Light a penny candle

My failure to replace Google Reader with another kind of reader has meant that sometimes I forget to keep up with a blog I enjoy.  I was catching up with Undine at Not of General Interest and followed her link to the Chronicle article “It’s the Little Things That Count.”  This article was interesting to read as a former college instructor turned high-school teacher because some of the suggestions are about making college instructors more like high-school teachers, particularly the ones about exercising some control over the class environment and getting there early to greet students or staying late to chat afterwards.  (Undine’s objection that college classroom thermostats appear “purely decorative” certainly jibes with my own experience at several different institutions.) There were a certain number of “well, duh” items (act focused and enthusiastic even if you don’t feel that way?  How can I expect them to act focused and enthusiastic if I can’t be bothered even to fake it?), but I loved the image of this passage:

Entering the classroom is sometimes like entering a dark room with a lit candle. At first the room appears very dark and you cannot see much. But gradually the shadowy room fills with candlelight and objects become increasingly visible and identifiable. When you enter the classroom or start a new activity, give students a chance to warm up. Let the candlelight do its job.

One of my more hippie-ish SA colleagues had a practice of a moment of silent centering before class.  It was very effective for her.  I don’t do it all the time, but sometimes I do take the temperature of the room and have my students take a minute to take a few deep breaths and refocus on what’s in front of us.  Or, as I have mentioned, sometimes I will give them a couple of minutes to finish up conversations.

It occurs to me that I don’t always end as thoughtfully as I begin.  Sometimes I end a couple of minutes early, sometimes in a rush, and I have a terrible habit of forgetting to hand back graded assignments–a real annoyance when I have worked hard to finish grading so that I can hand them back!  It’s usually effective, though, to reflect on what we’ve done, to think about what comes next, and (of course) to remind them about the homework.  I know that as class ends, they’re thinking about what comes next–maybe I could occasionally try ending a minute early and giving them a minute to center themselves then?  Something to think about.


4 responses to this post.

  1. I love this post, and that candle image. I’ve always used freewrites to help center and focus my students at the beginning of class with my freshmen, but have not found a similarly effective tool for my spring semester seniors (yet!) for various reasons. As far as turning back papers, I am experimenting with slipping them into student mailboxes instead and then sending an email letting students know I’ve returned them. I am hoping this helps keep me more accountable, as well as giving the students a potentially more private space in which to encounter their grade and think/reflect on it before they rush to ask me questions.


  2. Posted by Bardiac on September 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    At least for smaller assignments, I try to hand them back when I get to class, and try to get to class a few minutes early.

    I like the idea of starting class with a moment of silence to get focused.


  3. Posted by meansomething on September 23, 2013 at 4:05 am

    Jackie–I wish our students HAD mailboxes, because that sounds great. If I start using the new dropbox feature on our school portal for turning in things, I might start returning them electronically, too. I try to discourage them from comparing grades when I hand things back. And Bardiac, that’s my problem with giving things back at the start of class–I don’t want them preoccupied all class with what they got and why they got half off on #3 and did the next person get a higher grade–but maybe I should front-load the handing back more often! Usually at the end of class, there are a few minutes for handing back, general comments, and time for them to read over their work. (I try to enforce their leaving/returning their papers to a folder that stays in the classroom, so we can look at their progress together.)


    • Oh, I like the idea of keeping them in your classroom! I’ve always wanted to incorporate some portfolio work into my class and am hoping this year might be the year (probably in the spring), so I’ll keep that in mind.


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