Archive for the ‘student success’ Category


The One Real Object Of Education Is To Have A Person In The Condition Of Continually Asking Questions.*

October 1, 2010

Asking a question is the simplest way of focusing thinking. . .Asking the right question may be the most important part of thinking. • Edward de Bono

It’s the end of the first week of the first quarter of a new academic year where I work, and although I don’t expect anyone is likely to take time to answer all these questions every week, I do hope that you’ll spend some time this weekend thinking about your responsibility for your success in school. (BTW, did you buy your books and read your syllabi and do your assignments for next week?)

The questions that follow are ones I used with reflective journals in a student success course and are meant to be asked weekly, regardless of whether you actually write about them:

• How was your attendance this week? (I am always surprised by students who miss the first week of classes and don’t contact me, showing up week two wanting to be caught up. I’m surprised by this no matter when it happens. Go to class!)

• Did you participate in class? (First impressions matter. If you sit in the back and don’t have any materials and aren’t taking any notes and look as though you’d rather be somewhere else, it will be difficult for me to overcome that first impression of your seriousness of purpose—or lack of it!)

• How much of the assigned reading and other work did you do? (There are often assignments early in the quarter, sometimes they’re even provided electronically before the course begins. At the very least, I suggest getting your textbooks before class and looking through them before the first class session.)

• What was your attitude toward attending class and doing assignments? (This might seem like a “duh” question, but I’ve talked to plenty of students who are choosing to be in school and expending lots of energy griping about that choice. I’m sometimes guilty of this too. It’s never easy to jump back into work after a break!)

• How do you feel about what you accomplished in school this week? (The guilt builds over the course of a term if you’re neglecting what you ought to be doing. It can become overwhelming, particularly when you get behind. It’s much less stressful to stay on track—or even get ahead whenever you can.)

• If each of the following weeks went like this one, how would your term go?

• What could/should you do differently next week?

• What could/should you keep the same?

• Although the primary responsibility for your continued success rests with you, what other people or resources might be helpful to you? (Do you need to visit a learning lab, get a tutor, talk to a professor, join a study group, make adjustments to your work schedule, have a family meeting, set up a schedule with your roommates, or. . . . .?)

• What, if anything, interfered with school this week? (And what are you going to do about it?)

• If you were giving yourself a grade for your effort in school this week, what would it be?

It’s not likely that you will always do your best at everything in your life. It’s impossible to keep up such a pace. You’ll get sick. Your other life responsibilities will temporarily take priority. The unexpected will happen. Count on it. And when it does, the question becomes how quickly you’ll deal with it and get back on track.

What questions should you be asking yourself about your first week in school–or any week in school?

You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change. • Jim Rohn

* Credit for the title quotation goes to Bishop Mandell Creighton.


“Hello,” He Said To The Charming Young Lady Standing By The Hors D’Oeuvres Table At His Cousin’s Wedding, “My Name Is Charlie Charming, And My GPA Is Four Point Oh!” “Good-bye,” She Said, Wandering Off To Find Someone More Interesting.

July 23, 2010

For July 20, 2010

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. • Albert Einstein

Walker Percy said that you can get all A’s and still flunk life and I agree. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said that grades don’t matter. Sometimes they do. They matter when you’re hoping to go on for further education. They matter when you want to be considered for an internship or a particular kind of job or a scholarship that requires a high GPA.

They matter when you’d like to do something outside the box of requirements, since a record of good grades provides instructors with reassurance that you take your studies seriously and can spark their willingness to take a chance on your intentionality. No matter how much an instructor may like a student as a person, educational possibilities are usually built on a foundation of excellent, caring, high quality work.

Grades can also matter because they provide validation for students. A good grade shows someone that they can be successful in school. In my own life and in my work with other adults returning to school, a grade that recognizes the effort we put into our studies can be meaningful and motivational. It lets us know that success is possible and keeps us going.

There is seldom an opportunity in real life beyond school to share your GPA. No one cares. They care what you can do. They care what you do do. Your accomplishments are what counts.

And while it’s true that grades can and do count when you’re in school, it’s also true that grades aren’t the purpose of education, although it sometimes seems as though they are. Any time you are proud of your work, regardless of the grade it receives, you’ve been successful.

What’s an assignment you’ve been proud of after you completed it—in school or in life?

But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret. • Ronald Reagan


If I Were Queen Of Education, There Would Be Only Two Grades: Cares Or Doesn’t Care

July 1, 2010

There is, in the act of preparing, the moment when you start caring. • Winston Churchill

Whether you are a student or a teacher or an employee or a parent or a partner or any one of thousand other roles that each of us plays daily, you have to care about what you do if you want to produce good work. You have to love your work—not in the sense that every moment of your engagement with whatever it is that you have to do will bring you unbridled joy—but with an acceptance and a level of involvement that acknowledge its importance in your life.

I’m a teacher. I can tell when students hand in done-on-the-bus work, the kind of stuff that’s cobbled together at the last minute with little thought given to its creation. I’ve written about this before. It brings me no joy to receive this kind of work and even less joy to assess it. Sometimes this worth•less work even meets all the requirements and thus, my assessment can’t be too harsh. The work is likely to pass. But it still makes me sad.

I understand that there is meaning•less work distributed in classrooms all over the world. I understand that students don’t see the point of many things that they are asked to do. Sometimes there are assignments that don’t seem to have much of a point, although if you asked the teacher, there may well be a rationale. As a student, I’ve been asked to do some things that I consider hoopjumping, but I’ve also turned many of those hoops into opportunities to expand the possibilities of exploration in ways that please me and that make what might seem to be an empty exercise into something I cared about and was proud of when I finished.

You can do this too. School or work or parenting or whatever it is that you must do in life is always offering you the opportunity for authentic and enthusiastic engagement. Most teachers won’t tell you this explicitly, but they’re hoping you’ll get it. It’s the secret at the heart of lifelong learning. So your teachers create activities and assignments, design scoring guides, and try to provide helpful guidelines, but they’re also imagining that at least some of you will see beyond these things into the real purpose of education: making your life better, richer, more meaningful.

I’m teaching summer courses and in my on-campus courses everyone is completing a complex yet useful assignment as a major part of the requirements, a plan for their first five days of school. The class includes students who’ve had courses with me before and those who haven’t. Those who haven’t are nervous. What do I want? What will please me? One of the students who’s had other courses with me articulated my philosophy better than I could have. Here’s the essence of Jim Janousek’s comments to the class:

Read the assignment, get the gist of it (what’s the purpose of what you’re being asked to do?), and then produce something that you can use in your classroom (I am teaching teachers right now, but this applies to other student experiences as well—I’ve used much of my undergraduate work as the basis for my professional work). I stress: do something that you can use!

This takes away the anxiety of the assignment and makes it more fun when you’re thinking about implementing those ideas in your own classroom. (There are times when I have very specific goals for students and I am explicit about them, but often the guidelines I provide are simply meant to be helpful for those who don’t have ideas yet about how they want to proceed. I always welcome thoughtful alternatives and suggestions from students.)

What works for you, works for Zinn! (If your intentionality shines through, it’s likely that I will be delighted.)

As long as you put thought and time into your assignment, remember Zinn’s grading scale is cares or doesn’t care. (You got it, Jim!)

What do you need to care about?

We are all functioning at a small fraction of our capacity to live fully in its total meaning of loving, caring, creting, and adventuring. Consequently, the actualizing of our potential can become the most exciting adventure of our lifetime. • Herbert A. Otto


“Man Will Not Fly For Fifty Years,” Wilbur Wright Said To His Brother Orville In 1901*

May 16, 2010

You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.
• Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency, counseling would-be model Marilyn Monroe, 1944

Advice is certainly useful, but if I could only give one piece of advice, here it is: Listen to—but don’t necessarily believe—the advice of well-meaning people. I’ve had lots of experience listening to, believing, and giving advice, and I know that in the end, everyone has to listen to her or his own inner voice after carefully weighing the advice of others.

You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.
• Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, giving Elvis Presley the boot after one performance in September 1954

My high school counselor wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of scholarships with me despite my high verbal SAT score that appeared to qualify me for some funds. Here’s what he told me: “ A cute little thing like you will just get married and have children, so it would be a waste of money.” There are some words that stick with you, even years later. His still bother me because I felt then, and still do, that he didn’t see who I really was and didn’t listen at all as I tried to explain who I wanted to become.

Just so-so in center field.
• The New York Daily News, reporting on Willie Mays, May 26, 1951, a player whom many consider to be one of the greatest all-around baseball players of all time

I’ve had the advice conversation recently with older folks considering returning to school, with two people thinking about doctoral programs, and with someone who’s hoping for an academic promotion next year. In each case, they were looking for wisdom regarding what to do. I am wary of offering advice, but I do it anyway. I have come to think of this as a human failing. Someone asks and I feel compelled to respond.

The so-called theories of Einstein are merely the ravings of a mind polluted with liberal, democratic nonsense which is utterly unacceptable to Germen men of science.
• Dr. Walter Gross, March 1940

My advice was the same in all cases and I believe in it despite its triteness: Be true to who you are. Pursue your dreams with authenticity. Don’t listen to people who tell you what or who you should be (she says somewhat ironically, realizing that even authenticity is an imperative).

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.
• The president of the Michigan Savings Bank in 1903, advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rockham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company

Have you ever been given advice you knew just wasn’t right for you? What did you do? What’s your advice for yourself?

The singer will have to go.
• Eric Easton, the new manager of the Rolling Stones (c. 1963), about Mick Jager’s value to the group

* December 17, 1903, was their first successful flight.


Making Molehills Out of Mountains; Loving the Work You Have to Do

May 8, 2010

It’s important to know that words don’t move mountains. Work, exacting work, moves mountains.
• Danilo Dolci

Sometimes you need to know when to stop procrastinating and get to work. Today is one of those days. May is almost a quarter past and it seems as though it’s just begun. Summer rushes on and the things that seemed so far away are suddenly Imminent.

Vocabulary note: Do you ever get eminent and imminent confused? I do. Imminent means looming, about happen, and so forth, while eminent means well-known, famous, etc., etc., etc. I suspect that one does not become eminent by ignoring the imminent tasks that one needs to accomplish and thus, although eminence is not my goal, I am ever the good girl, so today, fewer words and more work.

The mountain soon to be molehillized

Here’s what awaits me, the task of preparing for summer teaching, and I would not look forward to tackling it unless I thought that it might make a difference, inspire even one person, bring a smile to someone’s face. The author Pearl S. Buck’s words inspire me since I imagine that she too must have had a goodgirlish spirit when it comes to work. She said of her writing, “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” My mind knows this today.

What work to you need to get down to?

The true way to render ourselves happy is to love our work and find in it our pleasure.
• Francoise de Motteville

What we do matters to us. Work may not be the most important thing in our lives or the only thing. We may work because we must, but we still want to love, to feel pride in, to respect ourselves for what we do and to make a difference.
• Sara Ann Friedman


Wise Words from Gloria Steinem: “I Do Not Like to Write. I Like to Have Written.”

May 3, 2010

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.
• Ray Bradbury

Don’t you just know what Ms. Steinem means? I like to write and I feel her pain. It’s one thing to think about getting started writing when you enjoy putting words together and have plenty to say. It’s another to actually have to do it. And if you don’t like to write and don’t know what you want to say, well, it’s agony, right?

This is why I don’t like writing letters of recommendation without the input of the person who needs the letter—preferably right there in person helping me, but at least having given me some words on paper to let me know what direction I need to head in and what I need to say to help them with the job search process. I seldom begin writing anything without looking for information and inspiration first. And honestly, I have little interest in looking for things that should have been provided by the person who actually needs the letter.

But I digress. Rants are always delightfully diverting, aren’t they? If you’re having trouble writing, consider ranting about something to help get the words flowing out your fingertips. Bradbury is right: whatever it is you’re writing about has to be something you care about. Otherwise, every word is dragged from your brain reluctantly, refusing to line up with the others, floppy and lopsided, making little sense.

Unfortunately, caring and love are seldom words that apply to any kind of writing done for school. Mostly, in school, the two words “have to” are the likeliest motivation. If do-we-hafta-writing is the only kind you’ve ever done, you’ve never really written. You’ve never experienced the joy of capturing something meaningful to you that will live forever because you’ve corralled your thoughts instead of loosing them into the wilds as spoken words.

There are many things that stop people from capturing their thoughts in writing: spelling, semi-colons, dangling participles, commas, and a host of other teacher-imposed warnings that keep a person from writing because s/he is afraid s/he’ll do it wrong. Don’t be afraid. Write. Edit later. Spell a word like you think it’s spelled. Ignore the red squiggly underlining until later. Ignore the green stuff letting you know that something is wrong (sometimes it isn’t even wrong). Don’t worry about being wrong. Just write.

Sylvia Plath wrote that “everything in life is writable about if you have the ongoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.” She went on to say that “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” If you are passionate about something, you probably have something to say about it. Don’t doubt it.

If you could get college credit for writing about anything in the universe, what would you write about? Why?

I want to write about sharks. Big ones with big teeth! But I don’t want to ever be in the water with one.
• Second grader, 2010

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
• James Michener


The Man Farted from Behind a Tree; Bee Shur Too Proofreed Carefuly

April 23, 2010

Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things in a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf.
• William James

There it was on my desk circled in red on page two of the newspaper I was supposed to have thoroughly proofed in my first assignment on the way to becoming an editor, part of a series of tests that would determine whether I moved on to greater responsibilities at The Daily Sun in Warner Robins, Georgia. Foy Evans, the owner, read the paper every day, looking for just such mistakes, letting us know, kindly, that they were not acceptable.

The man farting from behind a tree was supposed to have darted, of course, but alas, I left him there, passing wind, for all the town to read about. Fortunately, it was my only mistake that day and I kept moving ahead.

Proofread. Seriously. It sounds easy, but it’s not. The eye often sees what it wants to see, what ought to be there. Here’s a little reading exercise I use with one of my classes:

Aoccdring to rscheearch at Cmabride Uinevertisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what order the ltteers in a word are, the only iprmoetnt thing is that the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can still raed it wouthit porbelm.

I find errors in my posts just about every time I go back and read over them. Words are missing. Tenses are incorrect. I’m missing a comma or a period or I’ve used a semi-colon incorrectly. And I know better. I just didn’t see these things, even with careful reading. Particularly difficult to catch are the words I’ve word processed incorrectly, god for good, thee for the, and other things that won’t end up underlined with red.

I’ve collected a number of favorite student errors over the years. Number one on my hit parade is “Master o Farts in Teaching,” closely followed by a student writing about World War II who wrote that his father “served on a mime sweeper.” San Francisco was once a hotbed of street mimes and I’d love to have seen those annoying white-faced entertainers who silently impeded my progress swept out of the way.

It’s almost impossible to catch all your own errors, so here’s my advice: First, put some time between you and your work. Don’t do everything at the last minute so you won’t have time to reread. (Do note that even as I word process these words I know the virtual impossibility of this actually happening for most students.) Next, read your work out loud to someone else to help you catch incomprehensibility. You’ll spot some of it and so will the listener.

Then have at least one friend read your work. Two is better, but again, they are probably working on their own last-minute things. Ask someone to check for consistency of style too, particularly on long papers or on resumes—use of fonts, type sizes, underlining, centering, indentions, and other things should all “match.”

Here’s something not to do: don’t give someone a paper to proof in class right before you hand it in. What do you expect that person to do? I was in a number of classes as an undergraduate with another English major who often asked me to proof her papers at the last minute. I never knew what to say about the many things that needed to be fixed. Fortunately, the internet now makes it much easier to ask for and give peer input.

Finally, be willing to listen. When I was working as a graphic designer, I used to design employment packages—personal letterheads, resumes, and the like. I took an order from a man who’d been working as a prison guard in “penile institutions,” an error he made multiple times throughout his draft. I corrected his error (it’s penal institutions—penile means of or referring to the penis). He came in to look at a proof, got extremely angry, and left, refusing to pay for anything I’d done. Too bad for him. Worse than farting from behind a tree.

Have you ever completed written work and found an error when it was too late to do anything about it? What do you do to make sure your work is as nearly perfect as it can be?

I have made mistakes, but I have never made the mistake of claiming that I have never made one.
• James Gordon Bennett