Collaborative Final Exam

Since December I’ve been writing daily at Occasionally, I’ve posted to my sabbatical blog elsewhere on wordpress. Four face to face meetings & three eight-week summer classes are all that stand between me and endless pages of reading for the sheer joy of it. (But who’s counting?) Instead of ending with a whimper I thought we should go out with a bang and so the final exam for Migrant Literature today was delivered as a contest patterned loosely on the game Red Rover. Had there been enough time for two rounds, I’d intended to divide the class into Native-born and Immigrant teams. As it was we divided into Men and Women and two women served as judges as there were two more women than men. Instead of ‘breaking through’ the facing team’s line, teams chose a question about literary criticism or vocabulary from those submitted earlier in the week to the online discussion board. One member had to respond to the question in a complete sentence. If they did so correctly one point was won for their team. If they lost they joined the other team.

5 rules of teamwork

5 rules of teamwork

At the end of class but before the student serving as Rescuer gave a quick overview of how to build ePortfolios using weebly we listed things each team did well, things they could have done differently, and things that can be learned from collaborative test taking.

Among the things learned were:
How to frame a question
How to answer succinctly but completely
How to support and encourage one another
How to study and prepare

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.

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.


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.