Intensive English student, 18-year old Minh, connects to a communication platform, clicks on a class, and enters.

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Writing IV students meeting online

Gone are the usual human stimuli: movement, gesture, action, eye to eye contact, touch, and bodies.

Present are postage stamp images with perhaps a larger image for the teacher.

The online world has swallowed up the traditional classroom experience and along with it, the sense of knowing your classmates, sharing a laugh, and developing a one on one relationship with the instructor.

I can hear the arguments from readers already. Hey, we talk on the phone regularly and feel closeness and a full range of other emotions. Or, texting…people laugh at texts, get mad when reading a text, and essentially feel what there is to be felt. Why are classzooms any different?


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needpix.com

Have you ever been in pain? Not the stubbed toe kind of pain, but the brain searing pain of, say, corneal erosion, giving birth to a baby hippo, or living with the destructive force of pancreatic cancer. Pain can be off the chart, advanced to such a level that there are no words. In that bubble of agony, patients feel completely helpless, which is a mental state that leads quickly to depression, fear, and anxiety.

Strangely, pain is something that we have been taught to either accept or drug, but the amount of drugs needed for the worst kinds of pain also damage the human. …


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Photo by mohamed hassan form PxHere

Today a colleague passed around information regarding a new app. It is a tool specifically designed for online instruction. In practice, the new app follows the students’ eye movements to see if they are getting “help” beyond the resources allowed OR if someone is in the room providing answers! I haven’t mentioned the name of the app because I don’t intend to avail myself of its innovative features.

Academic cheating and plagiarism is a reality in any classroom, and, in the world of online instruction, the desire to “get help” becomes a siren song of mythological proportions. Why? The primary, secondary, and tertiary answers are all “Grades”. …


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Photo by form PxHere

Skills Inherent in Proficient Readers

Those of us who are readers may have a difficult time deconstructing the reading process to determine the precise intellectual and cognitive benefits of this time-honored practice, but just in terms of literature, or fiction, I’d like to outline a few.
1. The ability to follow a plot through changes in scene and character — the ability to cognitively differentiate between what is written on one line in the text and subsequent line(s).
2. The ability to follow, understand and anticipate dialogue as it moves between two or more characters and to and fro between locations and time periods — the ability to “hear” dialogue and determine meaning despite “speaker” variations.
3. The ability to discern an author’s theme and direction within a chapter or series of pages in a text. This skill includes comprehension of an author’s intentional foreshadowing of future events.
4. An awareness of scene changes and the transitions that signal them and thereby maintain understanding as to how the story evolves or text progresses as it moves through verb tenses and uses them to signal time changes.
5. The ability to follow expository elements in a story and comprehend their connection to the characters and the plot.
6. The ability to read extensively (a half-hour or more) and understand what happens in a text and to each of the characters.
7. The ability to visualize what is read in order to anchor the impressions and to recall them later.
8. …


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I am a sardine. And you?

Wearing a fish placard as a crown, google eyes to the right, finned tail to the left, one demonstrator among 35,000 in Rome Saturday, December 14th, spoke up, saying, “People were looking for someone to start this, and so many people wanted to say, ‘Enough’, ‘Enough to this way of doing politics… ”’

The night before, while on vacation in a medieval village, I accepted an invite to accompany Italian friends to another Sardine evening. Soon, wrapped up warm, I stood amidst a similar crowd all waving, wearing, and cutting out in real time the shape of little fish, sardines, the “everyman” branch of the sea world, as hundreds of people gathered in the Piazza delle Erbe near the shopping lanes of Viterbo, Italy. True to the goal of filling the square like a can of sardines, the crush of bodies made friends of us all as we applauded impassioned speakers, teared up at a unexpected call for John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and lit up the piazza with camera candles while singing Italy’s national anthem and a well known WWII resistance paean, “Bella Ciao.” …


When choosing a place to eat, whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner, my inner Goldilocks algorithm runs through a well-trained series of decisions and “if/thens”.

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Will I splurge? Mostly, no. Budget? Usually, yes. It’s a short response that eliminates restaurants serving crab, great cuts of beef, roasted chicken, amazing salads and anything organically-grown-and-flown-in-today-from-Sweden. In fact, options edge toward the pedestrian but aim still for tasty. American? Breakfast is served all day. Reasonable portions? Yes! Italian? No, I’d rather eat Italian in Italy. Teriyaki? Why does the chicken taste like it came out of a blender? I used to like that place. Indian? It closed. Oh, and the other one moved. That’s the same as closing, fool! So, no Indian. Chinese? Fast or in-house? Um, no. Not in the mood. Thai? Too expensive. …


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Look for something with immediacy or obscurity.

BACKGROUND — I might not be able to beat City Hall, but I have managed to put a wheel clamp on teen students’ tendency to avoid the required readings by looking for summaries, spoilers, and answers online. Trying to teach One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Catcher in the Rye? By the latest count, Cuckoo has close to 3 million links on Google. Catcher has 17 million. The student-in-a-state-of- avoidance can scan and copy whole synopses, analyses, or reviews and never crack the cover of the actual book.

I’ve become a master at finding the source of student plagiarism. The key, as you know, is finding a literate content phrase, copying it, and inserting it in Google between quotation marks. In a nanosecond, up pops the exact source with the relevant phrase in bold. Sometimes it’s an article, a review, a quiz, or an analysis. However, with 20 students in one class and 14 in another, that could turn out to be a lot of checking. …


Jill Soloway changed my mind. I wasn’t seeking enlightenment when I watched the Transparent writer/director’s interview with Ari Melber, but it arrived anyway, literally over the airwaves. Briefly, Ms. Soloway, who self-identifies as non-binary in that they prefer the pronouns they/their/them to she, was discussing families and programs that portray family dynamics. Jill mentioned that she was “obsessed with the Kardashians.”

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That’s what I did. My brain stopped. Had she actually said, “I’m obsessed with the Kardashians.”? I rewound and watched it again. Yup. She said it. Under a gentle prompt, Soloway went on, “In the world of feminism, they call this fem phobia (Is that phem phobia?) …


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clipartmag.com

After the final slam of the front door, after the last sniffle, after pouring yourself a drink, take a few rational moments to make sure that the end of the relationship is both final and secure. Yeah, yeah, I know. Your heart is breaking or raging or numb and I want to talk about money?

Yes, I do. Your heart will heal in months or years, but a bad credit rating takes much longer. That “just departed” partner, lover, or spouse may be an honest, wonderful person, but almost everyone has a bit of larceny deep down. …


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Paloma Medina

Awkward silence greeted the first few minutes of Paloma Medina’s talk at the Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon on Saturday, April 27, 2019. She had just told the audience of this uber hip, liberal town that 99.9ish% of them had “some level of ethno-centrism or some other kind of unconscious prejudice towards people who are different than us.”

About

Barbara Castleton, M.A.

Writer, ESL instructor, editor, traveler, seasonal ex-pat— my life is both an intentional and serendipitous circumstance. Motto — “Buy the ticket, and go!”

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