Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notetaking and Pedagogy Statements

"Critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. Otherwise theory becomes simply ‘blah, blah, blah’ and practice, pure activism."  -- Paulo Freire

Yesterday was a good day. Great conversations, stimulating questions, real dialogism at work in both my undergrad and graduate classes. After my English 304 class, Dr. Doug Eskew (colleague extraordinaire!) and I  continued talking about the ways in which we might help our students succeed.

Doug agreed with many of my observations in the last blog, and then I was delighted that he shared his latest attempt to really address the issues we often see arise in our undergrad and grad classes -- specifically as it related to notetaking. His new approach, sparked by another of our fabulous colleagues, Dr. Patricia Trujillo, was to take the classic "Cornell Notetaking Method" and revise it for his own purposes. Doug had created his own template already, but as these things often occur, one thing led to another, and before you knew it, we'd spent almost an hour in my office revising and scheming in order to come up with a document we could both use -- in all of our classes, across levels. We figured that the more students began to see consistency, the better their skills would eventually become and the more likely we'd be to see real improvement in class discussion, critical reading of texts, and reading responses in the form of our students' blogs.

To that end, beginning this week, my graduate students and undergrads alike will now be asked to, first, complete this form: Argument Notes anytime they are asked to read or respond to a supplementary text or assignment (that is, a reading not assigned from our core textbooks). And, I'll continue to suggest that the Lecture Note form is a terrific and logical way to keep lecture notes organized, useful, and on task. And, in order to explain how this system works, I'll provide an Overview of the Cornell Method of Notetaking to all my students as well (the graduate students got copies of each of these documents last night). I'll keep you posted, here, as to the feedback I get from students -- as well as any improvement I see in class discussions or student blogs.


Creating a pedagogy statement is not as easy as it might seem. I remember the first time that I was asked to critically think about my own pedagogy -- the one I wrote -- not the actual one I practiced in class mind you. When I was pushed to consider, line by line, what I claimed I believed, theoretically, to what I actually did in my classes, I was stunned to see that my theories didn't really match my practice. Oh, I claimed that I believed in a "decentered classroom," social constructionism, and more. But it turned out that these beliefs were in conflict with my real pedagogy -- the one that controlled my preparation for, reaction to, and practices in the day-to-day classroom setting.

It took a full year before I was able to articulate my true pedagogy, and I'll admit that I consider my annual pedagogy revision to be a crucial part of my teaching life.  I'm continually hearing new ideas, encountering new philosophies, realizing new ways of knowing, and I sincerely believe that these revelations must be reflected in my ever-evolving pedagogy (the believing and the doing).

This semester, my English 304 students are working in teams to create a pedagogy project. They'll develop, practice, and put a short teaching lesson to the test -- in a real First Year Composition classroom. They'll attempt to articulate (to novice writers) the advanced techniques they're learning in Advanced Rhetoric, and they'll adapt these theories into practices that their less-advanced peers will find relevant to the their class goals. Many of these students hope to be teachers someday, and a number of them are well on their way to becoming scholars. They're inquisitive and engaged, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of this little "experiment" were conducting together.

So, though I won't be asking the undergraduates to write a lengthy, formal pedagogy statement of their own, I think this teaching opportunity will go a long way towards helping them, eventually, develop more workable connections between practice and theory. And, as my graduate students (most of whom are teachers and all of whom are writers) work to develop their own complex statements this next few weeks, I hope that, like me, they'll be willing to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with their less experienced counterparts. Maybe some of you will too (Dr. Gregory, Andrews, Barnes, Eskew, et al).

In the meantime, I want to share a few documents that, in no particular order, have, at different times, been crucial for me as I developed, revised, and completely scraped and started anew on my own pedagogy statement. The first document [Prompts for Pedagogy Statement]offers prompts to help get you started on your philosophy (I'd credit those who originated this list, but it's really morphed into a different document over the last few years), and the second provides a nice overview on various philosophies associated with creating and then rethinking your own pedagogy:  The Philosophy of the Pedagogy. I hope these help you as you begin to think about your goals for the classroom.

Finally, a few "housekeeping" notes for classes...

English 304
Just a reminder: In lieu of your 2 required homework blogs each week, you may opt to replace one of these original posts (which one is your choice) with an original comment on this blog (; as with your other homework, this comment must be posted by no later than 11pm on Thursdays. Your three responses to your classmates blogs for each week, as normal, are due on Sundays by 11pm.

English 501
Just a reminder: You should still post your original blog entry (on the assigned readings, see last week's blog on this same site for tips and some additional direction) by no later than each Thursday at 11pm. I have told you that you may now, rather than replying to 3 of your classmates' blogs (due every Sunday by 11pm), respond to only 2 and make your third response to this blog. It's up to your -- and you may vary how you divide these responses each week. Finally, remember that next week (Feb2), you'll need to have a draft of your own pedagogy statement (rough is fine) with you in class for revision, discussion, and possible blogging.

Have a productive week! See you all soon...


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Tips on Adjusting to Graduate School

"I am returning this otherwise nicely typed paper to you, because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name on the top."  --An English Professor

Like many of my colleagues, I spend a great deal of time thinking about our graduate students -- and our future graduate students. Are we adequately preparing students for the rigors of graduate-level academic work? Do students, realistically, know what to expect in their graduate courses -- and what will be expected of them? Sadly, in too many cases, I think the answer to all of these questions is "no." And, in my experience, the students who struggle the most are not always the students who knew less or failed to adequately prepare; the students I worry about, most often, are the students who trip-trop happily along, and never adjust to their changed circumstances. And graduate school is different from undergraduate education. In more ways than one.

As I read through more than 40 student blogs (undergrad and grad-level) this morning, I decided that my first blog would address the issue of graduate school preparation in some detail. Ironically, within an hour of my (uhhh... ahem) "ground-breaking" decision, I received a fabulous email from my friend, professor, and colleague, Dr. Claire Sahlin, Chair of Women's Studies (WS) at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas. No, the email wasn't just to me -- it was to the entire WS email list at TWU. In the email, Claire mentioned that she was often asked (by students) what they could/should do to make the transition from undergrad to graduate student go more smoothly. And she had some real suggestions and a couple of interesting sources to share.

Below, I've pasted a short article Claire Sahlin provided in her email this morning, but, first, I want to offer my own short list of suggestions. Since the article I've included addresses the more personal/physical/mental aspects of success in graduate school, I've decided to comment on actual coursework issues that often come up during my graduate seminars. And, luckily, most of these tips are valuable for serious undergrads too. English 304 students, I'm talking to you!

1. Organize your work, and do it early. Don't wait until big projects are due, the night before class, or when you get in over your head... invest in a good binder, and keep all your course documents and notes neat and orderly from the start. Which leads me to...

2. Take notes. As you read and in class. I know it seems an unnecessary reminder, but every semester, I see students sit passively in class, or, like their classmates, I'm forced to sit through personal diatribes that have absolutely nothing to do with the assigned readings. While your personal experiences are certainly valid and meaningful, a graduate seminar is not the place for psychic cleansing, walks down memory lane, or ancedotal evidence. Presumably, you're in the class to learn something new, so, unless you're asked to share the personal (as is often the case, of course), remember to stick to the text, the lectures, or your own outside research. And, when you do refer to the personal stuff, make it relevant and connect it to the bigger considerations of the class.

3. Blogging, online research, and email are all key aspects of the graduate courses at CSU-Pueblo. Technology offers us unique and interesting ways to engage with one another, and I, for one, strive to utilize as many of these methods as possible in my classes. If these tools are new to you -- turn your lack of knowledge into an opportunity! These skills will be useful for other areas of your life, and you just might discover a whole new world awaiting you.

4. What goes for class discussions (see #2) goes double for online discussions (re: blogging). When you're asked to respond to a lecture or a text in a blog, remember to keep your thoughts organized, your points on topic, and your references concise. Avoid being a "one hit wonder." That is, try to engage with different ideas each week, ask questions (a great way to keep online discussions going!), and keep the personal responses to a minimum. Think future -- you're learning new ideas, reading new texts, and working with new people. Don't constantly remind us that you've known this information (or used these ideas) for years -- instead, think about how, with a new perspective, you'll use them in the future... Remember: your blogs will significantly guide our in-class discussions and will serve several additional purposes, too.* For instance, our blogs are important, because...

  •  They offer opportunities for students to reflect more deeply on the assigned readings and, through this reflection, to deepen their learning.
  • They enhance student accountability and give students more control over our time together.
  • They allow me to continually assess student interests and learning.
  • They allow reticent speakers a safe space in which to share their insights, knowledge, and "reading" of a text.

5. Get to know the people in your program. In a program that supports so many non-traditional graduate students (that is, most of our students have families and full-time jobs) it's perhaps even more important that you get to know your classmates and professors. Use breaks to talk to your neighbor or your professor, and try to find some common ground with people you might otherwise never get to meet. Though your background and personal lives are quite diverse, you chose this graduate program for a reason; though it might not always seem like it, common ground is there -- if you'll take the time to find it. And, you never know when you'll need a letter of recommendation, suggestions for post-grad studies, or late-night help from a classmate.

6. Remember that anything lower than a "B" is failing in graduate school. And, if you start to see many "Bs" on daily work, you need to work with your professors to find out where you've gone astray. Leave your ego at home, take notes, and really listen to what your profs say -- even if it seems harsh at the time. We want you to succeed, but we can't help you if you don't tell us you're struggling or if you refuse to take some constructive criticism. When in doubt -- always, always, always ask.

My list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully it'll give you some perspective on your professors' comments, ideas for improving or enhancing your class-performance, or ways to better use technology. Or, maybe it'll just give you delightful proof that you've been doing it right all along. --D. SOUDER

* Thanks to Dr. AnaLouise Keating. These points were borrowed and adapted from her WS5363 course syllabus.


5 Ways to Adjust to Graduate School
by Kristie Lorette,

The transition from undergraduate to graduate student can be an enormous one. Many things change during the transition that pretty much entirely change you life. There are things that you should know about before you enter graduate school, so that you will be prepared to deal with them. Once you deal with them, them you will be able to become adjusted to graduate school and the newness that it brings.

Have Confidence in Yourself and Your Abilities
Probably the number one thing that you will hear graduate students say is that when they first started their graduate program they started to question whether or not their college had made a mistake by accepting them. They became so overwhelmed by the enormity of their new responsibilities that they started to question their abilities to handle them. It is extremely important to your success that you maintain your confidence. You are good enough and smart enough to be there, and you can handle what graduate school throws your way or you never would have been accepted in the first place.

Tackle Your Adjustment Period
Embrace your new surroundings and your new experiences when you start your graduate program. Instead of focusing on all of the changes as being negative, turn them into a positive light. Find out as much as you can about the community that the college is located in and the student activities that the school has to offer. By planning to participate in a few activities it will be easier to acclimate yourself to your new environment. It will not always be easy to deal with the changes of living in a new city, dealing with a new program, and meeting new people, but it will get easier over time. And the more ways you proactively attack your adjustment period the less ways your adjustment period will have to tackle you!

Time Management
Being a graduate student brings a very overflowing plate of responsibility to your table. The best way to handle all of your responsibilities is to set your priorities from the beginning and then organize your schedule to carry out your responsibilities in order of importance. This will allow you to manage your time by spending more time on the important tasks and less time on the not so important tasks.

Set Specific Goals
Set specific goals to accomplish. Write them down. Don’t just come up with them in your head. After you have your goals established make a step-by-step plan on what you need to do to accomplish your goals. Schedule and manage your time in an efficient manner so that you create opportunities that will allow you to achieve your goals. Almost all graduate students go into graduate school with general goals, but they get so bogged down by their new responsibilities that they don’t really end up accomplishing any of them. By setting specific goals and writing a plan of attack you will find yourself well on the way to success.

Eat Healthy & Take Care of Yourself
Graduate school can take a mental and physical toll on your health if you let it. In order to sustain the long hours and multiple responsibilities it is important that you take care of yourself and your body. Eating healthy food instead of fast food and getting enough rest to relax your mind and body will make your adjustment to graduate much easier than if you are dragging around like a zombie.

While these are a few suggestions on how you can adjust and cope with graduate school, there are many other ways to adjust as well. You have to find the ways that best fit you.