Monthly Archives: May 2009

University Service

writingIn the school where I taught, it was a strong part of our mission that everyone gave back to the community as much as possible. This shared value is with me in my University work and I cherish this work.

Professional Development for Local Schools:

When I first arrived to Syracuse, schools often wrote to the University seeking professional development on best practices for teaching writing. Some are specific to particular methods, such as the Collins writing method or 6+1 Traits. With fellow graduate students or as solo projects, bringing professional development on writing into local schools has brought many leadership roles: Collins Writing. I’ve often been fortunate to work with school districts, both public and private, on establishing CFGs (Critical Friends Groups) for building writing instruction, as well. Whether a one-day session or a year-long effort, the PD I’ve been able to provide has been very well received: Sample PD.

African American Read-In:

Dr. Marcelle Haddix placed an all-call to Faculty and Graduate Students in my department to participate in the 2009 African American Read In at Levy K-8 School in Syracuse on Tuesday, February 24. This event was sponsored by the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Black Caucus of NCTE and endorsed by the International Reading Association. The goal of this event was to make the celebration of African American literacy a traditional part of Black History Month activities. Each year, schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens are urged to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the African American Read In, and I was excited to volunteer.

Hosting a Read-In can be as simple as bringing together friends to share a book, or as elaborate as arranging public readings and media presentations that feature professional African American writers. Our department adopted Levy K-8 School as the site for our Read In. For more information about the African American Read In: .

I put together a medley of African American poets and went to the school ready to play my part. I wasn’t prepared for over sixty students and my nerves went haywire (as one girls said, “You sure did sweat!”. I worked with the students for a half hour and then asked them to give me the words they have for their dreams. I took their words and wrote a quick “found” poem. I sent it to their class and the students sent me many thank you notes. It was a great day! (Gettin’ Heavy, Levy; A Poem to Celebrate Us All!)

Writing Group – CFG:

A big part of my Kentucky life was as a coach with a Critical Friends Group (About CFGs).  For ten years, I had numerous opportunities to professionally work with other professionals to discuss our teaching practice, our concerns, and our hopes with one another.  Our team of supporting teachers operated on a mission that together we could grow much stronger than if alone.

In the Spring of ’09, a school district contacted me and wondered if I could run a series of sessions on teaching writing.  Because they were a k – 12 school, I asked if it might be better to put together a leadership team of 12 individuals to form a CFG on Writing Instruction.  That is exactly what we did.

Sessions began with the use of a “dilemma protocol” where teachers from all grade levels and content areas wrote about the trouble they have with writing instruction.  The collection was compiled into a larger dilemma of how their district can begin tackling the writing tasks necessary for the 21st Century.  From the compiled list, the team stated goals, including the design of a k – 12 writing policy, for our meetings.

My job as a coach is to lead discussions and work with them on THEIR concerns.  Our three hour sessions have been very educational and given me more direction of where I think I need to go with my own academic work (Writing CFG Session II)


On February 16, 2009, I presented to Graduate Students who are a part of the Student Organization of Literacy Educators and Researchers (SOLER) on the possibilities of using Web Logs (Blogs) as a place for us to professionally share our work.  The conversation was parallel to the work I did for Dr. Rachel Brown’s class on blogging, but it was also a time for my peer group to think about how they might wish to use their own Blog to highlight their interests.


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Feedback to Students




As an educator in a public school, I was often known for writing pages of feedback to my student writers and assigning odd grades like “Q” and “Z” to students with an explanation that grading, at times, transcends the scale we’re given in school.  My assessments for SED 413/613 and EDU 508 demonstrate how I adhered to the Portfolio Rubric at Syracuse University and the Observation Document Forms.  With in class assessments, I often took a more creative approach and would draw back responses or poetically offer my insight.  Because I am an outside of the box thinker, I tend to model assessment that is also outside of the box.  In one, in class assignment, I asked students to respond to our activities poetically.  They hated me for it, but I also responded back to them artistically (Creative Assessments).  

I am also capable of formal assessments as some of my models show.


During EDU 508, I carefully took field notes to capture the lessons being taught by student teachers.  I would attach these field notes to the end of the Observation form (sample student-observation) so students had an opportunity to read a play-by-play of what occurred while they were teaching.  Often, while teaching, a leader has a difficult time keeping up with all that is going on and the running narrative is a window into the room they can’t consider while being in charge.  It is an excellent way for student teachers and me to discuss the lesson that was observed.  In addition, it gives me material to use when writing the formal observation assessment as the sample above shows.

Portfolio Assessments:

Another of my responsibilities as a teaching assistant for Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott is to score student teacher portfolios and to be a table leader for the presentations they give on each.  This year, while scoring portfolios and hearing presentations, it became very obvious how much influence the work Kelly and I did in EDU 413/613 had on the fledgling teachers.  In several portfolios, students included items where my conversation with them became an example of how they met particular proficiencies (From Student Portfolios).  At the completion of their portfolios, too, I was responsible for scoring and giving feedback to the students.  These hand written documents will be used as these students begin a longer student-teaching placement in the Fall(Portfolio Assessment Sample 1) (Portfolio Assessment Sample 2).

Poetic Good-byes:

A long tradition of saying so-long to students is through writing an acrostic poem for each of my students.  As a public school teacher, I had over 600 students and I did my best to write poetically for them.  When students in SED 415/615 completed their twelve-week placement, I chose to write them a final farewell, poetically, too (finalexpression).

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SED 413/613, SED 415/615 w/Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott

chandler-olcottIn the Spring of ’09 and in collaboration with SED 508, Supervision, I co-taught SED 413/613  “Methods and Materials for Teaching English” and SED 415/615 ” Teacher Development in English” with Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott.  As part of my teaching assistantship with the Future Professoriate Program, I co-taught lessons and added my leadership as we assisted student teachers before and after their field placements.  The syllabi for SED 413/613 (SED 413/613) and (SED 415/615) were designed by Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott and under her guidance, we collaborated on daily lessons, met about instructional activities, and brainstormed about providing the best instruction for our students. 

The following is an example of how we worked together in SED 413/613.  Kelly would often ask if I’d like to take a “stab” at a lesson plan and I’d consider what we’ve read, where we still needed to go, and where Kelly was, sequentially, the year before.  I would do a sample plan and I’d email her a copy.  She’d offer me feedback (Sample Collaboration) and together we’d finalize a plan of action.  In this particular lesson plan, Kelly and I wanted students to think about how they’d create their own unit of instruction and, here, I suggested I share a unit (9th Grade Sample Poetry Unit) I created with 9th graders.  The model was used to assist students in thinking how they might think about providing a framework to their students, too.  The level of support I received from Kelly is remarkable. Together, we tried our best to build off one another’s knowledge and, for the first time, assisted student teachers with the creation of a digital story reflection at the end of the semester.

Early in the semester, Kelly began tapping into the power of YouTube and we discussed multi-mediated presentations with students.  We thought it would be interesting to look at pop-cultural representations of teachers, especially English teachers, in the media to begin a discussion about what teaching English is supposed to be.  The clips we used, which I compiled in a document (Teaching Films) was very useful in opening activities with our instruction.

Kelly also offered me irreplaceable feedback and kept running notes when I taught (offering me a lot to think about).

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Invited Presentations

100_3727While at Syracuse University, I’ve been asked to present to students on multiple subjects. I was only in Syracuse for a few weeks when Dr. Nisha Gupta from the Graduate School asked me if I would present at their TA Orientation (Graduate School TA Orientation). In the Fall of my first semester and in the Fall of ’08, Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott asked me to do a presentation on Portfolio Assessment for her students (Developing Writing Portfolios).  In the Fall of  ’08, Dr. James Rolling asked me if I’d present to his Arts Based Research Methodology class on Personal Narratives and Identity Construction, which I did as my first ever visual essay (An I-Full of Personal Story).  Also in the Fall of ’08, Dr. Rachel Brown asked if I would present to her students about using Blogs as a place for writing in the 21st Century. (Blogibilit(ies). Dr. Felicia McMahon in Anthropology asked me to present on my volunteer work with the Syracuse Lost Boy of Sudan Cow Project for her Honors symposium. (Migrating With Others). Finally, Dr. Marcelle Haddix asked me to present a workshop on Poetry and the Spoken Word for her students in a class called “The Composing Process.” (Reflection On Teaching Poetry).

Creating a Doctoral Portfolio Online

Career Services at Syracuse University asked Kristen Munger and me if we would present our online portfolios to Ph.D. students at Syracuse University.  After she attended a workshop session with us, the Career Services director addressed that others at the university needed to learn how to do this. The result was an invited presentation to discuss our work and demonstrate how our collaboration built off one another’s online thinking and resulted in our professional portfolios online.  Our presentation, Creating a Doctoral Portfolio Online , is available through Syracuse University’s career services. We’ve presented our online portfolios on numerous occasions and continue to guide our colleagues on creating their own.

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Feedback from Students

p1010114Recognizing Dewey’s equation for wisdom:  experience, plus reflection = knowledge, it is important to think deeply about the feedback given to me by my students.  At home, in binders, I have ten years worth of student-feedback that takes up two of my cabinets.  I keep my eye on their feedback like it is the last unicorn on earth.  On my bad days, I might re-read an item or two.

Receiving feedback from students in classes taught at Syracuse University has been helped me to build my confidence as a teacher in the University setting.  So much of my public school teaching success was my “Willy Wonka-esque” personality, and I wasn’t sure it would be well received in higher education.  I’ve often referred to myself as the character on Ally McBeal named John whose nose would ring in court while defending his client and who had a hidden office within his office where he’d retreat to allow his eccentricities to be free.  I dream of being a Jeopardy smart scholar, but then the Robin William’s/Jim Carrey side of me arrives.  The result, I suppose, is the feedback I’ve received from students.  

I offer the following pieces of feedback from students:

From Student #1

From Student #2

From Student #3

From Student #4

Course Evaluations

From A Student’s Blog

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EDU 508 (Spring & Fall)



EDU-508-syllabus-spring-2009) and EDU – 508-syllabus-fall-2009 were two courses designed to provide students with support, supervision, and feedback as they began their first sustained teaching experiences in schools: 6 weeks in the Spring and 12 Weeks in the Fall. EDU 508 is a separate course with its own set of requirements—the first of two such courses in their journey to certification.  Upon successful completion of the six-week field experience and related requirements, students received a provisional “V” grade to be replaced by a “P” upon successful completion of their 12-week placement in the Fall.

Their experiences as a student teacher nested within their work in SED 413/613 English Methods & SED 415/615 Teacher Development in English, where I worked with Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott as a teaching assistant.

The primary responsibility assigned to me in EDU 508 was to visit schools to observe my students in action, to document their work, and to make assessments.  Each student was visited three times in the Spring and four times in the Fall. In anticipation of the student teachers and their mentors have difficulty keeping up with the goals of EDU 508, I created a checklist for their use EDU 508 Checklist – to assist mentor teachers and students.  In addition, their mentor teachers and I held post-observation meetings to discuss progress and areas to think about with the students after observations.  I chose to write running field notes of the observations (see sample) so student teachers would have a timed account of what occurred in their room (an extra set of eyes). This style of observation was very beneficial to them, and also assisted my assessments.

After each observation, I completed an observation document form to assess a student’s teaching which was provided to Syracuse University (see sample).  The assessment forms are designed to meet the proficiencies design to measure their candidacies.  

In the Fall placements, I began a newsletter to send to student teachers entitled, “The Express(ion).”  The newsletter was a way of communicating to student teachers important information.  Lisa Pye, another graduate student, and I contributed to the newsletter weekly throughout their placements.  The title The Express(ion) was chosen in reference to the movie about Syracuse University football star, Ernie Davis, and was a timely way for supervisors to express information to students.  

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Scholarship in Action


James and Bryan

James and Bryan

Syracuse Lost Boys of Sudan Cow Project

Volunteer Work:

img012In the spring of 2001, I began volunteering as a mentor to a Sudanese man relocated in Louisville, Kentucky.  My friendship with him turned into a friendship with many.  From 2001 – 2007, I worked with the Sudanese community of Louisville and the school where I taught to develop a high school English curriculum for a six-week unit on understanding Africa through literature and the changing demographics of our city. When moving to Syracuse University, I immediately met Dr. Felicia McMahon who invited me to a session of  “cow making” at St. Vincent dePaul church – The Syracuse Lost Boys of Sudan Cow Project. The project was in its infantile stages.  Since December of 2007 until now, I’ve volunteered on Saturday mornings with the group to assist cow-making. The men take donations for their artwork and the money goes to buy books, attend classes, and get supplies for their education. Letters of Support: Dr. Felicia McMahon, Dr. Dave Turkon, Attorney Carl Oropallo


img007Since I began working with the Sudanese community I’ve kept up with publications and video work that features their stories in America. In the Spring of my first semester at S.U., Dr. Elizabeth Payne allowed me to conduct a mini-field project with the Sudanese men. The following fall, Dr. Collin Brooke allowed me to do a video essay on this work, but also as it relates to the composing process. Before I left Louisville, a friend of mine, James A’Kech Mangui, was murdered. James was a Sudanese man trying to make a new life in America after the long journey he walked as a kid.  His death made no sense to me and has impacted my thinking a great deal. I use him as inspiration for the work I currently do.

Public Relations Work:

img011While working with Cow Project, I’ve also volunteered my time to a brochure and contact cards to help with publicity. Because I feel that assisting immigrant populations in America is very important, I’ve enjoyed helping.  In addition, Dr. Felicia McMahon also gave me an opportunity to create the Syracuse University Showcase Folk Arts brochure which I did with pride.

Syracuse University Mini-Grant:

100_3725In the second semester of coursework at Syracuse University, I applied for a “Scholarship inAction” mini-grant offered by Nancy Cantor at the Graduate School.  I received this grant and was able to create additional materials for Central New York teachers who wished to teach about the Sudanese immigration story and also to pay men to visit a few classrooms.  A few men visited young people at Liberty Partnerships Program at S.U. and for the New York State Humanities Council Togetherness program (news article).  The mini-grant also allowed me to purchase resources  about the men from Sudan to offer to educators in the area and to use in their own curriculum.

Public Scholarship Forum:

ps-conference-pictures-001Because I received a mini-grant, I was asked to present at a poster session during a Forum on Public Scholarship.  There, I was able to display several of the clay cows created by the men and also to show the video I created.

The National Writing Project for Urban Educators Conference:

In the Fall of 2008, I applied to present at img009the National Writing Project for Urban Educators Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  I wanted to find a way to bring all my passions together and, as luck would have it, this conference did it for me.  I could re-unite with the men I worked with in Kentucky, meet with teachers and students at the school where I taught for ten years, see my friends in Jefferson County Public Schools and the Louisville Writing Project, and meet several leaders from the National Writing Project.  My session, “In Memory of James A’kech Mangui,” allowed me a place to share this educational journey with others and to inspire teachers and academics across the nation to do similar work.  The following is what was presented:  “For the past ten years, first in Louisville and now in Syracuse, this presenter has interacted through and learned from volunteer work with several Sudanese refugees (commonly known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan”).  Such “Scholarship in Action” began with a six-week unit on imperialism, African Literature, lessons to deconstruct violence in the lives of students and a quest to explore the power of literacy.  Today, the Syracuse Lost Boys Cow Project raises scholarship money for men to take classes and to buy books.  This is an interdisciplinary workshops requiring writing, thinking, and active participation.

Local Literacies, Global Visions project funded by Imagining America:

img013In the Spring of 2009, I had the honor of taking a class with Dr. Kristiina Montero from the Reading & Language Arts Center in the School of Education.  Under her guidance, I was able to conduct three life histories of young men who have recently arrived to the Central New York area, including a senior at Nottingham High School named Sabit Buol.  During Syracuse University’s Showcase, and when the Folk Arts tent had cows on display, as well as Dinka and Didinga dancers upon the Quad, I stood proudly with our young men and women who participated with the life history project.  This “Scholarship in Action” opportunity has impacted my life immensely.  Listening to, recording, transcribing and writing the life stories of other individuals is very enlightening and educational.  Because this research coursework was funded as “Scholarship in Action,” I saw the potential for amazing connections to be made.  Meeting Sabit, as well as a young man from Liberia and Bhutan, has been a part of the irreplaceable experience offered by Syracuse University.


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