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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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.

Reclaiming Identities Through Migrant Literature

For as long as I can remember – at least since I began implementing servant leadership in the classroom to increase engagement – students have served as Discussant, Oracle, Colombo and Mr/s. Rogers. This semester, wanting to underscore activism, I changed the names of the roles to Perpetrator, Rescuer, Bystander and Survivor. Originally, perpetrate simply meant ‘to commit’. My goal is to inspire myself and others to commit to scholarship, compassion and transformation. A short description of each role (from the syllabus) is included at the end of this post. The purpose for this writing is to share what today’s Perpetrator invited us to consider and my response to her question.

What do you expect to learn about the culture / background you identify with?

“I identify with a culture of once-apathetic-now engaged activists. I hope to learn the steps from apathy to activism so I can blog about them and make a scalable model for educators who want their disciplines to matter to the species beyond the 21st century. (Note: It’s freewriting, so nothing is too off the wall to include.)

Why is being a species-level thinker so important to me? First I should define what a species-level thinker is. A species-level thinker is one who knows who she is as well as who she might appear to be in various contexts from various Big 8 Little 4 perspectives, and continues to think about the whole and moving toward pro social ends using pro social means.

It’s one thing to be a do-gooder but another to make a greater difference than sleeping with a clear conscience. Wrecked, by Jeff Goins, helps to clarify the distinction. I wonder if the Gipsy Kings-like music is distracting to others’ writing. So why is it that important to me that I and other educators unleash such initiative in the most effective and strategic ways possible? Because I believe life is beautiful and that the challenges we face as a species will require all of us to solve or take all of us out.

I look to the clouds and see the footprints of God in all His glory. I wonder why people don’t look up and take notice in much the same way [Shug] in the Color Purple said:

I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.  Shug

It’s a pity when lives are so embattled and people so submerged that we don’t notice the beauty of everyday things around us and within one another. There’s loud drumming in the next classroom drowning out the Alto (?) sax crooning in ours through Pandora…”

We went on to discuss the identities people hoped to learn about and whether what we believe is as important as why we believe it.


Service Roles Described:

  • Perpetrator: Selects in-class writing & dyad (paired discussion) topics related to the assigned reading /activities for the week. Moderates class discussion.  See Conversational Roles in Course Resources.
  • Bystander: Summarizes daily activities and upcoming assignments 10 minutes before end of class. Opens Thursday class by following up on Tuesday’s Discovery & Intention while Perpetrator is writing topic on the board.
  • Rescuer: Takes notes during class and posts to Service Notes discussion Board in Angel; collects week’s attendance, emails absent members. This prevents absentees from asking the instructor, what did I miss.
  • Survivor:  Serves as translator, time and peace-keeper to keep class on schedule. Observes class to identify random acts scholarship to be celebrated and muddy moments to be clarified. Reports before Bystander’s summary.

Writing as Liberatory Practice

Recently, the best teacher/mentor/friend of my life inspired me to think about inner and outer forms of writing. When I attempted to respond with my thoughts related to teaching on the subject, I was asked to rewrite and resend. Below is that effort.

I agree that wonder and transcendence of self are part of the surrender process that is writing as discovery and ultimate [comm]unity. Further, that they are not readily accessible to most learners or teachers due to the conditioning we are exposed to daily and therefore require the disciplines of attention, intention and constancy.

I have come to understand that I must start with the common or familiar and that turns out to be pain in more than a majority of cases. Beginning with shared experience allows me to forecast the pain that accompanies our use of Freewriting-as-a-discipline.  When practiced as the concurrent, intentional movement through disbelief, fascination, boredom and resistance born of the learned helplessness of the conditioned existence misappropriated as the self, such writing practice is liberatory.

Presenting the terrain (inner landscapes) we will encounter in such a way, helps to diffuse the experience of it as pain. This process was very aptly framed in the Matrix as ‘seeing for the first time’ when the main character ‘awakened’ outside of the reality pulled over his eyes as a newly recruited member of the revolutionaries.

At the same time, I believe our appreciation of form is inherent. And, with enough writing practice (hard work/anguish) to destabilize the habits of mind and being we have grown accustomed to, we can escape, and replace the models of teaching and learning that require parroting and herd mentality with envisioning what wants to emerge from a primordially shared and ever-present stillness. This process, known as Presencing by Peter Senge et al. is always as encouraging as it is instructive.


Day 2 NaNoWriMo

After class today I decided to record notes instead of blog as I’d gone back to bed after 5 a.m. prayer instead of going to the gym or putting in my 30 minutes for NaNoWriMo. The last paragraph of those notes is pasted below.

The current wrestling match is to focus on whatsoever things are of good report instead of focusing on what’s NOT happening in class. Team Miracle did a wonderful job, miraculous in many ways given the team’s composition and the assignment – to teach one course objective, one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, one chapter out of the textbook, one section from MyCompLab and one experience of Service Learning. The division of labor was evident. The interactivity and creativity were present. They had information and or activities related to each assigned lesson as well as helpful hints and mnemonic devices for remembering homonyms. They brought candy and a prize for the raffle conducted after the quiz. How, in such an environment ripe for harvest did I allow the last 15 minutes of Q & A regarding the Spaghetti Edit / Revised Midterm to sour the experience for me?

Indeed, it comes down to preparation – mine, and not just for Friday’s faculty retreat which I am co-facilitating, but for the next level of spiritual growth in which we are to cast down spiritual wickedness in high places. Shadows be damned. I am a child of the Light!

What if I just went up in praise when these feelings of defeat rise so fitfully. What if I just started turning my gratitude key and followed that logic. What if I just slept when I was tired, learned to tell when I’m hungry or emptied by despair, and ate the right thing at the right time? 1006 words for now.

Fortunately for me I had the answer before the question posed itself. At prayer this morning Evangelist offered Luke 21 as encouragement. Only late this afternoon was I able to read it. The verses particularly helpful to me are:

34“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

I believe I will. Continue to stand, that is.

Experiencing God

It is an awesome thing to have an encounter with God. Foundations shake. Emotional and psychological furniture is permanently rearranged and we are forever changed. The G.L.O.W. conference this weekend focused on experiencing the faith, hope, love, joy and peace of God. It’s aftermath rocked my world and the blessings are pouring forth faster than I can record them. Everything seems so much clearer, simpler and elemental now. I was sorely tried and purified by The Refiner’s fire. I am a living witness of what Oswald Chambers writes in today’s devotional:

Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. One reads tomes on the work of the Holy Spirit, when one five minutes of drastic obedience would make things as clear as a sunbeam. “I suppose I shall understand these things some day!” You can understand them now. It is not study that does it, but obedience.

I pray that I can remain mindful of this lesson and pause, wait on God, to make every little and big decision for the rest of my life. The resulting clarity spilled over into my home life and college classroom. Today’s discussant invited us to select one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits and write about its influence on our lives. Highlights from what students said are recorded below.

Habit three: Put 1st things 1st I get distracted.
It’s my best and worst one.
I have to leave my house to get work done.
Fifth Habit: Seek to Understand, then 2B Understood It’s the one I’m good at except when I’m at home. They [my kids] have to understand me first.
Habit 3 I wait to the last minute to do things like my homework.
Habit 6: Synergize The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I like that quote. I put that on my FB.
Habit 3 Once I do it, I’m in the zone until I take a break or get distracted again.
Getting started and staying focused is most of our challenge.
Motivation is needed. We don’t always see how things are going to come together the way we hope.
I’m going to let my friend(s) know that my schoolwork comes first before anything.

What I wrote about the 3rd Habit: Put First Things First will no doubt form the foundation of the teaching philosophy I was asked to summarize by a publisher’s representative last week. Below is an excerpt of the day’s freewriting.

In my classes, I try to embody the priorities that I think most effective so each class we begin with the individual (freewriting allows us to connect with ourselves and, if the topic lends itself, to the subject and class experience we endeavor to share). Then we move to community – and have a group discussion led by a peer. It’s not led the instructor because it’s OUR class and I am the guide unleashing initiative and imagination so others make take increasing charge of their thoughts and lives and succeed here and in whatever situation life presents. As  guide, I am charged with thinking about the whole until each member of the class can take turns thinking effectively about the whole. Then we move to action. This is where we measure how successful we have been in our attempts to apply the content of our lessons in homework, assignments and in class exercises. Having invited ourselves to enter the moment authentically through freewriting, and used the thinking of others to polish our own during class discussion, we enter the realm of application and move from theory to practice. On a good day this is what happens. Today was a good day.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over – Class That Is

After getting the Migrant Literature course approved with corrections through Curriculum Committee I return to the office to grade online submissions and answer and delete email. An hour or so in, a former student texts me that he’s back from Afghanistan. I let him know I’m in the office in case he wants to stop by.

When he does, he pulls out his journal from the few weeks he spent in class with us. He said he kept practicing his paragraphs using the PREP method through the six months’ of his redeployment and that he still has a few essays he wants to write for me. That would have been enough to start the waterworks leaving it at that, but he went on to say that writing, staying connected with the assignments, memories of his classmates and our times together kept him going.

He read aloud a paragraph he’d been working on when his unit was ambushed yet again. A straight week of getting ambushed every night. That did it. The dam burst, though I was able to pull it back together relatively swiftly. He’d been writing about the first hot meal they’d just had in more than a month and how rations ‘suck’ when they came under fire.

After that, the conversation took several turns and we touched upon everything from being grateful to stand up without the weight of his pack to intervening at a local grocery store where a man was kicking his girlfriend on the ground. He mentioned his mother’s angry relief at his return (she didn’t want him to go again after he returned from his first tour with the tip of a finger missing and a scar from a near-fatal blast to the forehead) and what it was like losing buddies. We brainstormed some strategies for responding to the challenges of returning to civilian life and he acknowledged in no uncertain terms how the prayers of classmates kept him alive. After viewing the class slide show, we parted with his promise to return to campus and visit to encourage one or both of my current ENG 098 classes. I printed him a copy of the list of personal appreciations classmates had written about him at the end of last semester that I hadn’t been able to email him. I am humbled by how good things can get every now and then.

Will This Class Make A Difference?

That was more or less the question our class Discussant offered for our freewriting. All who shared afterward answered in the affirmative in great detail and two volunteered to read their freewriting aloud. I plan to post my response here once I get remote access to the classroom server. I am deeply encouraged by their rising word counts. A full third of the class are writing in the neighborhood of 250 words in 10 minutes – and it’s only Week 3! Now, if I could only get that many submitting the weekly analysis in its entirety as an attachment we’d be saying something. Tomorrow is the Day of Prophecy. I’m going to sleep fast!

If Grieg Could Paint