Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interview with Kim Townsel: On Student Tips, Teacher Tips
And the Answer to the Baggy Pants Question (2 of 2)

This continues an interview with non-fiction author Kim Townsel.  For Part 1, click here.

You said School Skills 101 was based on active research in the classroom, and that College Skills 101 was based on that, plus your own “what did I wish I knew when I started school” experiences?
It’s also drawn from my experiences teaching at the college level. I’ve had a lot of first generation students - the first ones in their family to attend college, so their families can’t prepare them for the experience. It’s about the areas they most struggle with.

You advise them on a variety of subjects, from buying books, to taking online classes, to how to get along with roommates. What else is a good tip for college students?
If they are really struggling to understand the material, to research and get tested for learning disabilities. They may not be “dumb,” but have to learn ways to compensate for a learning disability, and they may be able to qualify for special tutoring and financial aid.

You write this book in a way that is very accessible and not at all preachy. I love the example you gave about the difference between fewer and less (something I struggle with, myself.)

Fewer relates to a certain number. Three classes is fewer than four classes. Less relates to total quantity that is harder to assign a number to. I have less respect for him than I did at the beginning of the course. The easiest way to remember it is this saying: Drink fewer beers to get less drunk.

Secondary Teaching 101 has 250 tips based on your own experiences...?
Plus tips gathered in chats with successful teachers from around the world.

How do you teach kids to learn how to learn? One of the things I came up with that’s had excellent results is a Read & Research exam. The students get to use their textbook, so they feel like they’re getting one over on the system, but the questions are designed to make them learn how to research and dig in the text for context. They have the opportunity to succeed and score well on a test, which some of them have never had before, the material still ‘sticks’ with them weeks later, and best of all, they learn how to read for context, a skill they need not just in school, but in life.

You also encourage periodically changing the seating arrangements?
Yes, because it’s been proven that students who sit closest to the teacher tend to get the better grades. All students should have that opportunity.

But isn’t that a pain, what with trying to remember names, especially if you have a lot of classes?
Not if you use a seating chart with post-its which there are specific tips on how to do.

As a teacher, what can do you encourage attendance, good behavior, and punctuality, week after week after week?
I instituted an Attendance Reward Lottery. At the end of every week, students who have had no tardies, absences, or discipline problems get their name written on a card and dropped in a jar. I would then draw one (or more) cards and the winner gets a privilege or small prize.

I like this much better than the “perfect attendance” awards, because you miss one day for your grandfather’s funeral, and you’re done; plus that encourages parents to send their kids to school when they’re sick and infect the other students.
Exactly. By making this a weekly event, every student has a fresh chance with a fresh week, and incentive to do better.

I could go on for hours about just the Secondary Teaching book, but what about Teen 101? How did that come about?
I asked my students to write down the questions that they had, coming into high school, that they wished someone had answered, and then later, we drew them all out and discussed the answers. By having it be anonymous (though some students wrote their names down anyway) I got some very interesting questions. Later I decided this would make a good book - for students, for parents, for writers - for anybody who wants to know what kids really think.

The questions and answers were not all about sex, by the way, though there is a section on sex ed myths addressed by a former Sex Ed instructor.

So why do boys wear their pants down?

Okay this one is about a sex - a little.

When guys enter puberty, their penis starts making erections. Whenever they think about something sexy, they get an erection. Unfortunately for guys, some studies report that guys think a sexy thought hundreds of times a day! And when a guy first goes through puberty, his penis is so excited about its new skill, that it likes to practice all the matter where he is. So, while most guys will tell you that the sagging pants look is cool and stylish, the truth is that it also helps hide those spontaneous erections. It’s why guys like to wear their shirt tails out and/or wear big baggy shirts.

This book also addresses the questions: “Why do girls have to scream? Why do some guys never let you touch their hair? Why do girls who have nothing to show try to show their bodies? Why don’t guys ever call girls?” and many more.

You must have had a lot of fun with this book.
I had fun with all of them, but this one was a great experience.

Kim, thanks so much for your time.

(Reader Tip - click on the links in the text to go to the books' FaceBook pages.  Click on the picture of the book cover to go to the Amazon book page.)

Thoughts, comments, questions?