Who’s the Parent, Here?

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I just read a student’s essay where she recalls being 8 years old, with her younger siblings, and stuck outside her locked house for over an hour in the middle of winter. All because her parents were at work. Oh, and the girl’s mother also told her she could “skip lunch” since she was a little chubby at the time. The essay is about a neighborhood woman who took it upon herself to help this young girl and her siblings by providing warmth and food. To me, the neighborhood woman is by far a better parent than either of her actual parents.

it takes a village

Impromptu Poem (4/25/2017)

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Here.  Read this.

Read the part below.

The poem.

I’m reading–actually skimming–through student poetry submissions

It’s an expected lot hyphen hyphen (dash)

Some are printed requests for the healing to begin;

Others are verse about how quote funny unquote quote life unquote can be;

A handful of energetic pieces that st-

re-

tch imagination

(s) dot dot dot

So far just 1 has grabbed me

1 just slapped me upside my head.

The poet wrote

about how consumed we are with ourselves

and how little w-

e

talk

and

share

and

love

and

be

in this oneandonlyworld

You see there were 4 stanzas

And Line 2 of Stanza 1

Became Line 1 of Stanza 2

and so forth

while keeping the fl-

ow

and never losi-

ng or dis-

connecting

And I think it’s the strongest so far because that’s what poetry should do,

friends.

It should turn our chin toward the sun

And our eyes away from the coals

It can warrant warmth

And suffocate sadness

And it can be structured

or

not

Because poetic license allows you

to walk down the escalators sometimes

even if they’re pushing you

before you’re ready

 

UWT #3 – And This One’s Important!

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It’s been far too long since I provided my half-dozen readers (exaggerated for obvious reasons) with a fresh Unsolicited Writing Tip.  This is #3.  To find the first two, you will have to do some deep, Other-Net surfing.  Or click below.  It might come up automatically.

Today, a student cornered me (I really must stop exaggerating) after class and asked if beginning a sentence with the word “And” was acceptable.  I immediately thought of Mrs. Thompson, my fifth grade teacher.  She fit whatever you picture in your head to be the classic grammarian schoolteacher.   Mrs. Thompson also despised what she called “prison talk” among the boys at recess.  In those days, we were entrenched in insulting one another by lassoing one another’s maternal caretaker in a buffet of situations and twisted imagery.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Finding Forrester (starring James Bond), here’s my very similar take:

Starting with any coordinating conjunction [and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so] is, from a technical view of writing, impossible.  One cannot “coordinate” anything if the first part isn’t there. You can’t plug your phone into a steel wall.

Yet, our language is far from a stagnant one, right?  For God’s sake, “howbowdah” is (probably) going to make it into Webster’s online dictionary next week.   Things change.  Language evolves right along with the species.

The point the young writer makes in the movie when told by Connery’s character that he’s breaking a firm rule is this:  Starting a thought with a conjunction can intentionally bring attention to it and thus impact him to the point of an awakening.  In street terms, your reader will get “woke” (I know I’m probably not using that right.  And I also know that a vast majority of you have ceased reading.)  The key–Rob Brown’s character and I agree–is that it should be used sparingly at most.

When I taught younger students, I discouraged the use of this technique, though it rarely arose in student writing.  As writers develop their voice into- and throughout adulthood, however, I think it’s proper to encourage experimentation and a general toying with our gorgeous language.

But it needs to stay within reason.  Students should still exhibit Standard English in their major works.  Perhaps more leeway would be afforded in a creative writing course.  And some professors have probably stopped caring about those types of rules by now.

Professional authors in multiple genres do it, so wouldn’t it be a bit hypocritical of us to suggest that it’s never to be done?   I think we can ease up on this one with the caveat that doing so cannot become a regular act.  And it must have impact.  So, try it out once or twice in a rough draft.  But no more than once in a final draft.  I hope you don’t get my fifth grade teacher, though.

There you have it.  If you have found this commentary useless, I’ll end with this tip:

 

So is your mom.

 

Canvas – A new LMS at Ivy Tech Community College

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This will be brief, and it’s really intended for a very specific audience out there.  I am one of about 80-100 full-time faculty members from Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana who will be asked to lead training seminars with other faculty and staff throughout the state.  We are a state-wide college with campuses in over a dozen main campuses around the state.

Our college is switching from BlackBoard to Canvas in the coming months.  If anyone out there has college/university experience with Canvas and would like to offer information that might be useful for me, my department and other colleagues, I would greatly appreciate it.

Specifically, I would like to hear what students and faculty (adjunct or full-time) like and dislike about Canvas.  Feel free to post comments below or send me an email.

The Side-armer (Another Baseball Analogy)

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sidearm-pitcher

Do you throw this way?  Should anyone, in your opinion?  Imagine being a coach of young players and taking on the challenging task of introducing pitching form to them:  Would you have even considered the notion of showing them this technique (which you know not only exists, but also works with many pitchers) in the early (crucial!) stages of their baseball education?

These are rhetorical questions to which I’m assuming you are saying “No”, “If it works for them”, and “Probably not” respectively.

So, here’s the connection to what I do for a living.  Successful writers understand general sentence structure, paragraphing, and building arguments.  They know about characterization, the impact of dialogue, the necessity of conflict, and even the usefulness of fragments.  Fragments good sometimes.  Not always.

However, for the same reason elementary school teachers do not begin the academic year by exploring the nuances of the subjunctive case or the proper uses of the semicolon, I do not think it wise to discuss various advanced writing methods (in all genres) with 100-level students at the college level.

I believe it’s more beneficial to the student to comprehend and apply a “groundwork” notion of writing before exploring more experimental and non-traditional techniques.  I never truly wish to quash any student’s aspiration to be creative and funky with their writing, but I also subscribe to the notion that creativity is neither natural or taught.  It is, instead, developed.  Over time.

So, frankly, I sincerely hope that my students eventually become successful side-armed pitchers with their writing.  They will have found their voice, the techniques that work for them as individuals, and are satisfactorily communicating their thoughts to a receptive world who appreciates their contributions.

To get to that point, though, I have to instill that my current students first become strong, confident, over-armed pitchers.

 

What To Do?

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Two teachers are in the lounge.  One has clearly had a bad class.  His palms cover his eyes.  The other teacher is pouring himself a cup of coffee nearby.

Teacher 1:  I don’t know if this is working.  They just don’t get it.  It’s like I’m speaking another language.

Teacher 2:  You’re the French teacher, right?

 

New Gig, New Digs – Fort Wayne #2

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So, I’m already off my previously announced schedule….but I have an excuse!

Yesterday, I woke up in my new city for the first time.  I didn’t sleep all that well, but it wasn’t for a lack of physical comfort.  C and V provided a very cozy queen bed with an excessive amount of plush pillows.  I had some issues on my mind, and I was also worried I would oversleep for my first day.  Sidebar: For someone who gets up every day around 7 am, I sure do worry a lot about missing my alarm!

C was frying bacon, and V eventually offered me an egg as well.  Over medium, I think.  It’s funny—I used to sell eggs on the reg, but I really only eat them scrambled.  I waited far too long to try eggs another way…and this blog is tanking quickly.

Got to school and met a few more faculty.  Someone bumped a round folding table, causing it to tip over, which meant lots of hot coffee spread everywhere.  Thankfully, no once was seriously injured and even more importantly, no electronic devices were damaged.

It was a day full of presentations and welcome-back information.  I would wager that a small number of people can tolerate sitting in a large room listening to a guest speaker for hours on end without letting intrusive thoughts or shiny objects arrest their actual attention.  Teachers, in my opinion, are the worst at this.  We love school so much that we dedicate our lives to being in (at least, some version of) the classroom and not pursue other avenues that meet our professional interest.  However, when invited to professional development, we are often subjected to sitting for hours on end with nothing more than room-temperature water or stale tortilla chips to keep us from running outside into traffic.  That is, of course, unless the presenter is engaging.

While the speaker yesterday had many good comments and ideas, her presentation lacked something which I feel is absolutely (ironically) required:  constant (and REAL) interaction with the audience.  Her slides were projected onto two enormous screens, but this took place in a gymnasium and the people by the back doors were a good thirty yards away.  She constantly made reference to how she knew no one could read the content of her slides and said at least half a dozen times that she’d email them to us.   [Sidebar:  Many presenters do not produce printouts anymore, I feel, not just because of the cost, but also for the notion that many attendees leave them behind, discard them immediately, or (probably) file them somewhere deep in their work-space.  However, sending them via email is often an empty promise and/or might as well go straight to the SPAM folder.]

She was knowledgeable and funny at times, but it all seemed so depressingly rehearsed.  Comedians have to sell jokes to new audiences several times a week, and the really good ones have a way of making it seem like each night is the first time they’ve told those jokes.   More than once, her delivery on a pseudo-punchline reminded me of Robin Williams’ voices.  Is it odd that my focus was on her delivery and not what she was actually saying?

But we were simply not engaged.  And that’s a major problem.

Why?

Because we became the students.  More precisely, we were teachers who were put in to role of students.  A large, echoing room.  An intelligent presenter.  Visual aides.  Several questions posed by said presenter.  An offer or two to answer any questions.

But it wasn’t engaging.  We had very little time to interact with one another.  It would be uncouth to have a conversation with a colleague while the presentation went on.

This is not the first time I’ve attended such an in-service.    What I find the most alarming about all of this is that teachers can often times be the worst “students”.  We ask so much of those who attend our classes, yet so many of us shy away from initiating dialogue and meeting new professionals at these types of engagements.  Every time I go to one of these seminars, presentations, conferences, etc. I see the same thing:  Teachers who are over-the-top with enthusiasm (a very small percentage), some who have come with an enormous amount of other stressors and use that event to unload a lot of their pent-up anger, and the ones who attend with the least possible amount of interest.

The last category is the most worrisome to me.

I have had the luxury to attend those that identify this setup as severely problematic.  After seeing it done this way (providing a fluid combination of humor, interaction, and information with the obvious goal of keeping us attentive and involved), I’ve realized how absolutely vital that is to education.

Teachers should know that students learn in different ways.  We should know that presenting in the “classic” lecture style is really only beneficial to a small percentage of students.  We should know when our students are bored or disengaged and we should work to fix that.

That’s it for today.  I’m at my in-laws with my family for the weekend.  Look for the next entry in a couple days.  Soon, I’ll write something about how if blog posts, articles, etc. go beyond a certain word count that very few will read it to the end.