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Desperate Measures

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When I envisioned how these last few days would go before handing in the dissertation to the committee, I envisioned making last minute line-edits, and taking my time to get formatting perfect, and reading and re-reading the entire document over the course of a week.

Well…the reality…not quite.

This last week has been a bit hectic. I am making significant content revisions to my Chapter 6 and 1, not to mention making some important edits to the rest of everything else. This week, the time has come for some serious desperate measures. Here is a list of things I have done this week that truly signify grad-student-deadline-desperation:

1. Instead of re-working a sentence like Anne-Lise suggests, sometimes I just delete it. Especially if it’s taking me more than 10 minutes to figure out how to re-work. I think, “Eh, do I really LOVE this sentence? No. Then forget it.”

2. ¬†I am citing 8 different articles/books written or co-written by Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman. This sometimes means that I forget which one I pulled which idea/quote from. I also discovered that one claim I wrote in my lit review I had attributed to a 1993 article of theirs. When I went to add more, I realized that it’s the wrong citation. So then I had to search through all 8 articles/books to find it desperately. I can’t half-ass that one since Anne-Lise has worked so closely with both of those researchers that if I use the wrong word, she notices. ūüôā Guess what I ended up doing when I couldn’t find the right citation? That’s right! DELETE!

3. I am so fed up with APA citations that I found myself Googling: ¬†“How do I cite the Common Core Standards?” Yes, I am now so sick of the APA manual I am just asking Google to do it for me.

4. I never thought I would do this, but I am now citing articles¬† I have read one sentence of (or sometimes less). We’re at the point that if the abstract looks good, and I can find a key sentence that I need, it’s going in there.

5. I only just recently put the entire dissertation into one document and that’s so that Mike could read it. Yes, I am so desperate that my hubby is making edits for me. That is, if he can make it through all 220 pages without falling asleep.

My goal is to hand this thing in to the committee on Tuesday. When I finally hit send on that bad boy, it’s going to be so glorious. However, it’s not going to be without some hard work tomorrow and Monday night. As if this wasn’t enough, I also have a job interview tomorrow at Grand Valley–the only university on the west side of the state that has invited me to campus. So this is big, but it hasn’t even been on my radar. THAT is desperate.

Polishing the Turd Into a Diamond

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As crude as the title of this post is, it accurately describe the stage I am in the writing process. At this point, I have achieved a very big step–every single chapter is drafted, and all the words are out on the page. But this step is not really anything to celebrate yet. I even hesitate to use the phrase “all of the words” because by no means is my dissertation “finished.” ¬†It’s time to re-read, re-work, re-write, and then re-visit and re-do all over again. My friend Rob called this stage “polishing the turd into a diamond.” I hope my first draft isn’t too “turdy” (Is that a word? Is there a continuum of how much of a piece of crap your writing can be at the beginning?) but it’s time to polish.

I approached revising with this project in pieces. After each chapter I drafted, I would send it on to Anne-Lise. She would give me comments and either say she wanted to see another draft of that chapter or parts of it or say it was good until the final read. She wanted to see parts of my Ch 2 (Lit Review) and Ch 3 (Methods) again and said my Ch 4 and 5 (Results) were probably good until the final read. This was a good method for me to stay on top of revisions. Even though she said she didn’t need to see my Chapter 4 and 5 again, they still needed polishing. So when she would send one back, I would take a few days and fix that chapter up. ¬†I figured that this would prevent me from doing marathon revising sessions so close to the due date.

However, due to some time constraints like grading and job interviews, I just sent her 3 chapters at once, which is basically half of my dissertation. Anne-Lise now needs to read two new chapters she hasn’t seen yet (Ch 6 and 1–yes, I wrote Chapter 1 last) and make sure the other two she wanted to see again are good (Ch 2 & 3). ¬†So it’s possible that I might have a lot of revisions on more than half of my dissertation that need to get done before the due date. So much for staying on top of things. Not to mention that since my dissertation currently doesn’t exist in one giant Word document, nobody (not even me) as read it start-to-finish.

So, there’ a pretty good chance I have a giant turd on my hands that needs to be a diamond pretty quickly. Since my defense is May 7, I need to turn in a “diamond” to my committee by April 23. That is 2 weeks from tomorrow. 14 days away. Good news is that I will have to call it a day on all of the polishing by then–it is possible to be so hung up on getting everything perfect that you never finish. That’s never been a problem for me–I like finishing things too much–but it is nice to know that in 2 weeks, it is what it is– turd or diamond. I hope, of course, it’s the latter.

How to Be Critical

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I just finished writing the 5th chapter of my dissertation where I discuss the pros and cons of teaching One Hen from the teacher perspective. Of course, since I was one of the teachers I’m relying a lot on my own reflections as data. (And, to think, my students hate writing reflections! They are useful!). The regular classroom teacher, Lynn, also has a perspective on the unit, and I interviewed her twice (once at the beginning and once at the end). ¬†When I write about the “cons” of the One Hen unit, I really need to take a look at what we did in practice or adjustments we made to the unit itself that didn’t work out so well. ¬†I am very used to looking at my own practice or my own lesson planning and reflecting on what went well and what didn’t. I am my own toughest critic when it comes to teaching. But critiquing someone else…that’s a different story.

But wait, one might say, I also teach teachers. Doesn’t that mean I have to critique other people? I do, but it’s different. It’s easy critiquing a student, they have taken a class seeking feedback. They are seeking new learning and someone to prompt THEM to look at their own teaching critically. Not necessarily to critique them. And most of my students aren’t even teachers yet, so I don’t have any qualms critiquing their practice because they are just developing their practices. In my dissertation, things are different…

Lynn is a veteran teacher who began her education career when I was still listening to Alanis Morissette in my basement. She has had so much more experience than I have. And we share the same approach to social studies education and a lot of the same beliefs about education in general. So when I have to reflect on her practice as well as mine to critique, it’s more difficult. For example, Lynn made a lot of adjustment to my original design of the One Hen unit. I am not so proud that I don’t want teachers to make revisions. In fact, I consulted several teachers when writing the unit. And I would assume teachers would need to adapt any unit to fit the needs of their specific students. And Lynn made several adjustments to the unit that I think made the unit a lot better, including field trips and beefing up the math standards and activities.

However, there were some choices that Lynn made adjusting the unit and implementing it that I wouldn’t have done. For example, Lynn wanted to have the students sell their products for a long time, whereas the original design of the unit is 4-5 days tops. In the end, Lynn got her way–the students sold their products for 4 WEEKS, not days. I rolled with it (she is the veteran), but looking back, I see that it wasn’t the best decision. The students “forgot” what they were selling for, there was a huge gap between instruction and the final assessment (that’s never good), and the students’ engagement with the project diminished. Even fun things stop being fun when they become routine. So, looking back, I think I was right. So how do I write about that?

I can’t just rip Lynn apart for this decision. It was made with good intentions; after all, the kids selling for longer meant they made more money. And Lynn is a human whom I happen to like very much. Nobody wants to read about how someone else questioned their professional decision-making. And really can I even judge what was the “right” decision as far as time? It’s complicated. I know that when I was teaching I could have taken more time on certain subjects to let students explore. This is something I have come into thinking more now that I have left the classroom than in actual practice. I, like many other teachers, faced the issue of too-much-to-cover-not-enough-time. Not mention, Lynn has expressed a desire to read my dissertation. What if she reads it and is offended by what I wrote?

At the moment, I am treading lightly with wording and hoping my message get across…

Save the Date

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This week has brought some big steps for me. ¬†These steps indicate that an end is near. Although I am not sure how I feel about the end of my “year of writing”, I am encouraged this week.

First of all, I spent a lovely Saturday getting to know some new/old friends from Twitter at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. It was nice to socialize with some people that previous to this I had only conversed with on Twitter. And I got to spend a day discussing books, reading, writing, and research with some super-smart people. That is a good time any day and it was much needed to get me out of my stay-at-home-alone-and-write funk that I was in.

Being alone much of the week must have been somewhat successful because I accomplished a lot writing-wise. I submitted a draft of my Ch 5 to Anne-Lise (a chapter about the classroom teacher in my study–another blog post coming on this) and I submitted a journal article for publication. The journal article came back within two days with a resubmit (“This really didn’t come alive for the reader”–blerg) and a deadline to resubmit within the week. More writing ahead!

I also got a call for another on-campus interview at U of M Flint. I had a phone interview with them a long time ago but since so much time had passed, I had written it off as a rejection. It had been so long since any news on the job front that I had resigned myself to not having one next year. This perked up my spirits a bit and helped me see that I need to stop being so discouraged so quickly. I have such a hard time being patient and my mind tends to go to a dark place where I assume the absolute worst. They want me to come out next Thursday. Mike said “Don’t they know it’s March Madness?” I don’t even care that I’m missing my favorite “holiday”–that’s how excited I am to go there.

I also decided to get out a bit more to break my cabin fever. I had dinner with friends and family this week and babysat my 4-year-old nephew. It was kind of nice to spend the afternoon dressing up like super heroes, schooling him in ¬†Just Dance on the Wii, and playing with his Star Wars action figures. His collection rivals any adult nerd’s, trust me. Even I was a bit geeked to see his¬†Millennium¬†Falcon, compete with Han Solo at the helm.

babysitting

 

But by far, my biggest news is that I have an official dissertation defense day set. The big day is Tuesday, May 7, at 2:00 pm.¬†I booked the day so nonchalantly¬†that it took me a couple days to realize what that day represents. It represents the last day of my MSU doctoral career. I started back in August of 2008, a middle school teacher that needed to read every article for every class with my Dictionary app in front of me. Five years later, I have turned into an educational scholar. And I truly feel like I have. I feel more and more confident in what I know with every passing year. I’m assuming this confidence will continue to grow regardless of where my career takes me after this. On May 7, I unveil the biggest work of my career this far. And I am really excited to do it, not nervous at all. Yet. I changed the date on the countdown clock on the side of this blog from a general day to the specific time. Time to keep working toward that end.

Spring Break

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Spring break is neither spring nor a break…discuss.

coffee talk

Seriously though. I said goodbye to my students on Tuesday for the next two weeks and it hardly feels like anything. I’m not planning a giant road trip like last year, or excited about sleeping in, getting my hair done, and catching up on TV shows like I used to do during Spring Break when I was teaching middle school. For me, Spring Break is just more of the same–write, write, write.

The last couple of weeks have been tough. I actually had two different blog posts composed that I deleted because they sounded too depressing. I’ll be honest when I admit that I didn’t know how lonely writing could be. Now I know why authors are so depressed sometimes–you get stuck in one world for such a long time and that can really mess with your head. No joke, I dreamed about curriculum integration last night. I dreamed that I went back to Lanley Elementary and interviewed the teacher and students again. I don’t get a break from thinking. Usually teaching gets me out of whatever funk I’m in because I get to escape the house, focus on other people, and do something creative, and that is a great recipe for inspiration and a refreshing new outlook. However, the last couple of weeks the commute has been so anxiety-inducing thanks to the insane winter we’ve been having that I can’t get inspired to teach either. I also got the news that I was not offered either of the jobs I interviewed for at CMU, which was a major bummer.

Yesterday, I forced myself to get out of the house and get out of my head space. I went with my friend and former colleague Tiffany to visit the school where we used to teach. I still have several friends there, so we grabbed lunch and brought it to the teacher’s lounge like old times’ sake. Everyone always says never to eat in the teachers’ lounge, but I never subscribed to that theory. It’s different when you work with your best friends. The week before, I drove out to Tiffany’s school in Grand Rapids where she is now an administrator and volunteered to do a center in a Kindergarten classroom for the 100th day of school. I had fun in both cases, but it made me miss K-12 teaching! Missing the little ones combined with the fact that I now have no real job prospects on the horizon, makes me think that if I were offered an elementary teaching position right now I would take it. ūüôā So it the experiences me nostalgic and worried more than inspired.

Mike has been nothing but encouraging during these rough weeks. He reminds me constantly that something will happen for me and tries to keep me positive. He reminded me last night that worrying about job prospects, or snow days, or whatever just detracts from the dissertation writing and I’m coming up on the home stretch. He indicated that I have forgotten a bit that writing the dissertation and just completing this 5-year journey of a PhD program is such a huge deal in and of itself. So, time to embrace my reclusive writing self. I made another timeline today that is now broken down into weeks, not months. And, there are only 8 of them left.

 

 

 

photo (4)

 

A good thing that came out of these last two weeks is that I sent off two more chapters for Anne-Lise to read. I have plans in March to write the other 3 chapters with a tentative goal to defend at the end of April. I’m also making plans for a May 3 graduation. This is happening regardless and that’s definitely something to be happy about. The month of March begins tomorrow, and even though the above picture indicates that I have a lot of work to do next month, March has always been my favorite month. It means warmer weather, marks the beginning of another great year in my life, and indicates the end of the school year is near. It means spring and new-ness, and I am so so ready for it to be here.

Making Sense of It All

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Today I taught my intern class and the scheduled syllabus topic was “Teaching Economics.” Of course, this is the time in the course where I become a bit self-indulgent and talk about my own research for a while. When this typically comes up with my seniors, I talk about what I believe to be true–that economics can be taught for civic engagement like any other discipline of social studies, that students typically considered “at-risk” or “too young” to care about global issues can actually discuss issues intelligently, that project-based learning and integrated curriculum can help students learn, can be more engaging for teachers and students, but also has its drawbacks. Before, I could only talk about what I believed to be true. Now that my data collection is complete, I can actually start finding evidence to back up what I believed to be true. Of course, what is “true” is relative to one’s experience. But that’s just it–now I have data to start forming stories about the students’ and teacher’s experience.

I have a lot of data and it took me a while before I even tried to tackle what the data were telling me. I started with the students first. I had their assessments they took, the interviews I did with 10 of them, and all of the work they completed over the course of our time together. Plus, I had all of my notes from teaching as well! I started with the assessments first and once I had graded them according to a rubric that I developed, Mike helped me make a very nice graphic to really understand what the students had learned about economics. I am so glad my husband is an Excel Freaking Master. It takes a village to write a dissertation apparently:

charts

 

So perhaps this makes no sense to anyone else but me, but the numbers across the top are the questions on the assessment and reading the cells vertically shows all of the students and how they performed. He even color-coded everything (we ARE soul mates!) to represent at a glance which questions had huge gains for certain students from pre- to post-test. The numbers in the column on the far right represent the gains overall from pre- to post-test. Green is good. Red is bad. All of this took him about 15 minutes and it would have taken me days. Clearly, overall there is growth. There’s a lot of yellow, but a lot of shades of green as well. These results helped me decide which economic concepts to write about (the darkest green ones perhaps?) and which students to write about (dark green but also dark red–what might have happened there?).

Then, I tackled the interviews. ¬†In another “village” moment, I had an undergrad save me a crap-ton of time by transcribing my interviews. So she had the fun task of listening to my lovely voice on tape (that must have been torture for her) and typing literally every word that was said. So while I was in Hawaii soaking up the sun, she was tediously listening to every “um” and “like.” ¬†Don’t worry, she was paid handsomely for this slave labor. ¬†Her work allowed me to copy, paste, and sort interview quotes into categories I had made according to assessment results, like “Understands revenue, cost, profit relationship”, “Understanding of loans.” ¬†And some that were not evident from the assessment like “Values teamwork”, and “Awareness of Global Issues.”

Right now, my biggest challenge is writing my “methods” chapter. This is where I have to write, in detail, the process I went through to make sense of the data. I attempted to write this chapter once earlier this fall, before I had actually figured out a system and it turned out to be quite the mess of verb tense, and not as specific as it will be when I give it another go now. It was difficult to write about something that, at that present time, was in the future, but to write it as past tense. Yikes.

From this, I am starting to piece together the story. I think I can now make claims about what I found and use the data for evidence. I am even going to highlight 5 students and tell their stories in greater detail as sort of expanded examples of my findings. I am really excited about this part– I get to relive the experience. It’s like this quote by Anais Nin:

“We write to taste live twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

Time is money

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I am beginning to prepare for one of my upcoming presentations, and my advisor suggested that I start t write up my “findings.” ¬†The One Hen unit at Lanley Elementary (Found a pseudonym! Bonus nerd points if anyone knows who “Lanley” is) is not even close to being over, but I do already have some ideas of what I want to write about and Anne-Lise suggested that I write these up as initial findings so that I have something to talk about at this presentation and any future job interviews beyond just what my study IS. SO, I set out to do that this week and I learned a few lessons:

1. This is going to take a long time to do. I knew that I need to study all of the work I have collected as well as all of the memos I have been writing in great detail, but even doing just a surface level look at these things took a while.

2. I have a lot to write about. This is good! And I think I will have even more to write about, but again this will take more time.

3. My defense could be as close as 6 months away, and I have a lot to do.

All of these lessons center around time. I need time. I need to stop collecting data soon and start writing. I made a goal for myself to end my regular time at Lanley on Nov 30. This gives me Dec, Jan, Feb, March, & April to write– 5 months. Maybe 4 if I decide I want to push myself. I need more time.

This week, to attempt to solve this issue, I applied for the Dissertation Completion Fellowship at MSU’s Graduate School. This fellowship would allow me to only teach 1 class at MSU next semester instead of 2. The class I would be left teaching only meets 10 times, so that would cut down on my prep time and driving time during the crucial writing months of Feb & Mar. The DCF would also pay me more money than I would have made teaching that extra class to make up for it, so that would be very nice. ¬†I also am applying this week for the Graduate Research Enhancement Award, which is for a smaller amount of money to reimburse me for all of the Borax and beads I bought last week and to pay someone to transcribe my interviews for me. ¬†That is another detail outlined in Lesson #1 above that I would love to pass off to someone else. Both awards would help significantly, so we’ll see what happens. I should know by the end of the semester on both.

Next week, I head to Seattle to present these initial findings. More to come about this fun trip…

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