A Call for “Good Writing”

by Dr. Kotina Hall, Dean – Belhaven, Atlanta

Effective communication is a buzz word that remains the topic of discussion in every business and learning sector as the concern for writing proficiency continues to plague society. The command for effective writing should be still be held in the highest regard.  Professional dialogue and academia have discussed in great detail how the absence of “good writing” lessens the opportunity for the demonstration of clearly-organized thought, earnest critical thinking development, and strong problem-solving. Regardless of the subject matter, understanding how to articulate clearly and concisely is necessary for high academia and career advancement. As such, we must act urgently in our resolve.

While tuition reimbursement is an attractive academic magnet, the return for excellent writing extends well into its possessor’s career and civic engagement as well. “The National Commission on Writing estimates that the nation’s top companies spend more than $3.1 billion a year on remedial training. The NCW estimates that states spend $221 million on writing training each year to bring employees up to level” (teachthought, 2012).

What variables have led to the decline in effective writing? Is it because we have become comfortable speaking into devices that we disregard misspelled words or proper punctuation, all because we want to communicate expeditiously? “Have we allowed the advancement of technology to compel us to shorthand?” Perhaps we accept human mediocrity, giving way to allowing machines to do the work which we previously took pride in completing. Technology will continue to advance, so what are we left to do?

It is proposed that we take our concerns by the reigns and do what we do best – elevate through instruction. Have we forsaken the beauty and fluidity of words properly and intentionally positioned on a page? Surely we have not. But if one has never explored such beauty, then one cannot imagine the power of penning such work. Resolution begins with two words: offer assistance.  It is a disservice to students when we know their writing is not acceptable, but yet we push them along. Constructive dissent must rear her head. The problem will not correct itself. Good writing is the culmination of repeated “good” practice.

This task will not be a simple one. It will require instruction to be consistent, rigid, and accompanied by high expectations to yield greatness. We must ready ourselves! Our change will create uneasiness and reveal accusations that we are harnessing a fossilized culture. Such expressions must strive to make our instruction even greater.  We must be diligent to show that “good writing” fosters dedication, strong work ethics and moral aptitude.  Balance must exist, too. Even so, while writing is necessary, we must be ever so careful to make it appealing and fun.

History has shown that the legacy of “good writing” never dies. “Good writing” shapes learning and invites critical thinking, leaving room for transformation. So when do we begin? The time is now. We model by offering our assistance. In doing so, our immediacy will solidify and re-establish writing as the ultimate model of erudition.

How to Read Old Testament Laws – Part 1

by Dr. John Song, Full-Time Bible Faculty – Belhaven, Atlanta

Many of our students at Belhaven may struggle to understand the relevancy of the Old Testament laws. Are they mere cultural rules for an ancient civilization or do they apply to us today? As faculty, how do we train our students to become better readers of this genre of the Old Testament?

Alec Motyer lists three ways one can interpret these Old Testament laws (Motyer, 2009, pp. 26–27). For the sake of economy, I will only list two since these are the more popular lines of interpretation. First is the cultural interpretation where one reads the Old Testament laws as primarily belonging to the culture of their day. This view tends to mitigate the relevancy of the Old Testament laws for the present believing community. The second is to look for the underlying spiritual principle that governed these laws. While certain practices were cultural the underlying spiritual principle remains. I personally advocate for the second view. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Leviticus 19:28 prevented the Israelite community from cutting their bodies and placing tattoo marks on themselves. Many well-intentioned Christians quarrel over the relevancy of this verse. The argument may mistakenly focus on whether believers are allowed tattoos. Some argue that if Lev. 19:28 still applies to us then so should the preceding verse where there is a prohibition of cutting the hair at the sides of the head and the trimming of the beard. Whether Christians should get tattoos or not we will leave for another day. The immediate context of Lev. 19:28 is the prohibition of participating in certain pagan “customs which involved physical disfigurement” (Wenham, 1979, p. 272). The cutting of the hair on the sides of the head, trimming the beard, cutting the body, and placing tattoos on oneself (usually emblems of pagan deities) were pagan ways of mourning for the dead. The main underlying principle was that God was calling Israel to a different way of life that was distinct from their pagan neighbors. This spiritual principle still applies to us today.

Exodus 23:19 gives us the prohibition of not cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk. This prohibition also appears in Exod. 34:26 and Deut. 14:21. The repetition of this prohibition is not insignificant. While the cultural interpretation seems to fit well for most city dwellers who don’t raise goats, it is actually a law that applies to all believers today. In short, this was a Canaanite fertility potion where its broth was believed to have magical characteristics to make the flocks more fertile. The underlying principle was that Israel was not to trust in pagan superstitions.

As a final example, in the Old Testament welfare system (e.g., Deut. 24:19) when one dropped a sheaf while harvesting the land the Israelite was not to go back for it; rather it was to be left as a provision for the foreigner, fatherless, and widow. While we may not all harvest crops this law does, nonetheless, apply to all of us whether one is a farmer or not. The common denominator of the foreigner, fatherless, and widow was that they were all disadvantaged in that society. The disadvantages of the fatherless and widow are plain to us but what about the foreigner? Foreigners may not have known the culture, practices, and the laws of the land and therefore could have easily been mistreated. God called Israel to love the foreigner as themselves (e.g., Lev. 19:34). The underlying principle was that God’s people were to care for those who were disadvantaged.

Many of these underlying principles find continuity in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:20; Gal. 5:20–21; Jas. 1:27). A fuller conversation on the continuity and discontinuity (e.g., food laws and sacrifices) between the Old and New Testaments require a separate discussion.

For now, it is important to train our students to think about what these laws meant in the culture of that day. Exposing our students to the history and context of the ancient Near East will help them become more sophisticated readers of the Old Testament.

References

Motyer, A. (2009). Roots: Let the Old Testament Speak. (J. Stott, Ed.). Scotland: Christian Focus.

Wenham, G. J. (1979). The Book of Leviticus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

 

Mind Maps for Enhanced Student Learning

To my way of thinking, mind maps are probably one of the most effective and least used tools for instruction.  I base this on the fact that most people are visual learners who validate the quote “a picture is worth a thousand words” day in and day out and who speak in terminology that reference a visual perspective, e.g. “I see” meaning “I understand.”

A mind map is a representation of information arranged in a visually stimulating format which sparks creativity and retention.  For instance, if I wanted to start a conversation about Communication, I might begin by framing it with a mind map identifying the basic types of communication.  This has the added benefit of providing structure and organization of thought to the instructional process and allows for the ability to focus on specific satellite groupings individually as well as to think about the links which might exist between different nodes.  An expansion of just one of the satellites begins to spark creativity.  Now I’m beginning to see connections within the subject and how different pieces fit into the overall concept.

The really nice thing about using mind maps in the classroom is their versatility as small group work around a table with 2-4 people, or with the entire class on the whiteboard, or even as an assignment to make sense out of a reading assignment.  Mind maps make a great test preparation tool whether used by an individual or in a group.

The images for the mind maps included in this post come from Mind Mup which is part of the Google App family and easy to install from the Google Web Store from inside Chrome.  It is free and easy to use.    This is software which keeps things organized, easy to print and share.  There are various YouTube tutorials for MindMup and other mind map applications.

Another nice thing about mind maps, however, is that you don’t have to use any software to get the benefit of what this tool has to offer.  You can have a student go to the white board and create a basic mind map of a subject and then have other students add to the mind map or explain the linkages between different satellite groupings.

It is great for note taking, it inspires creativity, is an effective tool for student engagement, fosters collaboration, enhances retention of the subject matter, and is just plain fun.  I strongly encourage you to consider using a mind map in one of your classes soon.  Let me know how it turns out.

Grit “in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.” (Wikipedia) Angela Duckworth has made a career out of studying grit; how grit affects success, where it comes from, how to get it, and why we should seek it. She has presented a powerful TED talk on the subject that is worth the time to view. She has developed a Grit survey and scale for evaluating your own level of grit and compiled a lot of research around the subject of grit.

In Duckworth’s research she has been able to correlate an individual’s grit with their ability to meet and overcome challenges in life. For her, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.” (p.56) Hence the subtitle of her book. What this translates into is recognizing purpose in some activity, be it playing the piano, serving others, compiling research, finishing an education, etc., and then pursuing that goal in spite of challenges and set-backs over a long period of time. She writes, “…here’s what science has to say: passion for your work is a little bit of discovery followed by a lot of development and then a lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) For Angela, how you see your work is more important than the job title (p.152).

Grit is a factor for students returning to school.  The more grittier the student, the more likely they are to complete their program of study.  Although you can complete the Grit survey and determine where you fall on the Grit Scale, that really is only a starting point. Grit can be developed. It develops from practiced and determined effort from the inside out as you find purpose and passion, and then begin to bring commitment into the picture. She states, “The point is that you can, in fact, modify your self-talk, and you can learn to not let it interfere with your moving toward your goals. With practice and guidance, you can change the way you think, feel, and most important, act when the going gets tough.” (p. 193)

Grit also develops from the outside in, which is just as important or even more so.  Here is the connecting point for the Instructor.  As the course Instructor you have the ability to influence and strengthen a student’s GRIT.  According to Duckworth, “…there’s a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity – the basic human drive to fit in – because if you’re around a lot of people who are gritty, you’re going to act grittier.” (p. 247) It really does matter whom we associate with; associate with gritty people and you become grittier yourself, associate with individuals who never seem to quite commit and are constantly bouncing from one thing to another and you will find yourself being influenced by that example. “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it.” p. 245.  In the classroom this translates into building a gritty culture.  You might think this is impossible, especially in the five-week courses, but it can start with the choices you as the instructor make and the words you use from the first email you send the week before the class starts and the first words you speak on that first night of class.

 

I encourage you as you begin this new year that you take up the challenge of being more gritty yourself, and helping your students to develop this important trait.

Blessings,

Rick

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Setting the Mood

Walking into an Adult Studies classroom at 6:00pm on one of our campus sites I always try to remember that whatever my day has been like, these students have had just as difficult and tiring a day, or perhaps even moreso.  Knowing that some of the students are likely single parents gives me even more appreciation for the challenges in their lives and their commitment to change the course of their family’s future.  With that being said, one of the most important things I can do in the evening is to get the class off on the right foot.

Don’t let your “grumpy” or your “tired” lead the way or your class will go downhill pretty quickly.  Instead, great the students by name, enter into conversations that are uplifting and edifying, share positive stories from your day (avoid the “poor me” stories).  Once the class has gathered, take time to pray, not as completing a check box, but in genuine petition to help separate the class time from the busyness of the day.

Almost everything can be said from different perspectives.  Think about what you are saying and the perspective you bring, are you negative and critical, or positive and instructive?  Even the worst news can be delivered in a way that edifies if you make the effort.

Most of all remember, you have entered a “Christian” zone where it is appropriate and encouraged to bring Jesus and faith into the discussion.  When done in a way that is non-judgmental and expressive of God’s love, the Holy Spirit can bring a peace into the classroom greater than you can manufacture on your own.

Instructor, YOU are the one who sets the mood!

3 New Google Drive Features Teachers Should Know About

I know some of you are using Google documents for collaboration purposes with your students and I thought you would find this article from Educational Technology Interesting.  I particularly like the first feature which allows for easy inclusion of citations in the documents.

Check out the article: 3 New Google Drive Features Teachers Should Know About

Visual Teaching Strategies

by Dr. Cynthia Wilkins

Rently I had the opportunity to present a webinar on the topic Visual Teaching Strategies.  I opened with an overview of John Hattie’s theory of visible learning (Click HERE for more information on his theory).  In the webinar some examples of teacher actions and instructional techniques along with their effect sizes were presented.  Some of these techniques were considered “tried and true” but were surprising in that the effect size was much lower than expected.  The webinar moved into a presentation of characteristics of the millennial student – how their lives are different from earlier generations of students, and how teaching can be adapted to accommodate these differences.  Four examples of how technology can be effectively integrated into college-level instruction were presented. At the end of the webinar I answered some of the questions which had been posted when participants registered for the webinar, such as how modifications to PowerPoint and other presentations could be modified to reduce the cognitive load, or overload, on students with a goal of helping them retain more information.

Participants responded to points in the webinar via chat messages with questions and ideas.  A one page summary of effective PowerPoint development ideas and a PowerPoint of ways to integrate technology into instruction were offered to the participants and I would be happy to send this to you if interested (email:  cwilkins@belhaven.edu).

Visual teaching strategies is a perfect match for the adult studies program as it meets the learning style of most adults.  I hope you will take time to watch the webinar.

The Graduate of Belhaven Adult Studies

I have recently had the privilege of visiting all the campuses through video sharing my heart for what we are hoping to achieve through the Adult Studies programs in the lives of our students as they graduate and leave Belhaven.  Please watch the video below and join me as we look to have our students:

  • apply learning to experiences to professional and other situations
  • be able to articulate a Christian worldview and its implication for their home, work, and society
  • demonstrate habits of clear, constructive critical thought
  • demonstrate a command of standard oral and written English
  • evidence a lifestyle of moral and spiritual integrity
  • compete in the job market for positions in keeping with their major course of study
  • incorporate ongoing learning strategies toward the fulfillment of their life goals.

Webinars – planning for the future

Over the past year Adult Studies and Online has presented 8 webinars with another one coming up next week (Visual Thinking & Strategies for Adult Learners).  These have been directed at a variety of topics with a broad scope so that there would be something of interest for everyone.  Hopefully you have found the material in each of them to be relevant to the classroom and provide something useful that you could take away and use immediately to improve student learning and your own teaching, I know I have.

I’m planning the new schedule of webinars for 2017 and would love to hear

  • Your impression of the webinars from 2016
  • your ideas about the webinars I have planned, and
  • what others would be helpful.

If you would be interested in presenting a webinar, I’d love to hear about that as well.

I have a short survey located HERE that I would like to ask you to complete that will collect the information above and help guide me as I plan to support you in the coming year.

Thanks,

Rick

Reading for Understanding: Motivating your students to read and understand course material!

by Dr. Larry Ruddell, Dean at Houston-Belhaven

Adult students face many challenges during the week apart from your class.  For example: traffic accidents, a relative needing help, a baby-sitter that doesn’t show up, a missed payment, and health problems … among other things. So, sitting in class may be a big accomplishment for an adult student … along with submitting any assignments … which may or may not include actually reading the course assignments!

One of Belhaven’s “Student Objectives” for Adult Learners is that upon graduation, our students will: “Incorporate ongoing learning strategies toward the fulfillment of their life goals.” One “learning strategy” that must be in place front and center is the ability to read and learn from reading.

As faculty, we face barriers in helping students with reading. Students may have a negative attitude towards reading. We are used to receiving “information” easily with the internet, so sitting down with a big book seems daunting. Text books can be dry and may actually be misleading at points or run contrary to the Christian Worldview.

How do we cope with student challenges in this particular area? I would suggest three things: expect, motivate, and explain. Let’s start with expect. You should always expect students to read all of the required course material, no matter how daunting. Our classes are short and it is impossible to cover all of the required information in class. So NEVER lower your expectation that students should complete all assigned reading before class.

Secondly, you need to motivate students to do the reading. The “go to” motivation approach according to the Bible is to appeal to others through love and truth. See Philemon 1:8-9 that reads;

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (English Standard Version) [Bold added]

So, we should appeal to students to do the reading because (as mentioned above), there is not enough time to cover all the course material in class, we want them to become lifelong learners, and it is a course requirement. However, Covenantal motivation is also based on “blessings and curses” or, “rewards and punishments.” So, make sure your grading “rewards” students who do the reading and draw from the reading in papers and other assignments … and holds students accountable who fail to draw from class reading in papers and other assignments.

Finally, explain HOW TO read the required material. This may be the most difficult one for you if you have no training in learning/study skills. Pauk and Owens, in their book entitled How to Study in College, Eleventh Edition, give a crisp answer about what it takes to read more effectively, “To truly improve your reading, you need to prepare properly, navigate confidently, and learn how to strategically vary your pace.” (2014, p. 132) They then goes on to say, “Comprehension is all about connections.” (Pauk & Owens, 2014, p. 132)

Briefly, let’s list some ideas (that you can pass on to students) on how to build those connections!

  • Review assignment requirements BEFORE doing the reading
  • Read for what YOU want to get out of the reading. So try to see how any past experiences or future endeavors might apply to the content
  • Before reading in detail, just look at summaries, vocabulary (make sure you understand), read side bars, read main headings, ask questions. The more you read to answer questions, the better the comprehension and retention
  • Read in detail, spending more time on text that applies to your priorities and/or course assignments. Note that since you have already gone through all the other material, you don’t need to “stop” and change gears and look at that other material. This should improve speed.
  • Conclude the reading by taking notes that apply to completing assignments.

In conclusion, consider taking a few minutes at the end of class to go over next week’s reading and apply 2 or 3 of the motivational and/or practical tips!

References

Pauk, W., & Owens, R. (2014). How to study in college, eighth edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth CENGAGE Learning.