How Blended Learning Can Pack More Objectives in Your EAP Writing Classes

This is my presentation from MITESOL 2015. It explores how EAP instructors can use Nearpod, Quizlet, Versal, and their university’s own CMS to accomplish more tasks in the same amount of time in their often objectives-packed writing courses.

Choosing a Good Topic: Nearpod

This is a Nearpod I created for my 094 Graduate Writing for International Students class. With this homework tool, I was able to embed this Nearpod into our Blackboard shell, assign this task for the weekend, and have students arrive on Monday with fairly focused topics that we could fine-tune and start working on right away. I received all of their responses in a .PDF report, and I was able to read what they had written and come into class with my own feedback ready to go as well.

Upper-Level Writing Class: Versal 

This is the Versal page I used to teach my students APA and Parallel Structures. As you can see, the units require completion before you can move on to the next, and I was able to track my enrolled students as they completed the tasks.

Student-Created Vocabulary Set: Quizlet 

In this class I created a vocabulary card for each word, but left the definitions blank. My students then went in and found appropriate definitions and images that reflected the meaning of each word. I am able to track how much each student is using Quizlet to study, so I can see if low test/quiz scores can be easily attributed to low motivation to study, or if another issue might be at play.

A Very Rewarding MITESOL 2015

I had an incredible time at this year’s MITESOL Conference. I was awarded the Best Presentation of MITESOL 2014 as well as the Best of Affiliates Award at TESOL 2016. This means that out of all of the best presentations nominated by TESOL affiliates (over 100 participating organizations worldwide), my presentation was chosen as one of the top eight and will be featured at the international conference in Baltimore this April. Shortly after receiving this award, my name was drawn in a raffle and I won a very heavy bag of textbooks! The books were geared toward middle schoolers, however, so I delivered them to a session about better serving adolescents. I felt a bit like Santa!

For those of you who attended my session and those of you who missed it but still want to know more about blended writing classes, an interactive Nearpod version of the presentation I gave will be available soon!

MITESOL 2015
Israt, Alisha, and I after the final session.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this conference happen. See you all in Baltimore for TESOL 2016!

MITESOL 2014 Best Presentation Award

I sometimes feel like a lunatic, working late hours on materials and lesson plans, trying new apps and programs that seem like they are bound to fail, and giving new ideas a shot in my classroom. Sometimes I’m wildly successful and other times I fall short. That’s how it works. I love trying new things, though, no matter how many times I fail. For me, it’s worth it to discover the key to my students’ interest and enthusiasm for what I’m teaching. I’m working for that moment when I find a portal from the boring to the captivating.

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One such portal for me and my students was Nearpod. Nearpod opened the door for me to see what was out there in terms of engaging students with their tablets and smartphones. I was able to take devices that were often forbidden in the language classroom and make them the medium through which we were learning. I tried multiple lessons in multiple classes and my students unanimously agreed that they wanted to continue using the app in class. I continued to explore its uses as an in-class tool and as a homework tool, by which students could remain engaged and tuned in to the course work while on the go.2015pagelogo

I presented on this topic at the 2014 MITESOL conference and was recently informed that I was awarded the MITESOL top presenter award. Additionally, I have been nominated to the 2016 TESOL International Best of Affiliates award. If I am a finalist for this prestigious award (meaning I was chosen from over 100 affiliate organizations), I will then be asked to present my work along with the 7 other finalists at the international TESOL convention.

That’s not at all terrifying, right?

Last year Michigan’s own Patrick T. Randolph won this international honor. Congratulations, Patrick! I have had the pleasure of attending one of Patrick’s talks, and he is a phenomenal speaker who gives a dynamic presentation.

I would never put myself in the same category as Patrick, and I’m shocked to be representing Michigan in this capacity. I have submitted two proposals to TESOL this year, so hopefully I will be accepted to present regardless of how I fare in the affiliates competition. I hope to see you there!

A Slow Spring

The last four spring seasons have been difficult for me. Not because of the ridiculous work loads I have so often inflicted upon myself. Not because of deadlines and the tenuous nature of summer work in our field. Spring is hard for me because I have to hear my family daily reminding me of how much better the weather is at home. Living far north of my hometown has numerous (mostly political) advantages, but the weather will always make me homesick.

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A warmer, more carefree Courtney (circa 2006).

When I was just seven years old, my family took a May road trip to Yellowstone. I was so excited to see all of the exciting things my uncle had elaborately told me about. Bears, buffalo, geysers, and bubbling pits?! What could be more magical to a nature-obsessed child? When we got there, however, it was much cooler than it had been at home. I called my dad and he said that is was 80 degrees (F) in Lebanon. 80 degrees?! That was definitely shorts weather. I looked down at my jeans, burst into tears, and begged my family to never take another vacation.

Soaking up the unseasonably warm weather in London (I knew I was wrong to denounce vacations).
Soaking up the unseasonably warm weather in London (I knew I was wrong to denounce vacations).

Since then I have driven through Wyoming twice, both times in the process of moving to colder climates. My seven-year-old self would think I was quite foolish, and maybe I am. I distinctly recall feeling that I never had the opportunity to thaw out during my first summer in WA. The temperatures never went above 90, and they rarely reached that. MI summers are much warmer, more humid, and full of evil stinging and biting insects. WA’s magical climate and absence of mosquitoes makes it a tempting place to eventually settle down.

Enjoying the view from atop Kamiak Butte, one of the many choice hiking spots near Pullman, WA.
Enjoying the view from atop Kamiak Butte, one of the many choice hiking spots near Pullman, WA.

My resolution this year is to enjoy the spring for what it is. Not a mild summer, like it was in Missouri, but a season of hope. The cold remains, but the snow is gone. The clouds still hang over our heads most days, but the sun comes out and says hello when it feels like it. We know the long winter has come to an end and that the plants will come back to life soon. These days are just as important as the warm ones that will follow. I’m doing my best to enjoy them as well as I can.

MITESOL

MITESOL 2014 logo for front page 2

I just got back from a fabulous MITESOL experience. It is my first time attending and presenting at the Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages conference and I could not be happier. I met many interesting people, discovered how supportive a conference community can be, and felt invigorated in my teaching and my research. On top of the professional development, I also got to spend quality time with colleagues I adore. What more could a teacher ask for?

For those of you who attended my talk or were unable to attend, I have put a homework version of the Nearpod I presented here.

Change of Plans?

Moving to MI was not #1 on my list. I did not delight in the promise of long, miserable winters and economic uncertainty. However, now that I’m here, I can’t imagine that I could be this happy anywhere else. I’ve enjoyed gorgeous beaches, unbelievable fall colors, something called a muskeg, and the crisp bite of winter (already!) coming on. My town is small, but fully-featured, complete with a co-op, two French bakeries, a farmer’s market, and plenty of local food options. And I certainly can’t complain about the 10 cent bottle deposit.

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Ette loves running through the fallen leaves.

When I was offered the opportunity to teach a Women Writers class at SVSU, I thought my dreams had come true. This, I thought, was making it. Don’t get me or my use of the past tense wrong, this course is delightful. I’ve had some of my greatest teaching challenges and successes in this setting. I taught college freshman how to close read poetry (and they responded well to it.) I got football players to engage in critical discussions of Mrs. Dalloway. And it’s only midterm!

What has shocked me this semester, is how much joy I get from my CMU English Language Institute teaching. I am teaching a Grammar III class (which was initially terrifying) and a Integrated Skills (Listening/Speaking) II class. In these courses I can actually see student progress. Students are eager to learn English because that’s their primary mission in our program. They don’t think they’re above the classes I teach. They don’t resent me for making them talk to one another. They are genuinely excited to learn about American culture. They ask about grammatical quirks with genuine interest. They ask me questions that spark sincere and interesting cultural exchanges.

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The board is partially obscured by one of many balloons my students used to decorate the classroom for Teacher Day!

Now, this in no way takes away from my love of literature or the teaching of literature, but it opened my eyes to a different type of satisfaction I can get from my career. After a little investigating, I found that I could get a fully funded assistantship to help me get my M.A. TESOL here at CMU. If I get my M.A. TESOL (yes, another M.A.)  I will be able to get a career-level job right away. With the M.A. in English I already have, I only have the promise of struggling to piece together adjunct gigs without benefits, praying for work semester to semester. This sort of freelance-teaching is not sustainable for me. I need stability, some sense of permanent purpose. Not now, but at some point in the future I would like to be in a position that I could buy a car and a house. I want to have that option. I would like to have a reliable figure to offer when people ask me my annual income.  “I don’t know, it depends,” is becoming less and less acceptable. And why should I (or any other smart, invested educator working as an adjunct) have to live like that?

But it isn’t easy to leave behind your lifelong passion. One can’t suddenly shift gears without repercussions. For example, what will become of all of my research aspirations? Besides my love of education and passion for teaching, the promise of writing and publishing articles and presenting at conferences has been one of the biggest draws of the academy for me. I am very excited about the research TESOL scholars conduct (including but not limited to those using corpora), but I have several articles and a thesis that I wanted to send out for publication this year. Now, I feel like those works that mean/meant so much to me will just collect dust like artifacts of a past life. Can a person teach in a TESOL program and publish literary criticism?  Can I somehow integrate the knowledge I’ve already acquired into my TESOL research by studying how literature can more effectively be integrated into the language-learning classroom? What about gender research and TESOL? Is that a thing? If I change my specialty to TESOL, I worry that all of the hard work I put toward women’s studies research will be for naught. Can I do both?

What’s more, how do I maintain a feminist identity in a classroom full of people from whom I have to hide this fact to avoid persecution? What fundamental parts of my self will be sacrificed in exchange for job stability and a different type of job satisfaction? Can I get the sort of intellectual excitement from books that I desire by just joining a book club? Will I lose that intellectual excitement if I stay away for too long? Am I definitely over-thinking this?

I would love to hear advice/responses from others on this. Of course, this decision is mine alone, but feedback helps me process these big decisions.

Trying on the Mitten: An Employment Saga

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Greetings from Michigan!

 

I am so very pleased to be writing this blog post, instead of the much sadder one I originally had drafted. Michigan’s economy might be as terrible as the media has led us to believe, and my previous post bemoaned the state of things for a young humanities grad (making it utterly redundant on the internet in 2013.) This blog post, however, is celebratory, grateful, and full of hope.

After applying for around 40 jobs between April and August (some academic, some clerical, some retail,) I was offered an underwhelming two interviews. To my credit, I was offered both of these jobs (and another for which I did not interview.) Let this be a cautionary tale for those of you entering the market: apply to every job you think you can live with.

My timeline went something like this:
April – Apply to jobs, defend thesis
May – Apply to jobs, graduate with M.A., begin teaching summer class
June – Apply to jobs, finish summer class, pack and move across the country
July – Apply to jobs, unpack, accrue debt furnishing new apartment
August – Apply to jobs, EVERYTHING HAPPENS

Early in August, when I had all but given up on teaching this semester, Saginaw Valley State University called me for an interview. Delighted, I interviewed for a Composition I course, but was then to my surprise, was offered either the Comp. I course or an extremely flexible course called “Thematic Approaches to Literature” from the literature faculty member who sat in on our interview. To my delight, I was encouraged to base the class off of the Women Writers course I shadowed this Spring. This position pays less, but will broaden my experience considerably.  This single class pays 1/6 of my T.A. salary, making my job search far from over. I cannot describe the strange feeling of achieving one of my greatest goals in life (teaching a Women Writers course of my very own,) but still searching for entry-level work elsewhere.

The second interview I received was from JC Penney. No, I did not plan on working in retail after earning my M.A., but JC Penney is a company I respect, and the managers and employees of this particular store are wonderful people. I love folding clothes and tidying spaces, so the work is natural and enjoyable for me. I work in Men’s and Kid’s, where I am able to use my skills of color coordination and flattery to my advantage. A 25% discount on professional attire certainly sweetened the deal. As much as I enjoyed the job, it still did not fill the gap I needed to make a comfortable wage. Looking for other flexible schedule jobs seemed daunting, and all of the work from home jobs I found sounded like scams. I had all but resigned myself to the underpaid struggle most Michiganders live with.

Five days into my employment with JCP and two days before college classes resume, I received an email from CMU’s English Language Institute asking if I was still available for part- or full-time employment with their intensive English program.  Naturally, I could not pass up this offer, and I graciously received two ELL courses I have never taught: Speaking and Listening (Level 2) and Grammar (Level 3.) As intimidating as this was, I was thrown into this last minute collection of adjuncts with instructors who had comparable experience/comfort with the courses assigned. Although scary, the sense of community makes the leap much more palatable.

In a matter of weeks I went from woefully unemployed to overwhelmingly over-employed. I hope to continue working at JCP while I teach, and am so excited about this new chapter in my professional life. I’ll write a separate blog post about the joys of each of these jobs in action soon, but for now this is a fairly comprehensive update on my life.

Courtney Elizabeth King M.A.

It isn’t a particularly impressive title, but I earned it.

Today I officially graduate with a Master’s of Arts in English Literature. I decided not to walk, so my closure comes from writing this blog post and exchanging blurry-eyed embraces with the dear friends I’ve made in this program. Washington State may not have been the perfect fit for me on paper, far from it, but I’ve grown more as an academic, as an educator, and as a person at this university than I believe I could have anywhere else.  The people here have been supportive and inspiring and I am ultimately thankful for this experience.

My single regret in coming here is born from the cynicism about the future of the humanities that runs rampant in our department. This has not worn well on me, and has caused me to spend many sleepless nights pondering my own worth. In departmental meetings, in the halls, and over coffee, my colleagues and I have engaged in endless conversations about how disposable our field, and by proxy, we are. I have not spoken with one of my cohort members who is completely certain that they made the right decision by getting this degree. Seeds of self-doubt and self-hatred have been planted not by people in the sciences or the media, but by our own mentors and friends.

I have fallen prey to this worrisome negativity just as much as the next graduate student. However, after much fretful consideration, my liberal arts background makes me certain that there will always be a place for the arts and humanities, although it may not be in the public university. I believe that the university as we know it will be completely restructured in the next 5-15 years and that people will be reintroduced to the joys of literature in new ways. Perhaps this will be through MOOCs or Google Hangout book clubs. Or, more likely, it will be through a new application of technology we have yet to discover. This is not a bad thing and it is far from a death knoll for what we do. It’s just a metamorphosis. Above all, we, the Literature instructors and professors, must advocate for our own field and not become victims to the rhetoric of our own impracticality. Being practically useful is not the only value in our world and we cannot risk forgetting that. After all, valuing beauty is what brought most of us to this field to begin with. Or have we forgotten that too?

Time makes even the brightest believer cynical. I realize that. As an 18 year-old freshman in college I was just as confident in my English major as I was my Political Science minor and my Environmental Studies minor. These three fields held equal weight to me. No one in the Oz that is Truman State would consider telling me that my major was impractical. In fact, I never heard the “You’ll never get a job” talk from any of my professors. They all seemed equally certain that I could become a professor just like them, and live an idyllic life at the Harvard of the Midwest or a comparable liberal arts school where teaching is valued over publications. I believed them. Soon after, I found out that there are no comparable schools. Our Princeton of the Prairie is unparalleled in its selectivity, value, and setting. Rural, publicly funded, secular liberal arts colleges are unfortunately not commonplace. Trumanites are very much in a bubble. A bubble in a wheat field.

WSU is also in a wheat field, but in a bubble we are not. The real world hits hard on this campus. In the short time I have been here, we have experienced a sinister wave of violence and unrest among students who consider college to be not a vital part of career preparation, but a roaring fun life stage.* Activism is not the norm here; apathy is. This attitude our students exude is reflected in us. We cannot help but absorb some of their disinterest in the academy and the literature we try so hard to promote. It is difficult not to lose our lustre. However, what we (hopefully still) have and what we can forever hold onto is our intellectual excitement. The joy we gain from books and from writing is what put us where we are. If we lose that, we have lost the battle. I refuse to give that up. I still read books for pleasure. In fact, the books I read for my classes bring me unmeasurable happiness. Writing my thesis was one of the most wonderfully fulfilling tasks I’ve accomplished yet. And yes, I still love Virginia and plan on rereading some of her work this summer. I refuse to give up on something I hold so very dear. It is too delightful to be profitable. But it is likewise too important to let die.

 

 

*For the record, I am not against having fun in college. I’m against the notion that every person should graduate from high school and go to college because it’s what Americans do. Go to college because it’s what you want to do.

Conferences, Composition, and Conversation, oh my!

What a whirlwind of a semester!

Daniela, Me, Aree, Sarah, and Owen after our presentation at LSU’s Mardi Gras Conference.

Since my last update I presented at LSU’s Mardi Gras Conference with several of my colleagues. We formed a panel entitled BAM! POW! CRASH!: The Under-Appreciated Power of Comics as Social Texts. My paper was on David B.’s Epileptic and discussed his work as applied to disability studies. My paper title was “Seizures, Samurai, and Saving the Family: Epileptic’s Reappropriation of Disability Stereotypes” and I feel like the panel was well-received. I enjoyed attending this graduate level conference, but look forward to pursuing larger and more prominent conferences in the upcoming semesters.

My ENGL 101 course is going well. I have been struggling to keep up with my grading, but that pain is self-inflicted. Seven writing assignments in a semester? Never again! The students seem to have enjoyed the format of the course otherwise, so I will be integrating some of my original ideas into my next syllabus with much more sensible applications. I have loved teaching Composition this semester and cannot wait to be able to focus my energies exclusively on teaching.

I received word today that I was accepted to a position at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID this summer working for their Institute of Intensive English where I will be tutoring and monitoring the language lab as well as teaching a Conversation course. This will be a fantastic opportunity to work with international students and experience an ELL classroom. Wonderful professional development and well worth the hour commute.

Additionally, I will be participating in the grading positions the university offers to 101 instructors. In this position I will be reading entrance exams and placing the students into an introductory composition course. This job will be sporadic and I will only be able to attend about a session a week due to conflicts with my IIE job, but it seems like a great way to experience the testing side of college composition.

I have submitted proposals to a few semi-local conferences for next semester including but not limited to PAMLA and Sirens.

I’ll try to keep the blog updated more frequently in the future.