Friday, June 30, 2017


During the entire month of July, there is a limited time discounted prices on the eBook versions of

  • Traveler's HOT L Vol 2. - New Tales from the Time Traveler's Resort - 2nd Edition
  • The Mixer Murder - And Other Detective Case Files
  • Insecticide - A Science Fiction Thriller

Each title has it's own discounted time window.

Good news for you:
I’m also offering $1.00 off the regular price of the same titles from the CreateSpace store at the same time!
Too good to be true?
The only catch is you have to click on the password under the cover on the home page at

That click takes you to the CreateSpace store.
Enter the word you clicked on (Tempus in the photo above) as the password. Each title has a separate password.

Select the number of copies (hint, hint) you’re ordering.
During checkout, enter: QTGYF5ER in the “Enter Discount Code” space. All titles use this discount code.
$1.00 will be subtracted from the cost of EVERY copy you order.

  • Although CreateSpace is part of Amazon, you cannot get his discount through Amazon. 
  • Neither can you use PRIME for shipping.

Please take advantage of this month-long offer on print copies of these three books.
Read on!

Next Special Offer: Four in Eight (4 discounted books in the 8th month of the year)

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback as a comment on Blogger!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Almanac for Teachers. Grading Over The Years #5 – Grading Group Projects

Almost every teacher uses student groups at some time. Many teachers do a great job explaining the expectations for the group dynamics. At least that many do not explain those expectations. Another group, which might be the intersect in a Venn diagram of the teachers above, misuses group terminology.
Let’s start with some background.
 When I started teaching, groups were usually random assemblages of students. Often self-selected, equally as often teacher-selected, the directive was, “Work together to finish this assignment.” Most nightmares involving group work are the result of the above situation.
In the 1980s, Cooperative Learning Groups became popular. Hosts of teachers were trained in cooperative learning methodology. Regardless of the extent of a teacher’s training, too often, what was advertised as “a cooperative group activity” wasn’t one. What follows are the definitions used in this post.
Cooperative Learning
One of the most popular pedagogical strategies in the last decades of the 20th Century is cooperative learning. Much research has been directed at the effectiveness of students learning in groups vs. students learning in individual situations. The vast majority of data collected by these studies support group experiences as the most effective learning modality, particularly for students from underrepresented groups.
Group/Team/Cooperative Group
Many teachers use the word “group” any time they have more than one student working on a common assignment. For purposes of this class the following definitions will be used:
Group                         a loose, frequently randomly assigned, collection of students whose task is to generate some form of product. Roles within the group are not defined prior to group formation. The group itself determines resources and access to those resources. The most important outcome is producing the product. The size of the group and the length of time the group is together as a group is highly variable.
Team                          a loose, frequently randomly assigned, collection of students with a goal. While the goal may be academic, it is more likely to be physical (e.g., “to win”). Achievement of the goal is the primary reason for the team’s existence. Size tends to be more than 6 team members. Teams function for single contests through entire seasons.
In Teams and Groups, little attempt is made to be certain that all individuals on the team or group contribute equally to the task at hand. In fact, in the case of a team, lesser skilled members are often excluded from much/all the group activity.
Cooperative Group   a tight-knit collection of students with pre-defined roles working together to produce a consensus product. Contributions from each cooperative group member are expected to be both equal and appropriate. In addition to academic processes, learning and demonstrating appropriate social skills are frequently goals of this type of classroom organization. Working together in a tolerant and supportive atmosphere is a crucial component of a cooperative group. Resources (or access to resources) is limited to specific cooperative group members to assist in the cooperative nature of the venture. Size is usually 3-4 students. The length of time a cooperative group functions varies.

Without a doubt, the most common student complaint about group work is . . .
. . . The Group Grade.

Far too many teachers give everyone in a group the same grade without considering the quality of the contribution to the product by individual group members.
I’m not saying that a teacher should never give everyone in a group the same grade. There are plenty of times when I did that. However, those times were always when the grade was minimal and/or the entire group activity was clearly visible to me.
Example. Quizzes in groups using whiteboards to display answers. When I used this strategy, it was obvious if all students were participating “equally,” or at least equally enough to all receive the same grade.

Most of my group work was some level of cooperative grouping. It was uncommon for all students in one of those groups to receive the same grade. Some version of the formula below was used in that group grading.
[(Your question score) x 2] + [average of all individual questions in group] + [group score on the GC] = 120 pts possible.
As displayed above the formula was for an exam.
What? You gave group tests?!?
Yes, at least one—more on that a bit later.
Right now, let’s look at a “catalog” assignment. Here student groups research a single part of the whole topic. I taught science. Over the years, I assigned
“The Whole Cell Catalog”—each student researched a cellular organelle.
“The Invertebrate Catalog”—each student researched one or two invertebrate phyla.
“The Botany Catalog”—each student researched a structure found in a flowering plant. Shown below.

Notice on the three numbers on above page and the page below. Those are scores received from the rubric below. Notice on the TOC that there are three DIFFERENT scores for members of this group.

Ideas for other disciplines abound.
“In every disciplinethere are key concepts that are grouped together to form larger sets of information. Dictators, kings, and presidents are linked to various Forms of Government. Onomatopoeia and simile are two of many Literary Devices. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc., are grouped as Mathematical Functions. Cell Organelles make up cells. The list of such aggregations is very long.” (p 130*)
*For specifics see pages 129-140 in Chapter 5, You Can Do It! Implementing Success in Your Classroom in Tune Up Your Teaching & Turn on Student Learning by Dr. JoAnn Jurchan and me.
     Let’s take a look at the most complete version of the peer grading process I used for any group project. Clicking HERE for a link to a downloadable copy of all these as a .zip file. Also, the complete Whole Cell Catalog assignment and two other catalogs are in a FREE download at:  

 I also used the following.
When grading, each student gets his/her page plus an additional amount based on the entire catalog (the Group Grade).  I’ve even used this modified version of the Group Test formula.
[(Your page score) x 2] + [average of all individual pages in group] + 
[group score on the Cover/TOC] = 120 pts possible.
I know this formula ends with 120 points and the formula above is for 60 points. As the teacher, you are the keeper of all points in the universe. I discuss course grades in the last blog in this series.
When using the formula for a catalog, you only average the pages included in the final product. If a student doesn’t turn in a page, they get zero for their page, but that zero is not included in the [average of all individual pages in the group].
Regardless of the method used for scoring, you can see how grades of students in the group might/could/should vary depending on their contribution.

This post is long enough now. I’m adding yet another “edition” to the series. Next time, #6 in this ever-expanding series, I’ll explain grading procedures for study guides and group tests.

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback as a comment on Blogger!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Authors: Lessons Learned from Young Writers – Part 3 of 4

After two full school years and at least 100 hours of outside editing by each person involved, the lessons learned became clearer.

To the teachers, clarity included accepting the fact that most students in elective courses, even those with a single, specific goal, need strict deadlines and FREQUENT checks for understanding of expectations and due dates.

I’ll let the students speak for themselves. They will do so anonymously. When you read a name, it’s not the real name of the person being referred to.

What follows are comments from two sources. One source is a series of “opinion” questions I asked them to complete. The other source is the speeches the authors gave at the school-wide assembly celebrating the book’s official release. I’m putting up their comments and holding my commentary until Part 4.

From the speeches


I’ve been part of the Creative Writing class at our school for the last two years, and I am so beyond ecstatic to be here, in our moment of triumph, that I won’t go into how excited I am. It would take too long!

What I will go into is what it took to get here. Writing is a process—long, and arduous process. We started out with an idea and the pull to make something out of it. But as good as that is, you need more. We had to plot out our ideas, see if they would work on paper as well as they did in our heads. We had to develop our characters, decide if they were sarcastic, sincere, sweet, or just plain rude! Were they popular, social, introverted, or awkward? Did their names have some deep meaning, or did they simply sound nice? And then, when we wrote, we had to take all those tiny details and show the reader what they meant. Not just what they meant to us, or to our character, but to the real person who would be holding those pages. After that…one word: EDITING. And that is an enormous task in and of itself!

Writing is a process. But it’s something more than that, too. It’s the feeling you get when you finally think of the perfect word. It’s how you can spend hours trying to fix one bit of dialogue, and how sometimes it comes as naturally as breathing. It’s the way your fingers cramp when you write too fast, and the frustration you feel when you’ve typed the same word wrong six times. It’s the way words can mix and shift and flow together until they fit perfectly. How simple letters can fall into place in a puzzle one by one until the puzzle is revealed to be a work of art. It’s the smell of pages which hold countless stories, whether they are freshly-printed, or well-loved. It’s when you look at something you’ve made and feel a kind of joy I’m not sure how to describe.

It’s the feeling I think all of us have right now.

So here we are, two years and hundreds of writing hours later. But everything has to begin at the beginning, and that’s just how it started for us.


Now, I know a lot of you in this room, and a lot of you know me too. A lot of you probably know that I always get my work done, and also know that I am a GREAT procrastinator. I can wait until the day of the assignment that’s due, the class before, and sometimes up until the minute before class starts.

When I embarked on this project, our original deadline for our story was by the end of January 2016. You can probably guess what I was doing at the end of January. I didn’t even have half of my story done, but with the helpful reminders from my classmates, my teacher Mrs. Ray, and author, Mr. Downing, I somehow managed to get my story finished the night it was due.

We came back, and we were told that we were in the editing process and planning to publish in May of 2017. I continued the process of waiting until the last minute to get my assignments done for this book until our final draft for the proof was due in March of 2017.

I thought “I have until March, why would I need to edit now when I have months?”

Months became weeks, weeks became days, and then I realized Wait, I have to get this done tonight!

I rushed through, and “edited” my story. The next day, I found out that I had a major problem with the narrative part of my story and I had to redo almost my entire chapter, in two days. I had a deadline of 2 days. I thought there is no way, and it would have to be late.

My hero, Grace helped me edit for 6 hours on the phone, day and night to get it done. Somehow, we got it done, but it was passed the deadline. I had to have a placeholder in our proof book when they were ordered. Not until that moment did I ever think “So that’s what a deadline is! I didn’t get my story in in time, so it's dead!”

Ok, I grabbed a grip and worked hard to edit my story, and I got in in a day early. When we got the proofs, we had to edit each other’s stories. Mrs. Ray told us that we have until next Thursday to turn in the proofs. OK, no big deal, I thought, I have a week.

Guess who was working on it on the car ride to school?

I walked into class ready with my apology ready as I told Mrs. Ray how sorry I was that I didn’t finish editing my classmate’s stories. I only had 5 more pages to edit!

And she said, “You have until next Thursday.”

I was in shock and couldn't help but say “You told me today” and after deep thought, I asked, “Is that because you knew I wouldn’t get it done it time?”

And with a smile, she said, “We know each other so well.”

I finished editing their stories and mine as soon as possible because a deadline, means death if you don't get it done! I learned a deadline means you have to get something done or it won't turn out the way you want it to.

I had to write this speech and turn it in last Thursday since that was the deadline. Anyone want to guess what I was doing on the car ride to class???

At least I now know a deadline means that you have to do whatever it takes and put in as much effort as possible to get it done.


So, revising, revising, and revising some more.

That is exactly what an author does. It takes months of revising before a product can be finished. In our case, it took twenty-four months. At the end of the first year of creative writing, we thought our stories were ready to be published. We were wrong. At the beginning of this year, we read through the stories that we had written and were appalled and so thankful that Mrs. Ray and Mr. Downing had told us that we weren’t going to be published that first year. There was a multitude of grammar mistakes and holes in our plotlines that we hadn’t even noticed.

This year of creative writing was spent on revising so that we could publish by the end of the year. Grace had to change her story a few times, Wanda had to get her story from 30 or so pages down into the twenties, I had to rewrite my entire story as a narrative before I could add in dialogue, Hope spent hours on the phone with Grace trying to get her story finished and revised in time, and Lily, being an eighth grader, wasn’t in our class most of the time, so none of us knew what her story was about and when we read it, we all had lots of notes that she had to sift through.

But here we are. The stories are finished and published.

Throughout this year, we learned many things, some different than others. But one thing we all learned is that revising is a necessary annoyance. Editors are very helpful, but at the same time annoying because once you have written the ending of your story and you put your pencil down or shut down the computer, you want to be done. You don’t want to have to deal with the story anymore, but thank goodness you do.

It’s easier to see what mistakes you’ve made when people go through and critique your story. It forces you to look from another perspective and think, “If I was a reader who didn’t know what was going on, would this make sense?” And oftentimes, it doesn’t!

That’s okay though. It’s all part of the process known as editing, and while that same process is annoying, it’s also the best thing that could happen to your story.

So despite spending hours on end revising and being completely frustrated with our stories, we finally got to a product that we can be proud of and we couldn’t be happier to share it with you guys.

Two community newspapers covered the story. Both did excellent jobs. The idea that "media" was involved was motivational, too!

Below is the article that included photos of the students. The other is included in Part 4 of this series.

Student names have been redacted and their faces digitally distorted in these photographs.

From the opinion questions

 These are the questions the writers were asked to respond to. It was not a formal assignment.

Please answer each of these questions. Use as much space as you’d like. Just start typing in the line below the question you are answering.
 I’m continuing my blog series on “Lessons Learned from Young Writers” and will include some of the quoted text to help make points. The name on the top is for my tracking only. No student names will be used in the blog; neither will the name of the school.
 Thank you for doing this.
 Dr. D.
What was your expectation in September 2015?
In September 2015v I thought that we would have a great book ready to be published by the end of the school year.
I expected that we would have our book published by the end of the year.
What is the biggest disappointment for you during this process? Explain.
The biggest disappointment for me was that not everyone in the class published their stories. Probably also that it took us two years to finish this project.
My biggest disappointment during this process was having to continuously edit what I thought was a completely finished story. I thought that my story was completely finished by the end of the first semester, but when I was told differently, I didn’t want to/couldn’t believe that it was true.
If you were to do this over, what would you do differently? What would you do the same way?
I would edit more near the start of the process and probably try to finish my story faster to leave more time for edits.
If I were to do this over I would definitely not procrastinate as much as I did, but I would definitely take the same amount of time editing because it really helped me grow as a writer.
What is the most important lesson you learned from this process? Why?
Edit ‘til your eyes bleed, then edit some more.
The most important lesson I learned is that editors are not trying to make your life miserable, they are trying to help get your writing to the best it can be.
What three pieces of advice do you have for aspiring authors?
·      Don’t give up on your story, the editing process is hard but once you finally get to the end it is so worth it.
·      Don’t procrastinate; whatever you do always meet the deadlines. Have fun!
·      Always keep the imagination stream flowing and don’t be afraid to change your story.
·      Definitely, choose to write something that you’re passionate about, it will make it much easier.
·      Don’t be hard on yourself when people give you lots of changes to make in your story, take them as an opportunity to make yourself better and think of it as if they are giving you a second chance to do it better than before.
·      think about what lessons you and your readers can learn from your writing. Sure stories are nice, but if you can’t learn anything from them, what’s the point?
Optional. Add any thoughts or comments you want to add.
If you have a good teacher like I did take advantage of their knowledge. They have a ton of experiences and if you ask they are always willing to help you out.
If you really enjoy writing, then write. Don’t let anyone stop you. Even if you’re a bad writer, you can get better. That’s the point of the editing process. To make you and your writing the best it can be. If you have good ideas, you can write.

If you’ve been paying attention, you
     ·      know that five students completed the class and had stories in the book.
     ·      noticed only four student contributors to today’s blog content.
     ·      saw that the same students are not included in both areas of reflection.

In the cases of these reflective pieces, we took what we could get. You need to know that the two speeches not included because we didn’t get digital copies from the speakers provided insight and pathos, as did those you read.

“Grace” excelled in many ways during this project. Her story was excellent. She met every deadline. She could have finished her second story for inclusion, but she chose to help the other authors who were struggling. I don’t know how many hours she spent on the phone or in person with colleagues correcting, complimenting, and cajoling them into better products.

With her permission, I’m printing her “opinion” answers in total in Part 4 of this series. You will be amazed at the depth of understanding and maturity from this high school sophomore.

Next Authors blog: Lessons Learned from Young Writers - Conclusion
Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback as a comment on Blogger!

Follow A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer by Email