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End of the Quarter Thoughts and Some Design Fun

June 9, 2017

Happy Friday, dear readers! I hope you’ve had a lovely week and have something wonderful planned for this weekend. Hard to believe we are already through more than a week of June. The time really does fly, though I know I’m hoping for it to slow down a bit as we head into summer. It is almost the end of the quarter here, grades are due next week, and commencements are happening this weekend. So I wanted to share a few thoughts on the end of the quarter and, of course, some design fun.

The end of this term marks nine years of teaching at my university, which also means I’ve taught first-year freshmen for nine years. The years have flown by, yet at the same time it seems like I’ve been teaching forever. Many of you can empathize with the conflicting feeling about how time feels, especially with regards to work. I’m in no way an expert, yet, in teaching and I find myself questioning more every year as I research, practice, and reflect to become better. But even as I continue to learn and grow, which we all should do as teachers (and I’d argue all librarians and archivists are teachers), I have a few thoughts to share that have helped me through the wonderful highs and inevitable lows of teaching, especially with this past quarter.

This past quarter was a rough one for most of the instructors I talked with, both inside and outside my department, for a multitude of reasons. But even when it seems like the world is tilting the wrong way and there are a dozen other things competing for my time and attention, when I’m in the classroom I’m there 100%. It doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge what else is happening–it is crucial, especially in a class on information literacy–but it can’t overwhelm so that I’m not there, present (really present) for my students. Creating a place of calm, of discussion, of learning, of sanity was vital this quarter.

By spring quarter, many of my first-year students were already overwhelmed and ready to check-out for summer. But creating an orderly space, creating trust, and setting expectations gave my students who made use of the class a place where they could take ownership over their learning and create some control over what is often an uncontrollable total experience in life (and in the academy). Getting students to engage is always the hardest hurdle to jump, but once they do, once they feel like it is important, then the rest is so much easier.

One constant from all my classes is that reflection is one of the most effective and powerful tools for teaching that I’ve found. When I first had students start writing weekly reflections years ago, I had a number of colleagues who told me it was a waste of time. Students would just parrot whatever I said in class and wouldn’t take it seriously. They would write whatever they thought I wanted to read, I was told. None of that turned out to be true. While some students don’t complete their reflections (you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do, even if points are attached), most diligently complete them each week and are honest (sometimes brutally) about what they learned, how they’ve found it useful (or not), and what concerns they have moving forward. It has been one of the best ways I’ve found to get my students to review what they’ve learned and to find sticky points to improve in future classes.

Finally, I’ve had to accept that there is no perfect lesson, no perfect assignment, no perfect thing I can say that will reach all my students to get them to engage and succeed in my class. I can try a dozen different ways to explain, to connect, to help, but if a student doesn’t want to come to class or do the work, in the end I have little to no control over that. We can’t make anyone do anything; we can only guide and support. So I’ve had to let go of taking it personally when students don’t hand in assignments or answer my emails. I’ve had to learn not to take it as a personal failing when a student doesn’t pass my class. If I’ve done everything I can to support a student and they haven’t accepted my support, there is nothing else I can do. This continues to be the most frustrating and disappointing aspect of teaching, but I’m learning to live with it and focus on the vast majority of students that do see the value in the course and want to learn.

Those are just a few of my jumbled thoughts through the haze of grading. Perhaps there will be more later, perhaps not. But now, let’s get into some design fun before we head out for the weekend.

A new month means new desktop wallpapers and Smashing Magazine doesn’t disappoint with June Desktop Wallpapers.

Also, there’s another lovely, free icon set available for your summer designing needs: Geometric UI Icons

Plus, a longer read from Smashing Magazine, Make ‘Em Shine: How to Use Illustrations to Elicit Emotions

I hope you have a wonderful day and weekend filled with good reads, good friends, and some good food. I hope you have something fantastic to design or to make that makes your heart lighter. And I hope that you have some lovely summer plans. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes.

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