I Need More Hours

I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything I want to do in the near future:

  • write an amazing two-week curriculum unit on Personal Finance
  • mentor my volunteers more closely
  • clean my office till it’s sparkly
  • devise a better system for collecting and submitting volunteer stats
  • have a balanced and from-scratch meal plan that I follow
  • completely deep-clean my apartment
  • get my TEFL from Hamline
  • start another 5 Week Course
  • have friends over for dinner
  • run/walk everyday
  • actually follow a laundry schedule
  • read and write more
  • continue to spend quality time with my long-distance family and boyfriend
  • start a pre-literate class at my learning center
  • reach out to the other people in my life more
  • start a peer-mentoring project with another coordinator
  • learn Somali
  • conduct numerous site visits to sites like mine and other sites that work with my students
  • roll my newsletter into a new, more professional format

I didn’t think about that list for very long.  That’s what it looks like off the top of my head.

Conventional wisdom says “just pick something and start.”  I have.  And it’s something.  I’m trying a new chili recipe as we speak, and I’ve been working on several other of the above personal and professional goals, as well as others that aren’t really blog material.

The problem isn’t starting (for once); it’s wanting it to all be in line Now.

So I’m going to go see how the chili turned out, and put on my running shoes, throw my laundry in this evening, and ponder curriculum as the machines are going, and remember that I’ll get there inch by inch.


Looking Back at College

Lifehacker and The Simple Dollar have been posting more content than usual geared toward college students, and it got me thinking about my own college experience.  It was a great one.  I worked hard, but I didn’t work smart at all, and because of that I’m not sure I lived up to my potential.

This isn’t intended to be a list of regrets.  I’m reflecting on a path I set out on when I was 17, and my perspective on it from my mid-twenties is understandably a little different.

What I Wish I’d Done In College

Basically, I wish I’d scheduled my time as though college were my 40 hour per week job.  Mind you that when I was in college I’d never had such a thing as a full-time job.  Still, I don’t think it would have been beyond me to:

  • set a regular (reasonably flexible) work schedule, planning to spend about 8 hours a day either in class or involved in studies;
  • spend time at the beginning of each semester marking not just mandatory class times on my calendar, but also project due-dates and my own draft due-dates;
  • make it my business to go to each prof’s office hours at least once;
  • treat class time more seriously (like it was a meeting or a conference) by taking notes and behaving in a more openly friendly way to my classmates.

I also wish I’d done a few less serious “school is your job” -type things, such as:

  • joining a club that would take me off campus on a regular basis;
  • sleeping more consistently;
  • spending more than one semester taking a karate class.

And honestly, I can’t help but wonder if taking a year or two between high school and college and doing AmeriCorps or some such work would have made the above wishes realities instead.

Again, no regrets.  I took interesting classes, did respectably well in them (except chemistry), made incredible friends, enjoyed participating in music programming, and reached out to some profs and acquaintences I hope I’ll still be acquainted with years from now.  I was also introduced to life in the Twin Cities and have continued living here since graduation.  I think of it all as a success.  And I’d have a different kind of success if I started it in September 2009 instead.

Posting Schedule!

Compact Calendar Card - Design 3 by Joe Lanman on Flickr
Compact Calendar Card - Design 3 by Joe Lanman on Flickr

I think it’s time I add a little bit of method to my posting madness.  Trent says so.

Starting now, I will be posting once every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I don’t know how this will work with future Five-Week Courses, or how vacations will fit in, or if the timing structure will cause me to add some content structure. We’ll see how it develops.

New Goal: Tame Wednesdays

Coast Guard 47 Motor Lifeboat by MikeBaird on Flickr
Coast Guard 47' Motor Lifeboat by MikeBaird on Flickr

Today was another crazy Wednesday. It was a perfect storm of the usual entropy of new student intakes, the one and only copy machine in the building breaking sometime between afternoon GED classes and evening ESL classes, and a preventable scheduling mix-up that left me short a teacher.

Honestly though, it was far from a disaster.  My new students got enough attention, my teachers got one worksheet per class via the scanner, and my Advanced class (the center of so much bad luck with their lessons!) got a decent if not elegant lesson.

I’m happy that everyone got what they needed.  Still, I’d like to limit the chaos in the future.  Some things I can do:

  1. Take a few extra moments whenever I update the schedule to ensure accuracy, and ask volunteers to quick double-check it (it’s online)
  2. Look for a regular intake volunteer (I had someone briefly, and it was awesome)
  3. Consider having a back-up or on-call volunteer teacher on Wednesdays
  4. Re-think my intake materials location.  Currently, there’s a lot of running back and forth.

There’ll still be nothing I can do if the copier suddenly breaks, but if I add more structure (and help!) to the controlling of the controllable, the things I can’t control will be easier to adapt to.


“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Flexing Learning Styles

Notes and Opinions, Together Again

Renner starts out talking about educational psychologist David Kolb’s theory.  I guess Kolb has to be on my ed psych list now because I can’t really handle his premises, at least in their truncated versions in this book.  I highlighted it on the syllabus for future study.

Goal, by ItsGreg on Flickr
Goal, by It'sGreg on Flickr

I have an issue with the idea that since learning is governed by a person’s needs and goals, educational objectives must exist in order for “the process of learning” to not be “erratic and inefficient.”

  1. A need and a goal are different; this appears to treat them as the same thing.
  2. Learning does not have to be of constant intensity to be effective.  In fact, I’ve experienced the opposite.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with not learning as quickly as humanly possible.
  4. I don’t believe that specifically enumerated objectives and “erratic and inefficient” learning are mutually exclusive, which is what this summary implies.

Renner says that in his Learning Style Inventory (LSI), Kolb groups learning behavior into “four statistically different styles.”  Perhaps I’m showing my ignorance of the field, but this phrase is too vague for me to have any use for it.  I get that the phrase implies that quantitative research has been done, but come on.  Impressing me by saying “look!  research!” isn’t enough.  Anyway, the categories are:

  • Converger – unemotional, likes things, likes to apply ideas practically
  • Diverger – imaginative, likes people, likes multiple points of view
  • Assimilator – logical, likes to make theories
  • Accommodator – intuitive, likes people, likes to test theories against reality

I can’t decide if I’m a Diverger or Accommodator.  Since I can see it either way, I’d probably test as a Diverger.

Renner says that the purpose of having this model is not to typecast people, but to help with “needs analysis” for lesson and course planning.  Later on, almost as an afterthought, Renner mentions that Kolb lists four abilities all students need for effective experiential learning.  These closely parallel the above groupings: have an experience, think about it from many points of view (Diverger), tie experiences to theories (Assimilator), use those theries to solve problems (Accommodator, Converger).  I’m surprised he didn’t more explicitly tie these together.

Even without making this connection, Renner does specifically say that the purpose of these groups isn’t to typecast people, but to help understand students’ needs for course and lesson plans.  It comes across as a fluffy disclaimer, but I still appreciate the point.  It’s about identifying which strategies tend to feel best to a learner, not giving learners an excuse to hide from certain skills.  (One of my pet peeves is when people use their classification-of-the-day as a wall, proclaiming they “can’t” do a certain thing because they’re This Type of learner.  It’s one thing for self-proclaimed “visual learners” to take meeting notes using graphic organizers; it’s another for “visual learners” to refuse to have a conversation about something.)

Overall, it was pretty fluffy.  I have to say, it seems likely that Renner faced the choice of either providing a cursory and inadequate introduction to Kolb’s work or not mentioning it at all.  I think it’s significant that Renner decided to include it.  The more I think about it, the more I think it’s important to take a closer look at Kolb’s LSI.

The Learning. It’s Mine.

Its Mine by Gabbcan on Flickr
It's Mine by Gabbcan on Flickr

One of the reasons my 5-week course project appeals to me is because I cannot get away with being passive.  I own the entire process.  If I’m not deeply involved, it’s not going to happen at all.  It’s mine.

A couple of days after the start of my pilot project, I was reading around The Bamboo Project blog by Michele Martin.  In one post, she said:

I think that one of the reasons people are so passive about learning is because everything in society conspires to make us believe that learning is someone else’s responsibility.

It really has felt like my education was everyone’s responsibility but my own.  Don’t get me wrong – I think my education has been a good one, and I’m sure the professional guidance was even more effective than I realize.  But I had to put my own curiosity on hold to make room for all that education.  It’s taken me several homework-free years to internalize the fact that when there’s something I want to learn about, I can just go learn about it.

Speaking of which, there’s some reading I’d like to do!

On Doing Things “Well”

An ironic title for a 1AM post – I doubt this will be an exemplary piece of writing.

Yesterday I wrote about doing “good” things. The other side of my blog is doing good things “well.”

I’ll just say it: I’m a pretty smart person, pretty quick to learn and pretty quick to improvise. In my opinion, I do things pretty well.

But I think I could do better.

Moreover, I think I could make a ton of headway with just a bit of effort, so why not do it?  Seems like it’d be a great time investment.

The Project

5 by svenwerk on Flickr
5 by svenwerk on Flickr

I’ve decided take five weeks to focus on a given topic: reading, writing, and talking about it with the basic purpose of knowing more about it than when I started. Week 1 will be devoted to making a syllabus for the remaining four weeks.

The idea is that I would do several of these “courses.”  Five weeks will allow me to do some pretty decent reading but won’t leave me married to a topic I have only cursory interest in.

Leaving the Shoulds At the Door

I have no intention of pursuing courses I “should” pursue; this is for topics I’m actually interested in.  I’m also not interested in hearing (even from myself) that I “should” pursue a longer course.  I do better with short-term projects.  Why set myself up for failure, especially to start out?

I also have no intention of doing more than one course if the first one drives me nuts.  The point is to give myself some structure to foster learning and growing, not to make it an unbearable chore.  If this format doesn’t work for me, I’ll drop this project and think of something else.

But maybe it’ll resonate for someone reading about it?

The Pilot

My pilot 5-week course is based on my goal to become a better teacher. Not ‘The 5-Week Miracle.’  Just better.   Let’s define “better” as more effective and more aware of what other good teachers do than I am now.

The start of my syllabus is here.  Feel free to take a look at it.   I’m extremely open to suggestions, but please don’t be offended if I have to put them on hold for a different 5-week unit.

What would your 5-week courses be about?