36 Questions to Help Create a Classroom Tribe


Creating a Learning Tribe Means Making Real Connections

As a new academic year approaches, I am thinking about ways to get and keep my students engaged in our class, and a significant part of that is getting them to connect with one another as they can influence one another’s attitudes and ideas.

Back in 1997 published results of his study about creating closeness (see “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings“) and many people have used the 36 questions from his experiment as a way to increase closeness. As this Psychology Today article points out, two people asking and answering these questions takes about 45 minutes, so it would be hard to use up an entire class period to do in class — and I think pairs might feel more comfortable in a different setting anyway.

As a result, I am considering using this as an “early in the semester” getting to know one another assignment. The information from the “interview” can be used for a partner assignment: each person writes up an introduction to their partner

  • only the partner sees the first draft –> and gives feedback about that information he/she would like shared with the class
  • instructor sees the second draft –> feedback comes in the form of rhetorical and language use “improvement”
  • the third draft is shown to the partner who gives final approval on content
  • final drafts are posted on password protected class website as written introductions of “tribe members”

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized August 12, 2015

Fear Not Statistics

fear-of-statstics  It has been years since my last statistics class, and most of the number crunching I do these days is fairly standard stuff like creating formulas for grading in Excel or Google spreadsheets, so now when it is time crunch more data, I need a refresher.

Here are websites that will make your statistical life as a writing & rhetoric scholar a little easier:

  1. http://www.robertniles.com/stats/   —  a good basic introduction to statistics for writers
  2. http://www.csun.edu/~amarenco/Fcs%20682/When%20to%20use%20what%20test.pdf — a handout with terms and advice for using what test when –> be sure to scroll to the bottom.
  3. https://explorable.com/statistics-tutorial from Explorable.com — a website that presents “an attempt to summarize vital parts of research and make the scientific method more available to laypersons.”
  4. http://www.stattutorials.com/EXCEL/index.html — statistics tutorials using MS Excel 
  5. http://www.excel-easy.com/ —  tutorials (Introduction, Basics, Functions, Data Analysis and VBA) on how to use MS Excel


1 comment Posted in  Uncategorized December 10, 2014

Academic Writing as Scholarly Mashups

Every year DJ Earworm makes a mashup of the popular songs from the year … and it makes a new song (and video) in itself.  Here’s the one for 2014:

As I have been commenting on student papers, it has dawned on me that using scholarly sources in your own paper is like creating a DJ Earworm mashup: you reply on the fact that people know the full songs (or at least can go look them up on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, etc) and you only need to take a small but key portion of the song and “put in in conversation” with the other songs related to you topic to create something bigger than the sum of all the parts taken separately (see  this webpage and this video to see information about the conversations in a Burkean Parlor for the “put in a conversation” reference). In other words, you have a jammin gestalt.
So how do you get sources “in conversation”? It’s tricky, but here’s the advice I gave a student:

Start with a “bigger” main idea of your own that you then get each source to “comment” on (present an idea from the source using a quote). After, or during, the comment of one source, join in with your own words and “interpret” the idea presented in that first quote by explaining how you see it “fitting into” your main idea and possibly also using that explanation to tie in an idea (quote) from one of other sources.  You are trying to get a good mashup here … it’s not just one song (scholarly source) you are playing, but samples from different song (scholarly sources) that you are finding the best way to fit together to create a new sound … a new track that is a mashup of the different samples you take, one that is your creation but a creation that relies on, is built from, the work of others.

This is all I have time for now … it IS the end of the semester and grades are due @ the end of the week.

2 comments Posted in  Uncategorized December 7, 2014

Disappointment as a Teaching Tool

My title sounds a bit barbaric, but I got the idea from listening to a Radiolab broadcast about morality in which a woman talks about a game she played in her third grade class.

While she learned a lot of lessons during the role play, the comment she made that stuck with me is that her teacher’s disappointment in her was the greatest factor that caused her to learn something about herself.

Head in Hands

I’m not into negative motivation as the basis of my teaching, but there is something to be said about its power when you have a relationship with a student and you are genuinely disappointed in him/her. There is great power in that to cause the student to move toward self reflection and self-learning.

There is more to think about this.

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized July 13, 2014

Student Identification and Acknowledgement

Since I can remember, my household  has had a copy of The Reader’s Digest.  It was always on the reading table next to the lounger in the family room of my parents’ house, and it was one of my “go-to” magazines. After I graduated college, my mom started gifting me a yearly subscription and we keep it in our house for “quick reading” opportunities and even my teenagers confess to reading it.

That said, I found an interesting short article in the 2014 edition about how a fifth grade teacher uses an index card system to get to know her students better, in particular to keep an eye out for which students need a little extra attention in terms of personal interaction. The teacher uses it as a method to help build empathy and decrease bullying in her classroom, all in an indirect way that does not “preach” to them.

I think some form of her method would be useful in college classrooms too. Here are links to the article and a Today Show piece about the teacher:

1 comment Posted in  Uncategorized June 6, 2014

Next Year in ENGH 121-122!

  1. Get them to write childhood “learning” memories early on — journaling 
    • While an entire lit narrative at this point will get them confused as what a “common” college writing assignment for history, econ, psych needs to look like, getting them to write moments will:
      • give us a window onto them as individuals (as people and as learners)
      • give us some raw text to use for grammar analysis (and which can be built upon)
      • give students a chance to reconnect with their past experiences in a reflective process (which they may not have had to do in school before).
  2. Do a crapload of reading early on
    • teach marking early
      • patterns of main idea and support
        • blue-green-yellow
        • outlining
      • annotation
        • left=topic/main idea in own word
        • right=author’s purpose
        • backside of text (blank space) write summary in own words
    • fast student written responses in class as quick quizzes– can use marked text
    • in a “Commonbook” (paper or digital) students collect three sentences a week that they like/find interesting
      • copy it into the book (by hand with pen or by typing –> no C&P
      • have students ID grammar forms we cover that week in these sentences
  3. Vocabulary –> do my old cards (paper or digital) but add “other forms” category on each card
  4. Before getting to the ALA,
    • Do some Aristotle workAristotle
      • Independent = bring in different types of texts & have students “look @ their fish” to come up with descriptions that differentiate and classify them
      • Guided = have students watch the article types video and complete the cloze worksheet

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized May 16, 2014

Literacy Narratives & Some of My Favorite Books as a Kid

These last weeks of the semester in ENGH 122, we are working on literacy narratives. The assignment asks students to write about two moments of learning to read or write, in either their first or second+ language(s). After that, they will look for a connection between the stories that says something about their literacy development.

To get them started, we encourage them to write about specific moments in detail. Helping the students with this, made me think of early literacy moments and some of the first books I remember returning to over and over as a young kid.

Here are a few of them:



And, believe or not, I really liked reading SRA cards:


Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized April 24, 2014

Teaching Layers of Paragraphs Development

  1. Use Kermit & “It Isn’t Easy Being Green”

  2. Serve Smith Island Cake to students who consistently write well developed paragraphs
    • and serve those with no development no cake and
    • those with minimal development one layer cake 😉SmithIslandCake

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized March 29, 2014

Lecture Capture – make that, Lecture Creation and Release – Performance Art

Just the other day I was talking with colleagues about the reality that teaching is performance art. You certainly have to know your “lines,” but simply knowing your lines is not enough. Good delivery is also important.

And now with lecture capture becoming more commonplace and easy to set up, it is time for me to consider doing it myself. This article from Campus Technology introduces some key ideas to contemplate: Lecture Capture: Lights! Camera! Action!

The primary benefit of lecture capture seems to me to be the idea of front-loading: have the students watch a multimedia-rich lecture that introduces ideas you want them to interact with – critical thinking, actually completing an activity – like a lab or peer review — and then during class time you have students actually DO the interaction.

I can easily doing this for:

  • peer review explanation/education (teach them what they need to look for, provide examples of yourself or other students doing this)
  • grammar education — take my old ppt and turn it into this format
  • modeling presentations
    • good ones
    • bad ones

I can build these lectures into media-rich resources that students can watch and re-watch as much as they like or need … and if they say they don’t understand the material I can ask them to re-watch the lecture, take notes, bring the notes into my office (as proof that they did indeed try to understand it) where we can go over the video lecture together. We can stop and rewind the video as much as needed and I can explicate and/or expand upon ideas as needed to help the student develop a full understanding of the material. Such an interaction still puts me in the position of informant/information provider, but it also greatly expands (and highlights) my roll as facilitator/coach, allowing me to model critical thinking and analysis with my students. Way more fun … and much more productive for the students in the long-run.

In reality, I would no really be doing lecture capture as much as lecture production and release … sounds kind of like “catch and release,” which I like …. hmmm, maybe I’ll have to call my process “Create and Release.” Ya … I like that.

I SO have to implement this.

Add comment Posted in  intructional technology ,Uncategorized  Tagged:  June 15, 2011

Google Docs – I’m finally willing, down-right eager actually

Google Docs small logo

A few years back I tried using Google docs for my class spreadsheet as a way to avoid having to remember which flash drive and/or desktop/laptop had the current truly up-to-date version of my spreadsheet. Back then Google spreadsheets were too iffy in terms of stability and did not have enough features to warrant moving from Excel to Google. This fall things are different.

I have been keeping my class spreadsheets on the Google cloud, and so far, so good. I have not had stability issues and have discovered many useful functions of the Google spreadsheet. My new favorite is the form.

Class Dictionary

In my last post, I talked about using moodle’s glossary function for a class dictionary. I still see merits to the moodle offering, but am now enamored with a Google spreadsheet that uses a form to collect data as my class dictionary for next semester. Here’s a preliminary run at it:

I will share the spreadsheet with students in the class so that they and I will be able to sort through it and edit as necessary. I have already set the sheet so that parts of speech are automatically color coded, so it is easy to see adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc right away, but a person can also sort the dictionary to get them all together. Likewise, I will be able to sort by student name to easily count if a student has submitted the required number of terms.

On-line Rubrics for Grading

I have even started making on-line rubrics that automatically count up points for me when grading assignments. Here’s an example from my High Advanced Reading summary review assignment.

Creating rubrics like this will be helpful as I work with my co-teacher next semester to grade writing assignments using a rubric: we will both use the rubric the same way AND have assess to the results in on-line form (which eliminates the need for me to keep my desk clean or not loose a sheet of notepaper with my grades on it).

We’ll see how this all goes! So far I have two wishes:

  1. I wish I could manipulate the layout of the data-receiving form more
  2. I wish I could create a output form (report) that presented data in a more aesthetically pleasing (and selectively revealing) fashion

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized  Tagged:  , , , , , December 14, 2010

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