Monday, October 26, 2015

The English 101 Fall Cruise: Week 7: "Comparison and Contrast"


“My drug of choice is teaching. And the interaction with my crew/students is my medicine.” This was what I have told my crew. And this week happened to prove this to be very true.

I shall discuss the relevance of the above statement before this entry ends.

If you recall I tried a different technique presenting comparison and contrast. Instead of my lecturing about this style of writing, I wanted to see how well they would be able to discover how this style of writing is done by listening to the podcast I set for them and the sample presented in the handbook. They were to bring to this session their effort at setting up the outline and theme. How well did this work? Not well.

Yes, there always will be a few who figure it out. However, as a whole the crew found it frustrating having to compare and contrast the items assigned: “Gee, Captain, this was hard. I spent hours trying to figure out what made these characters the same and different. There were no concrete answers. I really had to think because the answers were not easily found.” I agreed. Having them try to compare and contrast two characters or two poems was challenging. Even having them compare and contrast two images was still difficult. As others shared their frustration and difficulty, I recognized they had tried, but they did, indeed, need lectures and more. 

So, I told them they could re-write this assignment. As they requested I gave them more choices. The rewritten comparison and contrast assignment could be about any two items—mother and father; parent and child; softball and baseball; etc. I saw relief on my crews’ faces. They could handle subjects of choice that were more familiar. They did not have to go into depth to ascertain the similarities and differences. They could handle the familiar, things they knew answers to, but not work with items that did not have specific, one answer to; that is what the original assignment required. 

Then, it dawned upon me that most of my crew were very young and very used to being tested and taught to pass standardized tests. Many experienced an educational system that forced teachers to teach to these tests. And these tests have negated, from my perspective, creative thinking and the ability actually to handle the realities of real life, where there were multiple answers, many that could not be found in a multiple choice set of pre-programmed answers. And that was the real challenge of the comparison/contrast assignment. As one of the crewmembers stated: “It was hard.” 

And their sharing and questions were a wonderful stimulant for me. They kept me on my academic toes. Then, a crewmember asked if I would say more about this work on Thursday, and my eyes began to water with tears.

Their medication lasted just for so long until the inquiry occurred. 

About five minutes before I was to walk into that crew session, I received a phone call from my superior stating I had to leave the ship and be hospitalized. Why? From a MRI searching for another health challenge, a blood clot was found near my heart. One might call me crazy, but I needed my “drug and medication”—teaching and the interaction with my crew/students. So, I attended the class session. 

Of course, I knew I had to stop the session and explain the reason for my tearing up. I did. I had to let them know there would be no training session on Thursday because I was pretty certain that I would not be out of the hospital by then. However, I did encourage them to send the re-written work to me via e-mail as attachments.

And, after my giving a clear but brief explanation (quite honestly, I did not know that much about my condition), I resumed teaching. And my crew, I knew, were wondering why I was there. I could see the expressions on their faces. At the end of this session, I wished them the best and reiterated that “teaching is my drug of choice, and, you, my crew/students, are my medication. That is why I am here, and, if I did not have to be hospitalized, I would be here on Thursday. However, even I have to follow orders.” Then, I dismissed the session.

Yes, even captains have personal lives. Still, as captain I did all I could not to stop teaching. So, while in the hospital, I graded work sent to me. Indeed, the hospital staff remarked about my devotion to my crew. However, I just told them that this was a different way I was getting my “drug of choice.”

Now, let me reflect on many years ago…

Dear Diary, March 2, 1971

Today my classes were great! The guys of 4/5s really enjoyed the way I am teaching Romeo and Juliet. This made me feel good. I look forward to reaching this class every time.

Dear Diary, March 3, 1971

A busy and decent day.

Dear Diary, March 4, 1971

My 4/5 class really socked it to me. Their discussion topic was “Sex.” They touched on every point. I was surprised, shocked, informed, and humored.

The ignorance of some of my students about certain basics surprised me. To think a 15 year-old girl states that a girl cannot get pregnant the first time of sexual intercourse. These girls and guys will be leaving school soon. Something should be done.

The guys’ opinions were shocking. Young 15 year-olds already resolving themselves to the fact that after two years of marriage one’s wife becomes frigid and it’s ok to go out with other women to have sex when wife is pregnant. Good Lord, what next?

Yes, what next, indeed? See you next week! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The English 101 Fall Cruise: Week 6: "Standard English Dialect"

Captain's Log: October 21, 2015

On Tuesday, the crew submitted their outlines and themes. As you might recall they were to discuss three messages contained in the five adult short stories. Hopefully, the discussion in the literary circles and, then, an open discussion about possible messages in the previous Thursday’s class would provide sufficient material for them to write the paper. 

I could tell there was sense of relief by many of them when they submitted their work. This was their first assignment in which I would grade the content presentation and mechanics presentation. 

Upon garnering the papers, I turned my attention to the mechanics. There was a sheet that I had given them a few weeks ago. It had a compilation of various grammatical errors they had made on the first paper submitted. No names were attributed to any of the errors. I had them get into the same literary groups (I believed that familiarity would be good in this case). Then, they worked to correct the errors. 

I walked around listening to their efforts to figure out what the errors were and how they should be corrected. Very seldom did they ask me for help. Great! The only way anyone could really learn, s/he must actively be in the process of trying to learn (figuring it out for himself/herself) after guidance has been given. I had given this guidance in an earlier crew meeting. Furthermore, with the written work submitted, I would point out and identify the mechanics errors and suggest chapters in the handbook they should consult that explained the error and how it could be corrected. So, I made certain crewmembers were not left in an academic canoe without a resourceful paddle.

I timed the discussion for the different errors, beginning with those with a comma. Then, after each timed interval, groups would share their answers. I would let them know if they were correct and make certain they knew WHY they were or were not correct. This proved valuable. So, toward the end of this Tuesday crew meeting, I instructed that they come to the Thursday meeting prepared to continue the discussion about the other errors.

On Thursday, they did. They got back into their groups. And the same format of timed discussions, sharing of answers, and receiving of my feedback occurred. When we moved to the errors that involved pronouns and verbs, I took more time giving feedback. I pointed to them how they could avoid, for example, unclear antecedent errors and pronoun-antecedent errors. These have always been the bane of many crewmembers past and present. 

Another major issue has been the difficulty with the use of 3rd person singular verbs and present and past participle verbs. And these errors have become more pronounced when crew members would write sentences containing irregular verbs. It's not uncommon to have have sentences like the following: “I seen the man”; “I done seen the man”; “I did saw the man”; “I have took the job”; “She has wrote the paper.” 

All grammar textbooks address these issues. Bare Essentials, 15th edition, the one used by this captain does so, too. It has an extensive list of irregular verbs in their four major groups and the helping verbs that go with each group as well noting the one group that does not ever have a helping verb before it. 

One example would be the following:

Group One Group Two Group Three Group Four

see saw seeing seen

The list of helping verbs for each Main Group is presented, for example:

Group One Helping Verb Group Three Helping Verb Group Four Helping Verb

do is has/have/had

There is a note making it clear that no Group Two Main Verb has a helping verb before it.

So, in this way, I explained and justified why some of the structures commonly written were not correct Standard English dialect structures. Yes, note that I use the term “Standard English dialect.” I believe very strongly that other dialects are very legitimate and are more than appropriate to use. Still, I have made it clear that the academic cruise line I am hired by requires that I teach them to master the Standard English dialect. 

Like it or not, this is the dialect one needs to master to navigate successfully in continued academic work and in corporate America. Still, I encourage that they learn and appreciate various dialects and know when it is appropriate to use different dialects, depending on the environment they are a part at a given time. 

The ability to code switch should be a language skills they learn to implement. And throughout my teaching, I continuously code switch while conducting sessions. Still, they were grasping the necessity to understand the rules of the dialect this cruise line commissioned me to teach.

Yes, there are the helping verbs if one would choose to use the passive. I note that “is seen” is correct. Yet, since writers should avoid the use of passive voice structures, it is preferable for the crew to implement the use of active voice structures when writing. So, for the Group Four Main Verbs, I encourage them to use any of the Group Four Helping Verbs with the Group Four Main Verbs that will keep their verbs in the active voice.

In about midpoint of this crew session, I gave them back their outlines and themes. Oh, for the most part, they did well. The mechanics corrections they saw on their papers began to mean even more, and the discussion I had presented about the verbs and pronouns became even more relevant to them. Then, I encouraged and answered questions they had about their own particular papers. 

Next, as the session was getting close to the end, it was time to move to a different writing assignment that was to be submitted at next week’s Tuesday meeting—comparison and contrast. I have taught this method so many times—lecture, provide the sample in the handbook, entertain questions, and give the assignment. I did not follow this pattern. I wanted to see just how well they would use their critical thinking skills with the help of the discussion and sample outline and theme provided in the handbook. 

After reading the children’s short stories and poems in Community College Students’ Literary Collage, they were to choose from one of the following:

  1. Compare and Contrast two characters in any of the short stories;
  2. Compare and Contrast two poems from that same book;
  3. Something different, choose from the over 40 color images on the pass-protected site of Bare Essentials and compare and contrast any two of those images—their choice of images.
So, I was doing something totally different. I wanted them to use their inductive reasoning skills to develop the outline and paper based on what the handbook presented without my lecture. Um, let’s see what will happen!

Now, let’s look back when I was an academic fledgling/student teacher in Sheffield, England at Jordanthorpe and, yes, mishaps did occur that had little to do with teaching but a lot about learning how to live and take responsibility for these mishaps.

Dear Diary, February 24, 1971

The discussion on drug addiction wasn’t so successful. They [4/5s] had not read up on the issue as I had suggested. However, I shook them up a bit. I really enjoy teaching.

Ash Wednesday—I fasted.

I started it off with a splash. I didn’t plug my hot water bottle tightly [to make a long story short, during my stay I slept with a hot water bottle since there was no heat in the bedroom]. I woke up this morn with a soaking wet bed and me. Of course, Mrs. Hendy [her name was Mrs. Henderson; she and her husband were whom I stayed with during my exchange visit; she preferred to be called “Mrs. Hendy”; she and her husband were very nice.] was panicked when I told her. However, when I returned home from a day of teaching, the mattress was dried and ok. I offered to pay for it; however, she said it was ok.

Mr. Pinion came in to see me teach and was pleased. He gave me some good points of criticism.

Dear Diary, February 25, 1971

Another hardworking, however, rather satisfying day. I presented ROMEO AND JULIET to my 4/5s. I used the album WEST SIDE STORY with it. They really appreciated it, and they learned something, also. That’s the most important thing.

For years I have thought of teaching it this way and, now, I know it really works.

Ok, let’s see what happens next week in 2015 and what occurred so many years ago. Every experience leads to growth. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

The English 101 Fall Cruise – Week 5: Despite Illness, The Captain Forges On

Captain's Log: October 12, 2015

I began this week “sick as three dead dogs.” I spent the Saturday all day in Emergency with severe abdominal pains. After the blood tests, the scheduled drinking of a solution, upheaving of the liquid solution, re-scheduled drinking of the solution, preparing me for a CAT Scan, and, finally, the CAT Scan, a doctor gave the diagnosis of my malady—severe diverticulitis. So, the remainder of the weekend, I chose very carefully what I would eat. Oh, this little health challenge sparked another one—chronic back pain. Yes, I definitely felt the “rudder on this captain’s ship” was in serious need of repair.

Why have I shared this? So, many times (perhaps, as captains we promote this falsehood), that captains/teachers do not have lives besides preparing lessons and checking papers. And even my blogs may have given this impression. As professionals everyday we must walk in that crew session prepared in spite of personal situations; that is what we are being paid for; that is what I teach my crew—not by words but by actions—by my very presence and “giving-it-my-all” attitude. And that was what my crew witnessed on Tuesday, not a martyr but a professional “taking care of business in spite of.” 

By no means would I expect a crewmember to attend a meeting or conduct one if severely ill. I would consider that silly. For me, teaching is “my drug of choice.” On the very first day of my meeting my crew, I told them: “I shall work to give you 200% effort, so, when I am ill, you will get 100%. And when I “croak,” you will get 75%—yup, I shall try to teach you even from that ‘ship in the sky.’ ”

So, why this passion? For beginner trainees many have not been used to committing themselves to anything, most definitely, not their studies. Some have come from family backgrounds that have demonstrated little “stick to something” or have not seen loved ones maintain a job for a length or time, sometimes, due to past economic challenges or personal weaknesses. 

For many, education has not been the highest priority in their environment or for themselves. So, a captain of a college training cruise, beginner’s training course for new enlistees, might be the first person whom they get a steady dose of “no foolin’ around and no parents will be comin’ on board to intimidate the teacher or not even show any support at all.” In a college training ship, the captain does rule. Expectations will be high of, not only of the student crewmember,  but of the captain, too.

I could tell from last week’s meetings that I had set the bar high and they were starting to rise up to it. In other words, I had set the tone with my own mixture of humor, hard work, and high expectations. Missing this early in the cruise unless I was totally bedridden was not an option I wanted to choose. I did not want to miss the Tuesday meeting. I did not.

And when I entered that crewmember meeting, not walking as quickly but walking, and I saw their faces there all ready to learn, I knew I made the right choice. They had their first full papers with outlines placed on a front desk as I had instructed (at last Thursday’s crew meeting) they should do. And it was very evident they were ready to discuss what they had written as well as work on a grammar exercise I had given them. I placed them in groups to share answers; then, I asked various groups for their answers. And I let them know if they were correct.

Yes, I knew from their faces they were concerned. So, I did not ignore the “elephant in the room”—me. I stated: “Well, you recall my saying I would give you 200% every day and 100% whenever ill. Today, you will be getting the 100%.” They smiled, and the session continued.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The English 101 Fall Cruise: Week 4 – From Group Discussion To Student Teaching



Well, the first factor I must apologize for are my grammatical errors in writing the 2nd week’s blog. For some of you, you may not “give a care.” However, I do. I have a tendency to read past captain’s logs. It is my effort to strive for perfection, realizing it will never be achieved until I arrive in the “big classroom in the sky.” 

Still, I try. And I work to live the example I focus on setting for my crewmembers: Continue to scrutinize your work; then, you will be able to hone your craft (your writing skills). So, I do hope to be more mindful. OK, enough about that issue, I just wanted to let you, my followers, know I do care and am aware.

What happened in Week Four? As planned on that Tuesday, my crewmembers got into their respective groups. Each member functioned in his/her role. Yes, the discussions in the groups were successful. Yeah! 

Yes, there were two hiccups. The Discussion Leader for one group did not show up. And the Illuminator for another group did not show up. However, a leader from another group had an extra set of questions to share and an illuminator from another group shared her passages since she had an extra copy. So, the discussions, as I stated, progressed well. It was nice that I did not have to intervene; I wanted the crewmembers to be in total control of the discussions and the sharing of their perspectives about the five adult short stories in Community College Students’ Literary Collage.

It was valuable to use works written by students. Of course, the works must be of quality. The use of student works eliminated any effort to find critiques on the Internet. The crewmembers had to base their responses to the short stories totally on their analyses within their individual roles. Most definitely, there would be no plagiarism. I was very pleased how this session progressed.

I did allow for two days in the schedule for group discussions. I did not want any group to be rushed. That was not the case. One day was enough. So, on Thursday, I prompted the groups to come up with messages conveyed through those stories. 

The next writing assignment would be the writing of a theme discussing three messageds  conveyed in those short stories. Normally, beginning crewmembers would not be confident in writing on such a topic without some encouragement. Yes, there were a few who were “ready to go.” However, for the most part, for the majority of the crew, that was not the case.