November 2015 archive

Helping Students ‘Make It Stick’

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I’ve had the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel on my bookshelf for almost 2 years, and I’m just now making a dent in it (I swear I’ll finish it over winter break!).

Before I get too far into it, though, I wanted to note a few helpful insights that would be simple and valuable to students and teachers– especially since final exams are right around the corner.

Here they are:

  1. Making mistakes and correcting those mistakes while learning is valuable and leads to increased retention.
  2. You need to make abstract ideas concrete in order to learn effectively.
  3. To remember information longer, try retrieving the content with practice quizzes (you and a study group of fellow classmates can give these to each other to prepare for the real deal).
  4. Underlining, highlighting and cramming are not the best ways to retain and learn information. A different approach that is more effective is leaving time before study sessions to let the information sink in, and tie that new knowledge to old knowledge you may have (this works well especially with psychology and communication classes); find a way to make old knowledge and/or personal experiences relate to the new information for improved learning.

I’ve only just scratched the surface of the various principles in Make It Stick (sorry, students, I won’t be able to share more learning tricks until finals have long been over).

However, I hope this small bit of information comes in handy for both teachers and students this time of year. If you’d love to have all the secrets to successful learning right this moment, check out the book Make It Stick for yourself.

Happy teaching, learning, and testing!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Give Thanks

DSC_4936 copyI never intended to put this post on Happy Professor (I wrote it some months ago), but the longer I teach, the more I hear about the private struggles of other instructors (related to office politics on the physical campus, being bullied by students in online courses, or reading heartbreaking student criticism at the end of the term).

These stories are rare, but they always make me want to help.

Given the season, I encourage you to embrace your trials and give thanks for the opportunity to grow stronger.

Love Erin


I am a perfectionist.

It’s hard enough for me to have simply made a mistake, but when it’s a more public incident that others immediately take note of, I just want the earth to swallow me whole.

I think we’ve all been there.

Luckily, I have a selective memory, forgetting most of the guilt and humiliation associated with such events, and only remembering the lesson and a vague recollection of the incident each time I take one of these missteps- in relationships, career, and life in general.

I’ve been incredibly careful (more careful than I realized) to make very few mistakes over the past few years. Going above and beyond to prove my worth, and then riding the wave of small successes that followed persistently for years.

Which may be why one personal ‘failure’ this year knocked me so completely off my feet.

I can be hard on myself, but that doesn’t change the fact that I will always look for the silver lining, because that’s how I survive and eventually thrive. It’s how we all do.

I sought out a few good friends who trusted me and know my heart, and most importantly, would be positive influences.

This is what they taught me this time around:

  1. Time will heal; all mistakes and hurt really will get better.
  2. Some of the hardest things in life teach us the most important and lasting lessons (even if they seem unbearable for a while).
  3. Remember the value of this experience: Make a list of everything you’ve gained from this, write it with love, and put copies of it throughout your home.

It was a work in progress, but I reminded myself of the 3 above items as often as possible. And, for a time, I reread my redundant lists of positivity.

Looking back, this small challenge may just change everything, and it might just be positive change. Maybe.

So there you have it. When life gives you lemons, don’t give up. Persist, learn, love, grow, and give thanks.

Happy living.

Happy Professors Series: Helping Others, California Travels, and Twenty-Something Opportunities

DSC_5913“I’ve been teaching part-time since my early twenties, and it really gave me the opportunity and the inspiration to explore other interests, like fashion, acting, traveling, getting an EdD, and starting a website. My favorite part about being an adjunct instructor has always been getting to know different students each semester, and hearing that I truly helped some of them improve their communication and public speaking skills. It’s an amazing feeling at the end of the semester to know that I played a role in helping someone get ahead in life.

I also love the flexibility of my job. I can take summers off when I want, and I’m able to travel to California on a regular basis and meet with friends for coffee in the middle of the day when I’m back at home.

I couldn’t ask for a better way to explore my twenties, while help others find their own potential.”

Communication instructor, EdD student, entrepreneur

How to Assign TED-style Talks in the Classroom & Set Your Students Up for Future Success

DSC_4109 copyAs promised last week, in this post I’ve provided the materials I created to help prepare my students for their TED-style talks.

I’ve also included some announcements I had sent out to encourage reflection of their speeches, and to encourage them to take action with other public speaking opportunities throughout college and in their future careers.

TED Talk Preparation Guidelines

In class, to understand what preparing and presenting a TED talk feels like:

Watch clips of Brene Brown’s TED talks:
The Power of Vulnerability (up to 1:10)
Listen to Shame (up to 4:00)
Listen to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast episode, “Brene Brown on Vulnerability” as she discusses her experience giving a TED talk (start at 8:20 and end at 12:50)

For homework:

Read “Assigning Students a TED-style talk”
Watch the video TEDx@TEDGlobal- June Cohen- What Makes a Great TED talk
Watch other TED talks to get a feel for how it’s done
Prepare your own 3-5 minute TED talk
Rehearse in whatever way works for you
“Be awesome, have fun”

(But still, no cursing- sorry)

*Keep in mind, you will be recording your in-class presentation with your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

More Preparation for Your TED Talk: Life Goals Activity (Optional brainstorming activity at home)

Watch Reprogramming Your Brain to Overcome Fear: Olympia LePoint at TEDxPCC

What are 3 things you want to do (career, life goal, dream, etc.) after college? Name 1 obstacle for each. Name 1 thing you’re scared of for each

While you’re preparing to reach your goal, or in the process of reaching your goal, remember:

  1. Name your fear and reject it
  2. Reframe your thoughts
  3. Take action


After my students started presenting their TED talks- some of the best student speeches I’ve ever seen in my life- I sent out the following announcements to push them even further. If/when you do a similar activity in your classroom, you’re welcome to follow up with a copy and pasted (and slightly edited) version of my own announcements below.

I give you full permission to use it if you think it would work well with your students, and if you’d enjoy coaching your former students in the future (I know I always enjoy it!).

Subj: If you ever do an official TED or TEDx talk

Hi everyone,

I made the announcement to some of you, but for those of you who I didn’t mention this to, if you ever get the urge to do an actual TEDx talk for a city, organization, or university, I’m always willing to coach you (even if it’s 5 years from now).

As college students with tons of potential, a TEDx talk would do a world of good for you; it’d be a huge selling point on your resume, enhance your professional social media presence, and just be a major life accomplishment in general. You could probably even use the recording of your classroom TED talk (or an impressive clip of it) as part of your submission packet for the real deal.

I have coached former students who now speak at conferences and have reached out to me via email. We’ve communicated via email and/or meetings at coffee shops, so it doesn’t have to be anything formal, I just wanted to offer it.

So again, just putting it out there. You can always contact me at my gmail account.

See you all Friday!

Mrs. Ebanks

Subj.: Speeches on YouTube

Hi everyone,

After seeing so many inspiring and mind-blowing TED talks this past week, I decided that If you put the recording of your TED talk on YouTube and email the link and the title to me sometime this semester, I’d love to provide my future students with some great sample speeches. No pressure!

Have a good weekend.

Mrs. Ebanks

Subj.: Small 5 point reflection activity

Hi everyone,

For homework over the weekend I’d like you read pages 72 through 95 of The 3-Step Speech. Focus mostly on pages 86-91.

I just want you to answer 3 questions; it can be handwritten or typed. You can answer each question in 1-2 sentences. We’ll discuss them in class Monday, and I’ll collect them for 5 points.

Here are the questions:

How can you get value from your next speech, and/or how did you get value from your TED talk? (p. 89)

In what ways do you think public speaking might play a role in your life’s accomplishments, now or later in life? (p. 91)

I also want you to consider in what ways you might take you public speaking skills/recorded presentations to the next level in the future, and how can this help your future career? (p. 89).

Let me know if you all have any questions. See you next class!

Mrs. Ebanks


Let me reiterate, this was my first time incorporating TED-style talks into the classroom, so I’ll most likely keep adjusting the directions and materials. It certainly wasn’t perfect the first time around.

However, I feel that my students could leave the semester now as public speaking experts, and that’s something I’m completely satisfied with.

If you’d like more advice about incorporating TED-style talks into your classroom, feel free to contact me at Happy teaching!

“We Are Next,” “Introspection,” and Other TED-Style Speeches from My College Classroom

IMG_9949The past week has been an eye-opening journey for me and my students.

For the first time ever, I incorporated short TED-style speeches into my course curriculum. The only real guidelines I gave my students were to follow the traditional style of TED speakers, and to simply “be awesome, have fun,” as Brene Brown had been told before her TEDx talk in Houston.

I was blown away by the outcome.

I had no idea what could happen if I let young, driven adults develop speeches based solely on inspiration and curiosity. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect; I tried this on a whim to satisfy my own personal goal of attempting something completely different and risky (who knew what kind of topics they might come up with?) in my classroom.

I’ve never seen students do more research, take an assignment so seriously, show so much of themselves, and display such innate skill and speaking ability.

The titles students assigned to their speeches were inspiring and interesting all on their own:

“Our Dynamic Identity vs. Our Static Sense of Self”
“Introverts vs. Extroverts: Who Do You Think You Are?”
“Connect to Survive”
“Music Saves Lives”
“Dating in a Culture Where It’s Uncool to Care”
“The ‘What If?’”
“You Are Not Smart”
“Why Animals are Better Humans Than Humans”

I could go on and on. Each day I walked into the classroom eager to see the new titles written on the board, prepared to experience another 50 minutes of life-changing and awesome (in the word’s traditional sense) information.

I’ll post one or two more pieces about the experience of TED-style talks in the classroom, with more specifics about how exactly to do it, but for now I wanted to include my feelings about the whole experience.

I’m the Happy Professor, so yes, I adore being in the classroom and interacting with students. Since this is my last semester spending significant time on a physical campus for the next few years (my online teaching adventures await), I know I needed to go out with a bang. The hours of time I put into this assignment were well worth it, and I believe my students will leave this semester feeling just as inspired and changed as I know I will.

Happy teaching, learning, and living.