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Chapter 58: Teaching with brain fog, Part I

If you’re among the thousands (millions?) of people struggling to function through brain fog in the wake of a COVID infection, I have a few strategies to share that have really helped me over the past 10 months as I’ve adjusted to a new normal.

One of my weirdest post-COVID experiences started right after my fever broke: For several months, my brain seemed to have been taken over by my iPhone’s predictive-text algorithm — the one that thinks if you start typing “obstinate,” you must mean “objectivity,” or if you’re typing “introvert,” you must mean “intramural.” It was exactly as annoying as you think it was. I thought I’d finally gotten past it a few months ago, but this weekend, I was texting with my little brother and typed “under” when I meant “unto,” so apparently this is still a thing when I’m tired or under stress.

Anyway, the main coping strategies I have for this weird dysphasia — the fancy term for when your brain refuses to use words right — are to copy edit the snot out of everything I write and to offer the kids bonus points for finding any mistakes I miss.

When I taught in Oklahoma, I would deliberately plant an error in the objectives and instructions I posted on the board each day, then offer five bonus points to the first kid who caught it. This accomplished five things:

  1. It taught the kids that it’s OK to make mistakes. If the teacher makes at least one mistake every single day, then she obviously doesn’t expect everybody else to be flawless.
  2. It encouraged the kids to get to class on time. If you’re the first one in, you’re the first one to see the board, which means you have a better chance of being the first one to catch the error.
  3. It encouraged the kids to look at the board. There’s no point in posting objectives or instructions if nobody reads them. I never had to worry about kids asking what they were supposed to do, because they came in and read the instructions as soon as they hit the door.
  4. It gave the kids practice proofreading — always a plus in an ELA class, but not a bad exercise for other classes, either. Attention to detail is valuable in every discipline.
  5. It increased the chances of somebody catching it if I made an inadvertent error. Usually, the mistake I planted was the only mistake on the board, but some days, I’d go too fast or get distracted while I was writing and end up making an accidental error somewhere. The kids always caught it for me.

If you aren’t bribing your kids with bonus points to get them to proofread for you, it’s worth trying. I think you’ll find it increases engagement and improves your relationship with your students, who tend to feel safer when they know that A.) you make mistakes, too, and B.) you are willing to admit it.

Emily

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Raised by hippies. Aging and proud of it.

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