Design and Redesign

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I finish typing up a basic guide for MLA formatting and look at the clock on my phone. It’s 8:30. I’ve already put in a couple hours of work, so I close the document and give my short American coffee a tentative swirl. Almost empty. It looks like this morning will be a two-cup day, so I grab the nearly empty cup and ask the barista for a refill.

I’m already preparing for fall semester, even though I have the next three weeks off. I wasn’t happy with last semester’s English Literature Course. I had integrated the new Peer Lead Team Learning format into my course and things did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. I know the flaw was in my course design, not in the PLTL model itself. I have used PLTL in my English Composition course and found it was quite helpful.

At the end of last semester, I expressed my disappointment in the course structure and asked students for their honest feedback. Each student gave me five ways I could improve the course and their reasons why. Many of the students turned in thoughtful detailed feedback that I found extremely helpful in my course redesign.

Research into the reader-response approach to literature has also been helpful. Understanding how other instructors implemented the reader-response approach into their classrooms has given me a few ideas of my own. My goal is to help my students become experts rather than rely on experts. Although it is valuable to consult the expert opinions of others, it is even more important to be able to evaluate and integrate those opinions in a constructive way. This is a skill that will serve them beyond literature into their personal and professional lives. It is a technique I use every time I update my course, or make a major life decision.

I stop typing and pick up my coffee. As the liquid swirls in the cup, I realize that my coffee is half empty already. I look at the clock and almost 30 minutes have passed. Ten words a minute is certainly not a land speed record. Contemplative reflection is deliberate like that. It has a way of slowing down forward motion, but it can make the forward motion more meaningful, more focused, and more productive.

I take a deep breath and consider my next steps, weighing experience, feedback, and expert advice. I take out my planner, to review my goals for this week, and my journal, to record the random thoughts bouncing around in my head. This is my design and redesign process. I use it in my teaching, in my writing, in my art, and in my life, a slow spiral that both revisits the past and projects into the future, moving up from a wide base to a specific point.

This is what I want to teach my students, more than just writing or literature. I want them to learn persistence, resilience, and focus. I want them to be able to weigh experience, feedback, and expert advice. I want them to be able to spiral up from a wide base to a specific point. Most of all, I want them to be able to teach others to do the same.

Handling Productivity Pressure

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The ground is covered with recent rainfall and the air is thick with humidity as I walk to the Green Library on the Florida International University campus. I have a morning shift at the Center for Excellence in Writing.

I am definitely feeling the pressure today. Not stress. Just productivity pressure. I have multiple projects that I want to complete this summer and work that I need to catch up on after two days of jury duty.

In the past, I would have felt guilty for taking the time to blog, or I wouldn’t have blogged at all, deeming it a self-indulgent, low priority on my list of tasks to complete. I have since come to realize that my writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is an integral part of who I am. As my fingers fly over the keyboard the pressure starts to subside.

I start to tick of the days tasks in my mind. First, I need to respond to student emails. This has the highest priority because they are working on a literary research paper, and for many of them, this is the first time they have ever had to do academic writing of this type. I break their assignments down into manageable steps and give them feedback alone the way. Students have my email and my phone number, and I try to respond to any questions or concerns as soon as they arise. Before going on jury duty, I worked with the writing center at Miami Dade College to make sure each student could have a one on one appointment with a writing tutor during my absence.

Once I answer emails, grade assignments, and input grades into the gradebook, I need to move on to my own research and writing. I am working on a scholarly article to submit for publication. I have already read 25 peer reviewed articles and compiled my notes into “literary review” spreadsheets. I now have two weeks to finish 2,500 to 3, 750 words before my appointment with a peer who will help me review the structure and content. Even as a writing coach and an English instructor, I use peer review to improve my writing.

In addition to the academic article, I am doing research for a tutoring conference this October. A couple of my peers and I will be presenting on a panel, addressing our roles as mentors as well as writing coaches. Our work together may also result in an article for publication, but our main concern right now is preparing for our presentation.

During the break between summer semester and fall semester, I would like to record some video lectures to improve the online content of the blended courses I teach. I pay close attention to student feedback. If my students seem to have difficulty understanding something, I automatically assume there is a gap in the instruction that needs to be filled, and I look for ways to fill it.

Finally, there are my own projects. My poor neglected novel and Crafting the Message instructional videos I would like to produce. Those two must wait patiently.

I guess my leisurely summer is over. I enjoyed a slower pace during June, but now it is time to kick it into high gear. I usually work well under pressure as long as a stay organized, and I start early. I also make it a habit of breaking things down into manageable steps as well, just like I teach my students. The deadline for my scholarly article is not until September, but here I am, working on the first draft in July. I know when the Fall semester hits, those 50-60 hour work weeks will start.

I have also learned that I need to take time to be creative. Writing, painting, drawing, and art journaling can help keep the creative impulse fresh and creativity is key to productivity. I also recognize that I also have to exercise to relieve the tension (I look forward to my appointment with the trainer later today). Finally, rest is also important. It’s funny how exhausted you can get from thinking. It’s a different kind of tired than the physical exhaustion you feel from manual labor or exercise. Mental exhaustion leaves you feel tense instead of relaxed. The gears in your mind seem to slow down and then screech to a halt as you try to push yourself beyond your capacity. That’s when I read or watch a little Netflix.

So, there you have it. The messy hodgepodge that is swimming around in my mind today. I feel ready to face the day and tackle each task one by one.

What about you? How do you handle productivity pressure? How do you keep it from turning into more destructive forms of stress?2013-09-10_1378814124