Category Archives: Procrastination

The answer is, the question is

So when it all comes down,
what it all comes down to, what
the answer is, the question is
how I did, how did I
spend them,
those bits of time,
my moments, my allotment of them,
what did I do with them
where did I leave them
did I wring them dry
did I use them well
then clean and oil them,
put them away to use again–
impossible–not something
I would be likely to do
and not something
anyone can do with a moment

I gorged on some
and let the shiny wrappers pile right up
and this one–this one
I’m holding like an injured dove
but there are more, so many,
so many, they scuttled away
like roaches or I stomped them
like roaches
and anyway they’re gone

______

img_4684

I wrote this poem whilst on retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisco (a truly special place)

“Feedback is what happens second” Part I

Gearing up for spring semester begins late in fall semester for me. That’s a practical matter–if I waited until the fall semester was over to gear up for spring, I’d be behind schedule immediately. It’s more than a practical matter, though. There comes a time in every semester, the deepest, darkest time (which in fall corresponds with shorter days and longer nights) of a semester, when it’s easier to see what’s not working rather than what is working.

One of my ongoing goals as a teacher is to return student work faster. I struggle with it for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t like delivering bad news. I absolutely love sitting down with students and providing feedback on drafts and revisions, but at that point, the possibilities for success are still wide open. With a final draft, some doors are shut. I’ve wondered if switching to a portfolio system would help me here because of how much I enjoy giving feedback early in the process.
  • I’m a master procrastinator when faced with unpleasant tasks.
  • There isn’t a clear deadline for when student work has to be returned except in terms of when they need to turn in the next assignment, or at the very end of the semester. This is one reason I think a portfolio system might work better–I’d be grading final drafts at the end of the semester when the deadlines are very firm and real.

I’m not saying these are GOOD reasons, but they’re reasons I’ve discovered.  I just realized earlier this month that I’m always slower about returning student work in spring semester & one reason for that is probably because I tend to have more problems with anxiety and depression in the spring (ironic, because I love light and love when the days begin to grow longer). I discovered it because I keep track of when student work comes in and when I return it (I call it TIR for turned-in-returned rate) on a spreadsheet & I have numbers going back several years. The good news is that overall, I’m doing much better than I used to. The bad news is that my numbers have gotten ugly the last couple of spring semesters….

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to try something I’ve never tried in relation to solving this problem. (Other things I continue to do: keeping track, rewarding myself if I meet my goals at different points in the semester, reporting to someone on how I’m doing–which is what I was doing earlier this month when I discovered the WORSE IN SPRING PATTERN.  I was putting my numbers in my yearly activity report.)

I’m problematizing the problem. I’m going to do research first, on feedback, and see what the research says.  That’s where I am right now, and at least at the moment, my plan is to report on the research at different points in the semester.

I know it’s important–feedback is the thing that an instructor can do in a real class that an instructor can’t do in a MOOC, and however good AI gets, it still seems to me we’re a long way away from computers being able to give good feedback to writers on much beyond sentence complexity, vocabulary, spelling, and some grammar. Feedback is what makes instructors invaluable.

The first article I’m tackling is called “The Power of Feedback” and it’s by John Hattie and Helen Temperly at the University of Auckland.

One of the first quotes that struck me in the article was this one, “Feedback has no effect in a vacuum; to be powerful in its effect, there must be a learning context to which feedback is addressed.”  That’s why they say “feedback is what happens second.”  Instruction has to happen first.  When I read this quote I thought immediately of my discomfort when a student in creative writing asks me for feedback on something they wrote before the class.  I tell them it feels weird because I don’t know what they were trying for, whereas if they wrote in response to an assignment, I know what they were supposed to be trying to do.

I appreciate Hattie & Temperley’s article for their definitions & clarifications, among other things.  Here’s one:  “The claim is made that the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal. ” To me this emphasizes the importance of backward design–if my students and I don’t know what our goals are, I just don’t stand a chance of providing effective feedback.

These three questions seem so crucial: “Effective feedback must answer three major questions asked by a teacher and/or by a student: Where am I going? (What are the goals?), How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)”

I particularly appreciate the emphasis on the role students play in the feedback process. Here’s the good news:  it’s not a passive role. Here are some things students can do. They can

  • “increase their effort, particularly when the effort leads to tackling more challenging tasks or appreciating higher quality experiences rather than just doing ‘more.'”
  • “develop effective error detection skills, which lead to their own self-feedback aimed at reaching a goal.”
  • “seek better strategies to complete the task or be taught them, or they can obtain more information.”

So I dived into this article hoping for motivation for returning student work faster, and it does address that several pages in, and I’ll get to that as I post on the topic, but for now, it’s met a goal I didn’t even realize I had–get me pumped up about a new semester.

What can I do with this enthusiasm? Lots.  “Teachers can also assist by clarifying goals, enhancing commitment or increased effort to reaching them through feedback….More generally, teachers can create a learning environment in which students develop self-regulation and error detection skills.”

I need to model self-assessment and self-regulation by setting goals, monitoring them, and then making adjustments (all processes discussed in the article, but also widely discussed any time metacognition comes up).

So my goal for returning student work in terms of promptness is this.  By the end of Week 5, I want my overall average to be below 7 days, and the average for longer assignments to be below 10 days, but I want the standard deviation to be 2.0 or lower–this past fall my averages met those goals, but the standard deviation was too high (I was still keeping some longer assignments wayyyyyyy too long).

a little poem I wrote with big feelings

a little poem I wrote with big feelings

Beyond that, I’m setting some goals on the quality of feedback. I want to set the questions and good points from “The Power of Feedback” in front of myself as I start to communicate with students about their work, which I’m less than a week away from (classes start on Monday and the first assignments come in next Friday–sooner, since some students will want me to look at rough drafts, more than likely).

My plan is to report on my turned-in-returned rate after Week 5, or sooner, and I’ll also write more about this article & others I’ve found and will find.

Meanwhile–it’s back to finishing up syllabi & schedules for next week!

 

Pedagogy Stew: August 2013

I’m headed to my 30th high school reunion this month, which causes me to reflect on many things, including my overwhelming urge to find a copy of The Preppy Handbook (pretty sure there were no Southern Illinois locations mentioned in it, also pretty sure I didn’t catch that it was satire when I got it for Christmas, circa 1981, along with some knock-off Topsiders and a belt with little ducks on it).

I was ranked 5th out of a graduating class of about 400. I remember that because I’d been tied for first until my junior year, when I flaked out and could muster only a B in Advanced Algebra/Trig, the same in Chemistry. This coincided with the onset of that whole “imagine this graph/molecule in 3-D inside your head,” which I pretty much totally sucked at.

But overall, those pretty-good-but-not-excellent marks were just further manifestation of my lifelong urge to avoid certain sorts of difficulty.  I’m drawn to some challenges, primarily those of my own devising. Stepping off the valedictorian track involved a rejection of mastering the challenges of classes someone else chose for me. I refused to take calculus my senior year, and as I remember it, my Dad called the man who would’ve taught it (who had taught algebra to my Dad at a local community college) and they grieved together.

I can’t help wondering what kind of challenge students anticipate when they sign up for a MOOC.

MOOC is short for Massively Open Online Course, and they’re all the rage in higher education. They are available online, usually for free, from some terrific universities and professors.

The good part is having free access to lectures, assignments, and tests from some superstar professors.

The bad part is, typically, having zero access to that professor, or to feedback that isn’t automated.

The good part is how easy it is to sign up and participate.

The bad part is the incredibly high dropout rate.

The good part is that a highly motivated student can learn a lot, for free.

The bad part is that a student who is motivated to avoid the challenge of sitting in a traditional college classroom, or taking what now seems like a “traditional” online college course…this student may not be up for the challenge of learning in a less structured, less obligation-driven environment.

In general, as a college student, I’d have crashed and burned in a MOOC, especially if I were taking it to speed through requirements I didn’t see the point of.

But what if taking a MOOC were my own idea? And not required?

It might be like my sophomore English class, at that point. I insisted on doing my book reports on the silliest books—a biography of Colonel Sanders and one I still remember the title of, Sherlock Bones—Pet Detective.  But I was reading Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ on my own. A challenge of my own devising.

(This column appeared originally in Voice of the River Valley.)

The Thinger for the Clutter Contained

Having declared repeatedly in public that my home was “half a matchbook collection away from being an episode of Hoarders” (saying this I am exaggerating, but not by as much as I would prefer), I have been plunging this summer, over and over, into our accumulated everything.

This is not easy.

One becomes a pack rat through a combo pack of habits, issues, and inept strategies.

For me, nearly every bit of sorting, cleaning, pitching, packing, reorganizing, moving, shifting, recycling, re-gifting, tagging for yard sales, and donating involves a commensurate inner activity.

Ideally, the inner activity means reflecting on and evaluating all the habits and strategies mentioned previously, and also gently, gently nudging apart the layers of issues involved that led me to the place in the first place.

Sometimes the inner activity is limited to “Ack!” or “oh my god” or “sheesh.”

But I keep at it.

I can be very persistent.

Some of this is deeply satisfying, the emptying of a container of stuff I no longer want, thus making it available to contain other stuff I do want.

And fairly often when I say or even think the word “container,” I think of James Thurber, and “Here Lies Miss Groby” (the first paragraph of which is available even to non-subscribers of the New Yorker, which fortunately contains the quote I was remembering).

“He remembers staying awake nights saying over and over ‘The thinger for the thing contained’ or thinking of an example of the Thing Contained for the Container. If a woman were to grab a bottle of Grade A and say to her husband, ‘Get away from me, or I’ll hit you with the milk’, that would be a Thing Contained for the Container.”

This is a way of talking about metonymy. I wonder if the act of blogging about metonymy will help me remember its definition in contrast to synecdoche. Probably not. But I would like to stake a claim here: I began saying “Schenectady” in place of “synecdoche” years and years before Charlie Kaufman made a movie called Synecdoche, New York, which I still haven’t seen.

All this is a way of procrastinating, by the way.

One last bit of reverie, before I head once more unto the breach, my friends:

I called my blog “marniere” because I’m fascinated by sinkholes. Fascinated and horrified by the idea of a chasm opening up where there previously was none. A chasm with ample space.

If you pitched your clutter in a sinkhole, you wouldn’t be able to access any of it easily. But you would be able to pitch and keep pitching for the longest time.

(I need to write part 2 for this a reminiscence of my childhhood entitled, “The Ravine Where We Threw Trash.” But for now, it’s once more unto the breach I’ve made in the wall of accumulated everything.)

Creative People Say Yes (Sometimes)

I once came upon my cousin Reid practicing different ways to say “no.” He was 3 or 4 at the time. “No, I couldn’t possibly,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

He was onto something, that little ‘un. At least in my family, saying no takes practice.

Saying no? I’m big on it. Sometimes I’m even good at it. I certainly like the IDEA of saying no.

I’ve written about a fair number of times:
“How do I do that? How do I become the sort of person who says no to things?”

Clitter-Clatter Clutter Time , which references two terrific posts by my favorite tattooed Lutheran blogger, Nadia Bolz Weber, “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No,” and its companion piece, “The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes!”

The Sarcastic Lutheran says, “The people who are inclined to say yes to everything do all the work and then burn out and become resentful about the people who are inclined to say no to everything. It’s as though the world is divided into martyrs and slackers.”

I don’t make a very good martyr or slacker, either one, not for very long.

I worked enough 50+ hours this spring semester, I worry my slacker credentials are in danger of not being renewed.

Busy as I’ve been, I’m nowhere close to martyrdom. I have some regrets, but I don’t regret all of the times I said yes. (Or came up with something to do that no one even asked me to do.)

Recent things that added to my to do list that I am particularly happy to locate in the land of “yes!”:

  • In addition to volunteering in my son’s classroom at the River Valley Elementary Studio School a couple hours a week, presenting a lesson on storytelling, with a way of talking about narrative arc that was a big hit.
  • Leading the Westby Co-Op Credit Union Board of Directors and branch managers in creativity exercises.
  • Serving as a (paid) reader for writing sample/placement tests for incoming UW-R students, and as a local developmental writing coordinator (unpaid).

In general, I am unrealistic about how the number of things I try to get done will fit into the number of available hours, and I don’t necessarily do things in the right order (which sometimes does and sometimes does not qualify as procrastination).

Thus, some of my commitments (such as returning student work promptly) suffered this spring, and probably, saying “yes” to new stuff impacted the ongoing stuff.

In general, I need to parse, pare, and prune my To Do list.

So, in one way, I totally get Kevin Ashton’s “Creative People Say No.”

He is right that “We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.”

And he is right that “Time is the raw material of creation.”

Time is a precious resource. It must be guarded. I get it.

But wow did that blog post bug me.

(more on page 2!)

After Fools Day

I’m a bigger fool than I can say.
I’m so sorely, wretchedly exhausted
I almost need another holiday

to celebrate my foolishness, my way
of stopping just when I’ve gotten started.
I’m a bigger fool than I can say,

but that won’t stop me trying every day
to pin down my soul, to parse it.
I already need another holiday

and we’re not that far past spring break.
Adrenaline drove that car and crashed it.
I’m a bigger fool than I can say.

Calling myself a fool is such canker,
the Bible says not to even say it.
I totally need another holiday,

and although it’s foolish to pray
for time off, I can’t stop doing it.
I’m a bigger fool than even I can say
repeatedly, next time I get a holiday.

____

I told my son this morning that I had an idea for a new holiday–“After Fools Day,” where you say something that’s true, but follow it up with “After Fools Day!” and thus make people wonder if it is true. He was quiet for a moment then said, “Mama I don’t think I’ll be doing that.”

I told him that was o.k. That one of my greatest joys in life was coming up with new ideas, and I had so many, I didn’t worry if most of them crashed and burned. And then my day pretty much crashed and burned. But as days do, this one is ending. Whew.

red shoes make any day better

red shoes make any day better

Prayer for Midterm: Holy Saturday

I try to assure my son that Easter always comes
(he’s worried they’ll cancel it because of snow),
but honestly, I have my doubts this time.
There’s still so much iron-ice that just won’t go

away. So gray. The only bright spot is the rain.
Officially not winter. Officially no drought.
Still can’t lift my mood this Holy Saturday,
shivering in my little cave of time, bound

tight by my to do list, behind in everything.
So many of my students have the same
time-panic in their eyes. What we need
is grace and strength and energy, not time.

Just faith that we could ever get caught up
would feel like Easter. A miracle, momentum.

______

My son with a peace lantern. Because it was summer. And it's peace.

My son with a peace lantern. Because it was summer. And it’s peace.

(Image of my son taken by my husband, nath, who can be found online at Nightjar Records.)