Events, Self, TLT

Exercise and Mindfulness @ CofC

Perhaps you have seen the Yammer posts by Sara Coleman on exercise or invitations to participate in meditative and mindfulness events by Rahael McNamara and Rhonda Swickert. These opportunities are more than simple announcements; they’re vast resources for holistic development that are offered for free to faculty and staff.

Click on the playbar above to hear about the exercise and mindfulness resources that Sara Coleman, Rachael McNamara, and Rhonda Swickert have to offer.



Spotlight – Dr. D’s Tips for Success

In this month’s “Others” blogpost for the Teaching and Learning Team Holistic Development, I want to draw attention to Mark Del Mastro’s website where he regularly updates a page called “Dr. D’s Tips for Success.” He has been a constant source of encouragement to me since I began at the College a little over a year ago, and I have been keeping an eye on this particular page because it offers really helpful advice from someone whom I have come to respect deeply. Even though students appear to be his primary audience, the tips are widely relevant. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Control what you CAN control: (This is Mark Del Mastro the philosopher. I would encourage reading this alongside Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius)
  • Health is a freedom we only appreciate once lost
  • ALWAYS respect the views/ideas of others, ask questions, and LISTEN
  • Resist going over people’s heads
  • Always deliver a firm handshake (My children have come to know “Dr. D,” and they are always ready with a firm handshake)

There are others. Thanks for sharing and practicing them, Mark!

Make It Stick Monday

Dr. Henry Roediger on Memory and Learning

Image result for henry roediger

Dr. Henry Roediger was on campus May 16th as the keynote speaker for TLTCon, speaking to us retrieval techniques as an aid to learning. He is an expert at in the area of “applying knowledge from cognitive psychology to the realm of education,” having authored over 175 articles. You may have seen his name in recent blog posts on the TLT website, where we have been promoting his book Make it Stick in preparation for TLTCon 2019.

You may have guessed that I would jump at the chance of podcasting a conversation about memory and learning. Initially, I thought a conversation about memory and learning would be especially important for foreign language instructors, and I was not disappointed. What I also found out was that Dr. Roediger and I have a shared admiration for Plato’s dialogue the Theaetetus. So, I will apologize for amount of time that you have to hear me prepping question 2. If, however, you have ever referred to a memory as an “impression” or “image,” or have described remembering and forgetfulness in terms of “recalling” or “misplacing” or “being clear” or “not clear,” you are participating in this conversation that Plato began two and a half millennia ago. I think it will be worth a listen. In the last third of this podcast, Dr. Roediger takes some time to discuss how his studies in memory have changed the way he teaches.

I hope you enjoy!

Make It Stick Monday

On Minds and Water Puddles

TLTCon is just over two weeks away, and I want to draw your attention to an important concept that Roediger highlights in the last chapter of Make It Stick called “generation.” I’ve referred to it in conversations as the “generating effect.” I most recently discussed it in a writing workshop for faculty on the Pomodoro Technique. One of the tricks I suggest for staying focused is creating a triangular card with “Generate,” “Outline,” and “Edit” written on the individual sides. As silly as it seems, seeing “Generate” written on the prompter keeps me focused on simply getting thoughts out.

Pomodoro Technique aside, I have noticed there is a residual effect of this practice. I will be busy doing something else hours after trying to work through a textual problem in Plato, Epictetus, or Galen, and a potential solution surfaces. Think of it like a dolphin’s dorsal fin that you might see while relaxing at Isle of Palms: you’re not expecting it, but it’s suddenly visible.

Make It Stick validates my experience. They cite John McPhee who describes generation in this manner:

In short, you may actually be writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty four hours a day—yes, while you sleep—but only if some sort of draft or earlier version exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.

I remember the generating effect most clearly in February 2015. I had spent the hours of 4-6 am on my dissertation’s second chapter and struggled with reconciling Plato and Aristotle’s similar but unique descriptions of how our imagination works. I was befuddled. So, I headed out on a three-mile run that took me past Kinnick Stadium and the University of Iowa hospital to the Iowa River. Snow lay thick on the banks, and the temperature was below 0. Lights from the Iowa River Corridor glinted from a thousand icy boughs. It was chilly but mesmerizing. Somehow, between the onramp to the green bridge and the art building reading Vita brevis ars longa est, a solution emerged. Clearly. Quietly. Resolutely. Like a friend stepping out from a crowd.

It happens frequently enough for me to believe that the temperature and brilliance of that wintry morning were not the causes.

The writers of Make It Stick argue, however, that the generating effect also occurs with learning. The key, they insist, is that learning has to be understood as engagement (222). The process demands that we confront the issue head on, wrestling with the problem as an opponent, and then give the solution time to emerge. Here’s how they understand the generating effect:

Struggling with the puzzle stirs your creative juices, sets the mind to looking for parallels and metaphors from elsewhere in your experience, knowledge that can be transferred and applied here. It makes you hungry for the solution. And the solution, when you arrive at it, becomes more deeply embedded with your prior knowledge and abilities than anything pasted onto the surface of your brain by PowerPoint.

Thinking about learning in this manner makes me wonder if our minds aren’t more like water puddles. Figuring out problems means we step into the problem, stamp about in it, and stir up the bottom. The solution will come, but we may have to give the contents time to settle before we can see it clearly.


How a Break at Work Benefits Family

I’m not sure what comes to your mind when you hear “break time,” but the word harbors a treasure of memories for me. My father was—still is, actually—a brick mason, and my summers spent with him on construction sites bore a very distinct and welcome rhythm: at 10 am, we took a break. On extremely hot days, we took another at 3 pm. Both included watermelons and were always in addition to lunch. To this day, “break time” is one of my favorite phrases to hear, rivalling the best dactylic hexameter Homer ever composed. The lasting benefit for me, however, was an example of time set apart from work’s rigor. Taking a break after reaching exhaustion isn’t a sustainable practice.

I am passing on to you an article from May 17, 2018 called “Better Work-Life Balance Tips for Teachers.” You can access the full article by clicking here. It’s a call to making practical changes to our work schedules that are flexible enough for every personality to apply, even if you’re an INFJ like myself. The list includes making friends, celebrating accomplishments, and using reflective writing. Here’s what the researchers wrote about “taking a break”:

The operative word in the phrase “lunch break” is “break.” Getting away from the classroom, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can help you be more creative. Taking a walk around the block has been shown to boost your productivity, and taking a walk in nature is even better. Being in nature is the most effective way to relax your brain and refresh your senses, so head to the nearest park if possible.

My favorite break happens during “lunch” at the Johnson Silcox Gynmasium. Four times a week, I make my way to the gym, store my stuff in the locker room, and run to the South Battery or use the fitness area. Physical exertion always makes me feel better. Call it a conditioned response from childhood or an endorphin buzz, but after a 30’ workout and a quick shower (the gym provide showers and towels), I’m ready to confront the rest of the day with renewed mental and physical energy.

There is a long tradition of self-care that’s at the heart of this issue. Plato is one of the earliest writers to flesh it out. Birthed in a democratic context as a conversation between Socrates and the notorious Alcibiades, “care of the self” (ἐπιμέλεσθαι ἑαυτοῦ) is essentially this: Alcibiades must care for himself before he can properly care for Athens as a civil servant. It’s a principle that aims to maximize one’s intellectual, spiritual, and physical capacities not as an end per se but as a means to greater engagement with and service to others.

When we consider the “break” within the self-care tradition, we can see that a well-chosen break has the ability to benefit our families because we are effectively caring for ourselves. If I work so fervently in the office or classroom that I am exhausted when I get home, how can I adequately engage with or serve my family, be it a pet, partner, or children? It’s imperative that we find meaningful “breaks” at work so that we can meaningfully participate at home.

For further reading, see the following:

  • Plato’s Alcibiades I.
  • Foucault, M. 2005. The Hermeneutics of the Subject. NY: Picador. Not for the faint of heart, this text is one of the best attempts to paint in broad strokes the “care of the self” within the ancient context. The book is comprised of Foucault’s lectures given in the Spring Semester of 1982 at the Collége de France and are among the final lectures he gave before his death in 1984.
  • Hadot, P., 1995. Reflections on the Idea of the “Cultivation of the Self”. Philosophy as a Way of Life210, pp.261-70. A thoughtful response by Pierre Hadot to his friend and colleague Michel Foucault.
Make It Stick Monday

A Question for Roediger

Okay. So, we’re about three months away from the day that Henry Roediger will descend onto the College of Charleston campus and deliver an inspiring speech on helping students learn. I can’t wait. I’m also anticipating his response to some questions his book has created for me.

The most impactful idea for me is the role that forgetting plays in the learning process. Let me retrieve that one for you. According to Roediger and friends, learning information requires a healthy amount of forgetting the information: we learn, we forget, we re-learn. Relearning moves information from short-term to long-term memory. He recommends that we allow enough time to pass after teaching a lesson for the students to forget most of it, so that they are forced to relearn the information. Relearning is where more permanent learning occurs. But what’s a healthy amount of forgetting?

Consider summer school work for K12 students. Each year, teachers assign seemingly more summer work for students to prevent forgetting their lessons. In some cases, summer work is so much they may as well not have had a summer break at all, and whether teachers actually do something with the work in the fall—well, that’s another issue. The trend, nevertheless, seems relatively new. I realize that I turned 40 last September and education has changed substantially since the 1990s. But summer work happened on a construction site for me, not in a textbook or work packet. If my kids don’t work weekly, they’re up that creek without a paddle come August. It’s a lose-lose: I feel like a bad parent unless I stay on them and like a bad parent for staying on them.

Is it possible that Make It Stick is suggesting summer break may be a healthy time to forget some things stored in short-term memory so that relearning portions in the Fall can have its intended, healthy effect? In other words, Dr. Roediger, should we encourage students to enjoy their summer with less structured academic work, encourage them to read what they want, let them forget some algebra skills (they’re not all dust in the wind), so that they can relearn certain concepts and actually move that learning from short-term to long-term?

To be clear, I’m not trying to get on the better side of my 13-year-old son. He’s diligent and kind but not one who’s going to prefer graphing linear equations to making stop-motion videos in July. No, my question is more sincere than that. I’m currently learning Algebra I for the second time in my life, and I’m pretty damn good at it this time around if I do say so myself. Granted, my reasons for learning it a second time differ from the ones that guided me then. In middle and high school, I learned because I wanted to earn the A, and now I want to help Asher when necessary.

But I digress. My point is that after 27 years of letting myself forget, it’s sticking. A lot better. Thoughts, Dr. Roediger?


Episode 3 – Watching Films Critically with Mari Crabtree

As teachers, we are constantly looking for teaching methods that are socially relevant and pedagogically meaningful. This two-pronged goal to be cool and educational doesn’t always present itself easily. The ever-cool and ever-educational Socrates, however, may offer some helpful direction. In the Book 7 of the Republic, he insists, “Don’t beat your students upside the head with their lessons but use their downtime so that you can more clearly see what they are naturally inclined to do.” His point? Begin with fun.

Mari Crabtree is an Assistant Professor in African American Studies here at the College of Charleston who is using Americans’ love of entertainment for several important ends. One is to inform students of opportunities in African American Studies. A second is to entice them to think critically about movies, both their magic and their messages.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Mari about her ongoing film festival called “Afrofuturism on Film.” If you get a chance to attend the two remaining events on February 18th and February 25th you’re in for a real treat.


Make It Stick Monday, TLT

Making It Stick – Increase Your Abilities

Chapter 7 of Make It Stick is called “Increase Your Abilities.”  The chapter is a conglomeration of related topics devoted to showing people can increase their learning abilities.  There is a section on “neuroplasticity,” a term neuroscientists are using to describe the ability of the brain to change physiologically based on the formation of synapses.  Another section answer the question “Is IQ Mutable?” with a resounding “Yes!” arguing that certain factors influence IQ levels such as economics and family dynamics and demonstrating that average IQ is up 18 points since a hundred years ago thanks to public education.  Carol Dweck’s research in “Growth Mindset” gets some space, too, which amounts by-and-large to the idea that “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  The chapter ends with two sections on “Deliberate Practice” and “Memory Cues,” both of which fall within the context at the intersection of the book’s pressing theme—memory—and the chapter’s—the learner’s perspective.  For those of us who are turned on by personal development, it’s a dizzying array of evidence akin to looking out the top floor of the Empire State Building.  Well, almost.

The question I kept asking myself, however, while reading was, “This is great information for the learner, but I’m an instructor.  To what extent am I responsible to show students how to learn?  Is it not enough that I can show them to recognize and read an ablative absolute?”  I’m not sure if it’s an “age old” question for educators, but it strikes at the crossing of teaching vs. training.  The dichotomy may be false.  If, however, we look at teaching mores so as content-focused and training form-focused, much of what we do as teachers is communicate content.  How much of teaching learning’s form is the teacher’s responsibility?

(Before I go on, I offer as a reminder that CofC does have a space devoted to teaching students how to “study smarter.”  It’s called the Center for Student Learning and provides workshops on time management, note taking, writing research papers, etc.  If you need to point students to this space and its helpful workshop calendar, you can click here.)

Chapter 7 should encourage us in several vital ways.  First of all, believing in your students’ ability to learn is vital to enjoying your time and communicating your love for what you teach with students in the classroom.  The evidence is overwhelming in showing that our evolution as a species has made us capable of adapting to many different challenges throughout our lifetimes.  Even the evidence that suggested IQ windows begin closing after the first few years of life is largely false, according to the writers (175).  The onus is on identifying carefully our students’ baseline in order to create rigorous learning experiences that challenge and inspire them.

Secondly, Chapter 7 shifts the focus from performance to growth.  We get students from all walks of life, from many different family backgrounds, and from all over the world.  Most have three-quarters of their lives left to live after college.  If learning truly is a life-long endeavor and we advocate this perspective openly and often to students, teaching them how to learn is the most important thing that we can offer.  Information changes; the conclusion from research we painstakingly communicate to them will likely change or our understanding of what the information means will change.  References to “recent studies” are time-sensitive.

Allow me to shift gears in order to consider my initial question differently.  Perhaps you and I share the childhood experience of hearing the story from Hebrew mythology of Cain the farmer and Abel the shepherd: Cain gets jealous of Abel’s ability to please God and kills him.  A story of sibling rivalry at its most vicious.  The most haunting part for me has been the question God asks Cain: “Cain, where is your brother Abel?”  I call the question “haunting” in two respects.  The first is simply that this question haunts Cain and prompts him to reply with the infamous “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  In a second sense, however, the question is haunting because the answer is “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.”  As a story from mythology, it prompts us to consider the human situation: what responsibility does one human have toward another?  What responsibility do I have toward those I encounter?

If this story applies at all to teaching, then my responsibility as a teacher is so much more than simply delivering content.  I personally feel called to helping students see the power of their ideas and abilities. In this sense, I can be my brother’s keeper.  It is appropriate, since today is devoted to remembering the work and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., to consider some of King’s words on this theme.  He consistently refers to the responsibility one person has to another.  In some of his final words to us from the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, King insists:

Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

Let’s bring this back around to teaching. Ancient Greece had a proverb “Nothing in excess” that I believe applies to this teaching predicament. On the one hand, there is content that we have to communicate, analyze, and assess. But there is also the process of learning that needs to be taught. At times, this process feels rudimentary. How many times do we need to teach proper research methods, assess writing mechanics, etc.? In these moments when we feel the frustration of teaching students the process of learning, which is often less fun than the content that we find so fascinating, remember that someone took the time teach us so that we get to enjoy the vocation of working in higher education.

“Dangerous unselfishness”—what a powerful, transformative gaze to cast toward education.


Episode 2 – Discussing Spatial Narratives with Sarah Koellner

Sarah Koellner, a visiting assistant professor in the German and Russian Department, is using a technique called mapping to see the changing dynamics of East and West Germany as portrayed in the German TV series “Germany 83” and “Germany 86.”  When I spoke with her this past week, she brought me up to speed on the TV series, spatial narrative assignments, and how she hopes the assignment will challenge the students.

You can download PDFs of her course syllabus and mapping assignment to see how exactly this concept works within the class.


Mapping Intermediate German-10gl0hx

To see an example of a completed mapping assignment, click here.

Faculty Showcase, Innovative Instruction, instructional technology, Productivity

Episode 1 – Weather-proofing the Classroom: A Conversation with Professor Ricard Viñas-De-Puig

During the 2018 Fall Semester, the College of Charleston canceled five days worth of classes on account of hurricanes.  It would be nice to think this semester was a fluke, that experiencing two separate hurricanes in one semester is a once-every-fifty-years situation.  But scientists are telling us that climate change is bringing bigger storms more often.  As teachers, we need to think of how we can design a more resilient course structure, one whose tension, support, and anchorage can withstand the cancellations that university administrators need to make for our physical safety.

Recently, I spoke with Ricard Viñas-De-Puig, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies.  He said that some of the skills that he learned in the Distance Education Readiness course were helpful for overcoming obstacles created by the weather cancellations.  Keep listening to hear what he had to say.