Asking the Right Question.

Teaching photography and design has been one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had my entire career. I have a good eye, but translating that “eye” into words that my students can apply to their work doesn’t always happen.

Fridays are “Photo Fridays”: we take a break from whatever project we’re working on, and I give the students an assignment from the app “OK DO THIS.” This past Friday’s assignment was for students to “See the world in black and white” and take a photo that utilized light and contrast, shooting in the black and white setting on the camera.

I sent my students out to “go forth and be brilliant,” as I tell them, and five minutes later, two students returned. Five minutes of shooting photos and they were done. So I asked to see the photos.

They did not, shall we say, meet minimum standards.

So I gave some feedback about why the photos didn’t work and asked them to go back out and take at least 10 photos with a renewed focus (no pun intended). Then another couple of students came in, showed me their photos (which I also wasn’t jazzed about), and it hit me: me telling them what the problem is might not be good enough.

So instead, I said I wasn’t wild about the photos and followed up with, “Why don’t I like this photo?”

And every time I asked the question, my students were able to tell me what was wrong with the photo. They left to reshoot, and when they came back, every student who had to retake had beautiful photos.

I teach my journalism students to avoid yes or no questions like the plague. Yet I often ask “Do you understand?” Students usually answer yes to this question, but on Friday, their work wasn’t supporting their answer to that question. When I switched the question to “Why don’t I like this photo?” or “What do you see that might be problematic in this photo?” they demonstrated how much they understood.

Once I asked the right question, I saw immediate improvement, and I’m confident that next Friday, my students will take much better photos without as much direction from me.


Judging a Book By Its Cover.

This week on my blog, I spotlight the people who helped me as I wrote and prepared my book for publication. 

When I realized the memoir I had written was actually going to be published, when I really let myself believe that it was going to happen, I started thinking about what the cover would look like.

I read memoirs quite often, and I don’t pay much attention to the covers, because I have my tried-and-true authors. If Anne Lamott wrote it, I’m reading it, regardless of the packaging. Joan Didion, same. Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Poehler are all famous enough to put their faces on their book covers, but even if that wasn’t the case, I’d still pick up their work.

Should I have my cover drawn? Should it just be a simple graphic design? I don’t remember when or how I envisioned what finally ended up being the cover, but I know it wouldn’t have happened without my good friend Ashley Crawford.

Web Cover Photo
Ashley Crawford Photography

Here’s some background on the photo: one of my fondest memories of being a student at BYU is taking a blanket out to the lawn to study, but I often ended up writing in my journal. The quilt in this photo is one my mom made me when I started my junior year at BYU. The journals in the photo contain most of the source text for my memoir. And the legs there? That’s me.

I explained to Ashley what this looked like in my head, and when I saw the photo, I wondered if, even for a nanosecond, she had special powers to access my brain because this is exactly what I wanted.

In addition to taking the photo for the cover, she also gave me some options for headshots to use on the back of the cover–one of my favorites is on my home page here on the blog. (I used a different one, in color, for the back cover.)

I’m so thrilled with how the cover turned out–front and back–and I hope the contents within live up to the images on the cover.