Category Archives: education

Canva Convert

When I first started using Canva a few years ago, I was, well, rather meh about the whole experience. I wanted to make YouTube channel art for my professional writing course, and I muddled through with a series of free icons in complementary colors.

This semester, however, I’m making new graphics every week! I change out the header for my online freshman writing class with important reminders:

Exercise deadline reminder

Midterm Exam reminder

Week 10 topic announcement with activity reminder

Week 11 topic

I also have turned to Canva to create graphics for Kahoot! review quizzes for my capstone English majors and minors. Students need to recognize specific passages from major works of American and British literature, and it’s easy to paste in the text I need with some labeled-for-reuse images:

quote from Waiting for Godot

Who wrote it? Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

first four lines of The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Who wrote it? Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”



What’s the best way to put together an upper-level, undergraduate course on Shakespeare?

shakespeare digital app

CC licensed image from Samsung Newsroom,

Here’s what I have linked so far for nine different plays:

Discussions will emphasize synthesizing all of these different materials. We also would spend a week on several sonnets, with other poems introduced in tandem with plays (I like doing Sonnet 57 with Caliban in The Tempest, for example).

What am I missing?

MOOCs for Writing Remediation

I am intrigued by research into non-credit developmental English MOOCs as a means of reducing the need for remediation.

The article linked above raises a very important point at the very beginning: “a large percentage of students who require remedial education become mired in courses that are taught using the same deficit-based pedagogy that contributed to their failure to master the curriculum in high school” (Whitmer, Schiorring, James, and Miley 1). If that’s the case, then why not try something very different, like the five-module MOOC called Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools for the Trade.

The study found that while only 8% of the enrolled students earned a passing grade for this non-credit course, 23% actively engaged with the materials and therefore may have gotten something valuable out of the experience. Engagement could be with instructional videos, discussion forums, quizzes, assignments, and surveys — a spectrum of ways for learners to pick up information about improving writing skills.

Probably the most interesting finding, to me, is this:

The act of taking the entry survey or participating in the online learning readiness quiz were both significantly related to participation (p < .001).

Note that it doesn’t say passing the quiz. Students who weren’t ready for online learning still participated in the MOOC at relatively high rates.

How can I use these data in my own, drastically smaller class? I give an optional “getting to know you” survey that I ask students to complete during the first week of a new term; I need to reach out more aggressively than I already do, perhaps, to those learners who haven’t done the short Google form questionnaire by the middle of week 2.

Giveaways for My Future Teachers!

I really did try to do this via Instagram, but my phone was having none of it. I’m clearing out my collection of workbooks, and rather than get $0.07 at the used bookstore or try to make a buck on Craigslist, I’m giving away everything pictured below for FREE.

First 3043 student to claim an item, via the comments, gets it. Please request no more than 2 items to start — if things are left over, I’ll let the class know.

You need to come to my office, Hilliard 213, during my office hours between Nov. 16 and Dec. 4 to pick up your goodies.

Multicultural stories, perfect for diversity TEKS

Multicultural stories, perfect for diversity TEKS


Elementary grades reading workbooks


Grades 1-2 “All About Me” options to photocopy


More multicultural tales to read to your class!


Sturdy dry-erase cards for number practice. 3 pens included.


Sturdy dry-erase cards for letters practice. 3 pens included.


Complete kindergarten curriculum


4 books, actually, with answers to common how? when? why? where? questions


Colorful writing strategies (maps, clustering) in a hard-back book


Story Cubes: throw a certain number of dice, then invent a story using all the items pictured.

K8 Writing

Writing lesson ideas for K-8

Designing an online humanities course

A relatively new course at my university is Introduction to Humanities, and it’s proving pretty popular, perhaps because it has no prerequisites and fulfills a core curriculum / general education requirement. Because the Dean of the College asked that all core classes be approved for online delivery, I have been working on building a complete, 15-week syllabus centered on fairy tales, one of my research specialties. We will look at different versions of several tales, from a variety of cultures, alongside illustrations, songs, ballets, cartoons, and films.

Illustration of "Sleeping Beauty" by Jennie Harbour

Illustration of “Sleeping Beauty” by Jennie Harbour

So far, I’m taking advantage of the online environment in some of the following ways:

I’m also trying to mix structure with choice. The course starts with five sequential weeks focused on a handful of folklore theories (Propp’s 31 functions and Jung’s archetypes), writing about illustrations, and setting up compare-contrast analyses. Students will get used to reading short selections, watching video clips, and participating in online discussion forums as they work up to their first major graded assignment.

Once I post the first essay grade, students will gain access to three modules that they can do in any order; one must be completed every three weeks, however. Modules introduce additional cultural and ethical analysis, in keeping with student learning outcomes for this particular area of the core curriculum, and students will write a paper or create a presentation for the module’s big assessment. For example, the ethical analysis module explores Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and the Brothers Grimm version of “The Brave Little Tailor,” particularly

I am planning to make the final exam available from day one, since students will be writing an original fairy tale with an accompanying explanation of their inspirations, the Propp functions and Jungian archetypes consciously used, etc.

Given that the class has no prerequisites and therefore is likely to have a high proportion of freshmen, I hope that this approach can ease the transition into online learning!

A Course in Contemporary Novels

Last spring, a student came to my office, discouraged with the slated course offerings for Fall 2015. “I’ve taken all of those classes,” she explained. “And I want to read books. Novels. Lots of them.”

Naturally, I offered to design an independent study course in contemporary long fiction.

We discussed what she had read and what she wanted to read, and I set about pulling together a list of novels. I’ve taught some of them several times; others, I’ve read only once, years ago. The result? The following eleven novels, grouped into three clusters…

five novels including Kindred push never let me go

1) Coming of age as a child of color

  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Push by Sapphire

2) Navigating the world as a minority adult

  • Passing by Nella Larsen
  • Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange
  • The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

3) Surviving postmodern dystopia / science fiction

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I ended up, consciously, with ten authors of color and, mostly consciously, with eight female authors — probably my research interests in gender studies made me think of more books by women. Also, to be completely frank, because independent studies don’t yield any teaching credit or additional pay, I want to cover texts that I don’t mind re-reading, and for me, that means no Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, or Philip Roth!

Any suggestions for complementary or contrasting novels?

Hitting the Virtual Ground Running

Maybe it’s just me and the way I go about online classes, but folks always seem surprised when, on the second day of the semester, I’m already grading work for multiple students.

At the moment, I have 76 students across three courses (two different preps). In the core writing class, students have their first discussion forum to complete by tomorrow at 11pm. The forum includes two activities that ask students to apply and/or synthesize information from the week’s text and video lectures. If everyone completes the work, I have 48 separate posts that need reading, scoring, and responding — at least in the beginning of the term, I try to respond to everyone on everything, to build confidence and to reassure students that I really am there for them. The first posts actually came in last Saturday, before classes even started; I have commented, complimented, drawn attention to other evidence supporting their claims, and double-checked that the grade book is working every day since then.

My self-paced, upper-level, social media writing class doesn’t have deadlines until December. Still, earnest students start on the work immediately. I spent time on Monday, the first day of the term, following new professional accounts on Twitter and Pinterest and responding to tweets and pins…so students know I have found their virtual presences and can proceed confidently. One pupil already has earned 46 out of 60 points on the class Twitter project.

I also devoted a good chunk of time on the first day of classes to setting up class accounts, composing deadline reminders as far in advance as I could (you can’t schedule past 90 days into the future) and creating an orientation video for the core writing class. Every day, I have to check my class rosters to see who has enrolled; because it can take 24 hours for a student to get access to the LMS, I email everyone a welcome note with the course syllabus, the first week’s lecture PDFs, and video links. I sent five such e-mails this afternoon.

Essentially, most of this week, when I have looked up, I have seen something like this, only with a Diet Coke, a lot more paper, and approximately 42 post-its:

Could I just wait and grade those 48 discussion posts after the 11pm Saturday deadline? Sure. If a student takes the time to do the work early, however, I feel I can take a few minutes to respond in kind, addressing the student by name and giving 1-2 sentences of “I like how you…” or “I agree…” or “Did you also notice…”

Additionally, I find that if I mark all of the submissions at once, my comments become more redundant…and every student can see every single one of my replies. Online classes can feel impersonal enough without the professor posting a canned “great ideas” 15 times in a row, and students often complain that their online instructors “don’t do anything.” 24 comments from me sure looks like work. So, yes, I’m one of those people who checks the course LMS a few times each day

I guess I want students to know that, even though we may never see each other in person, I do see, read, and respect their work. Therefore I hit the virtual ground running, and I won’t stop jogging until December.