Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Happy Anniversary to Small Teaching

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the publication of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. It's no exaggeration to say that this book has changed my life. Since its publication I have received more than 200 invitations to give keynotes, workshops, or webinars of one kind of another on the subject of the book. I have only been able to accept a fraction of those invitations, but it has of course been enormously gratifying to hear from so many readers who would love to bring me to campus, and to learn about all of the book clubs and reading groups that have been dedicated to the book.Thank you!

Every word of Small Teaching was workshopped in my writer's group with Sarah Cavanagh and Mike Land, and the book would not have been anywhere near as successful without their constant help and support. Mike Land is a gifted storyteller, and has excellent instincts for knowing what needs to be enhanced and what needs to be excised; Sarah Cavanagh not only has that keen eye for stories and prose but also alerted me to many helpful resources and thinkers in cognitive psychology. This blog post could just as easily been titled "In Praise of Writer's Group," because that's the main point I want to make here.

I have the privilege now of editing a book series with West Virginia University Press, and helping bring the books of others to life. I love this work almost as much as writing--not quite, but almost. And the best advice I can give to my authors, and all of those who aspire to be authors, is to get yourself a group of fellow writers and make a commitment to read and comment on each other's work on a regular basis. You'll have to find your own writers, of course--you can't have Mike or Sarah. They're working with me through the drafting of Teaching Distracted Minds, and it will be an exponentially better book because of them.

To all of my fellow authors out there, happy writing.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wrapping up the 2018 Speaking Season

I write from the hotel bar of a Marriott in Salt Lake City, where I am unwinding after completing my last speaking engagement of the 2018 calendar year. Since the publication of Small Teaching in 2016, I have been a bit of a road warrior, fielding more than 100 speaking requests per year, mostly from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada--but occasionally from places much farther flung from my home in Worcester, Massachusetts. Of course I can only accept a fraction of those requests, as I still have a full-time job teaching and directing the D'Amour Center for Teaching Excellence on campus. But I am very grateful to all who have invited me to speak to their faculty, whether I was able to make it or not.
Jillian and Lucie on "The Fault in Our Stars" bench in
Amsterdam.This was really difficult to find,
but we persisted.

No doubt the highlight of the speaking year was the three-week stint I spent in April at Central European University in Budapest, where I led a few small seminars and taught a class for graduate students. On the weekends I had the opportunity to travel around Europe a bit, and my spouse and three younger children were able to join me for the last week or so of the trip. I spent a weekend in Vienna on my own, and as a family we traveled to Amsterdam and Lucerne. Europe, I will never tire of you. I'll come back anytime.

I took multiple trips to Canada, presenting on both Cheating Lessons and Small Teaching. My Canadian hosts were uniformly gracious and friendly, and participants at lectures and workshops were all incredibly supportive and engaged in the events which I led. As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone's nice in Canada.

Anne overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.
How lucky am I to have married this person?
I traveled to many lovely spots across the United States, some of which enabled me to work in visits with my far-flung family. Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University gave me the opportunity to return to my hometown of Cleveland and spend time with my brother. At Villanova University I gave the first presentation of my current research and visited with my daughter, a junior there. My time at CalTech enabled me to squeeze in a dinner with my daughter who is in graduate school at USC. Talks at the University of Chicago and Benedictine University meant quality time with my sister (and my adorable nephew) in Chicago.

I love travel and I enjoy speaking, although they both have their down sides. Nothing energizes me like a plane lifting into the sky, a new destination waiting at the other end of the trip, or like standing in front of a few hundred people with nothing but a microphone in front of you and your work behind you. But traveling and speaking also mean endless hours standing in airport security lines, lonely nights watching Netflix on my laptop in hotel rooms, and lots of meals eaten with folks whose faces and stories I won't be able to remember a year later.

Flagstaff. AZ, home of Northern
Arizona University.
The travel also can make it difficult to meet writing deadlines, a major one of which approaches in just eleven short months. Travel definitely stimulates my brain--I wrote for a good two hours on the flight from Boston to Salt Lake City on Thursday--as it breaks me from my routines and gives me new ways to think about old and persistent problems. But getting stimulating ideas really represents a small part of the writing process; most of it involves sitting down and banging out the words, slowly and deliberately, over long stretches of time.

2019 will see my time on the road much reduced. I have some engagements booked for the spring semester, and as usual I'll be at Ken Bain's Best Teachers Summer Institute. But in the fall--in addition to teaching and administrating as usual--I'm going to be hunkered down and writing Teaching Distracted Minds, working furiously to meet a November 2019 deadline. I'll still look for a few opportunities to present the ideas from the new book and see how people respond, but will prefer local and very limited engagements. It will be a very different fall from the one I've had this year, but it will be good. As I approach my 50th birthday, I'm glad to report that the writing fire still burns hot.

Keep an eye out here for progress updates, and have a great break.

P.S. You can keep up with my travels on Instagram at jimlang7, where I (very irregularly) post photos from my trips.