Ending on an Up Note: Seneca on Sensitivity

Paris - Musée du Louvre: Vieux pêcheur, dit Sé...

If I’m ever asked the ol’ “Which 5 people would you ask to a dinner party?” question, I think I’ll include Lucius Annaeus Seneca. I’m grateful that so much of his wit and wisdom have survived for twenty centuries.  Given this week’s impromptu theme of building relationships with students, we’ll close with this favorite:

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”

I don’t always remember or live by those words, but it’s something to aim for.

Enjoy your weekend.


Super Site of the Week: Rita Pierson Lets It Rip

Funny how an idea starts following you around, pestering you to pay attention until you finally do, and then nagging you to do something with it.  Rita Pierson’s TED talk started following me a few Sundays ago.  Hubby and I were on a post-church mission to Wal-Mart, and in a typically selfless act of love and devotion, he left the radio on NPR.  (He prefers the Elvis channel.)

Although I heard only the last couple of minutes of her talk, I grabbed my iPhone and ordered Siri to remind me to listen to the whole thing later.  The next morning I opened my school email to find that my campus director, the previously alluded-to-as-fabulous Allisha, had sent me a link to the same talk and a featured commentary.

Rita tells all

Conversation on Teaching: Deep Learning

Conversation on Teaching: Deep Learning (Photo credit: Vandy CFT)

Ms. Pierson is an elementary teacher, but what she has to say about teaching points to true north regardless of the ages of our students. I listened to the talk again this morning, and I was struck by how it connected to yesterday’s post about developing relationships with our students.  It was especially gratifying to read an editorial in Huff Post by Ms. Pierson in which she states the following:

“Unless there is a connection between teacher, student and lesson, learning becomes tiresome to all involved. Veteran educator, James Comer, states that, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” Yet, the value of relationships is often downplayed or ignored completely in teacher preparation programs. Even more disturbing is the lack of useable information on the relationship building process. There is the belief among some that camaraderie between teachers and students leads to unprofessional familiarity or places the teacher in a weakened position in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong relationships encourage learner exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect.”

You can read her entire piece—and I promise you, it’s worth the two minutes it takes—by clicking here.

Saving the best for last

Conversation on Teaching: Deep Learning

Conversation on Teaching: Deep Learning (Photo credit: Vandy CFT)

She concludes by saying:

“Face to face interactions are seen by many as unnecessary and time-consuming. Of course, we can do just about anything online, including teaching and learning. But I guess I am just old school. I want to look into your eyes when the answer finally dawns on you. I want to hear that inflection in your voice when you are angry with me. I want to see the smile on your face when you forgive me. I want to share in the joy when we both realize that we make a good team.”

Makes me want to stand up and cheer.

Or stand up and teach.

I See You

My husband is such a patient guy.  As we were channel surfing a few nights ago, As Good as It Gets popped up in the guide, half-finished. He offered not a word of protest as I clicked over to watch it….again. Never mind that I can recite most of the dialogue; never mind that I can’t resist saying “Oh, here comes the best part” repeatedly. (In my defense, the film has a LOT of best parts.) He knows it makes me happy.

As Good as It Gets

But the bestest of the best lines in the movie come in the final moments, when Melvin convinces Carol that she should love him because he “gets” her. Here’s the speech:

“I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you’re the greatest woman on earth. I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do, and how you are with Spencer, “Spence,” and in every single thought that you have, and how you say what you mean, and how you almost always mean something that’s all about being straight and good. I think most people miss that about you, and I watch them, wondering how they can watch you bring their food, and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive. And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me.”

What does that have to do with pleasure in learning?  Only everything.

Still mystified? Well, let’s listen in to a line from a radically different film, Avatar:  “I see you.” (The theme song of the movie is also “I See You.”)  The web offers many attempts at explaining the exact meaning of the phrase in the film, but my favorite comes from Lolly Daskal’s “Lead From Within.”  She writes:

“Among the tribes in Northern Natal in South Africa, the tribes greet each other with “Sawu bona” which in the English language is equivalent to saying “hello” The phrase “Sawu bona” literally is defined as “I see you.”
If you are a member of the tribe you would reply, “Sikhona” Which in English language is equivalent to saying “I am here”
The order of the greeting of this exchange is important. And what it is saying…in literal translation.
UNTIL YOU SEE ME~ I do not exist.
Which means: when you see me you bring me into existence.

Feeling like a part of a group is a powerful pleasure that we can leverage to help our students learn. But no one can feel like part of a group unless his or her existence is acknowledged, especially by the group leader. Early on in this blog, Pat urged us to “Learn Their Names.” That’s a good place to start, but I’m learning the value of taking a few more steps to learn something about each student as a person…to really see him or her.

Do you have pets? Do you have a job outside of school and home? Where are you from originally? What do you/did you do in the service? What does that tattoo mean? It isn’t hard to learn a lot by just listening before and after class and at break. Once students realize that you really see them…really “get” them, to quote Melvin again…they are much more likely to come by your office for help when they need it. They pay closer attention when you speak. They try harder.

We literally “bring our learners into existence” by seeing them.

Tech Tuesday: PowerPoint Outline View

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


Today is the last post in a four part series on PowerPoint.  Make sure you’ve voted on the topics that interest you!

Last week I showed you a quick keyboard shortcut for reducing the indent level of a bullet.  This week I’m going to show you an application of this skill.  If you need to include large volumes of lists in your slide show, you should try outline view.  Use the View tab to switch to Outline View.

In the pane on the left you can easily type bulleted text on multiple slides.  You can also easily reorder bullets or slides by dragging them to new locations.

Outline View

If you already have an outline created, say in Word, you can create a New Slide based on that Outline.  Just use the New Slide button arrow and select Slides from Outline.

Slides from Outline

Never Trust a Skinny Cook

MasterChef_Logo_&_WordmarkCooking shows, especially “reality” cooking competitions, are among my growing list of guilty pleasures.  Aw, heck, why do I even say guilty…there are probably worse ways to wind down after a long day. The judges of the contestants’ efforts come in a variety of shapes and personalities. Some are nasty, others kindly. Some are svelte, others Falstaffian. My husband is amused by Graham Elliot, currently a judge on Fox TV’s Master Chef, whose habitus definitely falls in the latter category.  Chef Graham always makes a great show of smelling a dish before tasting it, clearly deriving great pleasure from the experience.  We might fret over his long-term health prospects, but we’re pretty confident that he knows something about the pleasure to be derived from food.

No time to taste

If we believe that pleasure is an important tool for leveraging learning, then we ought to emulate Chef Elliot, actively seeking and  savoring learning experiences. During the school year, it’s easy to slip into a restricted learning diet. We read the things we have to/ought to in our discipline. We read the things we should/must to improve our pedagogy and (we hope) keep our jobs. Sometimes this doesn’t leave much room for the “desserts” that we informavores really crave:  exploring something totally new that reminds us how much fun it is to learn. grahamelliot

The TV foodie judges sometimes ask the purveyor of an unsuccessful dish, “Did you taste this? Because it is _______.” (Undercooked, under seasoned, too salty, too hot, etc.)

The contestant typically responds, “No, Chef, I didn’t have time.”

Sometimes I am that chef.  I don’t offer the best learning experiences to my students because I haven’t “tasted” anything that’s very challenging to learn myself for awhile. My lessons taste stale because I’m stale. I need to personally taste both the frustration and the joy of acquiring a new skill or new knowledge. I’ve become a skinny cook.

Fattening up

And that’s why God created summer. I love these long, unstructured days when I can gorge on whatever bonbons of knowledge strike my fancy.  I can fatten up on books, both edifying reads and frankly junky page-turners. I can browse the net. I can stream movies through the Roku. Last summer I bought a good boogie board and kinda-sorta figured out how to navigate the surf. This summer I may take a paddleboarding lesson.

spencerian2The UPS fairy has already delivered the materials for my first project: Spencerian Copybooks 1-5. After reading a post on Slate about Spencerian penmanship, I decided to give it a try.  My sweet friend Charlotte Nelson has the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen, having learned the Spencerian technique as a school girl in Iowa a few decades ago. I hope to improve my doctor scrawl, a mangled version of the Palmer method foisted on me in the 60’s, as an homage to her. There will probably be some smiling and some swearing in the effort, and I bet I’ll learn something about learning.

Have You Found THE Burning Question?

English: Logo of The Huffington Post

English: Logo of The Huffington Post (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago, my campus director, Allisha, sent me the link to a post by Jack Levison of Huff Post: “What I Learned from a Master Teacher.” Allisha is a fellow believer in the power of good teaching to transform lives, so she often offers encouragement and ideas to the faculty that she shepherds at our campus.  She is the best sort of leader, quietly effective, attentive to students and faculty, and always thinking of ways to solve problems….she’s the most talented logistician I’ve ever known. So when Allisha speaks, literally or digitally, I listen.

The story

For those readers too busy to click the link to the post, I’ll summarize: Mr. Levison recalls a teacher from his freshman year of college who entered the classroom on the first day and, without saying a word, wrote “panta ischuo en to endunamounti me” on the board. He offered a single hint about the meaning of the words. Then, Levison relates, “This snippet led us down the chute of learning into a discussion about theories of translation — in our first 10 minutes of the new school year!” 

The strategy

ImagineLevison goes on to explain how this event has inspired his teaching for many years. Referring to himself as “a driving instructor for the mind,” he touts the value of beginning each new class with a puzzle. (I envy his “job description” and his ingenuity!) I want to know that my students are doing what the students did in that long-ag0 classroom, “learning to question, to wonder, to imagine new world views and not just new words.” (Emphasis mine.) As Temple Grandin reminds us in her writing that I referenced in yesterday’s post, SEEKING is a powerful emotion that shapes behavior.

The conundrum

The Question Is What Is the Question?

Now for the tricky part: where do I find these magical questions?  Currently, I begin each class with a bell ringer question related to the topic of the day.

  • How much urine does an elephant produce in a day?
  • What is the cost of a heart transplant?
  • How many words are in an average person’s vocabulary?
  • If you break your hip, what are your odds of dying in the next year?
  • What is the world record for assisted bench press?

My students enjoy guessing the answers, and they certainly enjoy raiding the candy can during break when their table has the best guess. It’s fun for me to come up with the questions and to create illustrated slides to present them.

The assignment

A woman thinking

A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, I suspect there are better questions out there….questions that would invite students to “question, wonder, and imagine” rather than just guess a number. My friend Pat, math teacher extraordinaire, recently shared a story about giving his students a problem that involved finding the most economical way to move a large quantity of cans from one state to another. (Maybe if we all beg, he will write a post about it. Please, Pat, do it!) As I shared yesterday, my students respond well to hypothetical clinical situations that allow them to use their newly minted knowledge of how the body works.

Maybe I need to open the class with these problems instead of saving them until the end of the session. Coming up with a term’s worth of scenarios could be a real challenge. Hmm…this is beginning to sound like a worthy summer project.  Anyone have ideas to share?

Creating the Best Life…for Students?

English: Temple Grandin at a book signing at R...

I “met” Temple Grandin as I was pulling into a T.J.Maxx parking lot. It takes a lot to deter me from a bargain shopping sortie, but I sat in the car, mesmerized, for the next 15 minutes as she was interviewed by WHYY’s Terry Gross on NPR.  You can hear a collection of Fresh Air‘s interviews with Dr. Grandin by clicking here.  (You won’t be disappointed…I really don’t have words to describe the experience of hearing her speak.)

Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950 when that condition was not the household word it is today. Disregarding advice that she be institutionalized, her parents sought the best educational facilities for her. Because of their wisdom, she was able to develop her considerable intellect, ultimately earning a doctoral degree in animal science in 1989. She has been an activist for autism, a consultant to the livestock industry, a bestselling author, and the subject of a motion picture in which she was portrayed by (gasp!) Clare Danes. Not too shabby.

Summer Reading: Part 1

I’ve been reading Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals on my Kindle reader, and I’m finding something on almost every page that applies to my teaching, my relationship with my beloved corgi Julep, or both! (Click here for the Amazon page for the book, which features a Q&A with the author.) Now, I realize that some people get all worked up when we start talking about humans—and students in particular—as animals. But, hey, I teach anatomy and physiology.  The parallels are hard to ignore.

Cover of "Animals Make Us Human: Creating...

In the opening pages of the book, Dr. Grandin lists “five freedoms animals should have:

  • freedom from hunger and thirst
  • freedom from discomfort
  • freedom from pain, injury, or disease
  • freedom to express normal behavior
  • freedom from fear and distress”

These are things we all want and deserve, whether we are human or canine, student or professor.  I’m comfortable leaving the “hunger and thirst” item up to my students, although I do schedule a break to take care of those needs. I try to regulate the temperature in my classroom/lab, and I wish I could change the seats. We try to keep things safe, taking care of #3. The last 2 items are the ones that have me thinking.

“Freedom from fear and distress”

Wow.  I’m still amazed by the number of teachers who fail to see that a stressful, judgmental atmosphere in which students fear their instructor is an adverse learning environment. Seriously, do these folks really think that we’re impressed when they trumpet how tough their courses are and what iron fists they have? I DO feel that students need to be accountable for their behavior and their performance, and I insist that they demonstrate that they have mastered the material necessary to complete the course. However, my students should know that I am on their side, literally cheering them on rather than trying to trip them up.

“Freedom to express normal behavior”

English: An inquisitive squirrel visits a city...

Here’s the really interesting item: Grandin states that emotions always precede behavior, and she credits neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp with identifying the “blue ribbon” emotions that control animal behavior. One of these is SEEKING (Dr. Panskepp always writes the blue ribbon emotions in all caps), which is defined as “the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of the environment.”  Grandin goes on to explain: “SEEKING is a combination of emotions people usually think of as being different: wanting something really good, looking forward to getting something really good, and curiosity, which most people don’t think of as an emotion at all.”

Aha! This is something I can really use! I can leverage the fact that my students want something good (knowledge, a grade, a career, a great experience in my class), look forward to getting something really good (everyday should have a party!), and….best of all…curiosity.  I just have to figure out how to do it. Wait a minute!  I am looking forward to using this and getting good results, and I’m curious about how to do it.

Julep proves Grandin is right

With these ideas still churning in my head, I put Julep on her leash and headed out the door for a nice walk. We’re spending the summer a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean here in Florida, and we both enjoy exploring an environment so different from our western Kentucky headquarters. She’s always excited when she sees me lacing up my walking shoes–she’s wanting something really good and looking forward to getting something really good–a walk! Julep lunged for the grassy island across from our driveway, ears pricked and tailless rump twitching.

Julep meets a tortoise

Julep meets a tortoise

What had caught her attention? She had spotted a tortoise, and the ensuing encounter was worth grabbing my iPhone to take a shot. Eventually we continued on our walk as planned, but she insisted on revisiting the site of the adventure on our return and has checked it out on every subsequent trip outside.

How to push that button?

Curiosity…what a powerful motivator. How can I use my students’ innate curiosity to help them learn?  As I wondered about this, I recalled an episode from my last A&P II class. In an effort to put some relevance and emotion into a discussion of mechanisms that control blood pressure, I used a clinical scenario from my instructor resources. The case was illustrated with a single unremarkable photo of a young man, supplemented with a written history, lab data, and vital signs.  We worked through the initial steps of the exercise, but then reached a point that required knowledge of some renal mechanisms we hadn’t yet covered.

“We’ll stop here for now,” I announced, “but we’ll come back and finish saving him in a couple of weeks when we know more.” And promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward. After slogging through renal physiology and fluid and electrolyte balance, we were all pretty tired. “Aren’t we going to save the guy?” someone asked.

“What guy?”

“The guy with the septic shock…we’ve all been worrying about him.”

So save him we did.  I hope my students learned something good that day.  I know I did.