Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, Writing Prof and ACUE Facilitator

Dr. Cindy O’Donnell-Allen of Colorado State University’s Department of English teaches courses in teacher preparation, digital literacies, advanced composition, and creativity; she also directs the CSU Writing Project. Cindy is the author of The Book Club Companion: Fostering Strategic Readers in the Secondary Classroom and Tough Talk, Tough Texts: Teaching English to Change the World and the coauthor of Pose, Wobble, Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction. In her 2012 article for The Atlantic, “The Best Teachers of Writing Are Writers Themselves,” Cindy, a closet writer as a child, describes the debt she still owes to the high school English teacher who gave his students the freedom to write for real purposes and authentic audiences outside the classroom: “I analyzed. I narrated. I wooed. This was school, and I was writing. The circuit was no longer closed.”

Cindy facilitated ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices at CSU in spring 2017. As a teacher of future teachers, Cindy shares how she has taken ACUE’s techniques to heart in this week’s Faculty Spotlight. 

Using exit tickets and courtesy calls

Because I teach students who are studying to become teachers, I share the research behind the strategies I incorporate into my instruction. My students have been particularly compelled by the statistic indicating that 80% of students won’t do the reading for a course unless they’re held accountable. My students agreed with that statistic! They like entrance and exit tickets (I learned about these in the ACUE module “Using Active Learning Techniques in Large Classes”), which help me gauge whether they’ve done the reading and have given me insight into their questions, connections, and interpretations of course material. Students also like “cold calls” (a technique from the module “Checking for Student Understanding” that I renamed “courtesy calls”), because they encourage students who might not speak otherwise to chime in. This has opened up the “air time” in class so that we hear from a variety of voices.

Bookending a course

The “learning cycle” described in the module on “Using Active Learning Techniques in Large Classes” transformed how I structured one of my classes last fall. The class is theory-heavy, but using the learning cycle as a planning guide, I created activities that required my students to engage with that theory, use it to collaboratively solve actual problems, and complete tasks they are likely to face in their own classrooms, such as planning lessons and assessing student work. I bookended the collaborative, hands-on activities by revisiting the theory, which students used as a reflective lens for processing and evaluating their experiences.

Modeling high-level learning

We have an ethical responsibility to be the lead learners in our classrooms by modeling active engagement with our content. When we model “not-knowing” and the curiosity it takes to address and answer challenges, students are more likely to understand what high-level learning looks like. Yes, this requires showing our intellectual vulnerabilities, but how can we expect our students to take risks if we don’t show them how?

A word of advice

To make the most of the ACUE course, dig into the resources that accompany each module. I got some great ideas by reading PDFs and exploring the web links included in every module.

Cindy is a blogger on http://www.blogessor.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @Cindy_OA.

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