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September 4, 2021

As the liberator of South America, Simón Bolívar might have went to the grave with the same level of respect and admiration as his northern counterpart George Washington. Unfortunately, that’s not how things shook out.. Not for Bolívar or his brave lover Manuela Saenz.

This week in STU:

  • 💌 Of Love Letters and the Usefulness of Second Languages
  • ✔️ Grading innovation and bias
  • 🧠 Metacognition for your classroom
  • 🔬 Four research-backed methods to increase self-awareness

Shall we open this envelope?

Of Love Letters and the Usefulness of Second Languages

Although Manuela Saenz recently won official recognition as a true heroine of the South American Wars for Independence, she is still in many ways considered just a footnote in history compared to her paramour Simon Bolivar. Both Manuela and Simon lived extraordinary romantic lives, however, one could argue that Manuela’s life inspires more fascination and admiration. As the lover and savior (she was coined by Simon with the epithet “Libertadora del Libertador” when she saved his life on more than one occasion) of perhaps the most famous of all South Americans, she eventually ended up in backwater Peru living in dire poverty translating love letters for English speaking whalers who were pursuing Latina lovers. Oh the vicissitudes!

Manuela Saenz’s biography is well documented, and she is also colorfully depicted in one of the greatest of historical novels: Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth. She rose from humble and “illegitimate” status (she was a bastard) to a legend, all within the context of patriarchal Spanish colonialism. Fiercely independent and brave, her heroism on the battlefield earned the rank of colonel in the Independence army, an achievement unprecedented in the early 19th century.  Her intelligence and beauty enchanted Simon Bolivar. They spent eight adventurous years together. Yet, once independence from Spain was assured, endemic factionalism destroyed Bolivar’s dream of a united South America. Bolivar had fallen out of favor, and he died most likely of tuberculosis in Santa Marta, Colombia while attempting to flee to Europe. As a “persona non grata”, Manuela was exiled first to Jamaica, but eventually made her way to coastal Peru where she sold tobacco and used her English fluency to translate for English and US sailors (she had been forced to marry an English merchant earlier in her life). She died in penury in 1856.  

Fortunately, many of Simon and Manuela’s love letters are preserved, which make for great reading and activities for language and history students! Having taught history and occasionally ESL for over twenty years, I have learned that one of the essential starting points for effective teaching and learning is first to engage the student. Combining historical context (especially when the history is juicy and tantalizing) with language acquisition undoubtedly motivates students. So the next time you are looking for material for a good lesson, look no further than the passionate exchanges between Simon Bolivar and Manuela Saenz.

Read letters:

Innovation and Bias

Can grading be used to drive student’s growth?

In 2004 Benedict College implemented a new grading system they called Success Equals Effort. Six years later, OH Wilson examined it while exploring the effects of effort grading. The research concluded that teachers could stimulate their students interest in improvement by constructing a grading system that rewarded participation and effort.

How difficult is it to grade objectively?

Researchers asked 142 teachers to grade the same English paper and found that grades on the paper varied from 50 to 98% between teachers. The scores ranged from failing to exceptional. Yikes.

A Thinky Word


Defintion: Awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes.

Thinking about thinking? Trippy, let’s take a closer look.

Four Research Backed Methods to Increase Self-Awareness

A Harvard Business Review study revealed that while a majority of people believe they are self-aware, only 10-15% actually earn the title. Additionally, research indicates teachers that make conscious, ongoing efforts to increase their own self-awareness enhance their effectiveness and their job satisfaction. Luckily, years of study have highlighted some of the most common self-awareness traps and surfaced straightforward strategies to grow awareness. Here are four things you can do today to increase your own self-awareness.

Seek balance in your internal and external self-awareness

Internal self-awareness is related to one’s own satisfaction with work and relationships, social and personal control, and overall happiness. Those close to a person with high external self-awareness tend to feel more satisfied with them and have a better relationship.

Highly self-aware people interviewed by Harvard Business Review displayed a continued focus on striking balance between internal and external self-awareness.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Feelings of overconfidence have proven they can be damaging to self-awareness. One study shows the more power a person wields, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities. Furthermore, viewing oneself as highly experienced can actually keep a person from conducting due diligence, seeking opposing opinions, and questioning assumptions.

Successful business leaders stay grounded by continuously seeking critical feedback.

Treat negative feedback as a gift

SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk has been quoted a number of times urging fellow CEOs to seek out negative feedback. The value of critical feedback extends beyond on boardroom. When a person seeks out critical feedback, they become more aware in the process and, as an added benefit, those whom they asked for feedback, come to view them in a more positive light.

During introspection, replace “why” with “what”

Introspection, when done poorly, can lead to depression, anxiety, and poor well-being. Research shows humans just don’t have access to enough of our own unconscious thoughts, motives, and feelings to answer the “why” questions we so naturally ask ourselves. This led Harvard Business Review to a surprising conclusion; people who introspect are actually less self-aware.

So what’s an introspect-or to do?

In this study, undergraduate students were given negative feedback. One group was asked to think about “why” they were the kind of person they were. The other group was asked “what” kind of person they were. The why students spent their energy rationalizing and denying what they’d learned, while the what students were more open to this new information and how they might learn from it.

Flip the script by replacing why with what.