The Book Is Simply Not Enough: Student Learning Rights

Horseback riding through the soggy coastal trails in Dominican Republic, I passed piles of garbage, piles that had no where to go, humps of trash that would never be removed or placed in a dumpster for pickup. The garbage trucks don’t come out to this area, where aqua colored shacks and cabins cluster like the skinny chickens clucking. Everyone’s laundry has no choice but to try and dry in this humid air.

When the little ones ran over, they surrounded my horse like a school of hungry fish. They brought me wrinkled flower petals and unrecognizable produce. Each begged for a dollar, I gave them all my ones. They tried to appear thankful, but a deep and hollow starvation consumed their little faces.

It was only after my wallet was emptied when I saw him in the corner of my eye, a man observing the dance, peering through the palms. He was the choreographer, and I wondered how many cents he would let the kids keep.


I hope that my few depictions illustrate the level of poverty plaguing these rural villages so you can properly imagine how surprised I was to see a young man playing with a smart phone. Throughout all these famished faces and bundles of debris resides a multitude of cell phones. It would appear that the phones are more important than food or sanitation.

And they are. Having access to a smart phone daily is vital. The phone provides access to the news, the bus schedules, entertainment, contact with family and work opportunities. Even the most impoverished are completely leashed to technology. In order to keep up, connection to the world wide web strangely but truly becomes more essential than a meal.

Our reliance on technology compares to our need for water. Its profound meddling with our species won’t stop anytime soon. It has extended its reach all the way into Dominican valleys. Into outer space, into jungles and war zones. It’s in every student’s hands.

To teach with only a book is not enough. In order to make contact with pupils, educators must recognize that technology is no longer a supplement, but a main ingredient, a vital organ.

It’s not that students don’t want to learn the material presented in a book or throughout a lecture; it’s essentially that they can’t. Literally, since birth their information absorbing processes are digital, dynamic, quick.


They grew up on this stuff!

A contemporary higher education student does not struggle with multiple screens, he or she sees them all, processing all of the imagery together. For example, reading a text on a phone while watching TV and flipping through a magazine are routinely performed at once with ease. It’s not juggling; it’s simultaneous entry.

Though generational gaps between students and educators have grown into chasms, with the rampant social implementation of smart devices, it is the professor’s responsibility to recognize and assimilate to the mass influence technology has on his/her students’ developments. Assuming and expecting a class can sit quietly for a fifty minute lecture without any varying activity is, at this point in time, unreasonable.

Pure lecturing or reading from a text is not good enough, sticking to this dated teaching strategy is a burden students should no longer carry. It is their right to learn in their language.

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Trump’s Effect on Teachers

You may have heard the phrase, “The Trump Effect” recently. It refers to an “emboldened” attitude permeating the student bodies of many schools. Teaching Tolerance and The Southern Poverty Law Center completed a report based on a survey of over 2,00o teachers, posing questions about student behavior and culture since this the start of this year’s (2016) Presidential Election campaigning. The report unveils startling insight about how this election is impacting academic institutions.

The report directly quotes some of the participants’ comments anonymously. One teacher explained, “[Students] are increasingly political (which is good),” she wrote, “but the extreme rhetoric being modeled is not helping their ability to utilize reason and evidence, rather than replying in kind.”

Teachers and educators have noted increased incidents of bullying and verbal hostility. One of the challenges American teachers face is teaching tolerance during classroom discussions; the examples displayed throughout this campaign (regardless of political party affiliations) do not align with the lessons many educators try to teach. The report explains, If marginalized students are fearful and hurting, it’s partly because other “students seem emboldened to make bigoted and inflammatory statements about minorities, immigrants, the poor, etc.,” wrote a Michigan teacher.

How does one explain to a young person that the rhetoric these presidential candidates openly use is not allowed during in-class discussions.  They are presidential candidates, yet this political ethos is not reflected in their expressions, nor does it guarantee credibility (apparently). This is confusing, especially because ethos is one of the rhetorical tools they learned to look for.

The behavioral and social complications brought upon by this election does not stop at the foot of the learner; this election also affects the educators (from pre-school to higher education). Throughout the SPLC and Teaching Tolerance report, teachers expressed their own versions of the Trump Effect.

Many said that for the first time they are struggling to remain bipartisan and stoic. Some have completely abandoned any attempts at remaining unbiased for the sake of their own personal value systems or for the sake of offering support to minority students. Many teachers have taken the silent route by choosing not to discuss the election in class; this contrasts with teacher attitudes during previous elections, when elections and debates were embraced as a learning opportunity.

From an educator’s perspective, I can attest to feeling what I want to call, “The Teacher’s Trump Effect.” I have never before felt the level of anxiety I feel today when we discuss anything related to this particular election in class. As a Composition teacher, I prioritize the ability to remain unbiased, open-minded and professional. However, these past few months I’ve become overly analytical of my own words in the classroom; this leads me to an insecure mindset.

I feel out of my element as we try to discuss the crass debates. Instead of pointing out instances of admirable communication, students and I criticize the candidates’ behaviors and word choices. I would much rather discuss debates that consist of effective and graceful communicators. As a result of all this drama, we also make a lot of jokes.

Making jokes about the candidates and news headlines is one area both students and teachers can all appreciate. But even in a lighthearted funny moment, I stop to ensure that I’m making fun of them equally. Then I wonder, is my joking just another symptom of the Trump Effect?

You can read the full SPLC report here.

A Family of Poets and Writers

As odd and unlikely as it sounds, I come from a family of writers and poets. Both my mother and father are published authors. My sister is the editor for her college’s literary journal, Miambiance, a blossoming poet herself.

And today is Arts & Letters Day. We were invited to read our work as a triad of poets– each of us from a different generation. For the first portion of the reading, we each shared our own works individually. First my sister read, then I and then my professor/poet mother. Each of us presented not only our work, but also our own presence, energy, sense of self.


After a ten minute break, we came back on stage to share the second batch of fruits from our endeavor– our collaborations. We read three poems that the three of us wrote together one afternoon. Line by line, word by word, we concocted surreal patterns in language. We forbade ourselves from editing or changing any of each others’ lines. We read these clunky collages to our youthful audience.


While we were somewhat apprehensive to read unedited work aloud to an audience, we were also somewhat liberated. As a result of the collaboration process, I felt less self conscious, less obsessed with every line. Not only did the strange poems come out pretty well–our images quilted nicely together–but also my state of mind differed greatly from my usual tightly wound (and as a result probably buzzed) state of mind during my individualized readings.

So, the collaboration did produce a kaleidoscope of art, and it inspired me to read work that I had not obsessively edited yet during the first portion of the reading. In other words, I let myself trust my words. Instead of scrutinizing every metaphor to ensure some version of intellectual or literary complexity, I shared work that revealed more authentic self-expressions.


I gained insight from this experience. I remembered that before grad school I was also a poet, with a very patented style. I used to write in short lines with bold concrete images. However, throughout grad school I ventured into all sorts of new territories–the territory of traditional structures, experimental and voyeuristic paragraphs with off centered line breaks, long lines and imitations. Today, I read some poems that are rooted in my pre-MFA self. I wrote them recently, and while I was writing I told myself I could fall back into old habits, old habits that apparently aren’t bad at all. I felt at home writing them. I felt proud sharing them.

I am so proud of us.


How “How To”s and “The Best Of”s Can Enhance Writing Instruction

When I first started the blog, Pink Curlers & Post Scripts, my main focus was to create a new avenue for my self-expression. I wanted to access a less serious side to my writing and art. I aimed to design a more “pop” version of my creative addictions with the hopes of freeing myself from the weighty pressures of academia and connecting to a more mainstream readership. As a professor, the pressure to write and sound intellectual is ever present. With the “pop” blog, I like being able to create away from these expectations.

Initially, I had no idea what I was doing; now, I have just a little more experience in the realm of blogging. I began by reading suggestions posted by other bloggers, “How to Get More Readers,” “How to Write a Good Post,” “10 Ways to Connect More with Your Readership.” I learned, for example, that blog readers enjoy and even expect a list format. Sub-headers in bold help keep the reader moving along quickly. They want the main points highlighted and easy to find. Paragraphs should appear short. Exclamation points are acceptable. Correct grammar is still highly regarded though. Images and vivid infographs carry a lot of appeal.

Inevitably, my new skills seeped into my lesson plans. The “How To” list format became an essential tool for teaching participation techniques. At the start of the semester, I struggled to gain the class participation I was used to in one particular class which was especially culturally diverse. I realized that I take my students’ abilities and desires to participate for granted. With this class, no matter how many times I reminded them that participation is part of their final grades, the students remained mute. Don’t they want to succeed? I would think, I just don’t get it.

It finally occurred to me that the confidence to participate in class is a cultural trait and a learned skill. I realized that my students in this class may have had no background knowledge about the practice of in-class participation. They were overwhelmed and at a disadvantage.


This is when the blogging experience came in handy. I sculpted an underwhelming “How To Participate in Class” reading which I assigned for homework. I laid out the basics of in class participation. I also offered tips, like “write down questions to ask in class the night before while you’re reading,” and “aim to make at least one comment per class.” As it turns out, the bold phrases and the list format conveyed what could have seemed like a daunting process as a simple, accessible compilation of directions and short guidance.

I’ve found that list writing can not only benefit teacher to student communication but also the student’s brainstorming process. If I ask them to bring a list of supporting details or a list of the best sentences from a reading etc. they can access precise details from reading more easily. Furthermore, the implementation of the list information then assists their writing processes. It’s less restrictive than constructing an outline, with less academic (aka boring–to them) connotations, yet it’s just as effective for gathering material as well as enabling research and close reading.

As frustrated as I am with the open laptops and constant phone grazing they do, at least I can connect some of my priorities to theirs. Perhaps the same liberty I feel while blogging can enrich their creation processes too.

Image Adds Merit to any Depiction, even in conversation

I wonder if the technologies in my classroom offer an HDMI cord. This way, I could use my phone to project some images on the whiteboard quickly, rather than have to email myself jpgs, access the internet on the classroom computer, sign into my email account, download the pictures, etc. –my usual methodology. Following that thought, popped up a new thought, perhaps there is a difference from using a personal technology device rather than a school owned device to teach. I see that I am beginning to regard the mobile devices I own as personal extensions of myself rather than as useful tools.

In an educational setting, utilizing one’s own device could produce expected and potential problems: personal anecdotes made throughout lessons could be more easily accompanied by visual aids. Providing a personal anecdote throughout a lecture for the purpose of example or comparison is more likely to captivate students– think of JFK speeches. Every once in a while, I mention my dog to explain a metaphor. A student will inquire, “What type of dog is it?” Immediately, my instinct is rummage through my briefcase or dig into my pocket and bring up a photo on my phone to show the room.

It has become a fact that my personal mobile devices and/or my use of technology in the classroom serves me as well as my vocal cords do. I lecture and explain things regularly, and (as you may know), in writing, one must show not tell for more effective reader engagement. My loyalty to this writing strategy has grown into my communication strategy. Do I now tend to show and not tell everything? As I tell anyone about my dog, I want to show her to them. She’s a striking, enchanting animal, more charismatic than most humans. Her appeal can not be depicted precisely. The most accurate way to describe her–without the use of an image– is with metaphors. She is Rita Hayworth and a panda bear.


One can try to imagine a creature composed of Rita Hayworth and a panda bear. It sounds phenomenal like the moon. It is at this point where an image adds merit to any depiction.