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ENGAGE YOUR STUDENTS FROM DAY ONE! HOW I TEACH GREAT SPEECHES I teach Great Speeches, or small segments of the Great Books, at the...

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I teach Great Speeches, or small segments of the Great Books, at the beginning of the semester as a way to engage my students in Higher Order Thinking, Close Reading, and Textual Analysis.  I have taught Elie Wiesel, Hamlet, Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry V (Saint Crispin’s Day Speech), Tocqueville, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Genesis, and more.  I usually keep the selection under 10 pages so that it may be read in a few days - this allows me to engage my students immediately.  When assigning a novel or longer text on day one of the semester it is impossible to expect them to read it by the next class, whereas a small selection is easily done.  I use Google Classroom and post a copy of the speech on the first day along with my Interpretive Note-Taking Guide.  See my schedule of the first four classes below.

Class One:
  • I post the course outline on Classroom and review the outline with the students.

  • I post the speech and Interpretive Note-Taking Guide.

  • I Explain how to annotate a text using my own guide and ask students to read the speech and begin to mark it up for the next class.  I inform them that the marked up speech is to be turned in at the beginning of the third class.

Class Two:
  • I go over Interpretive Note-Taking again.

  • I show them examples of student mark ups.

  • I then give them an overview of the context of the speech or text.  For instance, if the text excerpt is from Nietzsche, I explain some key aspects of his philosophy, when he lived, and why he is famous.  If the excerpt is from Hamlet, I show them Part One of John Green’s Crash Course on Hamlet.  If the excerpt is from Henry V (Saint Crispin’s Day Speech), I show them Kenneth Branagh’s version.  

Class Three:
  • The students work in groups answering the questions in Google Slides.  
  • They use their speeches that are marked up to help them answer the questions.  I tell them that the class is not for completing this assignment but to use the text to answer the questions in Google Slides.  I walk around the classroom to see what students have done - rarely do they add much to the mark ups.  They submit their answers and hand in their mark up at the end of class.

Class Four:

  • I give a short reading test on the speech.
  • I review the answers in Google Slides.

Why are women professors viewed differently than their male counterparts?

Is this how some of your students see you?  Alas, sometimes students misunderstand their female professors/teachers and misconstrue their professionalism as anger or rage.  

Gender stereotypes continue to permeate academia - i.e. woman are less rational and more emotional than men.  Although things have definitely changed for the better, it is naive to think that gender biases do not appear in our students' expectations and hence our evaluations (in the link below there is a list of articles supporting my position).

When I attended University my professors were treated with awe, respect, and reverence.  

While those days are long gone - in my experience anyway - it is frustrating how gender bias still exists.  FYI: I teach mainly first and second year undergrads, so perhaps upper level students understand that their professors are human - that we get frustrated, irritated, exasperated but we are teachers/professors because we overwhelmingly care about students and education.  We are not uncontrollably and irrationally angry with our students.  Sure we have our good days and bad days just like anyone else, but unfortunately those bad days seem to linger in our students' minds until they purge their resentment while writing their SEIs.  

So why am I conflating anger and gender bias?  I honestly don't think that students see their male professors/teachers as out of control, irrational, and full of wrath.  I constantly hear in my SEIs how I am disorganized and have no clear purpose (irrational), I’m angry, and I should be "nicer"....

There are several studies that confirm my own personal experience regarding student evaluations and how woman are judged by a different set of criteria than their male counterparts.

In one seminar I attended many of my female colleagues argued that their SEIs contained similar statements: hard marker, tough on students, doesn't like students, rude to students, disorganized, unclear, angry, cold, distant, doesn't care, should be nicer, etc.  One science lecturer complained that her boss told her that she should perhaps be more "motherly" to help curb her students' anxieties.  She was justifiably outraged but our facilitator argued that we should understand that our students - rightly or wrongly - did view us in this light and that ignoring this reality - however unfair - could lead some students to feeling let down or hurt by us.  The professor asked if it was part of her job to care about their feelings - after all wasn't her job teaching biology to underprepared undergrads challenging enough?  

I have to admit cognitive dissonance here.  I get it - it's not fair but it is what it is, and if I want higher evaluations I have to remember my students' preconceived biases will influence their perceptions of me.  I can play the SEI game - many do - curbing my teaching towards achieving higher SEI results, but I refuse to do this.  I have definitely tried to remember that this generation - called snowflakes - are fragile, but I won't become slavish to their own irrational demands.  I have hit a middle road.  My SEIs are still very frustrating but I have tried to combine the right amount of compassion with an unwavering professionalism.  I try to stay true to my principles while showing empathy to the stress and confusion my undergrads seem to feel. 

Anyway, I'm writing this to help any lecturers out there who may be struggling to understand why their SEIs may be consistently lower than their male (and particularly older and male) colleagues.  Sometimes wisdom is power - maybe this will help.  Maybe it is obvious to you, but, to be honest, it did not occur to me that gender bias could impact a career in academia.  Furthermore, I continue to be disheartened when I read these reports.  Love to hear your thoughts!

Gender and Student Evaluations:An Annotated BibliographyDeveloped at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan

Visual Notetaking


Students learn in a myriad of ways.  VISUAL  NOTETAKING engages the students' minds by using the upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy: Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.  It allows students to process ideas in a fun and creative way and keeps the brain actively engaged.  Visual identifiers may help boost memory as an added bonus.


In all of my first year undergraduate classes I employ Visual Notetaking.  This year I lectured on Thucydides in one class and the Apology in the other.  I asked my students to work on their Notetaking for a week after the lecture and their assignments were to be turned in just before their mid-term exam.  I do think that it helped prepare them for their exam.


The students did such an amazing job - see some of the images below.  The image above is way beyond what I expected!

If you are interested in the section of the Apology that I teach, and if you would like to see more examples of student Notetaking, you will find my Apology unit here: Perfect Pairing #1: SOCRATES AND THE INSANITY DEFENSE.


The marking of Visual Notetaking is fairly easy to do compared to marking an essay, for instance.  I grade my students on their creativity, on their ability to make connections between ideas, on understanding the lecture, on editing down the lecture to crucial information, and on aesthetics.  You will find my guide to Visual Notetaking here: Visual Notetaking 


The results speak for themselves.   Most of my students threw themselves into the assignment and my exam grades were higher overall.

Here are two more examples from my lecture on Thucydides:

Daily Dilemma


As a new adjunct lecturer, I found myself completely overwhelmed with the amount of prep and marking.  I still do but have figured out a few ways to help lessen the constant inflow of essays.


I have several Daily Dilemmas available for sale but you could also create your own. You take a famous trial and distill the information into an easily accessible form. I do this by creating a One Sheet.

Traditionally one sheets are single page documents that summarize a person’s accomplishments, a product, or a film. They are sometimes used to introduce new artists and/or films. They usually contain an image or two, biographical information, and taglines.  I have created these Daily Dilemma One Sheets to help students engage in critical reasoning and to introduce them to philosophy, ethics, law, and justice.  They may be used as homework or class work,  individual or group work, and even as seminar or debate preparation.


I use these court cases in several ways. With the Daily Dilemmas that I have created the students work alone or in groups. They read the One Sheet and then answer eight questions on the court case. I choose cases that raise interesting moral and ethical dilemmas.

I also have my students create their own Daily Dilemmas. I have found the marking of these to be less time consuming than grading an essay. You will immediately have a sense of the overall grade at first glance. I have them include an image of the case, summarize the key details of the events leading up to the case, use quotations and key phrases from the actual case, explain the outcome, ask eight questions regarding the case, and finally they answer four of the eight questions.


The students enjoy working together and debating the merits of their arguments. The cases usually force them to think about questions that are bound to cause healthy debate. Here are two examples of these questions:

Having worked at both the High School and College levels, I am sure this idea will work extremely well with your students too.


Interpretive Note-taking


As a new adjunct lecturer, I found myself completely overwhelmed with the amount of prep and marking.  I still do but have figured out a few ways to help lessen the constant inflow of essays.

Tip #2: Interpretive Note-taking

Interpretive Note-taking is my reworking of traditional annotation.


I ask my students to annotate the text as they usually do using highlighters and various symbols to underline words they don't understand, to acknowledge figures of speech, to take note of repetition, etc.  But they go way beyond this.  I created a rubric for them to offer suggestions and help guide their work.

After the individual mark up is done I get them to work in groups to explain and explore their findings.


The marking of their annotation is fairly easy to do compared to marking an essay, for instance.  I read several of the comments to get a sense of what their approach to the assignment is.  I review their questions and sometimes answer some of them and guide them towards other ideas. 

This semester I am having a tougher time concentrating (I seem to still be suffering from a concussion from a few months ago). This type of assignment is perfect because I can stop and go back to where I left off and do not need to start all over.  


The students work hard on this assignment - I think perhaps some of the appeal is that they too can stop and start over several days. Furthermore, I say they are being marked entirely on effort not whether they have figured out the answers to their own questions or the text itself.  The images above are from my class when the students work in groups - this works very well and allows students to review their findings with their peers and gives them an opportunity to discuss the issues in-depth.

Here is one example - there are more in my unit on TpT: INTERPRETIVE NOTE-TAKING

Having worked at both the High School and College levels, I am sure this idea will work extremely well with your students too.

Why Socratic Seminars?

As a new adjunct lecturer, I found myself completely overwhelmed with the amount of prep and marking.  I still do but have figured out a few ways to help lessen the constant inflow of essays.


Socratic Seminars are wonderful for several reasons.  The students enjoy them and they thoroughly prepare.  It allows all students to have a chance to speak.  The seminar gives students the opportunity to engage in constructive discussions.  It allows professors to review annotation and textual analysis.


I ask my students to read quite a small section of text and prepare by marking up the text using my Interpretive Note-taking guide.  They also have to answer a series of questions that I upload onto Google Classroom.  Both are due before the seminar starts although they have access to these notes during the seminar.  After the seminar, they also have to reflect upon the seminar.  Both sets of questions are available in my Socratic Seminar (ANY TEXT).

I do have inner and outer circles where half the class participates in the inner circle while the other half only takes notes and listens to the inner group.  I then switch the groups.  This works perfectly as my classes are 80 minutes long and meet twice a week.  I have between 30 and 35 students in a regular class (15 to 18 in the seminar) so the size works well too.

For high school teachers this method would work well too.  I would give the reading out several days before the seminar and then perhaps teach on another section of the text while they prepare.  With a flipped classroom you could get them to do the mark up over several classes.


The amount of marking is far less than a short essay, for instance.  However, I find that the students learn more from this experience than writing a short reflective paper on the same material.

It's a win win situation as I enjoy the marking more and the students learn several skills at once: close reading, Interpretive commentary, textual analysis, and more.  They need to articulate their findings and provide evidence to support their ideas.

Last semester I taught two sections of my class The Aesthetics of Storytelling and two sections of The Human Condition: Revenge and Retribution/Justice and Law.


Here are some comments from students after the Socratic Seminar:

Thanks for visiting!!

Back to school with Google Classroom

I have had a tough year and was unable to post anything over the past six months - various issues including a concussion have kept me away from blogging - and I was just starting my blog....
I began working on this entry three months ago... Since that time there have been many blogs about Google Classroom, but I wanted to get the new school year started with a few small tidbits for using Classroom - okay - now this is even being posted later than planned.... I hope you still find it helpful.

Back to school with Google Classroom

Before classes begin, make sure you set up your new classes. To do this you click on the plus button on the right side of the screen. Give it a theme:

I color code each semester. For instance, here are two of my classes from Winter 16:

Many teachers delete the courses after the semester ends, but I sometimes keep them for a few semesters to transfer assignments from one semester to the next.  You may archive the old classes.

During my first class, I review the class outline.   I post the outline on Classroom before the first class.  This is posted in the ABOUT section:

I read the outline to my students first before I explain how to sign up for Classroom so I have their attention.

Then I explain how they join the class.  Each class has its own code that you provide for the students.  

Make sure you give the right code to the right class!  

Once they go to Classroom they will be asked if they want to join a class and then they type in the code. Make sure your students use Google Chrome.

Safari or Firefox do work occasionally but don't let your students use these sites - sometimes they are able to sign up using a different server. I usually have a student or two come to me in a panic when they cannot turn in an assignment. Usually, it is because they managed to sign up using Firefox and I didn't notice. So prevent this confusion from the beginning.

You will see the students’ names appear as they sign up.

They will not be able to sign up with an email address other than the one they use for the purposes of official school communication. They cannot use another Gmail account.

I post their first reading during this class and make sure they can access the reading.

I usually assign a short story and have them read it for the next class and then they work in groups (online) during class - I usually begin with my BLACK CAT and WHAT'S WRONG WITH MY ESSAY? assignments.

I manage to work on grammar and assertions while ironing out the glitches of Classroom.

If they work in groups I encourage them to submit one group assignment only and to put their names on the first slide. They can share their file with their group members.

I also go around the room and write down their names to keep track of the groups in case they forget to include their group member names.

Remember to tell them that they must email you directly to get in touch with you (your email is listed in the ABOUT section) and not to hit reply to emails sent via the STREAM.

Thank you for visiting my blog.