Tag Archives: Teaching in Higher Ed

Week Four(ish): Winter 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s the fouth week of this winter’s writing group! (It’s not really the fourth week; it’s technically the fifth week because I was such a slouch last week that I never finished writing this post and it’s totally belated.)

So, please imagine that you have just traveled back in time and it’s actually Monday, January 23, 2017 (actually, since our country’s climate is a toxic smog-storm of hatred and bigotry, I’m thrilled to make you go back a week. In fact, let’s go back a few months and start over! [I know, I know — this is not productive thinking, but I’m feeling desperate and under-caffeinated, so get off my back, man]).

All right, let’s get into this.

Week Four Goals:


I’ve been feeling very inspired this week and hope to continue this momentum for week four. My goal is to write at least five pages.

Anne D.:

My week four goal is to continue editing and rewriting a piece for submission. I would like to work on polishing the piece more.

Anne H.: Coming soon…


This week, I hope to write at least five hundred words a day on the novel and finish a short story that I’ve been tweaking for what feels like forever.  🙂


My goal for Week Four is to work for at least an hour on my course outline and to write a blog post I’ve been putting off writing about a science fair I helped judge.


I’m going to attempt three more pages this week.


I’ve made a lot of progress so far. My overall goal for the final week is just to go over everything I can one more time, to make sure that the new shape is working the way I need it to work. More specifically, I need to write a brief epilogue which takes the form of a handwritten message; I know more or less what it needs to convey, but I haven’t actually put any work into it yet.

The biggest problem I’m facing in this draft is that the prologue still feels way too long, but I really haven’t figured out how to solve that. I’ve got a reader lined up who I’m pretty sure will actually put in the effort to read the whole book, so hopefully he can give me a little outside perspective on the issue. I’m stumped.

Noëmi: Coming soon…


Is it week 4 already?! Time flies! I have a draft of my essay, so this week’s goal will be to edit it down and also figure out what I want to do with it. I want to share it with the world at some point but haven’t thought much about how or when. I think the first step will be to just have a good think about it.


This week’s progress: 561 words.
Next week’s goal: 1,000 words.


Final Week Goals: This is my last week to edit. So my goals are to give this beast a strong read through, write the conclusion and abstract and then dive into formatting.


For our final week, I wanted to write about organization.

Over my sabbatical last semester, I started to investigate better ways of organizing my tasks to ensure I wouldn’t lose track of any important steps in my grad school project completion. I’m a list maker, and I like to check things off of my to-do list, but I asked myself if there was a better way to visually organize and compartmentalize different tasks.

On my quest to answer this question, I got sucked into the world of bullet journals, and it’s a big world, indeed.

Hours and hours of wasted time

Hours and hours of wasted time

I wasted hours — literal hours — looking at different ways of drawing little banners and icons and reading blog posts by people who claimed to have the best way of organizing your bullet journal.

And I dabbled in it for a bit; I bought some fine-line colored markers and even ordered a small dot-paged journal. But I realized that I love the weekly schedule journal I already have, and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

What I did want to do, however, was to reorganize my way of looking at projects. Previously, I’d just made a big list of to-do tasks: small things, big things, everything I needed to capture. And a lot of times, things that I put on that big list got lost in the shuffle as I moved from week to week. So I decided, after listening to an episode of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast featuring a conversation with Robert Talbert about getting things done, that I should list my big projects first, and then give myself some smaller tasks to do to make progress toward completing a specific project.

Et voila, I had my system!

I took my main ideas for organizing my weekly schedule page by merging a couple of bullet journal ideas I’d seen on Pinterest, and this was what I came up with:

This is my system.

This is my system.

The “Projects” on the far right column (green-shaded) are the big things I’m working on; these will travel from week to week. Projects will fall off as they get done, and new projects will be added. But these aren’t tasks; they’re big picture things. This was the most important take-away from the interview with Talbert: projects must be divided into smaller tasks. This will help you feel empowered to complete the tasks; it will reduce anxiety about feeling overwhelmed by a large project; and it will help you manage your time and efforts appropriately.

The red-shaded column is where I put everything I need to capture: things students mention to me after class that I want to check up on; things colleagues ask me about in the hallway; ideas I get when I’m sitting in a meeting. Then, the weekly schedule page (left side of journal) is where I organize those “most important” tasks and spread them out by day. This gives me a sense of small to-dos that I can complete each day toward a larger task, as well as some “one-off” tasks I need to get done.


Yes, I did have my “Writing Group Blog Post” as a project last week. That I clearly did not finish. The system is not perfect.

Giving myself a “Next Week” column also allows me to capture something I know that I need to do, but I don’t need to think about right now. Then, the following week when I’m jotting down my important tasks and rearranging my project list, I can add in those things where I need them.

It’s not perfect, and I’ve been playing with the system over the past couple of months. But right now, it helps me keep my ideas, my tasks, and my projects organized pretty well.

Another resource I’ve been using this month to reorganize myself is the book Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. This book has helped me rethink the way I approach my lesson plans and the lecture/presentations I give to my students. I have long agreed that presentations — especially PowerPoint — need to be image-focused rather than text-focused. And Duarte’s book gave me excellent practical ideas for translating my ideas into images and organizing those images into a presentation that makes sense for my audience.

I got myself a couple packs of different colored Post-It notes, and I’ve been using the wall in my office to organize ideas that I’ll later turn into presentations.


The only text on my PowerPoint slides should be what fits on my Post-It; anything more is too much


These are two presentation outlines; I used different colors to signal the hierarchy of my ideas.

It’s fun to do this, and it has been saving me time when I plan my presentations. It’s easy to move Post-Its around into an efficient and clear path of ideas, and then it’s quick and simple for me to turn these into slides (or not, if I’m “teaching naked” [without technology, you pervs]).

Regardless of what kind of projects you’re working on — work, creative, academic, social — organizing them in large and small groups is helpful, both to motivate yourself to get to work, and to ensure you keep track of details.

Now, give yourself a couple hours to fart around on Pinterest and Google looking at bullet journal ideas. And then, get back to work.














Start Writing

Week Two: Winter 2016 Online Writing Group

It’s the second week of our winter writing group, and everyone seems to be on track, so good job, writers!

Updates and Week Two Goals:

  • Anne: Last week, I did get a decent start on reading the chapter (but not the readings) in Burroway and taking notes. I’m also incorporating notes from a few other sources and hope to continue with that. My plan is to keep going with Burroway and other sources this next week. The encouraging news is that I already know pretty much everything I’m reading. But, to start writing fiction again (over 20 years since I last tried), this review is helpful for getting me “in the zone.” Thanks for the motivation, Laura et al [our pleasure, Anne!]
  • Donna*: My goal is to research lit magazines to see who would be likely to accept a story that I wrote for my final in your [Laura’s creative writing] class.
  • Laura: I had a moderately successful week, choosing a story to work on and getting in a few pages and a few pomodoros. But I finally got an idea for a detective novel, which is the kind of project I’ve wanted to work on for years and years. So I might start outlining the plot this week. (see below for one potential organizational program)
  • LisaI’ve actually changed my overall goal and have decided to work on two short children’s stories that I started last summer. This week, I hope to have one finished. Fingers crossed!
  • MattIn my first week I have done more than expected, effecting some big changes in The “Liminal Man” and the second story, “Boring to the Punchline.” I now have three weeks and four stories to tend, so my plan is simply to tackle them in order and do all I can. Since I am already arranging for soon-to-be regretful volunteers to begin reading the completed draft at the end of the month, I am approaching these next three weeks with the understanding that whatever I have at the end, that is the version that will be read. I think I will be able to reach some kind of comfort zone with the next two stories, “The Terrible Secret of Club Golden” and “Lemongrass (Gets His) Kicks” over the following week.
  • Robert: My week 2 goal: 250 words/day, 1750 total.

*Donna participated in the summer group, but is new this week to the winter group. Welcome, Donna!

Last  month, Bonni Stachowiak, the host of my favorite pedagogical podcast, Teaching in Higher Ed, recommended a visual organization platform called Trello.

Trello Tour Screenshot

Trello works as an electronic board (think Pinterst for project management) that you can fill with cards; cards can contain to-do lists, attachments, and communication between/among people working on the project. It’s a great idea for collaborating on education projects, both in and out of the classroom, which is likely why Stachowiak recommended it. But it could also be a useful tool for any visual person looking for a way of tracking and managing a project.

Trello Into to College Writing Board

My textbook board

I’ve played around with it this week and set up boards for my “new” (read: existing only in my head) detective novel, the second edition of my textbook, and each of my classes. For the novel, I’ll use it to track plot and subplots, and organize chapters; for the textbook, I’ll compare content between editions and use it to organize new student samples I’m adding; for each of my classes, I’ll use it to track changes I intend to make to the syllabus, activities, and assignments. I thought that it might also be a good way to organize submissions to literary magazines (or literary agents)–it’s a lot more appealing to look at than my Excel spreadsheet.

So many rejections.

So many rejections.

Trello has an app you can download on your phone as well, which syncs to the website. This is most helpful to me, since I’ll usually have my phone with me when inspiration strikes, but not always my computer (and only 90% of the time will I have my notebook [and you know that the great ideas hit you during that remaining paperless 10% of the time]). So if you’re a visual person who’s looking to manage a project, alone or with a team, consider Trello.

Good writing this week, team!