Ask The Staff: Gratitude
Happy Thanksgiving! There’s no better time to express gratitude (even if it does seem a little cliché!) The Weingarten Staff takes a moment to reflect.
What are you thankful for?
Bonus question: what is your favorite Thanksgiving food?
This year I am thankful to be back in the Philadelphia area and for my new job at Penn. I’m thankful for the joy brought by my rescue dog Snuffy. I’m thankful for my family, particularly for letting Snuffy and I stay with them during this transition. (Snuffy is maybe not the easiest houseguest.) I’m thankful for the love and support of my friends during this job search and transition. As for my favorite Thanksgiving food, that’s definitely stuffing. Although if we’re talking Thanksgiving themed food, then I highly recommend “The Dinner Sandwich” at The Original Turkey in Reading Terminal Market. – Kate
I am grateful for my family and support network. This year, with working full time, becoming a mom, and starting my Doctoral studies, I have been juggling a lot. I know that without the amazing support that my family provides, it would be truly impossible for me to take on all of these things. My favorite thanksgiving food is actually what I make the weekend after – leftover Turkey soup! – Valerie
Taking the time to express appreciation and gratitude is essential. Gratitude defies the description of a cliché. I want to express my deep appreciation for the Weingarten Center staff who have demonstrated their true grit and compassionate hearts by working together for the benefit of others, especially for students. Also, I am grateful for my siblings. Whenever I hear a person comment that they are disconnected from a brother or sister, it deeply impacts me. I am fortunate to have sisters and brothers who bring great joy in my life even though they can sometimes be annoying. 😀 Bonus question: Food! My sister is a devotee of Claire Saffitz and her YouTube channel. The sweet potato Soufflé rates supreme and I highly recommend it! – Jane
I’m very thankful that I can spend the holidays with my family this year! – Julianne
It may not be the first thing on everyone’s mind, but I’m thankful to be doing work that so often feels extremely purposeful and missional! The last few years have been a huge lesson in humility, relationship-building, and being human and I know I’m blessed that this is my first professional experience ever!
I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a work-aholic 👀… lol. My favorite Thanksgiving food is… everything my mom makes… I don’t want to play favorites with any of them :)- Gabe
I am thankful for my family ,our health and being able to spend time with each other. Bonus Question- My favorite food is candied yams with tons of marshmallows on top. – Lauren
I am thankful for my family, my friends, my dog, and my home in Philly. I love my neighborhood and cherish being within a few blocks of so many of my friends. And, my favorite Thanksgiving food is mashed potatoes. I could eat mashed potatoes every single day. – Jackie
I am thankful that my family and friends have been able to be healthy and happy during this very difficult year. I am grateful for their presence and the joy that they give me. My favorite Thanksgiving food is GRAVY – my mom taught me how to make the best gravy- I, of course, need to have mashed potatoes to go with it! – Pam
I am Thankful that God has Blessed me to see another Thanksgiving. I am thankful for my health and strength, having a roof over my head and the activities of my limbs. Thankful that my surgery was a huge success and I am able to walk better. Covid hit my family hard, hospitalizing some and making others very sick, and I am thankful that all have recovered. As you can see l am thankful. –Patricia
Student Spotlight: Aditi Singh
As part of Tutor Appreciation Month, Aditi shares how tutoring impacted her Penn experience.
There are some events that no one prepares you for. I had one of those events happen to me when one of my closest friends ran away from her dorm with a bottle of her antidepressants and almost committed suicide. My first reaction was shock which soon turned into a deep sadness. You see these things in movies and shows but you would never think that it would happen to you so suddenly with no warning. At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with tutoring. And you’d be surprised to find out that it has a lot to do with it.
I became a tutor in my freshman spring. I taught MATH 104. For three hours a week, I would sit at the tables at Penn and talk through math concepts and I truly loved every moment of it. It was familiar. It made sense. Being a freshman felt a lot like being a deer in headlights for me. Being an international student, I was exposed to so many novel stimuli. Culture, people, classes — none of it seemed easy. Everything was something to put effort into and not knowing where to look for help did not make it any easier.
In my sophomore year, I tutored MATH 114 and became a tutor mentor. I was still lost about what I wanted to do in my four years at Penn but I trudged along. There was a silver lining though– someone who made my days easier and exponentially better- my friend (and roommate). We would roam Penn, make 6 am Starbucks runs, build snowmans in front of my dorm. Suffice to say that I was slowly finding my way. And that’s when life gave me a jolt. I am sure that we all have these life changing experiences where everything takes a turn for the worse and then nothing is the same again. At 9:30 pm on a Sunday night, my friend was gone. I had no idea where she was, I had no way to contact her because she wasn’t answering her phone. A week later, I received a phone call from a social worker and my friend flew home and we couldn’t be the same anymore. And just like that, everything changed.
Every week I would tutor CHEM 241 and MATH 104– the only truly structured part of my day. The rest of the day, I would sit in my dorm staring at the now empty room wondering how everything changed. I spent a lot of time crying, sitting silently staring out of those large glass windows of Harrison and talking to my friends over the phone or just staying on FaceTime so that I wouldn’t be alone. The only thing that got me up to do things were that I needed to complete my classes and I needed to tutor. I managed to muster up enough strength to get through my semester and keep my promise to myself to not let this get in the way of my dream to go to medical school.
I mentioned before that tutoring was where I seeked comfort. There is something so wonderful about the look on someone’s face when they have been struggling with something for so long and then finally it makes sense. It made me feel like I truly made a difference. After my experience with my friend, and constantly questioning if I could have done something differently, if I could have helped more– here I was, actually helping. Actively changing something, someone for the better.
Call me a nerd, but in those days when everything was so heavy, tutoring lifted me up. My own tutors taught me subjects that I struggled with, with such care that I made it through my classes and finished strong. And on the day when I got an email from Valerie Wrenn (Associate Director of Tutoring Services) to become the Lead Math Tutor at Penn, all my hard work, all my love for tutoring, something that gave me joy and comfort came into fruition in a whole new way. I had a jump to my step as I walked on that cold winter morning. It was the one thing I needed to give me a real push out of the dreadful period that I couldn’t seem to get through.
Being the Math Tutor Lead of Penn has been one of the most fulfilling experiences for me. I can help so many students who need help at Penn and also guide the tutors. But the not-so-obvious joy of this position is Valerie. She supervises my position and talking to her makes me feel like all these ideas that constantly pop up in my head can truly be a reality. Talking to someone who takes the time to attentively listen to all your ideas and supports you while grounding you is invaluable. The support and care that I have received from the tutoring center has shaped the person that I am today. I know that without it, I would probably be lost at Penn. It has impacted me in so many ways– by making me a happier, more confident individual who can dare to dream at Penn.
The goal of this blog post is to express my heartfelt gratitude to Valerie, Weingarten and all the tutors at Penn who have made Penn a better place for me and for so many other people. I could not have asked for a better support system.
– Aditi Singh
Pandemic Life as a Student Parent
Part 2: Parenting for Social Justice, An Interview with Erin Cross, Director of Penn’s LGBT Center and Mom
In the first blog post of this series, I talked about my journey as a student and a new mom during the pandemic. Even though my schedule is still very unpredictable day to day as I care for my son, writing in shorter chunks of time has helped with creativity and focus. In this post, I discuss what it means to be a parent who is committed to social justice, including the need to interrogate our privilege not only as individuals but as a family. Especially while my son is only a few months old, it is easy to get caught up in the immediate needs of diaper changes, naptime, and all those middle of the night feedings. But the bigger picture of what kind of parent I strive to be is also important.
In the book, Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children, Vivian Vasquez writes about what happens when she shares a critical literacies curriculum with preschool children who are three to five years old. Through discussion, drawings, read alouds, and other activities, the children explore social issues including race, gender, and age in complex and thought-provoking ways. Vasquez highlights that children most adults would consider ‘very young’ are actively engaging in critical inquiry related to how they experience the world. Such opportunities to critically engage should be an everyday process, not limited to a classroom unit, holiday, or museum visit.
To reflect more on this topic, I caught up with a former professor of mine at Penn GSE, Erin Cross. Erin is the Director of Penn’s LGBT Center, and also teaches a course on Gender and Sexuality in Education. On the first day of class, we went around and talked about why we enrolled. “One day, I want to be a mom,” I said. During our discussions, Erin sometimes also talked about her kids and their experiences with gender. We kept in touch and I am part of a group Erin facilitates for white parents who are striving to be anti-racist. I want to thank Erin for engaging with me so thoughtfully in the Q&A below.
Jen: What does it mean to be an inclusive parent?
Erin: Striving to have your kids exposed to as much breadth as possible of humanity and believing others lived experiences, including our kids’. We try to talk about all kinds of differences whenever moments present themselves, ensure their books go beyond the white, straight, middle-class, citizen narrative, have varied people in their lives, and discover new art, etc. together. That is not enough, however. I also strive to be an anti-racist parent. We do not sugar coat racism in our house, it would be such a disservice to our kids. It is important for them to see white people admitting they are racist and working on it instead of just saying ‘I understand what you are going through.’ We don’t; so we try to have other folks in their lives of similar ethnic and racial backgrounds to be there if they need them. They also see me and my wife working with communities of color as worker bees and using our white privilege to lift BIPOC voices whenever possible. Breaking the gender binary is also huge in our house as we have folks of all gender identities in our lives as well. I am proud our kids default to they or ask people their pronouns. Sure, they soak up cultural stereotypes because they are being raised in U.S. culture but we try to mitigate them as much as possible. It is weird to see one of our kids enact what he sees as masculinity as he tries on new identities though, because the current identity of ‘cool, macho boy’ did not come from us. It is his experience and he needs to figure out who he is; however, and I have to say it is fun to watch as much as it is frustrating at times.
Jen: You co-facilitate a circle on Campus for Penn staff on whiteness and anti-racism. The theme is raising anti-racist kids. What advice do you have for student groups on Campus interested in creating similar spaces?
Erin: If students want to create a space to discuss and process their whiteness and their role in racism, go ahead and do it. A good place to start is Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy. In the book, Saad describes specific activities you can work through together to start addressing your own racism, like keeping a journal where you can reflect on how your white privilege has protected you throughout your life. Also, know there are staff and faculty in White Educators Committed to Anti-Racism and Equity (WE-CARE) who are trying to do their own work and feel free to reach out.
Jen: When I took your class on Gender and Sexuality in Education we read X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, a fictional story about a child whose gender was kept secret. When X goes to school, the adults react with hostility but other children begin to imitate X and find freedom in rejecting gender rules. How does the fictional experience of X relate to your own real experiences as a parent?
Erin: Although I love the story and it still serves a purpose, it is also very much so stuck in its time and the gender binary. Moreover, since X does a bit of girl and a bit of boy and it is early in life, their actions and appearance are not tied to assumed sexual orientation. What if X really did stick to non-gendered activities? First, it would be impossible and I am guessing many of them would actually be masculine. But, really no reason to speculate I suppose. Kids today have more leeway in terms of gender expression, although it is important to note there are still very binary spaces in the US as well (based on faith communities, ethnic backgrounds, SES, etc.). I was not in my kids’ life when they were young but from stories it was quite interesting. I know now we do our best not to work from gendered notions of things but we also know it seeps in from other spaces. That said, I love hearing how one boy at their school wears skirts and loves to twirl and the school and students are cool with it.
Jen: As a new mom, I love to read to my son. I know you have been a teacher and are a mom as well. What are some of your favorite kids’ books?
Erin: So many. I also asked a few other pals who are educators and moms.
- Julian is a Mermaid
- Hands Hands Fingers Thumbs
- The Day the Crayons Quit
- Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
- Liza Lou and the Yellerbelly Swamp
- The Day You Began
- A Snowy Day
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
- In our Mother’s House
- Today I Feel Silly
- Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born
- I Love My Hair
- Tikki Tikki Tembo
- Peter’s Chair
- Whistle for Willie
- I Am Enough
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Tomie DiPaolo books – Strega Nona in particular
By Jen Kobrin, Learning Fellow and Learning Specialist
The New Work-Life Balance
A Q&A Between Alia White and Valerie Wrenn
Covid-19’s impact on the world was unexpected, unprecedented, and forced many to adjust to a ‘new normal’, not only for students, but faculty and staff as well. Working from home became a new way of life and has influenced a greater meaning of work/life balance. For over 18 months, Weingarten adapted their services to an online platform. Beginning in July, Weingarten staff began to migrate back to the office on a hybrid schedule, to eventually, transitioning entirely to in-office operations.
Valerie Wrenn, The Associate Director of Tutoring Services, had an even more eventful 2020-2021, as she welcomed a baby boy earlier this year. As a new mom and being back in the office full-time, Valerie shares her thoughts on working from home and transitioning back into the office while caring for an infant. Below, Valerie shares with us her thoughts and processes through the following questions:
Q: What were you immediate thoughts on working from home beginning March 2020 and how well did you adjust?
When we first made the transition, we all thought it would be temporary. It was exciting and new, a different way of doing things. I thrive on a challenge, so figuring out how to build new systems and working habits for myself was exciting. However, I definitely had some difficulties creating new organizational systems and separating my life from work. But I loved that I could work with my cat on my lap!
Q: After the birth of your son, Myles, and getting back to work, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The return to campus has been overwhelming. Being a new mom of an infant means that I’m still juggling a lot of anxiety around interacting with people. But I am managing this by getting tested regularly and continuing to take all precautions like wearing a mask and avoiding overly crowded spaces.
Q: Now that the Weingarten Staff are back in the office full-time, what are some of the things you have enjoyed about being back in the space?
I love getting to see our colleagues. The staff here are such welcoming people and truly care about supporting students. It’s great to be able to tap into their energy when my own reserves are running low.
Q: Lastly, please share your thoughts on how you think we as a staff can bring our work-from-home practices (or work/life balance habits) into the office.
First, remembering to accept what we can control and what we can’t. There is more to get done in any work day than is reasonable to ask of someone. We have to be kind to ourselves when we find that we can’t get to something. The best we can do is prioritize the most important things (and sometimes that’s going to be our mental health, our kids, doctor’s appointments, etc.) and understand that some of the other stuff may have to wait. The second is a quote that I heard by a writer named G.K. Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” The idea is that exercising for 10 minutes once a week is better than not exercising at all. This principle can apply to a lot of things. Don’t get frustrated that you might not be able to cook a healthy meal everyday, but figure out what you can do with your resources and time.
Tune in for more Q&A posts topics with Alia from our Weingarten Center staff!
By: Alia White, Financial Administrative Coordinator
Ask The Staff: Recentering
We’re back! The Weingarten Center staff has returned to the office. While there are comforts of home that are missed, it’s also refreshing to see each other’s faces (the unmasked half, that is!) and to connect with students on campus again. Returning to the office is certainly an adjustment, so we asked about everyone’s favorite ways to decompress and recenters themselves.
Now that we have returned to campus, how do you recenter and decompress during the workday?
A way for me to recenter myself is to listen to music. It helps me to relax so that I focus on the task at hand. – Lauren
When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, I recenter myself by getting out of the office and going for a walk. I highly recommend the Bio Pond (officially known as the James G. Kaskey Memorial Park), The Woodlands cemetery and arboretum, Clark Park, and, for a longer outing with transportation, Bartram’s Garden. – Ryan
Recentering is a daily experience, for I never know what awaits each day. Will the Septa bus be crowded with passengers? Did I make the right decision to travel to Locust Walk during a non-peak time to avoid the crush of students? How can I display my delight at seeing a colleague while my smile is hidden behind a mask? Reaping the moments and appreciating the small acts of kindness serve as my way of recentering daily. – Jane
Going to the bio pond and seeing all the plants, turtles, and frogs 🙂 – Amrou
I try to do mindful meditation for at 10 minutes (max of 20) during my lunch hour. It helps to ease anxiety and feel a little more refreshed for the remainder of the day. – Alia
My absolute favorite way to recenter now is to listen to lofi music (Live Youtube Stream)! When I wake up really early, however, my meditation practice is to pray and read the Bible; I want to be more consistent with this, but it’s extremely centering when I do it! – Gabe
Doing crossword puzzles! Also, I love visiting the turtles and toads at the bio pond. It’s a little oasis in the middle of campus. – Jackie
Biking to and from campus has allowed me to get some exercise and fresh air while on my commute. – Jen
One of the things I missed during the remote period was the chance to connect with colleagues informally. Sharing a good talk or a laugh with a colleague while going for a walk around campus or getting lunch helps me recenter. – Julianne
Ask The Staff: Favorite TV Shows
For this installment of Ask The Staff, we’re talking television! From favorite shows watched during quarantine, to favorite shows of all time—check out what the WLRC Staff has been streaming.
What are you watching?
Over quarantine, I got into New Girl and now my roommates and I watch it all the time. When we’re not watching that, we’re watching another household favorite, Sex and the City. My all-time favorite show is Curb Your Enthusiasm—I never get sick of it! A more recent show I am obsessed with is Search Party which is a funny/dark mystery/thriller type of show starring Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development (another favorite of mine!) – Jackie
TV Shows: The Good Doctor, Pooch Perfect, Home Economics, Station 19, Grey’s Anatomy. Series: The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+), National Geographic Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (Hulu), Tehran (Apple TV), 90 Day Fiancé (Hulu). – Sabria
During the pandemic, I had some time to watch quite a few shows while being home. My favorite has been the following on Netflix: Bridgerton, Ginny & Georgia, and Lupin. Then on Amazon Prime these shows: The Wilds, Upload, Homecoming, and Modern Love. – Lauren
Pandemic watched: Reign, Poldark, and The Crown. My favorites are Bridgerton and Victoria. – Pat
As an aficionado of British mysteries and dramas (and sometimes comedies), Line of Duty rises to the top of intrigue and suspense with complex characters who create more challenges for themselves by poor decision-making. If you enjoy police dramas and can handle Britishisms, then I highly recommend this series. I made it through 4 seasons with 2 more awaiting me. “Keep calm and carry on” does not fit this heart-racing series.” – Jane
Gilmore Girls has given me comfort during all of the uncertainty of these times. I especially like the relationship between Lorelei and Rory and all of the quirky small town characters. Fingers crossed for another revival! Also, Rory is a Yale student for a few seasons and she has to manage her busy role with the college newspaper and a challenging course load, reminds me of many Weingarten students! – Jen
I’m watching the new Marvel shows on Disney+. I’m loving the inside look and back stories of characters that the movies normally treat as minor. Both shows that have premiered so far (WandaVision & Captain Falcon and the Winter Soldier) also both had a very different feel than the movies, like the writers are toying with aspects of other genres. They have both been fun, enjoyable shows so far, and I’m really looking forward to the Loki one! – Valerie
I have a thing for 90s/early 2000s TV shows so naturally I’ve seen Friends about a million times. Sex and the City is also a favorite of all time and more time spent at home gave me a chance to re-watch some old favorites: The Nanny, Girlfriends, The Game, Will & Grace… I also binged the Handmaid’s Tale last year and I’m excited for the new season to start on the 27th. I highly recommend this show. – Alia
I love this topic. The quarantine changed everything for me. Typically, I hardly ever watch television. Quarantine changed my television habits (go figure). Currently, my favs are Married at First Sight on Lifetime (I know, I know lol), Rock The Block, and House Hunters (both shows are on HGTV). I also enjoy rewatching old episodes of Martin, Living Single, and Girlfriends. – Sheryl
My partner and I are currently watching The Handmaid’s Tale. I read the book in college and recently read The Testaments, which is Margaret Atwood’s follow-up and response to the series, but I continue to be amazed by how much further the show has taken the original story. Elizabeth Moss is truly a superhero! Before this, we watched I May Destroy You on HBO, which I also highly recommend. – Ryan
I’m watching Never Have I Ever on Netflix. This is the little blurb associated with the show: “After a traumatic year, an Indian-American teen just wants to spruce up her social status — but friends, family and feelings won’t make it easy on her.” Mindy Kaling is one of the creators! – Traci
Making a Case for Study Groups: Establish Safety and Value
In the last installment of this series, we addressed 3 of the most common challenges that study groups face:
- study groups turning into study group socials
- uneven distribution of work
- unclear expectations
In this post, we will address these challenges from an asset-based perspective and through this question: what factors contribute to the success of effective study groups?
Interestingly enough, Google was also interested in this question. Already convinced that team effort yields the most productivity, the tech company conducted a large and extensive study to discover what characteristics every successful team had. Find out what Google learned by watching the video below:
Psychological safety. Every successful team figured out how to establish a sense of psychological safety for every member. Google broke this characteristic down into two other components: balance of speaking and social sensitivity. Considering these two components when we think back to the common challenges of study groups, everything starts to make more sense! When everyone does not feel like their contributions are or will be valued, study groups are not as productive. If the team does not practice social sensitivity, does not establish a culture of care, it is unlikely that team members will feel comfortable with making mistakes and troubleshooting challenges.
As we move forward from the social-psychological characteristics of successful study groups, we encourage you to use the Group Contract in your first study group session in order to set clear expectations and maintain a culture of care. Next time, we break into the cognitive ideas of growth mindset and metacognition to help facilitate meaningful interactions between group members and course content.
By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Specialist
Making a Case for Study Groups: Addressing Common Challenges
If you’re like me, you’re always asking clarifying questions. In this case, the question is this: if study groups are supposed to be effective, why do many study groups fail to meet that expectation?
While there are a number of reasons why study groups can be unproductive, the focus of this post is to bring attention to the following:
- study groups turning into social gatherings
- uneven amounts of work
- unfavorable communication patterns
If you’ve been in a study group that turned into a social gathering, go back to that moment and think about what contributed to that result? One of the factors you might come up with is that the study group was a little too large. The recommendation is that study groups are kept between 3 and 5 people in order to avoid instances of side-conversations and to help everyone feel like they are being heard (which does not always have to be verbal). Another factor contributing to study group challenges involves unclear expectations.
Unclear expectations (unestablished norms and values) make it challenging to have a successful study group session. When these norms and values are not made explicit, a study group opting for causal conversation could be the least of your worries. If clear expectations about what must be done before and during the agreed-upon study time are not defined, it is likely that a study group will not be as productive as everyone would like. Some students may even feel like they are consistently doing more work and taking more responsibility than others.
Transitioning away from the uneven distribution of responsibility, study groups can also become demotivating and uncomfortable spaces if the communication patterns of the group are not monitored and facilitated. There are instances where students can be turned off by the way another student responds to them or even how they react about the activities being done (“this is way too easy!”). Both unfavorable communication patterns and discomfort in the group setting result from unclear expectations.
The success of any study group is dependent on clear expectations and everyone’s commitment to them. That’s why the work of facilitation and the role of the facilitator is so important. A facilitator with appropriate interpersonal skills is able to see, for example, the presence and quality of communication between each combination of individuals and to the whole group. Similarly, a facilitator can monitor the productivity of the study group and bring attention to any consistent patterns of poorly distributed work. From there, they can take the necessary steps to make changes in the moment and in the future!
Stay tuned for the next post in this series as we learn a lesson from Google about the two characteristics that every successful working group has!
By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Specialist
Pandemic Life as a Student Parent: A Learning Specialist’s Journey
Shortly after Penn shut down in March 2020, I learned I was pregnant. I was tremendously excited, but there were moments of anxiety as I dealt with the pandemic and a huge life transition. I loved my life as a grad student at Penn and my work helped me stay grounded amongst chaos. Although the fatigue, nausea, and other pregnancy symptoms led to some rough patches, the strategies I learned as a busy doctoral student and a learning specialist at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center kept me on track. I had a weekly planner where I kept important deadlines, grouped into different categories so they were easier to remember. On days where I felt overwhelmed or exhausted, I wrote a few encouraging words in my planner to help me stay calm. At Weingarten, supporting students over Zoom and working through their challenges together helped me feel connected.
In December, my son was born and eight weeks later I returned to being a student and my fellowship at Weingarten. Many of the time management and study strategies I had previously relied on were now impossible. For example, I often recommend mapping out a weekly and daily schedule as a great way to get started with better time management. Dr. Rashmi Kumar’s Structure the Unstructured Time post provides a helpful guide. Now that I was caring for my son most days, my schedule was extremely unpredictable. Sometimes he would nap for 2-3 hours when I could get work done, other days he might nap in 20 minute increments or not at all.
Through a mom blogger, I learned a new phrase that became my mantra: “Flexible routine: not rigid schedule!” Each day, I have one or two priorities in mind. I still find it hard, but I am learning to think more about the big picture of my week, versus getting too caught up in what I can’t get done some days. I know I will get to each and every task, it just may take longer than I had anticipated. That is okay.
I want to end with a positive outcome of my new schedule. Being forced to work in small chunks of 20-30 minutes has led to increased creativity and motivation for writing. Somehow I ended up with a 65-page dissertation proposal which I will defend in May! Before my son was born, I often set aside one day a week for writing tasks, but much of that time would be spent on distractions like social media or texting friends. Writing in short chunks almost every day and taking lots of time in between to think about the logical arguments of my proposal has led to a much more positive experience, and helped me become a stronger writer. I would recommend this strategy for any student who is struggling with writing.
Assistive Tech: Text-to-Speech
Text-to-speech is our most popular assistive technology. It is software that reads the text on screen out loud to the user. It can read any electronic text file on your computer and is primarily used by students with learning disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia. Students with learning disabilities may have difficulties with reading, decoding, and focusing on the text. By presenting the text auditorily students can focus and follow the reading more easily. Text-to-speech can also be used by anyone who needs help focusing when they read, or to get through readings faster.
Read&Write is the text-to-speech software that we provide our students. It features a guided reading tool that allows users to better follow along with the text. Students with learning disabilities often struggle with keeping track of what line they are on and often lose their place on the page. Read&Write highlights the sentence it’s reading in yellow and each word it reads, as it’s reading it, in blue. That way students always know what is being read to them and exactly where they are on the page. Unlike simply using an audiobook, Read&Write’s guided reading adds a visual aspect to the reading. Most students with learning disabilities prefer to learn visually, so with Read&Write, you’re not just listening or reading, you’re actually watching something read to you. The combination of following along auditorily as well as visually allows for better focus, better reading compression, and better memory retention.
Students can use Read&Write to create their own MP3 files to listen to readings on the go. The can also increase the speed gradually over time to get through readings at a faster pace.
Read&Write is available as a desktop application and a Google Chrome extension. The Google Chrome extension has a free version with the text-to-speech function available.
You can check out Read&Write by visiting their website for more information.
If you have any questions or wish to learn more about assistive technology, please reach out to the Associate Director for Assistive Technology, Amrou Ibrahim