The Hustle

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My friend Christina and I were chatting not too long ago about the desperate lengths one will go to make progress on one’s dissertation. She told me about the various desperate phone calls she’s had recruiting participants for her study, and I tried to reassure her that this isn’t “desperate”, this is “the hustle”. We should reframe this type of work the way rappers do when they have to sell drugs on the street to make money before dropping their mixtape or something–we’re just “hustlin”. (Yes, I compared recruiting participants for a dissertation to selling drugs. I am desperate.)

I came up on my own hustle situation recently when I finished writing the pre and post assessment for my study. This assessment is meant for the 5th graders I’ll be working with– I am going to give it to them at the beginning and at the end of the One Hen unit to see what they have learned. The assessment asks a few questions about economics and entrepreneurship to meet the state and national standards for elementary economics. I thought what I had developed made sense and that I had made it kid-friendly, but my experience writing assessments for NHA has taught me that you never really know the assessment is good until you see the kind of answers it produces. Since this assessment is a very important piece of data in my study, I don’t want to wait until I give it to my dissertation participants before I discover it won’t work. At that point, I will be screwed. So the best solution is to “pilot” the assessment with some kids that are not part of the dissertation to see what happens before I give it “for real.” Sounds easy, but I don’t know any kids.  I ideally need a kid going into 5th grade and none of my friends’ kids are that old yet, and since I have been basically writing and working for 4 years, I haven’t gotten to know any of my neighbors and their kids.

While I was trying to figure out this new dilemma, my nephews came to visit. They live in Houston and come up once a year, usually in the summer, to escape the insane Texas heat (unfortunately this year, the heat followed them to MI). They stay a while and Mike & I usually spend a few weekends tubing with them on the boat on the lake, swimming in the pool, and having dance parties in my living room– you know, typical aunt & uncle activities.


While playing in the lake one weekend, it hit me all of a sudden– my nephews are kids! And the oldest of the three, Mikey (in the blue life jacket above), is going into 4th grade which is close enough to 5th grade! Yep, I had decided to resort to using my own family to help me with this assessment. Just hustlin’. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Mikey turned out to be an easy sell to help me despite having to take a “test” about topics he knows nothing about during his summer vacation. I guess he just loves his aunt. Or, he liked the idea of being able to tell a teacher whether her test questions were good or not. Or, the thought of a $10 Walmart gift card to spend on whatever toy he wanted was an incentive. I am going to pretend it’s the first one.  Mikey was also a tremendous help, pointing out words he didn’t know and telling me when some questions were redundant (or seemed that way). My favorite is when he started reading the directions to one set of questions out loud, gave up, and finished them by saying “blah blah blah…”  Kids are pretty blunt about when you’re too wordy, apparently.


I really am going to take his suggestions to heart on this one. The fact that he’s going into 4th grade, not 5th, actually made sense. Perhaps many of the students I’ll be working with might be a grade level below when beginning the school year and most likely would struggle with a few of the same things Mikey did. I think I want to pilot this with more students, but I am out of nephews. If anybody knows of any 5th graders, let me know. The hustle continues…

“I’ll get it done this summer”

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The title of this post is a common phrase I hear among doctoral students. I’ve even said it numerous times myself, a lot in the past week. There’s always this sense that the summer is free–free to work on whatever you’ve been meaning to get done during the year, full of unlimited time to write. Although leaving NHA has certainly freed up some time for me, I have found that I haven’t always had unlimited time for my dissertation this summer. And saying “I’ll get it done this summer” becomes more ridiculous as July winds to a close and the Aug 21 start date for the new school year gets closer and closer. So what have I been doing this summer besides writing?

I have been teaching.  I am teaching an online class– TE 842. It’s a Masters class called Elementary Reading and Assessment. Masters classes require more from the students regarding reading and writing, so that means more grading for me. Online teaching has its pros and cons and it certainly requires a lot of organization on my part. I try to read/grade at least 5 papers/submissions every day, if not more.

I have been coding data. For the first time in my grad school career, I am on a large research project called FAME (Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators–although I always want to sing “Fame! I want to live forever!!” when I work on it). I have been watching videos of teachers in their professional development meetings and meticulously writing down what they talk about, what questions they ask, and how in-depth their discussion is. I have been assigned to write “cases” of two schools and the team is trying to make some conclusions about the teacher meetings for an AERA presentation. I have really enjoyed working on a research project like this and I regret not being able to do this sooner in my time at MSU.

I have been planning. My last commitment to NHA is to teach a 2-day workshop next week on social studies instruction. This isn’t like writing a conference paper, or planning for a class. It’s 9 hours of instructional time that I am in charge of! I am looking forward to teaching about social studies again, and I think I have some fun activities planned for these NHA teachers. It’ll be nice to see some NHA people for the first time since I left.

All of these things have caused me to put my dissertation on hold these last couple of weeks. I have to get back in the game soon though because finishing my dissertation proposal revisions is the one thing I d need to get done this summer.

2,000 Words

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I took a bit of time off of working and writing to give myself a bit of a mini-vacation for the 4th of July and to celebrate my anniversary with my hubby (8 years of him putting up with me being a student, which I have been the entire time we’ve been dating and married, I realized). And it’s also been so hot that I couldn’t resist “working” from my beach office, and by “working” I mean flipping through an Entertainment Weekly with some friends while working on my still non-existent tan.

But today, I am back in my thankfully air conditioned office and slightly freaking out about my first deadlines which are both coming up in the next two weeks–submitting a short version of my dissertation proposal to the CUFA and AERA conferences. CUFA is the College and Universtity Faculty Assembly for the National Council for Social Studies (a mouthful, I am aware). It’s the research arm of NCSS. I am presenting my work at the large NCSS conference, but I would also like to present my work in this research division to other social studies researchers as well. This is important since I would love to someday be considered part of that group. AERA is the American Educational Research Association conference, which is essentially the mother of any research conference, and it’s the hottest party of the year in ed research.  I have been trying to get accepted to present my work there for the last two years with no luck, however I feel like what I have worked on now is better than my other work, so we’ll see.

The challenging part of preparing your submission to these conferences is that they only accept submissions of 2,000 words or less. That sounds like a lot, but rest assured it is not remotely enough to explain my dissertation study. This blog post is already 300 words and I’ve just explained the conferences! To put it in perspective, I have been working on fixing the version of the dissertation proposal I already wrote and it is 8,500 words. And I have more to ADD! Cutting your work down so much is a serious higher-order thinking exercise– you want it to get at the heart of your work and still be compelling enough for someone to choose it to be presented. At the same time, a lot of it has to go.

I have one week to make the cuts and prepare my submissions, but I am also working on an online course I started teaching on Monday (TE 842: Elementary Reading Assessment and Instruction), my presentation I’m making at a NHA conference at the end of July, work for the research team I’m on, tweaking the One Hen unit, applying for IRB (I’m sure another great blog post for the future) and of course fixing my proposal to resubmit to my committee. My stack of books is also growing:

I made my first trip to the MSU library last week since PhD orientation. (YES, first. Don’t judge.) Once I got past the novelty of staring at the colored lines on the floor directing you to the books you need Alice-in-Wonderland style, I managed to add more to my never-ending reading list. I have a feeling it won’t be my last trip there either.

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