Reading and Writing as Mindful Practices

Special acknowledgement to Asao Inoue for his hard and thoughtful work in collaborating on this this handout with me.

Reading and Writing as Mindful Practices

“Some people, especially the very young, are good at noticing things that the rest of us don’t see or have ceased to notice. Growing up, we all become increasingly desensitized to the world around us; we tend to forget the specific things that get us to feel and think in particular ways.” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 15)

Listening. We take the act for granted, but what do you do when you read or listen to a text, another person speaking to you, or something on your personal computer? What is happening in your head as you listen to someone else say something to you? What is happening in your mind as you read these words? Are you fully and undividedly listening to the words on this page as you read them in your head? Chances are, if you are like almost everyone else on the planet, your attention is divided to some degree. You may be reading these words, but you are also thinking of other things.

“…we aren’t the victims of declining intelligence, but of habit. That is, as we organize our lives so that we can function more efficiently, we condition ourselves to see in more predictable ways and to tune out things that are not immediately relevant to our daily needs.” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 15-16)

Have you ever read a page or even a chapter from something, finished reading or paused, then realized that you don’t know much of what you had just read? Your mind was multitasking as you were reading. This multitasking of the mind actually keeps you from reading academic and dense texts carefully and critically, even to the point of not really knowing what you just read.

“Moving along the roadway in cars, we periodically realize that miles have gone by while we were driving on automatic pilot, attending barely at all to the road or the car or the landscape. Arguably, even when we try to focus on something that we want to consider, the habit of not really attending to things stays with us.” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 16)

If you are like most people, there are other voices in your head as you read a book or this page – or do anything in your daily life, really. These voices, we might say, are an ongoing, running monologue to yourself about anything and everything, your own voice speaking to you in your mind as read these words, telling you that you are hungry, or that you should have worn that green shirt today, or that you don’t really understand the point of this class, or that you’re anxious about a job or dating prospect, etc. This is normal. Everyone’s mind does it. In fact, one might say it is how our minds work, but they don’t always work this way. Occasionally, our minds are silent for a moment. In that moment, we aren’t thinking of anything. There is no monologue. When this happens, we are the most aware and alert to things around us, including words.

Many have found ways to silence the monologue intentionally so that a deeper awareness of what is happening in one’s life, such as reading a text, can occur, a deeper awareness of what these words mean and don’t mean, what they could mean, and what might be underneath them, assumed by the writer, tacit or implied. This kind of listening to words we read in silence takes practice, but it’s easy to begin doing.

Mindful Reading

Mindful reading is reading when your mind is most calm and silent – that is, reading when the monologue has stopped. The key is to find some practices that will help you stop the monologue, at least for a time, so that you can read a text more carefully, more focused, more aware of its nuances and possible meanings. To mindfully read a text, do the following before you begin any session of reading:

  • Find a quiet, distraction-free place with little or no ambient noise or motions in the background. This is important. Sounds and sights around us in small ways take our attention away from a text when we read, even when we don’t realize it. Silence and the absence of motion in the environment are your friends when trying to silence the monologue and find focus and awareness when reading.
  • Create a comfortable, upright bodily position in which to read. If we are going to read with purpose, it makes sense to get our bodies into a position of intention. When you are upright and your back is straight, your diaphragm has more freedom to articulate your lungs—physiologically, you can get the most oxygen to your brain, helping your body stay alert. It’s not really a good idea to read lying down. That bodily position is not conducive to alertness and awareness, which is important for carefully reading a text. When you lie down your body begins to shift into rest and relaxation mode. This might work well for you for casual or leisurely reading, but reading academic texts is a different kind of act with different purposes requiring a different type of agency, namely more focus and attention than you might be used to giving while reading.
  • Spend 2-5 minutes just breathing mindfully. There is lots of research that shows the benefits of mindfulness practices. One of the benefits is helping one to focus just on the body so that the mind’s monologue subsides. There are several ways to mindfully breath, but to start, try sitting in your comfortable, upright position, closing your eyes, and breathing in through your nose, deeply and slowly, then out through your mouth slowly and completely. As you breathe, notice the feelings in your body, in your nose as the air comes in, in your belly and throat as you exhale. Just pay attention to those physical sensations. When your mind begins to talk to you, notice the thought and let it go. Don’t pursue it or worry about it. Notice and release it. It’s okay to have thoughts during mindful breathing. If you practice this, you’ll find it easier to clear your mind, but clearing your mind is not the point. The point is to focus on your body, on your breathing. Just be right there in the moment, breathing.
  • If you can, ring a bell or chime and focus on the sound. By focusing on the sound of the bell as it fades, listening to it, following the sound as it gets softer and softer, you will notice that your mind becomes quieter. Your mind is busy listening to that sound as it fades, searching for hints of its tone. You can repeat this several times. The reason this activity works to help quiet your mind and move you toward a more focused awareness is because of the silence. The silence is actually more important than the sound of the bell. In a sense, you are really listening to silence, which helps your mind settle and focus.

Works Cited

Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephen, eds. “The Analytical Frame of Mind.” Writing Analytically. Custom 7th Edition. Stamford: Cengage, 2015. 1-38. Print.

A PDF version of his handout is available here.

Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 04 – Pathbrite

Pathbrite Logo

Fresno State DISCOVERe: Day 4 Reflection – Pathbrite

As an English teacher and rhetorician, I am always thinking about purpose, audience, and context, and I want my composition students to be thinking about these things too, particularly when they generate a portfolio at the end of our courses as a kind of culminating experience. When we were introduced to pathbrite and ePortfolios earlier in the week, my interest was initially piqued, thinking this could be a new opportunity for students to consider purpose, audience, and context. In today’s pathbrite breakout session, I’m further convinced that this will be a move in a positive direction, potentially redefining what portfolios look like in our university’s first year writing program.

Pathbrite LogoAs our world context changes—digital literacies becoming an intrinsic part of academic literacy and citizenship in general—it only makes sense that portfolios in our first year writing program should evolve to reflect those world context changes. But my sense is that pathbrite can allow us to do more than merely shift portfolios from one textual form to another (from print to digital media in this case). The element of public consumption—that added dimension of audience and purpose—will invite both students and faculty to orient these texts differently throughout the writing process, from annotating texts they read to editing texts for final publication. In the past, I have invited my students to consider both their real audience (their classmates and me) and their imagined, ideal audience (a broader college-educated audience, other interested public intellectuals, the authors they’re responding to in their writing, etc.). Pathbrite allows us to shift parts of the imagined, ideal audience toward the real audience. This will certainly effect the way both students and faculty think about student writing because their writing and the publication thereof more closely reflects real-world writing models.

Jeremiah Henry to Speak at National Convention

4C15headerThe Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is pleased to announce that Jeremiah Henry will be speaking at the CCCC 2015 Annual Convention.

Henry, of California State University, Fresno, will be presenting during the session, “Better Breathers are Better Learners.” Henry’s presentation is titled “Piecing Together Peace: A Grammar and Rhetoric of Mindfulness in the Writing Classroom.”

The session will be held from 10:30 AM to 11:45 AM on Thursday, March 19, 2015.

Each year the CCCC Convention draws college faculty members from around the world. They gather to hear award-winning keynote speakers, attend presentations by colleagues on the latest innovations in education, and network to gain knowledge of best practices in the field. The 2015 CCCC Convention will be held March 18-21, 2015, in Tampa, FL.

For more information, or to register for the Convention, visit http://www.ncte.org/cccc/conv/.

Why Study English and Literature?

World Peace

English Literature and Literacy as Movement Toward Peace

My immediate and future goals in English studies and scholarship grow, at least in part, as a response to the literacy needs of the communities in which I have been studying. In a variety of ways, my local community is a borderland: generally speaking, the millennials—those who make up the majority of my peers in my local chapter of English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta along with the base population of my own students at the same university—encounter, interact, and experience literary texts through technology in a way that is quite different than I did just a few years ago; the central valley of California is also home to immigrant families from Latin America and is also refuge to several cultural groups recently subject to diaspora, all of whom possess home discourses that are unique yet on the border from the discourse presently valued in academia. Both the hegemonic and non-hegemonic millennials I have mentioned are on borders and are seeking literacy, if only implicitly by their choice to be at the university—thus I see it as my mission to help them, through various literatures, to seek and to have genuine encounters with other minds who may have world experiences quite different from their own, encounters that are independent from space and time though at times contextualized by both. This is at the heart of collegial literacy as I see it.

Through composition and literature, my goal is to help nurture the minds of my students and colleagues so that they become the peacemakers of the future. To that end, I am presently working on my master’s thesis in English literature along with a certificate of advanced study in composition.World Peace My next step is to apply for a PhD program where I hope to extend my work in literature and composition studies with a movement toward teaching language to communities that are technologically and culturally diverse. Ultimately, through my master’s thesis, certificate, and future PhD program, I wish to foster literacy in my communities because I believe in the power of language to do the work of that which has no other antecedent motive or purpose: although reading and writing are indeed practices of self-discovery, literacy in language and literature defragments diverse discourse communities. Literacy is the path from war and separation toward understanding, unity, and peace.

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Flipping the Classroom Word Cloud

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Trends in Education Technology, Journal #9

Although I have been a teaching associate with my university’s first year writing program for three years now, we all have an orientation at the beginning of each academic year. During my orientation this fall, one of my colleagues presented an altered curriculum—or rather an altered approach—to teaching English 5A/5B. The most significant alteration was that her course was part of a larger faculty cohort across the disciplines that is piloting the university’s DISCOVERe program—an initiative to run classes 100% through tablets. Throughout her presentation, she kept referring to this idea of the “flipped” classroom, and while I found the term fuzzy at the time, I got the sense that it was something of a colloquial term for a constructivist approach to instruction—an approach that redirects or “flips” the emphasis in the classroom from the teacher/lecturer/professor/master to the student/learner. While my intuition was close, further investigation in the 2014 Horizon Report neatly bridges the gap between the idea of a “flipped” classroom and a constructivist approach to instruction.

The idea of pointing learners to objective knowledges outside of the classroom is not new to me. Jordan Shapiro (2013) talked about this in his article on forbes.com when he shares how instead of delivering the materials for objective knowledge inside of the classroom, he “flips” this paradigm by delivering those materials digitally and outside of the classroom. This enables us to redirect our face-to-face energy from ingesting material to digesting material. In the reading and writing classroom, for example, instead of focusing our time on reading a text together, we do stuff with texts together—together as collaborators, teachers and learners make meaning. As Johnson, Adams, Estrada, & Freeman (2014) explain, this paradigm “[enables] students to spend valuable class-time immersed in hands-on activities that often demonstrate the real world applications of the subject they are learning” (p. 36). So “flipping” the classroom is essentially a move toward a constructivist paradigm, utilizing digital technologies as a mediator to serve instructional materials to learners outside of the classroom.

Flipping the Classroom Word Cloud

Johnson et al. (2014) points to a resource on flipping the classroom which I have found particularly useful. Jennifer Demski (2013) offers a list of 6 tips from experts on how to flip a classroom. One thing she points to which I believe takes considerable skill and energy on the part of the teacher is to anticipate what students need during the first moments of class, letting the students decide what the particular foci will be during class time. She offers some strategies from Robert Talbert—professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University—including having students use clickers to take a quick quiz at the beginning of class. This is essentially a quick kind of formative assessment, one that requires a certain flexibility and agility in class planning. To be successful with this strategy, instructors must have the ability to respond to their learners needs at a moment’s notice, and if they teach the same course more than once concurrently, different groups of learners may have different needs on any given day with any given topic, adding even more demand from a teacher’s curricular agility. The benefit here, though, is that you always enable students to pursue not what you think they need but what you know they need. Because they tell you exactly what they need. This approach is not without its perils and pitfalls, however.

Unless curriculum and assessment has built in to it a way to value and evaluate the labor that must take place outside of class, this flip is destined to flop. Flipping the classroom depends on student labor outside of the classroom, so if they show up to class not having done the assigned labor, they’re not able to do anything because they do not have the foundation on which to do anything. Suddenly we’re back to the classroom and lecture being the point of delivery of instructional materials. Essentially, if students have not been motivated to do the labor outside of class, they are not likely to do it. This is why I believe implementing a grading contract is crucial. Grading contracts nudge evaluation away from the product and put it on the process; it asks the question, “Did you do the labor (outside of class) to the letter and in the spirit in which it was asked?” and so long as you construct that labor as something that is assessable, i.e. have them turn something in electronically in advance of the class that’s scheduled to do something with that labor and attach that labor to their grade for the course in some way, students will be motivated to do the labor they need so that we can collaborate and construct meaning with those materials in class.


References

Demski, J. (2013, January 23). 6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom. Campus Technology. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Shapiro, J. (2013, August 26). We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom. Forbes. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Accessibility in Mind with Curriculum Design

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #8

As a teacher of composition and rhetoric, I feel as though I already have a special affinity for the concept of universal design for learning. In the composition classroom, we spend a lot of time and energy with unpacking our attitudes and assumptions we have about the things we hear, see, and read; along the same lines, we spend equal amounts of time and energy in developing tools to unpack (i.e. detect and question) attitudes and assumptions held by the writers of texts that we encounter. This is a major piece of my curriculum on analysis. Additionally, as my teaching is aligned from a rhetorical perspective, I’m always urging my students to be conscious and considerate of their audience when they compose something. The only way they can give their audience what their audience needs is to first know who their audience is and what their needs are. It only makes sense that as a teacher I do the very same thing: I must be aware of who my audience is (i.e. my students) so that I can figure out what they need from me. To that end, I completely identify with Lewis & Sullivan (2012) when they assert that when students encounter barriers with the curriculum just as those with disabilities encounter problems accessing a building, it’s not the fault of the student or the disabled but of the curriculum and the building (p. 348-49). Curriculum that fails to acknowledge the diverse needs of its audience is not the audiences’ problem, it’s the curriculum’s problem. As such, curriculum must be revised in order to be more universal for learning.

One thing I have been doing recently to make my class more universal is making sure that every single electronic document I generate meets accessibility standards (as assessed by the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker)—this insures that all of my documents can be read accurately and efficiently by a variety of eReaders and other assistive technologies. Just as Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest, I find that I save quite a bit of time designing those documents with accessibility in mind rather than having to revise old documents where I did not have accessibility in mind (p. 348). I also quite like the way it forces me to think about accessibility and my audience as I generate materials for class consumption.

In my ongoing interests in the conversation of whether or not to incorporate tablets into the classroom and beyond, this chapter helped me realize that tablets have the capability of decreasing the both the learning distance and the social distance between disabled students and non-disabled students. Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest that in addition to assistive technologies being expensive and bulky, they can often alienate or distance the user from the rest of the students not using assistive technologies (p. 349). Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of doing the same things that a variety of assistive technologies can do. So not only are they multi-function devices in the sense of having a multiplicity of assistive features: they’re also the same devices that everyone else is using. That being said, I can only conclude that tablets, being a universal technology, would eliminate the problem of “assistive distance.”


References

Lewis, J., & Sullivan, S. (2012). Diversity and Accessibility. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #5

I believe that assessment is about more than merely providing a kind of currency-value to students’ learning—assessment and evaluation should also be used to help teachers and instruction designers assess and evaluate themselves and their own curriculum so that they can revise it. Formative and summative assessment are tools that I’m already familiar with, and since I became aware of these assessment methods during my time in English 270 back in 2012, I frequently use them as tools to tweak my curriculum on week-to-week, unit-to-unit, and course-to-course bases. Of course we need ways to assess and evaluate what our students are doing—we are subject to educational structures that demand an accounting of students’ learning, but if 100% of our evaluative focus is on something as slippery as “student performance of learning outcomes,” we miss critical opportunities to see that if students are failing curriculum, there may be problems with curriculum. To that end, Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation has given me something to think about.

Evaluation and assessment of instruction design and curriculum should take into consideration each piece of Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation, but I would extend that strategy to be even more reflective. Scriven (1991) defines evaluation as a “process of determining the merit, worth, and value of things” (p. 97). So in terms of curriculum design, we must figure out a set of learning objectives or outcomes and have a way to assess the degree to which learners are able to perform those objectives over time. What I particularly like about this model is that designer’s should think about the merit of those learning outcomes. Indeed, learning outcomes should be those things which have intrinsic ed-u-ca-tion, evaluation, assessment value within a given system. And in my own thinking, I believe that another important step in this process of designing and revising curriculum should be to constantly ask the following questions: Why do we value these learning outcomes or objectives? What is the nature of their merit? For example, Stufflebeam’s CIPP Evaluation Model calls for an evaluation of context, “the assessment of the environment in which an innovation or program will be used to determine the need and objectives for the innovation” (Johnson & Dick, 2014, p. 97). I would take that a step further and suggest that we must ask why that environment (context) has those particular needs. Concerning my post-structuralist analysis of these evaluation models, the same thing holds true for Rossi’s Five-Domain Evaluation model. The first dimension of that model is the needs assessment: “Is there a need for this type of program in this context?” but that question neglects an equally important question: “WHY does this context have this particular need to begin with, and is that need justified based on value systems that are of intrinsic value and benefit to everyone?” In other words, we should constantly seek to understand the underlying structures that attempt to justify the connection between a thing and that thing’s merit. This is especially crucial if we think about how those structures change over time or how the objects within those structures change over time.

Absolutely vital to the design process is Stufflebeam’s input process in the CIPP Evaluation Model. It calls for an accounting of all resources that are required to make a program’s goals attainable (Johnson & Dick, 2012, p. 98). Growing from my experience in having to teach the Early Start English program in summer 2014, this is definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future. One of the reasons why I believe this program failed is because it failed to deliver on what was agreed upon during the program’s input process. During the input process, we were promised specific spaces and equipment, thus we designed our curriculum and it’s learning outcomes with those spaces and equipment as a key component thereof. When the university failed to deliver on that space and equipment, the curriculum could not adapt. Ultimately, if the input process fails, an entire program could also be destined to fail.


References

Johnson, R., & Dick, W. (2012). Evaluation in Instructional Design: A Comparison of  Evaluation Models. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #4

Constructivism

First and foremost, I will absolutely acknowledge my bias toward the reading from Chapter 5. Since day 1 in the teaching associate program for this university’s Department of English, I have taken a constructivist approach to teaching and instructional design (as do my mentors). Reiser and Dempsey also show their bias with sentences like “Some of the negative response to constructivism was due to statements like ‘learners construct their own reality’ and ‘assessments should be goal free’ that traditionalist appropriately perceived as over the top (my emphasis)” (46). I understand that phrases like “learners construct their own reality” sound ambiguous and not quantifiable, but—as Kenneth Burke writes about in his book Language as Symbolic Action, the nature of language is such that the words we use to name things, describe things, and communicate things, at once is a selection and a deflection of reality. This is what Burke refers to as Terministic Screens and, by extension, The Negative. For example, in the United States, we refer to the America’s separation from British colonial powers as the American Revolution whereas across the Atlantic, the same historical event is referred to as the American Rebellion. Like it or not, language does construct our reality. Though learn through a variety of means, we learn largely through language. So learners do construct their own reality through language vis-à-vis terministic screens.

“Like all approaches, constructivism solves some problems while perhaps creating others” (47). I hear Dr. Bohlin in the back of my mind asking, “Really? Do all approaches create problems?” I understand that this is merely a transitional move so that Reiser and Dempsey can bring up their concerns with constructivist approaches to instructional design, so I’ll let that one go for now.

Incidentally, I agree with their primary concern: are students prepared to have the “hardest work” and “most interesting decisions” put on their plate (47)? I think having an awareness of these questions and working through them forces teachers to become more aware of their audience, a rhetorical move that teachers themselves ask students to do in reading and writing classrooms. Having said that, one way to further address this concern is to work a system of a “gradual release of responsibility” so that at the beginning of your curriculum (on the large scale) or of your lesson (on the small scale), you gradually release the responsibility of making the “most interesting decisions” and the “hardest work” as your students become ready for those tasks. But this does require teachers to pay attention to who they’re teaching.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #3

The Problem with “Increased Performance”

While I still have certain linguistic and rhetorical problems with starting a topic at the level of definition, I am pleased to see Chapter 1, “What Field Did You Say You Were In?” take up the question as to what we mean when we attempt to define the field Educational Technology (or, rather, Instructional Design and Technology by using terms like “improve performance.” According to the 2008 take on the definition, the phrase “improve performance” seems to mean the ability for learners to apply what they learn (4). (I realize I’m using MLA style documentation for these journal entries, but since this is informal writing, I’m using the style that’s familiar to me so that it’s easy for me to appropriate citations and such for later uses).

That being said, the word “performance” is still rather contentious, especially when the authors conflate student performance in an educational setting with performance in the workplace. Do the authors really mean to conflate “performance” in a workplace under a capitalist business model with “performance” in an educational setting where, arguably, capitalist business models do not serve the best interests of academics? Is the motivating factor behind academia a for-profit one? I’m doing my best to suspend my disbelief and to read with the grain here, but I have to say that Reiser and Dempsey are already on shaky ground. Perhaps what they describe as “meaningful performance” later in Chapter 2—“thus, there should be a high degree of congruence between the learning environment and the setting in which the actual behaviors are performed [in the “real” world]”—is what they mean when they conflate “improved performance” as hand-in-hand in educational settings and in the workplace (11). With this, I wholeheartedly agree and foster this very constructivist practice in my own writing classrooms. My students never read, write, and think solely for their English teacher: we collaborate together concerning topics and issues that matter to them, and they are always given the opportunity to research and, think, and write about what is important to them (just like how writing exists in the “real” world where no one actually writes a 5-paragraph essay).

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #2

Educational Technology and Rhetoric

One trend that I’ve noticed as I’ve begun to converse and network with other teachers is that teachers frequently default to a mode of communication that is response-centered rather than understanding-centered. In other words, teachers tend to listen to respond rather than listen to understand. I believe this happens because teachers are frequently put in the position of being asked questions and having answers expected from them. I’ve observed the communication style of my colleagues in this course to hold true to this. To be clear, though, I don’t mean to use this space as a place to vent or complain but rather to use this situation as a springboard into a brief discussion about where I see opportunities for educational technology to shine.

Listening first to understand rather than first to respond is a communication style that is not new: rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke and Psychologist Carl Rogers were talking about this back in the 50s. Both Burke and Rogers submit that in order for all parties in an argument to be able to move forward toward a solution (a solution, for Burke, being movement toward peace), we must make our first priority to understand each other so that we can move toward common ground (peace).

That being said, I want to return to one of the important points from this Forbes article where Shapiro suggests that educational technology has great use outside of the classroom where it can be used to communicate “objective” knowledges, the kind of formal knowledge Heidegger described as stuff that fills the empty vessels of our students’ minds. Educational technology allows for this kind of knowledge exchange to happen outside of the classroom which enables us as teachers to foster healthy rhetoric in the face-to-face classroom where we can make it our first priority to get our students to seek to understand ideas by asking questions, seeking ambiguities, feeling comfortable in spaces of uncertainty where the real thinking happens, rather than pressuring them to have the “right” response on a test.

I see this as one of the most powerful and compelling implications for instructional design and technology, and it is my personal goal to continue to think about how I can design my curriculum and evolve my pedagogy to allow me to continue to trend toward making my classroom a rhetorical space where we privilege grey areas and approach problems from a position of inquiry where our goal is to seek a sense of mutual understanding before we pass judgment when our impulse is merely to respond.