Daughters of the Collective Hosts Self-Esteem Workshop for Young African-American Girls

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Daughter of the Collective (DOC) Research and Mentoring Program is a student organization, run by undergraduate and graduate students at Michigan State University. Founded in 2006, DOC members mentor 6th-8th grade African-American girls in Detroit and expose these young girls to a mix of educational, cultural, and artistic opportunities. As Dr. Denise Troutman, Advisor of DOC, so eloquently put it:

“This mentoring program is geared to ‘save’ young Black girls by anchoring them in positive teachings about language, culture, and identity, thus promoting liberatory education and countering negative images of Black females as oftentimes promulgated through popular culture.”

These negative portrayals often contribute to lower levels of self-esteem and self-confidence, especially during the impressionable middle school years. 6th-8th grade is a pivotal time in a young woman’s life. A girl’s self esteem begins to drop during adolescence, and with this in mind, DOC mentor Keondra Dixon, a human development and family studies major, suggested the idea of doing a self-esteem and self-confidence workshop for the girls through the platform of a fashion show. And so DOC teamed up with a fellow student group MODE, a fashion and expression organization at Michigan State, and invited 6th-8th grade girls from Dixon Academy to come and take part.

What made the fashion show unique, though, was what the girls were modeling. Instead of modeling actual clothes, the girls had to make their outfits, but not out of what you might expect.

“They had to make clothes out of unconventional materials such as trash bags, newspapers, and paper plates. If you feel good about yourself you can make a trash bag look good,” explained Dixon enthusiastically.

DOCAs soon as the girls had made their outfits, it was runway time. Prior to modeling the outfits, the girls received lessons in posing, walking, and interviewing. It’s in these areas where one’s self esteem (or lack of) tends to show through. By holding your head up as you walk and speaking with confidence are great ways to start feeling more self assured all around.

What’s interesting about this session, though, is that only five girls were able to attend (usually it’s around 20) due to transportation issues, but these five girls ended up being the ones who were the shyest. This was the most rewarding part for the mentors, seeing these mentees, the ones whom are typically the shyest, come out of their shells and work the runway.

“One of the girls is really shy. When we did the runway walk, though, she was really a natural model. Her face just lit up when she was walking down the runway and strutting it and posing. Everyone in the room was shocked, including Dr. Troutman, because we’d never seen her in that element. We really brought her confidence out and I was like like ‘Yes, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,’” said DOC mentor Jade Williams.

After talking to the DOC advisors and Dr. IMG_3477Troutman about the fashion show and DOC, I can safely say each and every one woman is incredibly passionate and dedicated to helping these young girls become confident young women. They want these young girls to feel empowered and good in their own skin, even if it’s a little different than the norm. As Williams said:

“One of the things DOC does overall is that you don’t have to fit into the place society wants you to be. You can be whatever you want to be.”

If you’re interested in becoming a mentor like these dedicated women, email mentorsdoc@gmail.com with your inquiry. For more information on DOC, make sure to visit its website.

Graduate Students Design Software That Takes Writing Prompts To The Student

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It started with Associate Professor Bill Hart-Davidson’s Interaction Design Class when he asked his students to “change the world for the better in some way.” Group members Howard Fooksman, Laura Gonzales, and Rebecca Zantjer took this challenge to a whole new level when they began designing a web app that takes writing prompts to the student.

“We designed the thing that we want,” said Zantjer. “We are—all three of us—writing instructors so we both teach writing and are graduate students. We are both teachers and students. We have all felt that there have been moments when we have been given assignment sheets and we thought we did a really awesome job on them, but to come to find out that we did not do as well as we thought. We have also given assignments and have had students hand back papers where we were like ‘How in the world did they get this?’”

I can’t tell you how many times I have been given an assignment, and thought I was doing well no less, and get incredibly frustrated because I can’t figure out what it is telling me to do. Sometimes I am able to ask about the prompt in class, to my peer’s relief, but most of the time I misunderstand a keyword “situate” or “synthesize” and get marked down.

It is this phenomenon that the group looked into in the below video where they went outside of Wells Hall and asked students to define terms that the team pulled from writing prompts used in class.
 

Fooksman, Gonzales, and Zantjer designed this software to facilitate the conversation that was already happening around writing prompts. These are what Gonzales called “translation moments”. The team’s software is meant to focus on and facilitate such moments. “Translation is an everyday practice that everyone engages in. It’s not just something that people who speak more than one language engage in, but something that everyone does during class interactions,” she explained.

“What we are looking to do is create a space where the conversation that already happens around writing prompts can be facilitated and archived. Basically what we are looking to do is to create another space. Good pedagogy, good teaching requires this conversation. When a writing prompt is issued, there a conversation that goes with it. It’s not just ‘here’s the prompt go do the assignment’ it’s ‘here’s the prompt and here’s what I want out of this” and a lot of times there are these disconnects. Well what happens when the student is not there? What if they are nervous to ask questions? What if they are lost or they are late or they are just tired and they are not engaging in that conversation. As a teacher you get this email a month later when the rough draft is due that goes, ‘So, wait. What did you want me to do?’ And that’s an awful conversation to have on the student’s part because they have to admit that they are lost. For an instructor, ‘we’ve spent three weeks working on something and you’re still trying to figure it out’.  We are trying to create a space where this can happen in a visual collaborative way. Think of it as Rap Genius for writing prompts” explained Fooksman.

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Software Wireframe
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Software Wireframe

 In this space, a writing prompt can be issued to students. Then students are given time to interact with it in a collaborative way. They can leave comments and they can flag what is giving them problems. For example, you can flag terms you don’t understand. Students can redefine terms or put in their own words what they think they are being asked. They can endorse each other’s definitions. This both identities student leaders but also those students that their peers can go to for help in explaining things. They want to add a self-nomination help button for those students who are lost but too scared to raise their hands to ask questions. It encourages students to take chances on terms. This way they can set up a one-on-one with the instructor. It can also help.

Like Zantjer said, “It is no longer asking them to come to our space we are now going to theirs.”

On top of having sections asking students to “define” and “in your words terms”, there should also be a section asking students questions like “where have you heard this before?” This section would help both instructors to understand the backgrounds of their students, to see where they are coming from in relation to terms. Some students may come from a more scientific background so they will define certain terms like “synthesis” much differently than a person with a mathematical or artistic background. This can help instructors to better understand their class and adjust their prompts accordingly.

 The great part about this conversation is that it is all saved in a space where both students and teachers alike can use it to clarify things and make better prompts and other assignments in the future.

“We are not asking people to change the way they teach. We are trying to give a tool to instructors to reinforce something they are already doing. These conversations are already happening. We are just trying to have a tool that will make it easier to have these conversations and make these conversations more useful, save time, save energy, help student responses. We are not asking people to change their teaching style; we are just giving them a tool that will make what is already happening better,” said Fooksman.

The team’s program is still in its early stages. They have a prototype and are working with Mike McCloud from Eli Review. They are hoping to try out the prototype in classrooms soon and get more feedback.

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If you would like to take part in their project, you can join one of their focus groups by emailing Gonzales (gonzlaur@gmail.com) or Zantjer (rzantjer@gmail.com). Students and faculty are more than welcome.

Poetry in the Digital Age

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What is the state of poetry today? Poems used to be a hugely popular form of communication and art. However, nowadays I only see poetry in the classroom or if I really look for it online. With all of the new technologies allowing people to self publish, I thought that poetry might make a bit of a comeback.

“…despite a seemingly inevitable move towards the digital, the unknown landscape is still very much a place where poets can learn to live and thrive.”

According to the Thought Catalog’s writer Emma Cox, poetry is making a comeback. It is just doing it slowly.

Revisions Tips

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Revisions: we all have to do them. Nothing is ever perfect the first time around, and our first drafts are typically in need of some tidying up. It’s in those initial drafts that our ideas as are just started to come together and review is necessary for complete development.

An article from The Write Life called “25 Editing Tips for Tightening Your Copy” lays out some awesome editing methods to ensure a cleaner, more streamlined second draft that will eventually lead you to a solid final edition. Definitely check it out before the next time you find yourself revising your work.