Mr. James Mulhern has been teaching for thirty years in a variety of settings--college, high school, middle school, at-risk, and alternative environments. He has taught English, Writing, Math, History, Science, and a job skills course. Mr. Mulhern has editorial experience working for Houghton Mifflin Company (textbooks and The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition) and Ploughshares, a literary magazine, both based in Boston. He also worked for National Evaluation Systems, a teacher test publisher in Amherst, Massachusetts, and for Clark Boardman Callaghan, a law publishing house in New York City. He taught writing and literature at Emerson College in Boston. Currently, he is on staff as adjunct faculty at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale. Mr. Mulhern is an AP Exam consultant for the National Math and Science Initiative and a Reader for the Advanced Placement English Exam (College Board). He also works as a freelance editor, publisher, writer, and web curator. In addition, he mentors teachers across the country in his role as a Consultant for the National Math and Science Initiative.
All students can definitely make real progress. • A Authentic: Is this lesson truly useful and why? I ask myself exactly why I am facilitating this particular lesson. What skills will my students gain? How? In what ways does this lesson link to a larger unit plan? Is the lesson truly a worthwhile learning experience? How is the lesson contributing to my students' skill set for college and beyond? Autonomous: How can I facilitate focused, purposeful, individual learning in this lesson? We have placed too much emphasis on group work over the years. In the real world, students will need to work on their own. How can I foster independent, autonomous learning in my classroom? • S Student-Centered: In what ways can I put the onus of learning on the students? I utilize scholar-led discussions when students create their own questions about the literature to initiate conversations about the readings. Of course, I teach students methods for leading a class discussion. And I always assist. I tell the students that we are a team of teachers. Spaced: How can I space out the material I am teaching over an extended period of time? Research shows that students learn better if information/knowledge acquisition is spaced. For example, teach part of a lesson on Monday, teach something else on Tuesday, and on Wednesday return to the lesson you started on Monday. It sounds counter-intuitive to not teach something in its entirety, but in fact, students learn better with spacing and chunking of material over time. Specific: How can I make the concept/term I am teaching specific? Students learn best from specific/concrete examples. Abstract discussions and definitions are not successful ways to anchor new knowledge in the minds of students. Always give concrete/specific examples. Storied: What story can I tell that will cement this knowledge in my students' minds? Human beings are story-telling creatures. We thrive on narrative; hence the history of mythology, literature, movies, etc. I try to tell stories (often connected to real-life experience--my own) as much as possible, with dramatic flair, humor (I hope), and acting. Students will remember your stories; the more outlandish and hyperbolic the stories are, the better. Memory research indicates that we remember best unusual, exaggerated, and funny stories. And if the students remember your stories, they will remember the knowledge that you are trying to impart. • C Collaborative: How can I incorporate collaborative work in my lessons? There needs to be a balance between student-centered learning and collaborative learning. Neither method is better than the other; both techniques should be utilized. I use collaboration in the following ways: collaborative test taking and discussion of why an answer is right or wrong, student-created lesson plans, collaborative writing of essays, collaborative student teaching. • D Difficult: Is the reading, activity, or lesson just a bit difficult? The research indicates that for significant learning to take place, students need to struggle somewhat in the classroom. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially in light of the "self-esteem" movement (the 70s onward) that has permeated the culture of education. The truth is that life is full of struggle, students will encounter failure and disappointment, but persistence and follow-through in the face of obstacles will contribute to character, skill sets, and overall learning. I tell my students that struggle is good for them. If a reading assignment is too easy, there will be no struggle, and improvement in skill level will be minimal. If, on the other hand, the assignment is slightly difficult, students will have to engage more, work more, and as a result learn more. • M Model-Oriented: How can I model what I want students to do with this assignment? I use "think-alouds" often, pretending I am a student going through the process of brainstorming for a paper, reading a piece of literature, or taking an exam, to give just a few examples. I also write some of the same essays I assign students, providing sample introductions, body paragraphs, topic sentences, concluding paragraphs, entire essays. In addition, I often write down my thinking process and post on my website for students to see. Peer work, with student consent, of course, is another great way to incorporate models in the classroom. Students learn from the models of their classmates. Metacognitive: What methods do I employ to get my students thinking about their own thinking? I consider metacognition one of the most important threads of teaching. Some examples of how I teach metacognition to my students include: 1. After I return an essay that I have graded, students are required to write a "How to Improve" paper (one page is sufficient). For every mistake that I have marked on the paper and for every comment, they must write a statement that they will correct such a mistake in the future. I also tell students to summarize their strengths and weaknesses on the paper. After they have finished this assignment, they must staple it to the back of the returned essay, which I keep in a file. If students want to rewrite that essay in the future, I allow them to do so. 2. For multiple-choice tests, writing the correct letter response is not sufficient. Students must write the correct letter, tell me the reason why they chose that answer over the other possible responses, and provide a textual citation (if appropriate) to support their response. 3. After a multiple-choice test, I sometimes pair students and have them explain their answers for choosing responses to their partner. The dialogue that ensues helps students learn new methods of thinking and ascertaining correct answers on an exam; strategies are learned from their peers. 4. After students have taken a test individually, I pair them with someone else in the class, telling them to discuss their responses, why they chose those answers, and ultimately determine whether they are going to stick with the response they, as individuals, have chosen, or change a response based on a peer's rationale. I also model my own metacognition, explaining my thinking/reasoning, the "why" of my teaching methods to students. I tell students that they may at any time ask me why I am giving an assignment and what purpose it serves in their learning. • R Recursive (Revisiting and Revising): I ask myself at least once a week, "What lesson/activity/lecture should I revisit and review?" or "What assignment might I consider having the students do over?" There is something called the Forgetting Curve in Psychology. Research indicates that humans tend to forget nearly half of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they revisit the material that they learned. Some research indicates that unless students review material, after a month nearly all of the new information will be lost from memory. Too often we, as teachers, facilitate a lesson, impart knowledge, test student skills, and then move on, never returning to that lesson again. This type of teaching is self-defeating. We should make a conscious effort to revisit prior material (a mini-review of ten minutes is sufficient); we should also consistently link new material to old material when we are explaining and teaching. I think of teaching as a series of loops. An example from my own teaching would be my AP English Language and Composition course, where students need to learn how to write three specialized essays. I used to teach one essay for a few weeks, the next essay for a few weeks, etc. When I began teaching and assigning one essay type, followed by the next essay type, etc. (in an essay 1, essay 2, essay 3, essay 1, essay 2, essay 3 fashion), student scores on the AP Exam increased significantly. In other words, I no longer focus on teaching any particular essay over an extended period of time; I move on to the next type of essay immediately, even if the students have not mastered the prior essay. • P Peer-Edited: In what ways can I facilitate peer teaching in this lesson? Student engagement, as we all know, is crucial to the learning process. One way to engage students, as well as to empower them and get them thinking about their learning is to have them edit the work of others. Of course, it is very important to establish rules of decorum and appropriate ways to respond, including distributing handouts on how to peer edit. The peer editing process works on two levels. The editor is learning how to analyze another person's work and apply what he/she has learned. After the peer editing of work, I have students turn in the assignment, at which time I do the final assessment and grading. This second level of editing/assessment allows me to assess not only the work of the person who did the assignment but also the skills of the editor. Are the comments of the editor on point? Has the editor internalized what I have been trying to teach? At what stage of development are both students in the skill-acquisition process?
James Mulhern has been accepted for publication in literary journals over fifty times. Three stories were selected for different anthologies of best short fiction. In 2013, he was chosen as a finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a fully paid writing fellowship to study at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. That same year, one of his stories was longlisted for Ireland's Fish Short Story Prize. In 2016, he was Runner-Up for the United Kingdom's InkTears Short Story Contest. Two other stories received Honorable Mentions for the Short Story America Prize. His novel, Molly Bonamici, was Runner-Up for a book competition sponsored by a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Both his novel and his collection of short stories, Assumptions and Other Stories, received positive critiques from Kirkus Reviews. He will be published in two collections of stories in 2018 and three collections in 2019. In 2017, Mr. Mulhern was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Fiction.
Boston University, Emerson College, Oxford University
High school teacher, college professor, web curator, educational consultant, editor, writer of fiction and nonfiction--fifty publications (fiction and nonfiction; print and electronic)