately & Community Guidelines on Syllabus. Small group or paired discussion.
Teaching & Learning Activities

A moment of silence is observed to remember September 11, 2001 Several examples of Background Research are discussed Teams address various aspects of upcoming Collaborative Midterm. Report to Group.
Group reviews Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism.

Individuals anticipate and list remaining questions regarding Collaborative Midterm assignment.
Survivor & Bystander Summaries
Address brainstormed questions.

Question & Answer
Clarify or expand on answered questions. All of 4MAT cycles engaged.
4MAT Cycle    Why? Imaginative Learners, What? Analytic Learners, How? Common Sense Learners, If… Dynamic Learners

Links to Resources
Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism

Conditioning and Freedom of Choice

11th Anniversary of September 11th

Today, in Preparatory Composition…

The person serving as Perpetrator, whose task it is to select the opening freewriting topic and lead discussion afterward asked: What’s the best way to get help in edmodo? The person serving as Bystander set her phone for 10 minutes and we began. I wrote the following with a mind toward interrupting lemming-like behavior in evidence on the Introductions Discussion Board where not a single post made the distinction between listing responses to each question in the Is eLearning Right For Me survey and reporting their score on the survey as requested.

The best way to get help on edmodo is to ask a question. To ask a question, one must know what they don’t know. To know what you don’t know requires humility, engagement, care, and being awake in the world. To be any of these things means that we have, against all odds, managed to maintain and inhabit a corner of freedom in our minds despite all the hostile attacks of the media and capitalist society run amok.

To be awake in the world means to have broken free of the Matrix, to have liberated one’s self by thoughtful, disciplined, consistent, pro-social action. When one is awake in the world, one takes responsibility for the challenges reality places before us and does whatever makes sense. To know what makes sense, however, requires collaboration and a flexibility and resourceful resilience that many possess yet few call upon.

We have all suffered great, unspeakable losses, but having that in common should not require us to keep silence. We need to learn to grieve the losses and move on the better to celebrate what life remains. The life of our families, communities, generations depends on our relationships to ourselves, our Source and Origin, and one another. How does one maintain and cultivate such connections when media is pulling our attention toward things that matter less, away from things that matter most?

Edmodo is a microcosm of society. To flourish in either context requires self-directed learning and a persistence we have all mastered but that yet remains to be transferred. It is one thing to come to class and be marked present. It is another to be accounted for with actions that contribute to the whole and bring your goal a little closer than it was the day / class / moment before. We have all been conditioned to see differences. What if instead, we decided to see similarities and built on those?

I did get to ask students to consider thinking for themselves about instructions given before submitting any and each assignment, and several teachable moments opened up to discuss the format of the Freewriting Analysis that was submitted, the affective and unspoken curriculum that includes 21st century skills, but the Syllabus Quiz that they were eager to take at the beginning of class was given short shrift and so I will have to provide another opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery and discover where opportunities for growth yet remain.