Tag Archive | school

Putting Writing & Work Together

writingHave you ever noticed students don’t seem to think “work” and “writing” belong together? They believe they can sit down with pencil and paper, or with their hands on the keyboard in front of a computer screen and turn out a work of art–the first try.

Throughout the summer, I’ve tried to explain to them that writing is not unlike a sculpturer who chips and chisels away at a granite stone until he reveals the shape he desires. Writing can also be compared to a painter who has a blank canvas and slaps on shade after shade of pigment until his or her painting comes alive. It’s the same with writing. It’s hard work. It’s a process.

Today I’m giving a practice exam so when my students take their final, they won’t freak out. Test anxiety seems to be high in my class. I have more confidence in them than they have in themselves. One problem is, they over-think their answers.

Since the first day of class,16 out of 20 students have diligently dragged themselves out of bed to attend class, and I showed them they have actually learned something. I proved to them they have grasped spotting grammatical errors with a proof reading exercise we did in class on Monday.

My goal is to inspire them so they can go on and be successful. I also want them to find that inner creative streak. Their creativity might not show up in the arts–it might raise its beautiful head in accounting, computer science, horticulture or even mechanics. I’ve given them permission (some people also seem to need this) to think creatively to ask “why?”

So as our class draws to an end, if they aren’t yet in touch with their inner two-year old, then perhaps more than half of them will pass the final.

Mondays and Antecedents

Garfield and MondayWell it was Monday again. As usual, I put off grading papers until the eleventh hour last night, so I had to get up early this morning to finish the job and post the grades on the school “blackboard” before I left to teach my nine o’clock class.

In the beginning of the semester, I put off grading papers because  the plethora of grammar and misspelling mistakes fill me with pain and show me how much work I have to do. By now, though, I am pleased to report most students have advanced leaps and bounds, and I enjoy hearing their stories. Why I procrastinate at this time of the semester, well, I don’t get it. I guess it’s just a bad habit I’ve fallen into.

Truly, I love this time of the semester with my folks. By now, I’m left with the people who really want to learn, and we’ve reached a level of trust. Today, we covered the different elements of pronouns. As I went through the text and stood in front of the room, I spied several heads looking at the test. Oh, no. Classroom, we have a problem!  I recognized some of the grammatical terms were perplexing them. OK, grammar has terms–after all, we have to call a part of speech by a specific term, otherwise we couldn’t communicate when we dissect sentences. A term like “Antecedent” threw them for a loop.

So, I shut the door and said in a quiet voice, “I want you all to know that this room is a safe place. If you don’t understand something, I’m not going to think less of you if you tell me you don’t understand. You are letting me know that I need to try again to help you turn on that little light in your head. If you’re having trouble, don’t you think someone else might be having the same problem? By asking a question, you’re helping your classmates and you’re helping me be a better teacher. And as long as I’m your instructor, I will do my best to help you learn.”  Everybody took a collective sigh of relief. It was like I recognized a huge elephant in the back of the room and had the audacity to talk about it.

Finally, a hand went up and the student said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t get this.” Then another student said, “I was having trouble, too.” We all laughed together and took another swing at antecedents. I felt confident when they walked out the door today of two things. One, I don’t think anyone will be afraid to ask a question going forward, and two, I had slayed the antecedent mystery.

It was a good day, wouldn’t you say?

Truth, Experience, & Feedback

communicatingI have been re-evaluating  how I can make by blog better. One area is my categories. Now that I’ve been at this for about six months, I realize I don’t use half of the ones I created, which is probably due to the fact that I had no idea of what I was doing when I first began. We all go through this, right? Please say, yes.

Since that time, I think I have a better idea of what I talk about everyday, and now it’s time to make an adjustment. But my worst fear is, when I go to make the change to make navigation easier for you,  I will screw up what I’ve previously created. I think changing anything electronically can be a nightmare for people without a doctorate in computer science. But I digress. . .

Basically, I talk  write about three things.

  • My experience with Ken’s journey through Multiple Sclerosis
  • My life and writing experience
  • My Soapbox Opinions

However, if there’s one thread that runs through all of these topics, it’s truth–as I see it, of course. This is important because  I want you to know me as a person through what I write. I want you to know I’m genuine, sincere, and sometimes funny. I owe you that. (Besides, it’s the only way I know how to be. I’m truly not that creative to make up falsehoods—ever. It’s too much work!)

So, when you call up my blog, what you see is what you get. I know some of you appreciate this because you’ve told me so. But I do have some concern about those of you who “LIKE” and don’t give any other feedback. In six months, there was only one brave soul who disagreed with me, and we all know we don’t have a “DON”T LIKE” button, or a “YOU’RE OFF YOUR ROCKER, LADY” button.

I think feedback is one of the best things we can do for each other. Every blog I follow, I comment. I take a little time to think of something I can contribute and I write a couple of lines. I LOVE COMMENTS!  In college, I was one of the rare ones who looked for the RED INK on my papers. Why? Because the red ink helped me grow as a writer. So, tell me what you think about what I’ve written. I value every comment and try to respond to everyone who makes an effort. Even if you think I’m full of crap, say so. If you think the writing is great, PLEASE say that, too.

Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion–Wordpress and Facebook buddies. I can take it. After years of  professional writing, I’ve grown a thick skin. After all, isn’t our craft built on two principles? Practice and feedback. Isn’t this how we grow as writers?

I’’ll thank you in advance for responding. Very Sincerely,

Barbara, Barb, Barbie – pick one

The Wonder of Stars

planets and stars

I enjoy the Science Channel. I think I’m intrigued because I never took a science class in school, and I learn something from every program. It’s new, exciting and usually beautiful.

I can hear you now, “How in the world did you get through college without ever taking a science class?”

Well, my elementary education took place in a Catholic school where funds were limited and teachers worked more as a calling than a profession, so subjects that were expounded upon in the public schools, like physical education, science, and mathematics were gently touched in my school.

That’s not to say we graduated dummies. We all left with a strong sense of the basics—reading, writing and arithmetic (not “new math). Our “saving grace” (excuse the pun) was we learned how to study. So, when we did go on to high school, we all did well. We soon realized hard work, combined with the basic skills we got at St. Sebastian’s, would get us through any class. And as proof, most of my 34 classmates went on to graduating from college—many the first in their families.

But by the time I got to high school, I was intimidated by Science and advanced math. I also knew that college wasn’t in my future at that time in my life, so I usurped the science department and immersed myself in the business department. Mistake number one—limiting myself.

Now, I am so sorry I let my fear of the unknown drive me away from science. As I watch the interesting programs on the Science Channel, I realize what I missed. Who knows? My childhood fascination with the planets and stars might have turned me into an astronomer—of course, I would have had to get over my math phobia, too.

Holy cow . . . that was a nice tangent, wasn’t it?

What I meant to tell you about was the program I saw last night. I learned EVERYTHING in the universe is part of the STARS, and that includes us! Wow! Think about it! The energy, matter and chemicals that we are made of came from outer space! WE are a product of the amazing universe! We’re Star People!

Of course, it took billions of years to make planet Earth from an exploded star, and then a few more billions for the comets to come along. And then a few more billion years for humans to appear on the scene. But think of it! How great is it to know that we are all part of the vast universe in which we live.

I wish everyone on the planet could have seen that program. Just think. Maybe we’d be less apt to destroy our environment for our own purposes if we understood we are literally destroying ourselves with such ignorance. Better yet, if we all saw ourselves as part of a great universe, we might even think twice before picking up guns to destroy one another. We might even realize we are more alike than different because we come from the same place.  I’m just saying. . .

Fears and Exhilaration of Flying High

mother bird

With the semester ending in two weeks, I want to give my students a gift. I want to leave them with a message that they can carry with them. My message is:

Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.Kiyoshaki

You are what you think about all day long. — Robert Schuller

You are creating your future with every single thought.Jack Canfield

This class has been a challenge to my teaching skills. I’ve been frustrated and stymied, and my students have been bored. After all, how exciting is basic English grammar? But through the sixteen weeks we’ve been together, somehow we’ve achieved equilibrium. You see, by now, the twelve people who have stuck out the semester are the ones who want their lives to change. They want a brighter future, and they have learned they have to work for it.

The next step is for them to BELIEVE they can create the lives want. That’s why I want to pass on the knowledge that they CAN CREATE THEIR OWN FUTURES by simply thinking about what they want. Some people say, “Fake it till you make it;” but it’s deeper than that. Faking anything is false. What I want my students to do is find the truth about their abilities and the happiness doing work they would do for free but are making a good living doing it.

I have shared my own story because I have been where they are. When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a business writer. With the help of a very good adviser, I massaged my curriculum to graduate with the experience and skills I needed, and I had a happy career for 20 years. Then when times got tough, I took a left turn and became a financial adviser. That was a wrong turn for me–I worked every hour of the day to try to squeeze my round head into a square hole.  After six years of banging my head against the wall, I returned to writing and found happiness again. For the first time in my life, novels poured out of me. I couldn’t wait to see what my characters would do everyday when I sat down to write. I was exhilarated and happy because I was growing once again in the “soil in which I had been planted.”

When my students leave, I will remind them to follow THEIR path, not one that someone else thinks they should follow. And like a mother bird, I will push them out of the nest and encourage them to stretch their wings and fly high.

Getting a Mule to Drink Education

You can only be truly successful if you take complete responsibility for your life. – Anonymous

One of my pet peeves is someone who blames everyone else for his or her failures. You’ve probably known people like this. They go through life whining about how they’ve been wronged, hurt, slighted or cheated out of what should have been theirs. Instead of being courageous and taking charge of their lives, they grow old disgruntled, still believing life owes them something. Running around life with a huge “chip on one’s shoulder” is so tiring.

I have one student in my class who has such potential to succeed, but he suffers from this problem. He whines because he lost his book. During class, he told me the grammar concepts I was teaching were stupid. After all, he can write, why did he have to learn the terms of the language?

Last night I had had enough and I blasted him. I told him he was very smart, but utterly lazy. I told him he could write his own ticket if he just quit whining and started working.

He stared at me and bragged about the grades he had gotten last semester without opening a book. I retorted, “That’s fine. But imagine what you could have done if you had studied! Don’t you realize there are scholarships out there for students who are willing to PROVE they are smart? What are you afraid of?”

He realized I had his number. At that moment, he realized I knew he was afraid of failing, especially if he puts effort into it. If he doesn’t work and fails, he can say, “That’s okay. I didn’t study.” Again, he’s made an excuse for himself and thinks he can back out gracefully.What a waste of a good mind.

I have three more weeks of this semester left to inspire him. He’s worth the effort, even though he doesn’t think so right now.

Think and Ye Shall Learn, Research and Ye Shall Know

For months, you’ve heard my frustrations about the unmotivated students in my writing class, and their low level of excitement for what I’m trying to teach them. But, tonight I’m looking forward to getting together. You see, when I left them on Monday night, they all left class excited about their new assignment.

On Monday I gave them a research project. It seems to me that they are not too curious about anything, so I wanted to send them into the library to find out about something they probably don’t know. To get them started, I threw out a bunch of ideas I had conjured up while watching the Sunday football games.  One girl in the class asked me where I got all of the ideas, and when I pointed to my head, she rolled her eyes and said, “No shit?”

Some of the ideas were pretty obscure. Here’s an example: “Where did the expression, “rainy cats and dogs” come from? There were other mundane questions like, “How did Thanks giving become a National Holiday?” Another one was, “Who invented beer?” (Remember, I’m dealing with a college class.) Their assignment was to find the answer and write a paragraph about their findings. I impressed upon them they had to do more than just find the answer.

So tonight, I’ll get to hear what they discovered. With them picking their own topic from the list, I’m hoping they’ll get excited and really get into the topic. I’m hoping by getting them into the library or going online to do their sleuthing, they’ll get excited about something that will light their fire.

Do I believe in miracles? You betcha!

Later — The experiment was a success. The students took pride in reading their paragraphs based on their findings in FRONT of the class. In fact, the quietest kid was the first to volunteer. Chalk one up for the teacher!

An Author, A Breakfast, and A Confession

I’m gearing up for a big deal on November 10. In fact, my preparation has turned my back bedroom into a storage facility. Boxes of books are stacked up for a book signing that will take place at a rather prestigious event in our city. This year I was invited to speak at “The Friends of the Library” Annual Breakfast which will raise funds for the one library we have left. When I was a kid, there were several library branches around Racine, but now we only have one left.

I’m very honored I was asked to speak at this event because our libraries are something that we need to protect. Growing up in Sturtevant, (a small village about six miles west of Racine), my only exposure to a library was a bookmobile that stopped at the public school twice a month. I was fascinated by this special vehicle, which was really a city bus retrofitted with bookshelves and a check-out desk. But to a elementary school-aged child, it was a fascinating vehicle, which opened my imagination to all different kinds of things.

If it hadn’t been for that glorified city bus, I wouldn’t have been able to read my favorite stories about deep sea adventures and imaginary ships that explored space.  The unfortunate thing about having the bookmobile come to our village was I never got a chance to visit a real library as a child. In fact, I didn’t really walk through a library until I went to high school. This lack of exposure caused me to be intimidated by libraries.

The sheer mystery of the place frightened me. Terms like the Dewey Decimal System, card catalogs, inter-library loans, made me feel stupid because I had not idea what they meant. So, I avoided libraries until I found myself at the University of Wisconsin. I know it’s crazy, but I was probably the only English major on campus with a library phobia.

I’m happy to tell you that like other childhood maladies, I out grew my fear of the library. Now I can roam the stacks like a great explorer and discover things I didn’t know before. I can “meet” famous people. I can go on journeys that I might never otherwise take. I can escape to worlds I never knew existed, or remember events that I’ve lived through. Best of all, I can research details for the books I write.

If you have small children in your life, I beg of you–PLEASE take them to the library. Don’t let them grow up like I did with an unnatural fear of a building that holds so many wonderful gifts.

Better yet, if you can support your local library, do so. Even if it means just going to a breakfast to hear an author speak.  If your interested, here’s the story that appeared in our local newspaper: http://www.journaltimes.com/calendar/benefit-and-fundraiser/breakfast-with-the-authors/event_033d6bec-21ee-11e2-bb03-0019bb2963f4.html

Do you remember your first day of school?

For many children, today is the first day of school. Do any of you remember that?

I don’t particularly remember my own first day of school, except for the day that I went to college as an adult. I can’t believe its been twenty years since I drove my mini-van onto the campus parking lot, walked with rubbery legs into the building, and felt the fear rising in my gut because maybe I was too old and too stupid to succeed in an English 101 class.

After a couple of weeks, I learned to camouflage myself in jeans and t-shirts to blend in with the rest of the throng. I also learned that my brain hadn’t turned to mush, that I really could still study effectively, and that I enjoyed my time at school. I even found a few other women who became my school buddies — Donna and Jackie. I began to think of myself as a co-ed!

Now I teach writing to students who are facing the same challenge that I did so many years ago. I think going to college as an adult myself helps them know that I understand all of the outside forces that pull them away from what they have to do. I understand that it’s necessary to restructure their lives because so much will change. People around them will be very selfish and unsupportive. Their old friends will put them down because you can’t give them the same amount of time you gave them before enrolling. And on top of that, you will will have to deal with disappointment when assignments don’t turn out as great as you thought they were when you handed them in.

Going to college as an adult with responsibilities of job and family is a constant balancing act. What I try to make the students understand that they must carve out time for themselves; otherwise, the experience of morphing into a new, educated person will become a drudge, and they will quit. School should be fun, a time of seeking that person you were meant to be, a time to change. It’s unfortunate that most adults have to fight so hard for the chance.