Wednesday, February 22, 2017

College Loans: A Monster with a Growing Appetite

We all know the national student loan debt is enormous, but it didn’t used to be so bad. Just eleven short years ago, student loan debt was dwarfed by home loans, automobile loans credit card debt. It was tied with other types of loans (such as personal loans) at only 18%. Credit card debt was at 31% and auto loans were 33% of non-home loans.

Times have changed. No one seems to be able to explain why this is the case. Salaries of college professors are abysmal, so they aren’t the cause. I’m guessing the failure of states to support public education as they did in the past has something to do with rising tuition and fees.

Last year, miscellaneous debt fell to only 11%, credit card debt dropped to 21%, auto loans were almost the same as in 2006, at 32%, but college loan debt has risen to 36%. People who have student loans are not buying homes or cars. They don’t have the money.

One way to avoid being part of these statistics is to be born rich. Most of us weren’t so lucky. Timing is important too. People my age paid around $65 per semester for in state tuition. Fees were pocket change and books cost in the single digits.

Current and future students need another option. I suggest parents and grandparents pay attention to the habits of students who were awarded Full Ride Scholarships and learn what they did to end up with no college tuition or fees to pay. My book Free College Awareness is at the printer and will be available soon. In it, I divulge the strategies used by hundreds of scholarship winners. My hope is that future students will learn how to become ideal college scholarship and grant applicants, so they can do what I did, graduate college debt free. 

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lower Stress, Higher Grades = More Scholarship $, Pt. 1

Lower stress has been proven to improve learning and memory. Decreasing stress, therefore, may lead to higher grades and more scholarship money for college. There are three simple things which students can do to reduce the stress in their lives.

The first strategy is to meditate at least five minutes twice a day. This is easier than you may think. Pick two convenient times during the day. For me, it’s usually late in the morning and early in the evening. I sit in a comfortable position on the floor and let my mind go blank. Okay, that’s not so easy. I know there are millions of people who can do this. I can’t. So I found three other ways to accomplish the same thing.

1.   I focus on a pleasant memory. I lived in Cape Town, South Africa several years ago. One day, I sat on the beach at Camps Bay and just watched as the waves crashed against big dark rocks in the water. When I want to meditate, I go back to that time and place in my memory and relive the relaxation. Everything else drains from my mind. That’s meditation.

2.   I focus on something physical. I do this while walking in my neighborhood. The sidewalks are uneven, so I have to look at them in order to avoid tripping. I feel the breeze on my face and the warmth of the sun on my body, while concentrating on the pavement. Everything else drains from my mind. That’s meditation too.
3.   I focus on the colors as I fill in a lovely design in an adult coloring book. I sit in a comfortable chair at the dining room table, and color. There are no distractions, nothing to “figure out” or problems to solve. I feel the pencil as it moves back and forth and watch the design come to life. Everything else drains from my mind. That is also meditation.

I’m sure all students as well as their parents and teachers could use a little break from stress. Everyone can find something that doesn't require mental gymnastics, is pleasant and creates a sense of mindfulness. Meditating five minutes (or more if you prefer) twice a day is enough to make a positive difference, help grades improve and could result in more free cash for college.

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Photo Credit: Google Images

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Pre-Valentine’s Day Classroom Management Activity

The day before a holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Break, Easter Break, even a pseudo-holiday like Valentine’s Day or Halloween, is usually just this side of insane. Students don’t want to work. There’s candy everywhere. Gifts are being given. Focus is lost. Just keeping the lid on seems overwhelming. Unless you have an educationally sound, kid-approved lesson that keeps them interested, occupied and engaged. Decades ago I created such a lesson. Kids loved it. I loved it. It‘s easy, academic and fun! The bonus of this lesson, it helped with student retention in foreign language classes.

Here are the steps to follow:

1. Completely erase the entire white board. You will want the space.

2. Number the entire board from 1 to 35. Place holiday appropriate symbols, like pumpkins or hearts, around each number.

3. Put a large assortment of dry erase pens at the front of the room. The more color variety the better.

4. After school, the day before a holiday, have each student in your most advanced class go to the board and draw a culturally appropriate picture next to a number. If your class is smaller than 35, they will need to draw more than one. Be sure to explain to the class the night before they need to come up with three or four ideas for their drawings. Most students are eager, although the shy need some encouragement. After this has become a tradition in your classes, you will overhear students commenting they look forward to being in the class that gets to draw the pictures. Never let an underclassman participate in putting the pictures on the board.

5. Check each picture as they finish drawing. A few may need a little help so their drawings are clear, and some can be too obscure. You may need to edit, as students can be a bit gross at time. One Thanksgiving students drew a very vivid picture of a turkey being beheaded. I erased that one. Remember, all day students are going to see these pictures. You want to understand them, so you can give hints if necessary. My favorite was The Twilight Zone Marathon. It became a tradition in my program which was passed down each year from class to class.

6. Before the first class arrives the next morning, place a stack of German (French, Spanish, Chinese)/English dictionaries on the first desk of each row. I always had enough dictionaries that students could work in groups of two. Three does not work. Working alone is tough.

7. Students should look up what they see on the board, and write the German (French, etc.) on their own papers. Don’t let them put two student names on one paper. This never works. Trust me on this.

8. They must write the definite article and the noun. If there is an adjective, like in a drawing of black cat, they must include the adjective, with the correct ending. This allows you to preview grammar not yet taught. Students are very receptive to this, and ask for help. It’s a contest. They want to win.

 9. Buy a small bag of individually wrapped candy and give a piece to each member of the first team finished. Be sure to check the work. Sometimes they make errors, of course. Don’t be too picky. Perfection is not the goal.

 10. After the first group finishes, and as each group finishes, they will help their classmates. You’ll find they don’t give them the answers, but give them hints instead, especially in grammar.  

11. Collect work as it’s finished and the rest at the end of the period. Grading is subjective. First year classes typically have a few students who finish by the end of the class period. Most, however, finish about half of the pictures. Second year will complete more. The majority complete about two-thirds of the pictures. Most third year students finish them all, as do AP/IB/fourth year students.

12. There are several goals in this lesson. Students learn the correct way to use the dictionary. They learn the symbols and abbreviations. It removes the mind-numbing boredom a dictionary lesson will create, and replaces it with fun. 

Students learn vocabulary that’s both meaningful, and is usually more advanced than where they are in the curriculum. This they do without complaint. You are able to foreshadow grammar, so when it arrives later in the school year, you’re able to point back to what they discovered at Halloween or Thanksgiving. 

Finally, it keeps students focused, doing an academic lesson without arguing at a time where students are going nuts in other classes. I had four decades of happy “day before’s” while colleagues were losing their minds.

If you don’t teach a foreign language class, adapt this lesson to your curriculum. Remember to keep it fun and entertaining, but academic. 

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Joining the Classroom Seating Debate

The photo above is not a traditional seating arrangement for a foreign language class. I looked on many sites to find an accurate photo or chart, but to no avail. It’s a pity, since a picture is worth… you know. Imagine this; you’re standing in front of the teacher’s desk which is centered in front of the classroom, facing the students.

As you look straight ahead, there’s a wide aisle. There are no student desks or obstacles there. This aisle divides the room into two sections, and makes it easier to move around the room. Half of the student desks are in rows to the right and half to the left. Each row contains three to four student desks, depending upon the size of the classroom.

Each row of student desks faces the wide, empty center aisle. This means, of course, they face each other, and not the white board. But, when students turn their heads slightly toward the board, they can see easily. They can also see the teacher as he/she moves about the room. The teacher can see the face of each student too. This is important when learning a foreign language.

Students need to see the teacher’s mouth as a new word or phrase is being formed. The teacher needs to see the mouths of the students too. This modeling and checking for understanding goes on constantly. But there is a secondary benefit. Student rows are short, and it’s easy to treat them as “teams”. This is helpful for routine tasks, like collecting work, passing back papers, practicing vocabulary, language games, etc.

Students love this configuration. They can see everything in the room much easier. This includes the teacher. Teachers love this seating arrangement because it makes classroom management and instruction much easier. When setting it up, just remember not to allow any of the seats to be pushed against a wall. Leave space around the “block” of student desks on each half of the room for better flow, visibility and classroom management.

There’s a reason this seating arrangement is used so often in foreign language classes. Visibility and being able to reach students easily is important when teaching languages. It may help in other disciplines as well. Give it a try.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Senior Post-Graduation Plans

Every January, Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors were able to see their goal: To be a senior in my German or French class and write their post-graduation plans on the poster in front of the room for all to see. In order to do that, of course, they had to be enrolled in my class as a senior. This message was subtle, but it worked.

I started displaying this special poster every January several years ago. It is a simple thing to do. It seems insignificant, but the impact was huge. My goal was to encourage students to go to college. At first, only a few had such plans. After a few years, there was a shift. The last thirty years of my teaching career, all of my seniors went to college.

But there was a secondary benefit that I did not expect. Often I heard underclassmen saying, “I can’t wait until it's my turn.” They knew they had to be enrolled in my French or German class as a senior in order to put their names and post-graduation college plans on the poster. This helped my advanced classes grow in size.

Supplies Needed: One large white poster. If this is not available on campus, go to Smart and Final or some other restaurant supply store and buy yourself a roll of white butcher paper. It is much less expensive, and has many uses. Two fine, felt tipped pens of two different colors. I used black and blue, but any two dark contrasting colors will do. Two wide, felt tipped pens of two different colors. Pick colors that are bright, cheerful and easy to read from a distance.

Procedure: 1. Using the wide pens put the title SENIOR Post-Graduation PLANS on the top of the poster. 2. Create two columns on the poster, numbering one through the total number of seniors you have enrolled in all your classes combined. 3. Ask seniors to tell you when they have decided which college they are going to attend, and have been notified of their acceptance. 4. Once they know where they are going, have them put their first name and last initial next to a number, the name of the college or university, and what they are going to study. If their major is undecided, they write “undecided”.

Be sure to hand them the fine, felt tipped pen you want them to use, alternating colors to make it easier to read. Remind them to write bold, like John Hancock. You will have to stay on top of them, until this becomes a tradition in your program. Once it becomes the thing to do, they will remind you. This annual event helped create a positive vibe in class. Students were proud to display the fact that they reached their goals. This instilled the desire to take part in the underclass students in lower levels of French or German. As a side benefit, administration liked it as well. It’s easy. It’s fun. It encourages students to stay in German or French until they graduate and to go to college. All good.

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Photo Credit: Elizabeth Wallace