Friday, October 7, 2016

The New Neutrals

Any color except beige
Large florals
Animal prints
Safety orange
Back fat
La Croix
Starbucks cups
Chicken pox

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The 24 Stages of Grading Essays

  1. Collect digital copies of essays.
  2. Email all the students who submitted their essays incorrectly.
  3. Hope you’re a new person this semester who can start grading essays immediately upon submission, instead of procrastinating.
  4. Decide you’re too tired to start now. You’ll do better with a fresh brain.
  5. Lose sleep because you’re worried students are worried about the lack of feedback on their essay.
  6. Follow interior decorators on Instagram. 
  7. Like every Instagram photo you see with flowers arranged by folks in England. 
  8. Read 2-5 books unrelated to the discipline you teach.
  9. Prep lessons for next few classes, just to get it out of the way.
  10. Research new career paths because you can’t keep doing this.
  11. Lose more sleep. Have that dream again where you eat the table cloth at a swank restaurant with the wrong fork.
  12. Come up with excuses for why you’re not done yet.
  13. Nap.
  14. Grade one essay. It’s not that bad.
  15. Oops, the next one is terrible.
  16. Set a timer for how long you’re going to grade before you can check social media again.
  17. Hydrate.
  18. Pee.
  19. Reset the timer.
  20. Obsess about all the creative things you would be doing if you didn’t have this soul leeching task leeching your soul of all creative impulse.
  21. Stab self with grading pen you no longer use because you’ve gone digital.
  22. Get around to grading 143 essays somehow. You have no memory of how it happens, really, but they are done except for that one student you fully expect will never to return class again, but he shows up so you have to scramble to grade it really quick during class so he doesn’t wonder why you didn’t grade his and only his.
  23. Vow to become a new person.
  24. Collect another set of essays.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Printables and What-Not Roundup #beforethepen

If you're here, you probably like paper & pens, planners, printables, stationary, journals, and all the other what-not that relates. Here are some what-nots I've found recently that might be of interest. 

Creative Commons Unsplash

I love this printable weekly to-do. Some of these printables get so busy with unnecessary junk. HeatherInk keeps it simple. (Free pdf download from dropbox.)

If you're into Cornell notes and like to experiment with different style of paper, like grid dot or blank, here are a bunch of choices. (Free downloads from google drive.)

These printables from Crossbow Etsy Store are very reasonably priced and well-designed for all your planner and organizational needs.

This weekly schedule printable is nice for helping students get their weeks organized. I downloaded the docx and changed the design a bit to reflect my campuses needs. (Free in multiple formats.)

Do you freeze a bunch of meals and then never know what's in the freezer? Here is a freezer inventory printable. (Free pdf.)

I want to try these landscape legal pads, but they are a bit pricey for me. I am cheap.

We all need this donkey note holder. Since I'm already buying myself new pens, and I've already admitted to being cheap, I just can't splurge on another gift for myself. But, he's so cute.


What are your favorite printables and what-not? Leave a comment and lets us know. Even when there is only one comment on the post, lots of people tell me they've been here lurking about. Say hi instead! (I'm lonely!) You can also send me an email at wordyporter @

Everyone on the newsletter mailing list by the end of August is automatically entered in the drawing to win one of of two #ReadWritePlan themed organizationpacks; let's get some more folks added to drawing so my husband doesn't accidentally win. He doesn't write notes or in journals, nor  does he use pretty file folders. ;-) If you don't want to win one for yourself, pass this along to a friend who does. 

To sign up for the newsletter, just enter your email address here for Cherri's collected links on women, comedy, social justice, sex+, teaching, nonsense, music, and of course, videos and gifs.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ask Cherri: Unbox The Test

Dear Cherri, 
I'm teaching a general education college course that has 50 students. I've taught it many times, in many different formats. I'm going to try something new for me: giving the test twice. For example: Monday, take exam for 30 minutes and then check in with class for 20. They’ll return exam to me so I can assess problem areas between Monday and Wednesday. Then on Wednesday, we’ll spend the first part of class reviewing the problem areas of the exam, and then retake the exam for the last 30 minutes of class. In the end, I will accept the better of the two grades. Is this a good idea?
Signed, Test Twice

Minerva instructing cherubs in the art of painting
Minerva Instructing Cherubs, NYPL Public Domain Image

Dear Test Twice,

Thanks for being the first person to ask me a question and thanks for asking a juicy one. *Throws confetti* I think you’re on to something here. There is lots of good research to support changing the way we test students, and the very least we can do is experiment with new things and see what works with our diverse and complex college populations.

As a student I loved taking tests because I got to show how smart I was. Most of the time anyway. There were plenty of tests I took where I demonstrated my absolute averageness, too. And that was okay. Most of the time anyway.

As a writing teacher, my attitudes about tests have been mostly negative. For one, grading handwritten essay exams sucks a whole lotta grizzly shit. Then, there is the fact that students freak out about exams; they don't shine; and they don't do their best writing and thinking. Instead, in their panic they lose what little thread of sense we think they’ve acquired in our classes and write wacktacular theories about how more guns and processed food will make preschoolers healthier and I just can’t read that crap and maintain my sanity. Testing as done by most of us is a pedagogical nightmare I have avoided as much as possible. Besides the department-required exam at one school, and a reading quiz here or there, I've mostly said no.

That is the attitude and experience I brought to James M. Lang's work earlier this year. The key thing his work has asked of me is to re-think the value of testing for students--and there is value for students and that's the reason to do it, which is what the rest of this post is about.

There is no box when it comes to the kinds of tests we can give and how we can organize them for the benefit of our students. 

A test is not something that has to happen on paper and come at the end of the unit, done exclusively as a solo activity.

Nope. Not only can we test outside the box...there is no box.

By Aaron Burden, Unsplash

We should be organizing tests for the benefit of our students. Think about that. What happens to the whole system when we ask this question:

How can we create testing practices that help students shine?

I hear some of my colleagues laughing, but if we actually want students to learn, and not prove what they haven’t, we’ve got to re-think the whole shebang.

That’s where the work of James M. Lang comes in. He illustrates the retrieval effect in the first chapter of his book, Small Teaching.
"Put as simply as possible the retrieval effect means that if you want to retrieve knowledge from your memory, you have to practice retrieving knowledge from your memory. The more times that you practice remembering something, the more capable you become of remembering that thing in the future." (20)
This is a step secondary and college teachers often skip. Maybe it’s because we are naturally quick at our subjects or because students look bored, but somehow we assume they don't need as many opportunities to practice as they do, or we expect them to be excited to practice, or we expect them to practice outside of class. Since most of them don’t even know what this retrieving knowledge practice looks like, that’s a hard sell. Us teachers repeatedly reminding them of the material, or them passively reading the material, is not retrieval practice, and thus not testing their memory. On a very basic level, our testing strategies are failing students and not the other way around. (If you're going to look this up in the research it is sometimes called the retrieval effect and sometimes called the testing effect. The research is cross disciplinary, spanning neuroscience, psychology, marketing, etc.)

What this means for us and for this question asker is that to write a good test we need to start way before the test by giving students opportunities to practice retrieving their knowledge well before test day. In addition, there are many ways to practice and demonstrate knowledge retrieval beyond what we think of as the typical college test of either multiple-choice questions or short answer or essay exams.

If we think about testing as a way to measure what students know, we fail them and us.

If we think about testing as practicing retrieval, as reinforcing neural pathways, as part of the learning process, we blow open the framework for how we might use testing in the classroom.

So, Test Twice, you are on to something with your idea to structure your test over two days and address the problem areas. I suggest you try it and see how it works. You can even frame it for students that way. Since you’re giving them the option to take the highest grade, if it goes sideways, I think you’re safe. If a student misses one test day, or decides to skip, they keep the grade they got on the one test. Just be sure to outline all the rules before hand so students are clear on the expectations.

Other possibilities. (Some of the following ideas are mentioned in Small Teaching, but in doing research, I saw variations of these ideas all over the literature in various forms so I didn’t specifically site any of them.)
  • At the end of each lecture you could ask two or three of the exam questions for students to answer on a note card anonymously or via a google forms link or some other social media survey if your students are media savvy. You would then get an immediate sense of what material students know and don’t, which could be reviewed at the beginning of the next class.
  • You can open each class with a question that would be on the exam pertaining to material from one of the last two classes and ask students to answer the question either individually in their notebooks, on notecards you collect and look at immediately, or in small groups. This, of course, takes time, but it does get them practicing recall. It also sets them up to know they need to review their notes before class because they will be asked to recall what they learned previously in this class session.
Give these activities time because many students will find them completely foreign and stare at you like you're crazy and even resist. I’ve had stubborn classes that refused to participate in my new ideas and other classes that jumped right into the crazy void with me.
  • If you use an online course management system you can have regular quizzes that students can take as many times as they want (for no points or extra credit) but you can look at the results of those and can see which questions they're missing and note patterns. Many textbooks have free quizzes on their websites you can encourage students to use as supplement, and the course management systems often have textbook tools that integrate without you having to do more than select and import. Since you’re not pointing activities, you don’t have to go through them and monitor them the way you would if you were using them as part of your own exams, so the workload is minor.
  • I've also seen a variation on the two day testing. On the first day students took the exam by themselves, turned it into the professor for scoring, and then went home to study what they were unsure about. On day two they back to take the exam in a small group. Now, some teachers might think it is cheating that they got to work in groups, BUT, what we know about the neuroscience is the important part--they reinforced their own learning by testing their memory. It’s the retrieval effect in action that matters, and not that they got to work with peers. The result is that everyone, even the slackers, had the chance to learn the material a bit deeper and test their own knowledge. You could let students choose if they want the individual or group score, you could weight them both, or pick the highest score of the two.

I hope this helps Test Twice. There are plenty of possibilities. Maybe this will whet your appetite. Let us know how it goes.

If you have more ideas or thoughts to add, leave them in the comments.

Post script: there is an interesting rubric in this article for conceptualizing the kinds of questions we might design for exams I found really interesting. 

If you have a question for ask Cherri, you can send her an email at wordyporter @ or use the google form.

I do want to specifically recommend Lang's Small Teaching and his online columns. His work both synthesizes the current research and contains practical examples of what teachers are doing in their classrooms across the curriculum. If you’re a new teacher, his On Course book is worth your time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#ReadWritePlan Giveaway

For the #ReadWritePlan Challenge Month I’m doing a giveaway.

There are two prize packages of journaling and organization supplies pictured here. 

How do you win?

1. You sign up for my newsletter. That’s it. You can go to to sign up, or type in the widget in the upper right side of this page, but don’t forget to finish subscribing after Tinyletter emails you a confirmation. You can read the archived newsletters at that link as well.

2. In the upcoming Back-to-School newsletter there will be an announcement for a second way tot win, so get on the email list today.

Don’t forget to check out the other challenge posts all over social media using the hashtag #ReadWritePlan 

And, don't forget to Ask Cherri if you have any organizational and/or life questions you want me to tackle with my overflowingbrainofthingsthatmayormaynotbehelpful. 

Giveaway details: On the 1st of September I’ll draw two emails at random from the newsletter mailing list and those names will be announced as winners in the first newsletter sent out in September. Winners will have one week to contact me with a mailing address they want their prize sent to. If winners do not contact me in that week new names will be drawn. 

United States addresses only.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Being Cherri Isn’t Pretty

Public Domain Image, NYPL

I pour over the calendar aisle in every store soaking in colors and bindings and smooth papers. How do I choose?

When stressed I obsess at planner porn. How do they make their handwriting so neat? How do they know what pens and markers to use? How much fracking time do they spend writing out their schedules? Who has that much to write down? What do they do when they make a mistake?

But alas, all this pretty is simply not useful or practical for me and here’s why.

One of the best things I learned from reading The Happiness Project was happiness begins by understanding our true nature, and not by pretending to be fantasy version of ourselves.

When I look at journal porn and think, “maybe I need a new planner,” what I’m really doing is imagining a fantasy Cherri who has a whole set of skills and habits that real-life Cherri does not.

Gretchen Rubin’s first commandment of happiness is to “be Gretchen.” So for all personal organizational tasks, I must be Cherri.

Here is what I know about being Cherri when it comes to calendars and planners.

  • won’t write in a planner or journal if she paid too much for it. We could delve into the psychology of this, but this post is long enough.
  • doesn’t enjoy waste, nor does she like buying shit she doesn’t need, nor clearing out clutter fantasy Cherri purchased years after the fact. (She does, however, enjoy browsing, and often puts things in her cart while shopping and puts them back on the shelf again before leaving the store.)
  • prefers paper to digital systems, though she does use google calendar reminders for super-important-can’t-miss appointments.
  • prefers to use pencil in a calendar so it can be erased, but will use pen and whiteout tape when necessary.
  • likes to see a whole month at a time.
  • doesn’t write a to-do list in her calendar.
  • prefers low-contrast design with white paper and black/gray lettering.

I did not know these things about Cherri at ages 20, 25, 30. I mostly had them figured out by age 40, but still need to remind myself sometimes. I’ll go into a panic every now and again about some aspect of my life and think a new calendar or planner will fix it, because of course we should be able to organize the chaos of an uncertain universe with a few pieces of pretty paper. Of course. Mostly, being Cherri means I know better. Mostly.

Before you decide on a calendar/planner system—or before you revise the one that isn’t quite working--you might take an inventory of your actual habits when it comes to writing things down and keeping track of your must-dos. What you think is a gorgeous work of art and what works for your friend/spouse/parent might not be the right choice for getting your own shit done.

In the comments below, let me know what being you means for how you use your calendar.

As far as my own calendar, as that is the theme for today’s challenge, I keep a simple monthly paper calendar where I write appointments, etc. If I have to be somewhere other than my normal work schedule, it goes on the calendar. I use google calendar reminders for things I really, really can’t forget (though it’s rare I forget something and when my memory goes I may need a more complex system). I don’t carry this with me. I leave it at home on the desk. If I need to add something while out and about, I text or email myself and add it when I get home. This is a 17-month calendar from Big Lots. It was $3. It opens flat and is grayscale.

I print out these large-numbered pages for my wall because most wall calendars for purchase have tiny fonts and/or strange color patters. I can’t figure out why so many office calendars are ugly. Who wants blue and red ink on their wall calendar?

I’ll be back in a few days to write more specifically about the “planner” part—the projects and to-dos and all that other stuff. I don’t necessarily separate them in my head, but since I’m playing the #ReadWritePlan game, I’ll divide them into two sections.

#protip Do not google “calendar porn” or “planner porn” without your safe search on. You can never unsee that! These terms are okay on Instagram and Pinterest though.


For the #ReadWritePlan Challenge Month I’m doing a giveaway.

There will be two prize packages of journaling and organization supplies—including journals, pens, post-its, and other pretties not pictured yet. Check back later this week for pictures of the full prize pack. Here is a sneak peak.

How do you win?

You sign up for my newsletter. That’s it. You can go to to sign up, or type in the widget in the upper right side of this page, but don’t forget to finish subscribing after Tinyletter emails you a confirmation. You can read the archived newsletters at that link as well.

Terms. On the 1st of September I’ll draw two emails at random from the newsletter mailing list and those names will be announced as winners in the first newsletter sent out in September. Winners will have one week to contact me with a mailing address they want their prize sent to. If winners do not contact me in that week new names will be drawn.

Don’t forget to check out the other challenge posts all over social media using the hashtag #ReadWritePlan 

Monday, August 31, 2015

This IS Procrastination: I’m a Mess* And My Writing is Too**

*There is nothing you can do about this because the only thing to be done is shit I need to do for myself. In full disclosure, I do have a list of emotional issues I eventually need to resolve, or at least journal about, which I’m sure is almost the same thing.

**All of my notes smell like vitamin B because I shove them in the drawer below the bottles of supplements I took for like one week and then gave up on. I will now have to burn the notes and probably the desk too because vitamin smell is forever.

The writing of this post has mostly been an exercise in digging up deep emotional junk I do not want anyone—including me—to see, the kind of junk I normally avoid by reading too many romance novels.

At first I decided to trust the process, be vulnerable, put that junk begrudgingly out there for the world to see. Then I deleted most of it because who wants to read about self-loathing and loneliness when the theme of this event is getting it together?

I suppose the problem here is that I have got nothing together.

When I was invited to join this bloghop I did so because of the strategy of external accountability. Left to my own devices I do little more than collect scraps of inked paper and feel inadequate while typing them up for however long it takes me to shut down the computer and go read a historical romance instead.

Sometimes I think I need to hire a wrangler or enlist under a CO to get anything done.

Instead, I only have me to manage myself.

And me is a fucking mess.

As is me’s writing.

More honestly, I haven’t been writing more than sentences and phrases at a time for
awhile now. The words come to me in thin slices of dialogue or bits of description or pins I hang scenes on, but never in large chunks and never with a sense of the greater whole of the story.

I have an enormous collection of ephemeral odds and ends.

What I think of as working on my novel right now is mostly wishing this chopped salad will magically morph into a smooth, cohesive narrative. But accumulating and wishing is nothing at all like writing and a whole lot like procrastination.

A real problem is that I have collected so many bits I can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m overwhelmed with ideas yet when I sit down to write none of these ideas take shape into much more than what I started with.

I’m not a pantser in that when I sit and just write whatever comes to me whatever comes to me is the same seven boring-ass sentences over and over again. Much like I need a CO, I also need constraints to fight against so total pantsing is out. Yet outlining, though it appeals to me hypothetically, is not quite the thing either. No matter how detailed my outline I am constantly asking “now what?” to it. My process, in all its ineffective glory, doesn’t fit either of those molds but I haven’t found the solution yet.

My most interesting and productive bits come at me in the car, while I’m driving.

I have felt-tip markers, paper, and post-it notes all within reach. I jot enough for me to remember the thread of the thinking on the steering wheel so I hopefully remember the rest when I stop the car to safely finish. I then fold these papers into my wallet to go through later. I sometimes get ideas when I am walking and text myself these to later retype into my notes. (Alas, my phone is too old for voice recognition and I am way too uncoordinated for a treadmill desk.)

The stories do not come to me whole. They come one snapshot, one turn of chin or catch of breath at a time. These bits collect in piles and stacks and stinky desk drawers. The bigger the pile gets, the further away I feel from actual writing.

This is what I have instead of prose and chapters and novels.

I promise there is no point in making the image bigger to try to read my notes (which is totally something I would do if I saw this image in someone else’s post.) My notes barely make sense to me by the time I read them. When I finally attempt to wrangle them into something more they have often lost their shape or energy. I may even have no idea what they mean.

Here are some excerpts from the above images.

Pirate. Armpit. Weird.

Menstrual blood art joke.

30 minute circuit measuring new maps.

I’m not Lydia Bennett.

Jen’s good shoes tantrum.

In everyone’s back porch.

Cheated out of new school supply magic.

Estrangement Kohl’s dressing room.

I have at least 120,000 words worth of bits like from the last year and a half.

I possibly need an intervention wherein someone comes over and scorches all my notes in a purifying bonfire and then runs smoking sage through the house to exorcise the demons.

The moral of the #GetItTogetherHop story is: don’t do it this way. How can I possibly move from this to corporeal story? I’m stuck. I don’t see a way.

I promise I am not trying to be pathetic. I am not begging for sympathy or intervention or even applications for the general-manager-of-my-life position. Though, that last one is a lovely fantasy, as if some kind of writing genie might materialize from the ether every time I rip a sheet of steno notes clean from the wire and transmute them effortlessly into readable and compelling prose.

Ultimately it’s me and only me who can enact the transmutation.

It’s me and only me who can sit at my computer and knead post-its into prose.

It’s me and only me who can do any of the things my pulse wishes for so quietly I can barely hear the hope anymore.

And this is bad news. I’ve spent 41 years with this me who is to do this kneading and writing and she is a world class pain in the ass.

And stubborn.

And very, very scared.


I’ll leave you with two random and practical tips, because although I went well off prompt for this assignment, I’m at least the conscientious brand of bad student very well aware and slightly ashamed of her own rebellion.

Acronyms for Newbies. When I first found romancelandia online I was utterly confused by the acronyms. These posts helped. 1  2

Plotting porn. I find this photo inspiring, yet I am nowhere near this kind of organized thinking. I decided one day I was going to try to manage my notes into this shape. I went to get some poster paper. I took all the frames from the shelves and stored them away. I then noticed that the screws in the shelves were stripped and I could not get them out alone. I asked my husband to help. He did. Two months after the day I bought the poster paper home. It still sits rolled on my desk and the walls are covered in ugly holes where screws used to be. This is an excellent metaphor for my writing life.

Find the #GetItTogetherHop schedule here to read more posts.

The participants of this #GetItTogetherHop have created a large giveaway—books, gift cards, journals, and more! Check it out by clicking the image below.