Teaching Students About Rejection

I recently read a great piece in the Chronicle about how to survive rejection as an author. It starts with this statement (which I am sure we are all familiar with):

“To write is to be rejected.”

Yep. That is 100% true.

Rejection rears it’s head in many forms. The obvious is when you get a manuscript rejected, or a book proposal, or  a grant proposal. As a graduate student, rejection might also look like when your adviser or committee gives you additional revisions to make on a paper or proposal or your dissertation.

Theresa MacPhail, author of the Chronicle piece, argues that we better get used to rejection. However, in citing Kim Liao, she also makes the following point:

“To seek out rejection is to seek out success…More rejections equals more successes.”

Helping Students Deal with Rejection

In my experience, doctoral students are afraid of rejection, often interpret feedback (from myself or reviewers) as a form of rejection (as in the piece is not perfect), and can be paralyzed by it. So it’s important to think how we work with them in class not only to understand that rejection is normal but also how to keep going when it’s not a question of IF you will be rejected but WHEN.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to help:

  • Make rejection normal. Share your own experiences with rejection. That’s not enough though. Sometimes this discourages students. I have had students basically say to me, “If you get rejected then I don’t have a chance.” So share a wide variety of rejection experiences. The Liao piece I linked to above has some you can use.
  • Talk about positive ways to deal with rejection. MacPhail shares an example where a professor said he doesn’t spend more than a day brooding over rejection. I also share that policy. It’s ok to be sad/angry/whatever. But you have to move on. So be whatever you’re going to be for one  day – two days tops – and then start making a plan for moving on.
  • Know what feedback to consider to make the piece better. Here’s how I approach making use of reviewer feedback:
    • If I agree with them, I automatically make the change
    • If I left out a key piece of information, I add it in
    • If two or more reviewers share the same view, I make the change
    • If I don’t like what you said, and you’re the only one who said it, I do nothing. Most likely a different set of reviewers is going to say something else anyways.

MacPhail also points out that the more you submit the more rejections you might get, but yourejection will also start to get some acceptances. It’s a numbers game. If the quality is there, you will hit the sweet spot at some point. I had a professor explain this to me when, as an assistant professor, I was feeling very down by a string of grant rejections. If the project is good, he told me, it will eventually get some funding from somewhere. I’ve always followed this advice – both for grants and publications – and it has never been wrong.

Now, the key to this advice working is that the work does need to be of quality. So within this discussion about rejection, we also have to help doctoral students learn to evaluate -honestly – the quality of the work they are sending out. Because if that work is poor then it might never see the light of day.

I think the thing to remember is that while it is important to teach doctoral students how to write in academia, and how the publication process works, we also have to teach them about how to deal with critique of their work and the rejection experience. They need to know how to get a manuscript from conception to publication, but they also have to know that a normal part of that process is rejection.

One Year Ago 

Two Years Ago

Popping with Twitter

As you know, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to use twitter in my instruction. There’s been lots of trial and error (and revision!) of my approach over the last year. One of my concerns as I got into the current semester was being able to promote twitter use in ways that were relevant to the course but also had students using twitter in a variety of ways.

Enter pop up quests with twitter.

pop-upI’d first gotten my head around pop-up quests last fall. The idea is that these are optional quests, and they happen when they happen. They should be designed to promote skill development and/or content knowledge as it relates to the class.

I created a # for these pop-up quests – which I won’t share here because I don’t need the world looking in on us. You could do this too. Just make up something that works for you that no one else is using. Mine was basically #[insert program tag]pop.

I thought having a separate # for pop up quests was necessary as I didn’t want it to blend with the stuff on our regular channel. I sent an email out to both classes (they are in the same program) alerting them to the tag. And then I started.

What Happens on the POP Tag

We’re actually not too far into it yet, but here are some of the things I have done:

  • share a picture of something you are doing this week related to the course (3000 XP)
  • Saturday challenge: leave a comment on a specific blog post that I linked to (3000 XP)
  • Sunday challenge: tweet out one post from the class blog that is not your own; make sure you add an additional # to it (4000 XP)
  • challenge for the week: share one educator per day for five days that you love; tag the person & say what you love about them (3000 per day or 20,000 for 5 days)

The very first one that I did – involving the picture – immediately got revised so that students could do it for five days and earn up to 20,000 XP. This was in response to a student who asked if I would accept more. I thought things were going well so, why not? It worked fine. Notice that I intentionally give more XP if you participate all five days.

The Saturday and Sunday challenges were short challenges that had a one day completion for them. With the Saturday challenge, I was trying to drum up some comments on a post written by someone outside this class. For Sunday, I wanted them to look at our own blog and share a post they really loved written by someone else.

Notice I’m usually having them leave tags when they have to tweet that connect to people or larger concepts. I hope this helps them build their network and connect with others.

So far I would say that there is a good response to this, and it has been very simple to score. I try to score it within 48 hours of it ending so I don’t have to dig down deep in the feed later on. Because I post the challenge on the feed it is easy to see where one starts. So far I do not have overlapping challenges. Right now, my second weekly challenge is running so I probably won’t do any additional daily challenges. That could get sticky with scoring. It could be done, but it would be more cumbersome for me to do.

I like the idea of a weekly challenge with daily challenges in between. You could even do shorter challenges that last for 2-3 days. But for me, I think running one at a time works well.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago

Creating Digital Identities: Who Do You Want To Be?

Last week, I started off the discussion about creating digital identities for doctoral students. There’s no one right way to get started with this. I don’t have a set of steps for you to engage in (either by yourself or with your students).  But I do think that as you launch into creating a digital identity it’s important to consider these questions:

  • who do you want to be?
  • what do you want to be known for?

The thing about creating your online identity is that you control it. Yes, people can post stuff about you but you control what you say and present about yourself. So before you start putting stuff out there, take the time to consider what it is you want to be known for and who you want to be known to. The assumption within all of the posts that will be a part of this series is that we are working in creating a professional digital identity.

For example, I use this blog to talk about my teaching practices. While some of what I write will likely cut across audiences my primary audience is people in higher education. I write about teaching in higher ed. I share my teaching practices, and I try to make my thinking on my teaching public.

I want people to think of me as innovative (because that’s just nice), but I also want them to see me as someone who is truthful and honest about my work. I want readers to know that I will share the process of teaching with them. This means you get to hear my perspective on what’s working and where my struggles are. You also get a front row seat to see how my teaching practices evolve over time. Hopefully there is information here you can use.

Think Of Who You Are & Find Your Medium

instagramOnce you figure out your purpose, then you can start to think about your platform. It could be that a blog makes good sense, but there are many other options too including twitter, you tube, instagram, and medium. Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to one (and I don’t think you should!) and you also don’t need to be everywhere at once. It could be helpful to play around a bit.

Additionally, you might think you know what you want your purpose to be but then later find out that purpose isn’t as exciting or useful as you had hoped. It could even shift over time. I think this is natural, and I see no harm in fine tuning your identity as you develop it. If anything that’s just normal. Ultimately, I think if you find something you want to publicly share/promote/examine AND you are passionate about it then you can’t go wrong.

Moving Forward

For the month of October, try to put the above steps in action. I see it breaking down like this:

  • If you are a professor, and do not have a digital identity, start with yourself. Figure out a tool that you want to play with and give it a try. Share your research and/or teaching.
  • If you are a doctoral student, and you also do not have a digital identity, this is a great time to start. When considering what to share with the world, keep in mind your audience. For example, I don’t think that many people would want to read my summaries of current research. However, they might be very interested in hearing about the process of my research.
  • If you are a professor with a digital identity start assisting doctoral students with crafting their own. You can do this 1-1 or in a small group. Have students share their ideas and how they want to implement them. Examine the tools everyone is using and take a look at the content everyone is creating. Give and get feedback.

Doctoral students are in a position where their identities will naturally shift over time. This will depend on where they are in the program when they start doing digital identity work. Additionally, as students graduate and shift into a job the content and purpose of their work will shift as well. This makes perfect sense. Do what you do best now, but always keep your audience in mind.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago


Helping Doc Students Develop Online Identities

We have something new going on these days in the building. Each month, we have a meeting – or maybe gathering is a better word – with doctoral students and a few faculty (around three) to discuss something of professional interest. For example, we might discuss how to set up your vita or talk about how to remain an activist as you shift into the professoriate. Or even discuss what you need to know about comprehensive exams.

These meetings are meant to be informal and happen over lunch. The idea is for just a small amount of faculty agree to come in order to foster some discussion, to help build community with the doctoral students, and to help faculty and doctoral students get to know each other better.

It’s a good idea. But it’s missing something. When I looked at the list of topics I could sign up for I noticed something was missing: we are not talking to doctoral students about how to develop their online identities. And we need too.

What Is An Online Identity & Why Should We Care?

When I use the term online identity I mean, at a very basic level, how we present ourselves both personally and professionally to the world. In this post, I’m talking about how help doctoral students develop/cultivate/curate a professional identity.

The thing is, it’s probably only fairly recently that this has become an important concept to thinkonline-identity about. When I was a doctoral student (16 or so years ago) this kind of thinking wasn’t necessary. Sure, some people had websites, but it wasn’t common. Facebook wasn’t out yet.

However, I would say that easily within the last five or so years it has become important to think about having a professional identity. There are numerous benefits to having one. I’m going to rattle a few off, and I don’t consider this list to be exhaustive:

  • students learn how to talk to an audience
  • they get the chance to work out their ideas in a public space
  • students can develop followers and find people they never knew existed; they can connect with more established scholars (networking online)
  • they can share their work with the world and have many, many ways to share it and many formats as well; they can get as creative as they want

So that’s a list to get us started thinking about the benefits. Notice I didn’t elaborate on any of them. That was intentional. I’m going to be spending some time in the exploring the ideas of why we want doctoral students to develop online professional identities AND (because this blog focuses on teaching) how we might help them do so.

But I Don’t Have My Own Online Identity

If you don’t have your own online professional identity even kinda sorta developed, then I think it’s going to be difficult to help students create one. My advice in this case would be to keep up with the series and use it first as a way to develop your own (or even refine it). Once you have done so, then you can start to shift to helping doctoral students think about it.

By the way, I do think it’s important to think about online professional identities at all levels (undergrad and masters) but for me, each of those populations is uniquely different. How I would engage them in thinking about it, and the purposes for which they would create such an identity, would be specific for each level. Across the three however, I think that an online professional identity is essential for doctoral students these days. This is why I’m focusing in there.

What are your thoughts on developing online identities? Join the conversation at #phdidentity

One Year Ago Today

Two Years Ago Today



The Struggle with Blogging

As you know, I am a big fan of having students blog. And, as you also know, I recently decided to have my masters class move into having a multi-authored class blog as opposed to individual ones (see our blog here). The semester is now in full swing, and students are in fact blogging (it’s required in one class and optional in my other). There are, currently, no major issues. However, I did spot some interesting struggles that students expressed before anyone had ever written a single word for a post.

The struggle some of them faced was grounded in freedom.

Now, the directions allow students to write about anything they wish so long as it relates back to the class in some manner. They have a very wide berth of acceptable topics. It’s so wide that they would actively have to work at NOT being on topic to fall short here. So my advice is to pick something they are interested in and write about it.

Once you’ve got your topic, then you have any number of decisions to make about future topics. You could do a series of posts on the same topic. You could explore one topic the entire semester. Each post could be different. Again, any variation is fine.

Then of course comes the time when you actually write it and post it. You decide when you will do this. You schedule it (I have a sign-up sheet so posts don’t get double-booked), and then write it when it pleases you.

What was expressed to me was that the act of blogging – as I have it structured – was practiceoverwhelming (at least for some). Students explained that they had always been told exactly what to write about, when to do it, when it was due, and so on….It’s not that my assignment lacked structure – there are boundaries to it – but the structure does allow for a lot more freedom than they have experienced in their academic careers.

This really isn’t surprising when you think about it. This is pretty typical of how students experience school. What I’m asking them to do – while I don’t think it’s all that out there – is radically different. I think, but this is my interpretation, that the blogging assignment might have raised some anxiety levels.

So, what do you do when your students express this kind of discomfort? Well, if you’re me, you feel pretty ok about it. However, I recognize that it’s an unpleasant position to be in as a learner. But here’s my advice from the teaching end of things:

  • Acknowledge that the discomfort makes sense
  • Tell your students to go forth and do it anyways

I know. That’s all I got. I totally understood why anyone would feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable or any number of things. It made perfect sense to me. That said, the only way out is through. All you can do, as a student, is pick something to write about and get to writing.

What’s the worst that could happen? I can’t tell that much of anything bad will happen. Even if you fail to get something up one week, I have bonus opportunities worked in. You have to make it your goal to fail.

So I did exactly what I suggested. I acknowledged the discomfort and told them to dive in. And you know what? So far, everything is peachy awesome fine. Yes, sometimes I have suggestions to make for improvements but they are minor things.

However, what does this say about our educational system at large? How are we moving students through it, and what are they experiencing? How are these experiences shaping them in ways that support their abilities to be creative and how are they being constrained?

One Year Ago Today

Two Years Ago Today


Revising in the Game (Class)

Do you remember old school video games? When I was growing up, we had an Atari and arcades were loaded up with Pac-Man, Frogger, and Asteroids. Later, we graduated to a Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers.

atariBesides the fact that I LOVED those games, what I remember about them is that the game was the game. Period. In our current age, we are able to give feedback to game creators and, potentially, shape the development of the game. I don’t mean reporting bugs that need to be fixed but rather sharing -through reviews or emails/social media- our explicit thoughts on what does and does’t work and even offering up suggestions for making the game better.

And game developers listen. They use the feedback players give to shape the game and make revisions or use it to inform a new, but related, game.

What this means is that if you are going to gamify your classroom then you cannot ignore the roll that feedback plays in terms of making improvements – and I’m not talking about making improvements the next time you teach the class. I’m talking about potentially making improvements as quickly as it makes sense to do so.

Now, a caveat. I’m not saying that every suggestion needs to be implemented. Game developers definitely don’t do everything their players want and for a number of reasons. As the instructor, you have a big picture perspective that it’s impossible for your students to obtain. You have to look at the feedback you get and place it inside that perspective to see if it works. Sometimes it does in ways that you can do right away. Other times it’s more complicated and it really doesn’t make sense to do it until you teach the class again (we’ll call it Version 2.0).

How I Got Here: An Example

I was meeting with one of my masters courses for the first time. I have this great quest (of course I think it’s great; i put it together!) that utilizes twitter – at least in part. The overall purpose of the quest is to get the students (K-12 teachers) to think about developing a social media presence. We use the book What Connected Educators Do Differently. In the book, the authors ask readers to find five new people to follow at the end of each chapter. I took this idea and worked it into a regular part of what they do each week.

If teachers follow five new people each week, they earn 4,000 XP

If they follow 6-10, they earn an additional 2,000

If they follow 11+, they earn an additional 3,000

The whole thing lasts for 12 weeks. On the surface, it seemed nice and clean to me. I thought I was encouraging people to get on twitter and follow people. I did this last year and found it easy to stay on top of. No one reported any issues (bugs) or gave me any feedback. Until now.

All it took was one person who basically asked a very simple question. It was along the lines of, follow-twitter“What if I want to follow a bunch of people starting right now?” As soon as the question was presented to me I realized something – huge light bulb moment – I had just set up a completely inauthentic twitter experience. I was too hung up on quantity.

Think about it. This is not how you use twitter. I might follow people here and there, then follow a whole bunch at once, and then follow hardly anyone new for a week or two. And it’s not a big deal because I’m still engaged with twitter. Yes, following people are important to twitter but my idea was that, ultimately, I wanted my students to be engaged with twitter. And what did I do? I got myself – and potentially them – hung up on numbers.

Let’s Change It

My initial response to the student was something along the lines of I got the point but to go ahead as planned and just trust me that it would all magically work out. I couldn’t just change it on the spot. This was not a quick fix. When I realized almost immediately what I had done, I also needed time to think about the issue and what to do.

So, let’s change it.

Rather than having numbers and counting I’m going to ask my students to do the following:

A critical part of twitter is about engagement. It’s about following people, interacting with their tweets, and giving information to your followers as well. Over the course of the semester, you should aim to do such things as:

  • follow people you are interested in that can help you build your professional network
  • engage with the tweets your followers share through retweeting, liking, or even leaving a comment behind
  • share information of your own that is of interest to you but that you also think would be of interest to your followers (or people who would follow you once they found you)
  • search relevant # to build up people you follow and those who follow you; this will also help you better understand how to tag your tweets to create greater involvement

It may be helpful to use the previous guidelines in considering how many people you should follow. Over the course of the semester, aim to follow 70 people/organizations that are relevant to your professional network and what you do or hope to do. Rather than award XP based on the number of people you follow each week, XP will now be awarded in the following manner:

  • Are you engaged in building your network and interacting with it? Articulate how well you think you are doing at developing your network and your plans going forward. You can articulate this anytime you wish, and you have two opportunities to do so. The first time will be the week of 10/10-10/16. The second time you have a choice. You can do the same thing again OR you can curate a Top 10 list from information you found on twitter that has enhanced your learning as it relates to this class. Due date is the week of 11/28-12/5.
  • XP at each time point is 54,000
  • Due Dates: I will only accept submissions for the first time point between 10/10 (starting at 5:00 PM) – 10/18 (ending at 5:00 PM); No late submissions; The second time point can be submitted anytime from 11/28 (starting at 5:00 PM) and ending on 12/5 at 5:00 PM. No late submissions.

Two Years Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

Featured Teacher: Chris Aviles

This month’s Featured Teacher is someone who has had a significant influence on my teaching. Chris Aviles runs the Teched Up Teacher. I came across his work when I was first developing an interest in gamification. It was through his site that I was able to take my college courses and work to gamify them. I always go to Chris when I need inspiration. His work is amazing, and he is excellent at communicating what he does. His posts always make it onto my syllabus as required reading.

While he writes about a range of technological uses in education, gamification is truly one of his specialties. He recently published a free (you have to get it – go right now. I will wait) gamification guide that is in addition to all the great materials he already has on his site. You can get it here (scroll to the bottom and enter your email to receive it).

You can also find him on Twitter and FB.

Note: In the following sections what you will read are predominately Chris’s words with very minor editing.

About Chris

I taught high school English for ten years. Now I’m the edtech coach at Fair Haven, New Jersey. There I run the Innovation Lab with my partner in crime Ms. Smith! The Innovation Lab is our middle school think-tank where we learn about Design thinking through computer science, engineering, the digital arts, and entrepreneurship.

Your work on gamification has transformed my teaching. How has it changed your thinking about teaching and learning?

I’ve gamified for the last six years, but only in the last two years have I realized why I love Gamification. When I started the Innovation Lab at Fair Haven, I found out about Design Thinking. Design Thinking is all about designing with empathy for your user. Thanks to Design Thinking, I was able to see how video games are designed to provide a great experience for the player.

Gamifying forces me to think about the student first when I design a class. That’s why I love Gamification; it makes me explore the student experience in my classroom. Often, we design our class around standards, objectives, and, worse, assessments. We design a class around what we want students to learn instead of designing the class of how we want students to learn. Gamification helps me be empathetic to the student experience in my class. My class has become an infinitely better place to learn because of Gamification. Oh, and gamification is just fun.

You’re a part of the Maker Movement. How do you think teachers can become a part of this movement? What does it take to get started?

I think it’s a lot easier than people think. When I taught high school English, my classroom became a makerspace because I asked my kids, “how would you like to show me what they know?” and “how would you like to show me what you learned?” That’s all it took. When you focus on student-centered learning, kids have no choice but to create.

One of the major misconceptions people have is that the maker movement and the STEM movement are the same thing. They’re not. The Maker movement is just that: Making. It doesn’t have to be STEM-making. You don’t have to have a makerspace. You don’t have to go somewhere to make. If you want to be part of the movement, jump by encouraging your kids to make by showing what they know.

As a teacher educator, I feel like I’m always introducing new ways to the teachers I work with that are seen as exciting, strange, and scary (sometimes all at once!). What kinds of support do you think teachers need in order to launch into something like Gamification or maker spaces?

I’m lucky that my current district is incredibly supportive. I haven’t always worked in a supportive district. Not because they didn’t like what I did; I don’t think they got it. Either way, I don’t like worrying about things I can’t control. I can’t control whether I get support for what I do. I can, however, control my attitude. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable and reframing failure as iteration are the two most important changes to my attitude I made when I started to leave the edu-reservation. No matter what you teach, you have to have a growth mindset and a relentless attitude. If you are going to change what you do to make learning better for your kids, you have to realize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Get your mind right.

What are you excited to work on in your teaching right now or in the future?

FH Gizmos! Long story short, I see a lot of missed opportunity in the maker movement to teach entrepreneurship, so I built an online store for my students. My kids can create and manage their own online store and sell their products for real money (we accept check or card!). When a product sells or if there is a problem, students handle customer service. I run FH Gizmos as a startup (there is the Gamification). As members of Gizmos, students become a voting member of how we spend the money we earn. Through teaching entrepreneurship, I can better teach Design Thinking because students have a customer to design for, I can (hopefully) self-fund the Innovation Lab, and students are learning the soft-skills it takes to become successful. For me, FH Gizmos was the missing piece that helped tie everything we do together.

Do you know an interesting educator who should be featured? Email me at leighahall39@gmail.com

Take a look at last month’s Featured Teacher: Eddie Kim