Posts filed under ‘Reflections’

The Freedom to Fail…

is central to success. ?!

Leading the lesson with that caused looks of confusion in my somewhat stressed students as we near the end of a major project. It’s important for me to realized too. I have to allow students to choose to fail. If there is no possibility that anyone will fail, success has no real meaning. And I am making myself responsible for all student work and taking on the onus. Plus it would make me super-stressed and really (even more) annoying, nagging them to death and um, treating them like I didn’t trust them.

Of course I’m going to support students, check in with them, break down tasks and deadlines and most importantly, talk to each individual group in this last project-work lesson. “How are you?” “What’s your panic level?” “What is next on your check list?” “Want me to look over your written section for suggestions?” (note NOT to re-grade stuff, that entirely changes the vibe.) “What are your plans to get this done with each other at home?” I also go round and distribute the rubric for the finished project to keep them focussed on what is required. Having kids share documents for color printing is a good way for me to give a last look at their work too.

We had a bit of a laugh looking at Tim Urban’s TED talk “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” too.

I thought they would be tempted to spend way too much time decorating their poster board or to stick on random pictures just to make it look pretty. But in fact it was more like they didn’t want me to bug them – too busy getting it done.

It is SO hard to resist the urge to nag, require, boss and take over their decisions. I feel like a bad teacher if they are just standing about chatting when they could be working. Especially students who have been struggling. But when I think of how I learned not to procrastinate, I had to really feel the pain to make a change worthwhile.

I used to let grading pile up by the end of each quarter and then have a last-minute, late night frenzy, giving kids grades based on what was bad because I was too tired to notice what was good and give encouragement. Then they’d get their work back weeks after they did it, and would only look at the grade and not pay any attention to the other feedback. It was all long past. So it damaged relationships with my students which then resulted in tense parent exchanges too. It was ultimately enough pain to start to challenge the urge to procrastinate.

But the other piece was more positive: Barbara Nagle, a former chemistry teacher and mentor said that she was really curious to know how her students had done on an assignment right after they handed it in, and I noticed that’s when I was most motivated too. So I tried it after a particularly brutal end-of-term grading thrash. There’s also when I started to made more careful decisions for what to grade and not to grade. I write rubrics and/or a model answer for most pieces of work now. But I also just get on with it, (the mantra of – British psychotherapists 🙂 grading work often during seat work time in class, which allows me to give students one-on-one verbal feedback to save me the time of writing it down. Plus tone of voice can soften criticism to become coaching, and if I lead with curious questions, I often uncover what was going on with a child who’s done a horrible piece of work. Saves accidentally smacking a kid down when their dog has just died etc.  I know. It was sometimes horrifying how close I’d come to doing that in the press of work and hurry and stress.

I do have one student who is driving me crazy right now – bright, friendly guy but does nothing. Nothing. Just hangs out and shoots the breeze with anyone who will listen. I keep talking to him – checking he gets the big picture and try to help him feel how great it would be to have a project to show his parents etc. Come to think of it, I have two more who will probably end up with nothing much. Worked with them all today trying to structure tasks with them, one piece at a time. One did quite a bit and gave me a hug at the end. The other drew a picture of an eagle instead… But would nagging them make any real difference other than window-dressing with a ‘project’ that was basically done by me/parents/special ed colleagues? And would it do actual harm – helping to form entitled, lazy and ultimately unhappy young adults?

I do feel that it’s a genuine gift – the freedom for my students to feel the pain, visualize and to choose to avoid it, or learn from it. It’s good for me to remind myself that I’m in it for the bigger goal of preparing them for their adult lives, and it’s good for me to grip the controls a little more lightly – like riding a mountain bike over rough ground.  It’s not a free-for-all, it’s not chaos. My feet are definitely not up on the desk. And there are boundaries – no distracting other groups for example. And no chopping worms in half. But that’s another story.

 

 

March 21, 2019 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

Proposals – The Real World Bites

Preparing kids for the dog-eats-dog real world of work…

Continue Reading October 10, 2016 at 11:55 AM Leave a comment

Working Less, Kids Learning More with PBL

Working less for more engagement and more science content covered even with PBL.

Continue Reading September 19, 2016 at 1:46 PM Leave a comment

Back to the past in future…

Old fashioned notebooks and whiteboards make for a more flexible and friendly classroom, here’s what we are trying in the 7th grade…

Continue Reading February 7, 2015 at 6:50 PM Leave a comment

Getting started with notebooks in science

The Common Core hits science, aaarrrrggghhhh…. or is it (shhh) not so bad? 

Continue Reading August 30, 2014 at 10:31 AM Leave a comment

Improv All Kinds of Classrooms

Improv ideas for all kinds of classrooms, especially science. Have fun yourself, relax a little and enjoy a smorgasbord of improv games to add to the start of your year.

Continue Reading August 13, 2014 at 7:21 AM Leave a comment

Analogies to Assuage August Anxiety Dreams

I’m inspired by Ben Johnson’s Edutopia blog ‘What does it take to be a great teacher?’ but I was unnerved at the thought of defining myself as even approaching ‘great’. Because like being a ‘good’ Christian, as soon as you say so, there’s your righteousness reward, and not in heaven. Besides, in both cases, it’s the reflection and the striving that might accidentally, unconsciously and occasionally make for greatness.

I also watched some BigThink videos on economic collapse from Michael Lewis, Dr.Kaku’s Universe, and some Neil DeGrasse Tyson on why go to Mars? All speakers used analogy-based explanations to put powerful pictures that will stay in my mind, like the central hanger of a mobile – you have that and everything else, the little details, hang from it. Analogy involves, pictures, sensations, emotion, and those are incredibly powerful memory hooks for me as well as for my students.

Here are some that I keep in mind in the anxiety-dream time of August:

Surfing in Uncertain Seas – waves are a little unpredictable but it’s fun to ride them anyway, gives me confidence that I’ll maybe even enjoy some unexpected changes. You have to pay attention to what’s coming in the distance as well as what’s welling up right behind you. But you know that you’ll make it to the shore sooner or later.

Mountain Biking the Bumps – works so much better to loosen your hands and arms riding down hill, keep your head up on the big picture, go with the general direction and don’t flip over the handlebars from looking down. Look where you DO want to go, not where you don’t, or you will. It’s called ‘target fixation’ and it’s amazing how well this re-framing works in real life – in difficult conversations with colleagues, kids, parents and administrators.

Horse Riding Classes of Kids – Controlling a giant horse is pretty much mind over matter. You have to have the confidence you can do it or the horse knows and messes with you. Same with the much larger mass of 28 12 year olds compared to you. Both have been picked up when foals and unconsciously think you still could. But still, horses and classes are bigger than you, you can’t force them, it’s so much more subtle and interesting than that.

Captain of the Ship – the class is the crew, we’re going on a great exploration around new continents. Here’s the picture of the painting: 6th curric painting

The Wet Fish Fight for when things really get nasty. Repeatedly. The whacky-whack, stagger back. It helps me think of fighting back sort of like Asterix in the cool French comic books.  Not mean, but still standing up for what’s right with relish.

Add more of your own in the comments below…

August 5, 2014 at 2:01 PM 2 comments

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