Teaching with laryngitis: reflecting on attention and focus in class

A couple of weeks ago, I came down with a cold. That raw tickle in the throat hit just at the beginning of a 4-hour class in a large lecture room.  By the end of 4 hours, I had very little voice.  The next day was another long teaching day: six 90-minute drawing classes in a row.  My voice held up, but only just.

It’s just a cold, nothing dire.  My voice is slowly improving, but still hoarse.  The cold symptoms ran their course.  And because I wasn’t running a fever, and I wasn’t actually not feeling terrible, I carried on teaching.

There are lots of reasons I could name for not taking sick time, but that’s not what I want to write about.  I have been establishing a ‘no talking while the teacher is talking’ rule in my classes, but with limited speaking volume, I have also had to insist that my students are completely silent, so that my compromised voice does not have to compete with the clatter of pencil cases, the rustle of bags and notebooks.

The result is that I have been given their undivided attention.

Now what do I do?

I have been talking with my students about the nature of undivided attention.  How we live in a world of endless distraction and multitasking.  There is a place for multitasking.  But what happens when you intentionally block out distractions?  When you make the choice to focus on the task at hand with your full attention?

I have lots of ebooks in my Kindle about productivity.  (I have started most of them, but finished none of them. I wonder what that says about my ability to focus…?) Focusing on one thing at a time is a common theme.  Advice includes unplugging your work computer from the internet, putting your phone in flight mode, setting a timer to stick with one task.

Back to my classes. It might be my imagination, but students seem to be making good progress with their drawing skills. They also seem to be able to reflect on their progress a with a little more engagement.

Interesting.

Learning journal – some half baked thoughts, and a sort of log, I guess

Today I’m getting some traction in my studies, on two levels – I’m getting through the prescribed reading for this Saturday’s  block, and I’m making progress with how I take notes from the readings.

Getting traction, getting through, making progress. Okay.

There have been rabbit holes.  Oh, the rabbit holes.  Like Adobe Acrobat Reader, and how highlights work (or don’t work). There have been frequent side trips into Wikipedia, to learn the meaning of a word, or a philosophical concept, or yet another author and scholar I’ve never heard of, whose work is glancingly referenced.  But those are only rabbit holes if I keep digging past the basic information.  I haven’t done too badly there today.

A major distraction was the onset of annoying alert sound when the Dropbox synced.  It took me over an hour to troubleshoot, which included a Google search and several dead ends, a support chat with Apple, and a request for support email to Dropbox, before I realized that I was hearing the alert sound coming from the workstation, which I had forgotten to shut down before settling to study.

Actually, I didn’t forget to turn the workstation off.  I had started to do some work, and then decided, Oh, I’ll just do a little reading first.  While that shows just how scattered and undisciplined I am in the use of my time, and ordering my priorities, I still feel like I am making progress.  I got something done.

edit:

yes, I did get something done, but not as much as I had in mind.  This is typical.  I have plans to make really good use of my ‘discretionary’ days, and the distractions – some are genuine rabbit holes, and some are just not being able to stay focused – blow the day out of the water.

I mustn’t give up, though.

Learning Journal – first entry!

This entry is likely to be very convoluted.  I am learning about learning.  In a Masters of Education, which I was able to get into without undergraduate qualification, I am learning about how others have theorised about learning.  Because I have not already been studying in this field, I am having to get acquainted with a lot of background.  Some of my fellow teachers at Tafe would call it ‘scaffolding’ – although that is not a term that has come up yet in the rarefied atmosphere of theory that I have been reading.

I opened WordPress because I had a thought.  What followed was a detour of getting my head around my little WordPress world – several blogs, all set up for different purposes, but I haven’t touched any of them for several weeks.  Months??   So I had to stop and think and rummage.  How does this work again?

Before that, I had opened one of the readings for one of my subjects, began to read, and had a thought.  How am I supposed to keep track of all these new theories, terms and names?  Theories are often identified by the person who originally framed the theory.  I am starting to get a little familiar with some of the names, but it’s only a little, and I certainly couldn’t discuss it without going back, looking for the paper, and reading it again.  How do people remember all this stuff??

So I set up a document with a table, so I could record each person I came across, the associated theory, key words, and the publication in which it was mentioned.  Something like that.  I spent several minutes designing this table.  Not so that it would look cool, although that’s fun too – it was more about figuring out what information was important to me.

I’ve been given similar tables by my teachers.  I have doggedly read through them.  I know what that word means, I know what this sentence means, but when I get to the next row, I am jumping to a new word, a new sentence, and I am not making connections.  I do not remember anything about those tables until I go back and look at them again.  And it’s just like when I opened WordPress after a long break.  I forget the framework.  I have to re-learn it.

By making a table of information for myself, I am hoping that the names and theories will find a place in my memory.

And now to the thought that prompted this blog post:  This week I have been giving my students ‘formal feedback’ – that is, I have been looking at their assessment projects and giving them constructive feedback with will then be included in how they are assessed when they present their final version.  I have written down what we (I’m doing this in collaboration with another teacher) have recommended, and I have insisted that the students write it down too.  That was partly to save me work, but I also argue that the students will remember it better if they write it down themselves.

And there you have it.  I have, in a wandering and convoluted fashion, made a simple statement:  Writing down what you want to remember may serve not only as a physical reminder.  Perhaps the act of writing puts it into your brain in a way that reinforces the hearing and seeing.  That idea has probably been studied and written about.  There have certainly been newspaper and magazine articles about it.

And so ends Learning Journal Post Number One.  Here’s hoping I don’t leave it too long til the next one, so I don’t have to figure out WordPress all over again.