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.

Classroom Without Walls

As a lifelong learner celebrating 20 years in higher education classrooms, I decided to try some new technology for my preparatory composition class this year. So I attended an edmodo webinar and created a profile for each of my incoming students using profiles of various activists that I had seen in a Yes! Magazine article.

The idea was that students would research information about their activist identity having plucked it out of a hat on the first day of class. From there we would brainstorm interview questions for an oral history project based on what they had in common with their activist. A personal narrative, a book report, and the culminating activity, a “Come As They Were” party would become part of their portfolios.

As this is the seventh day of the semester and a holiday, I thought I would report the wonderful news. So far, I count it a personal best to have a 100% submission rate on the first assignment, 60% submission rate on the second assignment, freewriting analysis – a standing assignment and often the most complicated for previous classes – and it’s not due until 5 PM today, and two assignments already in that are due Tuesday at 5 pm.

Nice work if you can get it. So I sent the following in a post on edmodo:

I wanted to congratulate all those scholars who have submitted their first freewriting analysis. I see wonderful evidence of analytical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and commitment to excellence in your work. I can’t imagine a better birthday present. Thank you.