The “Do Over” Generation

Here’s something I posted recently on my new blog,

Some sources would place me in with the Boomer/Gen X Cuspers.* Whereas those born during the early years of the Boomer generation exhibited a bit of rebelliousness (drug use, commune residence, civil rights marches, war protests, etc.), my end of the generation wrapped-up the disco era, put-away their David Bowie albums, and joined the early preppie movement (which later became the yuppie movement) of Gen X. We tended to keep our heads down, finish college, get jobs, and follow the rules.

The situation with Gen Y is much different.

I don’t like to buy into stereotypes, so I simply don’t believe every member of Gen Y is as lazy, irreverent, and hard-to-manage as the media and social commentators say. However, one thing I know for certain is this: In my zillion-year career as a community college writing teacher, I have never, never had so many requests for “do overs” (read:…

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Warming Up (again)

I haven’t posted to this blog for quite awhile and for a variety of reasons. However, I suddenly feel like writing again. I’ll start with this question:

As an educator, how do you know which course requirements to strictly enforce?

I ask because, in my classes — all of which are online or hybrid– students are required to complete a “Warm Up” quiz with a minimum 90% score. The quiz, which is assigned at the beginning of the semester, is not calculated into the students’ course averages. The quiz simply “tests” the students’ reading and comprehension of an Introduction to Course webinar as well as key course documents, such as the syllabus. I do not care if students work together on the quiz. I also allow students to submit subsequent course assignments. I just place these assignments on “hold” as I wait for those students who score lower that 90% on the quiz to revise their incorrect Warm Up quiz answers.

In most of my classes, the students complete the quiz and zoom ahead. Yet, each semester, I have at least two students who have to be reminded several times to revise their quizzes so that I can score their other assignment submissions. It’s happening again this semester.

Some of my colleagues would say that I should just overlook the students’ seeming unwillingness to complete the Warm Up quiz and just grade their other assignments. However, something bothers me about this advice. That “something” is summed-up in the total lack of standards I encounter everywhere I go. I meet a lack of standards when the young grocery store clerk fails to say “hello” or “thank you”;  I meet a lack of standards when I hear a weather man say, “…and the storm has went out to sea”; I meet a lack of standards when I have to ask a restaurant server to provide me with silverware. I meet a lack of standards pretty much all day, each day, and everywhere I go.

It seems to me that America, in particular, is beginning to suffer from this inattention to standards. We are rapidly losing our competitive edge because we are, in turn, losing our competitive spirit. Instead, we look for a reason to convince the standard bearers that they are too anal. The standard bearers often grow weary from hearing complaints about their alleged rigidity and will sometimes give up on enforcing the standard. Let this happen too often and, well, standards become an endangered species.

For this reason, I am loathe to back away from enforcing a classroom standard. So, I err on the side of rigidity. I will continue to remind the students who have not completed this semester’s Warm Up quiz with a minimum score of 90% that they must do so or their other assignment submissions will remain in my “hold” file. If the situation goes on for long enough, the semester will end, the students will not have earned any course points, and I will be forced–by the students’ own choice–to assign an F to these students for the course.

Too stiff? Well, I’m more than willing to change the grade if the students–within a reasonable period of time–change their attitudes and pass the Warm Up quiz. However, I am not willing to send the message out that, if a student resists for long enough, I will “cave” and overlook a course requirement/standard. To do so, would be to add to the heap of other bent and dying standards we have accrued in this country.

The Bully Pulpit

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but, if my conferencing-with-students ability received a grade, that grade would have to be somewhere in the D range. It’s not that I haven’t tried to get better. Over the many years I have taught writing, I have arranged at least two sets of conferences each semester in each class. The students file in. I ask them how things are going. We iron-out a small problem or two. Then, the students are on their way to their next destination. My conferences were never very rewarding for anyone involved. In fact, they were viewed as drudge work by the students and by me.

So, as of late, I’ve been trying out a few different conferencing tactics. One that has worked really well involved posting a link to an interesting blog entry –Rachel Macy Stafford’s “The Bully Too Close to Home”–on my mid-level developmental writing course site. My students were instructed to read the blog entry and then to answer Questions for The Bully Too Close to Home. The students were required to bring their answers to their conference with me.

Everyone has either been a bully or been bullied at some point in life. For this reason, the blog entry hit home with each of my students. The entry also provided me with a great opportunity to teach reader-analysis, verbal and visual cues, context clues, formatting, inferencing, style variations, and a host of other reading-writing topics. More important, though, is that this activity allowed me to connect with my students on a very individual level. Each student came to the conference ready to discuss his/her experiences with a parent, with parenting, or with a school yard bully. Each student came to the conference ready to explain why he/she chose a certain line from the blog entry as being particularly noteworthy. And each student came to the conference more interested than usual in spending a few minutes to speak with me about reading and writing.

What’s not to love?

I certainly plan to spin this activity off into a writing exercise for my students. I’ll post again once my plans become a reality.

Scurvy & the Twit-Down-the-Hall

I sit here in my office with the door open. I will close the door once the student I have been waiting (and waiting) for shows up for her conference. In the meantime, I must listen to the loud mouth teacher in the classroom down the hall.

What is it these days? Don’t teacher ed programs train registrants in pedagogy anymore? If so, surely we wouldn’t have so many teachers in place who love the sound of their VERY loud voices more than the content they are supposed to be getting across.

And that takes me to my next point: Most of these loud mouths use personality-based instruction. It’s all about them, their stories, the jokes they crack, and being THE POPULAR ONE. A wonderful mentor that I had eons ago when I was a new teacher told me that, to be really good in the classroom, a teacher lets the content be the centerpiece….a good teacher is a self-effacing guide who knows when to step in and—more importantly—to step out of the way of the learning process.

Since learning those ground rules, I’ve had the utmost disdain for anyone who does the “sage on the stage” routine. It seems to me that any instructor who holds students hostage while putting on a show is about as attractive as a case of scurvy.

Come to think of it, Loud Mouth down-the-hall does have bowed legs….

Individuation & the ePortfolio

I like to say that I use portfolio – well, actually ePortfolio (my classes use’s ePortfolio feature) – technique in my writing classes. I have led my students and everyone else to believe that I am a purist about the ePortfolio. I tell my students that I will only provide feedback on their writings during the semester. I tell them that it is only when they submit the ePortfolio that their essays will be graded.

This all sounds well and good—as though I am adhering to the principles of the ePortfolio. However, for those of you who don’t know, portfolio/ePortfolio technique is also supposed to involve the instructor and student working together to select a few representative samples of the student’s work for the student to polish and place in the ePortfolio for grading at the end of the term. Up until now, I haven’t been able to do this because my college’s writing program already requires that students complete a long list of writing assignments during the semester. All of the assignments are required. There is no wiggle room. Could I have added an additional assignment to each class –say, a sixth writing assignment — and then allowed the student to select, let’s say, five out of six of these assignments to polish and submit in the ePortfolio? Yes, but, given the pace of my semester and the number of total required assignments (essays, exercises, exams, etc.), this would have posed a hardship for the student and for me.

So, I am happy to report that I have come up with a way to fulfill the ePortfolio’s promise of individuation while not having to add an extra assignment. What I will do this term to is make the last student essay one which the student and I design. For example, last night I conferenced with one of my international students over his first essay. The essay assignment involved explaining whether modern advertisers were responding to the increased number of over-fifty consumers in America. By way of answering, the student wanted to compare print advertisements in his country (which portray older people rarely and in a negative light) to print advertisements in the US (which he feels portrays older people more often and in an increasingly positive light). That’s when the thought came to me that this kind of individual experience would make for a great last paper. Each student could use that paper to reflect on what he/she learned over the semester. The student could select a favorite essay assignment upon which to expound, or the student could devise an essay topic related to the course theme but not previously assigned in class. The result would be a unique essay and a truly capstone project.

Voila. Case closed. I’ve found a way that I believe fulfills the spirit of ePortfolio technique without adding to the assignment load in my classes.

Just thought I’d share….

Activity vs Achievement: A Favorite Quotation

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” This quotation, in varying forms, is attributed to the great John Wooden, UCLA Head Basketball Coach (now deceased). I like to use it in response to those students who are prone to saying (read: whining), “…but I worked really, really hard in this class and attended every session. Why did I receive ____ for a grade???”

Just thought I’d share.