Training 2.0: Professional Conversations through Social Media

Hotel Sindoor was the venue for the first-ever teacher training event that I attended, some time in 1994. I had just started teaching, right out of high school in conventional terms (after Intermediate college in Nepal).

Among other things, the trainers covered “how to use the blackboard effectively”: 1) make sure that students can see what you are writing while you are writing, 2) speak the words as you write, 3) pause and teach instead of continuing for long stretches, 4) ….

That training made me think for the first time that teachers are not people who have completed learning! The fact that a seemingly straightforward act like writing on the chalk board had so much to learn about inspired me to go to more and more training events in the years to come. I have since tried not to miss actual training sessions, orientations, norming sessions, guest lectures, brown bag discussions, emergency meetings, reviews, etc. Indeed, since the training at Hotel Sindoor in 1994, I have always considered any part of department meetings, hallway conversations, email exchanges, difficult class periods, students facing or posing special challenges . . . lunch/dinner or party conversation that bring up issues of teaching as a “teaching training,” for continued professional development. I take the “consider as training” view because the explicitly “training” events are few and far between when I consider how much more I have to know than just writing on the chalkboard, when I consider how dramatically the variety of students and variety of courses have expanded in my teaching career.  read full post…

Yes, Going to the Library Is an Assignment in this Class

Assignment 3: Going to the Library (instruction and guidelines) 

Reposted from my new Stony Brook Blog

Yes, going to the library is an assignment in most classes I teach–even in college. Tell me in the comments section if I don’t convince you why this is an important assignment for a college course. Read on.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but the library contains materials that the Internet doesn’t. Using the library may not be as easy as clicking on hyperlinks, but libraries contain the knowledge created by societies around the world over the course of centuries and in some cases millennia. Not all books have been scanned by Google. Yes, there is a “search” function on the Internet (the library’s version of it is far less efficient–although that’s the assignment you are required to do, so keep reading); but the library has a powerful “organize” function that the Internet almost totally lacks. The library has quality control, professional librarians ready to help you, different types of services, and often fun activities — not to mention archives, lounges, study areas, often free coffee . . . but, wait, how do you compare the last few items with the Internet? And I’ve not even told you what the library assignment is. It’s fun– just read on. read full post…

Good Writers, Bad Grades

For quite some time, I’ve seen an interesting pattern among students who said that they were “good writers,” but unfortunately they don’t receive a good grade at the end of the semester, which I wish they did. As a writing teacher, I don’t want these confident writers to change their self-perception in any of my writing courses. But I have to grade all students on the basis of the assignment’s instructions and objectives as they are specified in advance.

The case of a self-described “good writer,” Brian (not his real name), has been the most memorable one among those of students who somehow couldn’t write well in spite of their claims and, presumably, backgrounds as good writers. read full post…

Butterfly Moment in the Classroom

I don’t have a better way to describe this highly satisfying situation in teaching than to call it the “butterfly moment.”

No, that’s not an established English idiom– I just made up one for describing moments like the one below. Moments when teaching turns into learning, as it were. Moments when students’ sense of ownership of their learning breaks out of the larvae of all the things that I’ve been demanding of them and takes flight like butterflies. Butterflies of what they want to learn, how they want to conduct their learning, why they want it. read full post…

“Here’s Why I Am in College”

Almost every semester, I have a student whose behavior or activity in class throws my teaching off its balance, more or less significantly. Some of these students dominate class discussion, others fall asleep during class, and yet others are consistently late to class. As a teacher, I like the “challenging” situations that these students create because, at least in hindsight, I realize that they create the opportunity for me to become a better teacher: when faced with those situations, I have to come up with new/better ways to address the issue, and the solutions often add significant benefits for the class as a whole. read full post…

F Words of Effective Academic Writing

Are there any tricks for getting straight As on written assignments in college/university in the US? I think there are. I share some below.

Of course, not all academic writing will demand these features (and indeed, they may sound more like they come from journalism than general academic writing), but these are expected commonly enough in academic writing that you can treat them as general guidelines for most courses and contexts in college and university. In most of my classes, where I teach general to specific and advanced academic writing skills, I encourage students to implement these strategies and features as well as they can. [Edit: I’ve added #1 to a previous list of 7]

1. Fleshing Out Your Ideas

Many students say they are “good writers” or “bad writers” on the basis of their ability to produce grammatically corrected and properly edited prose. As I discuss in another post (titled “Bad Writers are Welcome“), both groups often don’t realize that good writing cannot be defined outside of what the context and purpose are, and even who the writer and audience are, with particular instances of writing. So, for instance, a letter written by a fourth grader urging the US President to “make a playground near my school” will not be “effective” if you take out identifying information and tell the recipient that the letter was written by a school Principal! So, no, there is no good writing per se, and if you’ve considered yourself a “good writer” on the basis of your grammatical and editing skills, you may be in for a B or C (if not worse)–unless, first, you “flesh out” your idea for the assignment.

Fleshing out the idea–or clearly thinking through what you want to say, developing the outline, and generally understanding how you want to organize and connect your ideas–may involve extensive research (especially if you’re writing a research-based assignment). You may only need to read the assignment carefully and/or talk to the teacher in order to develop the idea off the top of your head (though this type of assignments are rare in college). To learn (more about) what you want to write, you may need to go out in the world, work in the lab, do general research online, and/or have to read and develop your ideas by reviewing available scholarship on the topic. You may be the type of writer who writes and rewrites outlines as you develop your idea, write a preliminary draft or drafts (which you may not save or use), or write about what you plan to write before you start writing. Whatever you approach you (have to) take, you must “flesh out” your idea.

Imagine that you have an apple orchard a few miles away from your house, and one weekend, you’ve invited your friend to go apple picking. You think about this idea before you take your friend to the orchard, right? You won’t simply find yourself and your friend in the orchard when you wake up one day! You will talk about it, probably have details about how you want to make the experience enjoyable for your friend–or at least you will develop that idea in your mind (if not in interaction with your guest) before you implement the idea.

2. Framing Your Paper (and your paragraphs)

Many students seem to have learned to write “creatively” in high school, so they try to convey their ideas in subtle, indirect, and complex ways. That style (which they may have picked up from reading works of fiction) is often engaging to read, but writing in college also demands that they follow conventions of different genres in different disciplines.  read full post…

I Wish it Was Just the Dentist

No, it is not just the dentist. Just too many people seem to define “writing”–even after I specify it as the teaching/learning of basic to advanced academic writing in the university–in ways that make me sad.

As she was about to start her work on my teeth last week, my dentist, a wonderful professional who works at a service provider two blocks away from where I live, asked me where I work.

“Stony Brook University.”

“Oh, you are a teacher? What do you teach?” read full post…