The message

For years, I’ve been telling my students I don’t grade for effort.

“It doesn’t matter how hard you work,” I’d say, “if the end result isn’t up to speed.”

This I would say this after my long discussions with them about the journey–and the process–and the learning–being what mattered in my class. I mean, I’ve been pushing Alfie for a long time.

Yeah, talk about sending a mixed message to my students.

Today I was reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpins and the proverbial light bulb went off in my head: effort, of course I want effort to matter.

See, this is where I was coming from. I have students who argue that even though they didn’t edit the paper, complete the paper, or finish reading the book, that any effort they put into the assignment should count. And I resented that they wanted credit for not really working, for turning in half an effort, for not really caring about our work. So I would tell them, “effort doesn’t count.”

But I also have fully capable students who “do school” with ease. They write well and produce competent (but not necessarily inspiring) essays; they read well and quickly; and they complete all assignments within an appropriate time frame. These are the students who generally earn good grades–but it’s not because they care about their work (though some do). Often, these are the students who have been taught how to follow the rules and do what they are told, as Godin says. And I was rewarding them for that. Plus, there may have been other unintended consequences.

My epiphany was when I realized that many of these students are no more eager to learn than the other group. The products just come more easily to them.

The students I want to encourage are these: the ones who write papers with original thought, even though they may not be grammatically correct; take longer to finish the book because they’ve put post-it notes and margin notes wherever they stopped to think; ask questions in class that make me ponder another scenario, a new direction, or a fresh approach to what we are doing. The ones who show effort because they are curious.

And, in fact, I do give those kids credit for effort. Rather, I give them credit for wanting to learn, even if they haven’t quite mastered the outcomes yet. I loved when one young man stayed after class to tell me how one of the characters in our book was “a man’s man, isn’t he Mrs. Carter Morgan.” What 13-year old uses that phrase? Or when a young woman told me what she valued most from my class was learning to be patient with her own learning. This from an athlete, an A-typer who has little patience for incompetence in any form. Or the quiet one who came to class grinning, sharing with me her “perfect thesis” she had thought of late the night before, trying to fall asleep.

As I’ve written before, my model of schooling would be a collaborative means of assessing growth that Sylvia Stralberg Bagley from Mount Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles  describes here:

…they [students] learn to view assessment as a valuable tool for growth rather than merely an arbitrary judgment handed down by someone in authority. (SS Bagley – The Australian Educational Researcher, 2010 –

This recent article comparing the judging method used on the television show “So You Think You Can Dance” to possible ways we can work with our students also resonates with me. The judges do not, the author says, “reduce their verdict to a judgment.”

And with my own long history of teacher baggage, I need to be sure I am clear with the messages I send.

image: flickr/photos/walkn/3314689121/

Tool Geek? No, Learning Geek….

A recent chat with @snbeach, @baldy7, @datruss and Rob from NH on a PLP info session has me thinking. I mentioned that I got “into all this” (never sure how to categorize these huge shifts in thinking and learning anymore) because I loved playing with “tools.”

Tony said that wasn’t the case for him. But I wonder how many are more like me?

I remember the first time I put my hands on a computer. I was taking a re-certification in 1985 to teach high school again after taking off a few years with my children. A local college offered a class in Basic programming, so I signed up without fully understanding what I was getting into.

Actually, I had never touched a computer, and I was an English major (fully avoiding math and science whenever possible).

Three weeks later, I remember the frustration, the uncertainty, and the exhaustion I felt, trying to use the left side of by brain to logically determine what a loop was and how to write a simple piece of code. On my own for the most part, there was no hand-holding in this course.

Uploaded on May 21, 2009 by Temari 09

By the time I finished,  though, I had learned to write a short grading program that worked.

And I felt a sense of accomplishment.

That one step took me to the next: buying my own computer, figuring out how to manage DOS and Windows apps, and  installing peripherals. I was having so much fun figuring it all out and learning something new, totally in the flow.

And then something amazing happened. I was given a Mac to use in my journalism class, the first computer to be used in the county for any instruction. I began to see the power of turning kids loose and taking control of their own learning. One boy learned Illustrator and shared it with the class; another became a graphics design expert and landed an after-school job. Many began finding other strengths in writing, publishing, and advertising.

In a few short years, I was online in a text-based web, texting with someone from Europe, who jumped onto my screen. The possibilities for my classroom were rumbling around in my head. By 2000, I was back in school in a M.Ed program in Instructional Tech. In 2004, I started blogging (first trying to install Manilla on our school server); then I discovered Twitter in 2007, and my world shifted.

Isn’t this what we want for our students today? To want to work through problems, concepts, or issues? To be curious enough to see how things work? To create?

My circuitous path led me to new ways of thinking about how my students learn and what I want schools to “look like” (if, indeed, we need to have schools at all). It all started with an interest in figuring out a tool, but it’s moved to how these tools–or now these online social technologies–change the way we live in this networked world.

What has changed your thinking? How can our interactions with each other and the tools make meaningful change in the life of our students?

Uploaded on January 16, 2008
by seeks2dream

Managing Stuff

Organization is not my strength. I’m a big picture person. As much as that sounds like an excuse, it’s not.

I recognize my flaw.

And I’ve spent my entire life coming up with plans to cope with my tendency to start something, move over to something else, and then discover what I really want to work on or read.

Today I have two interview set up, I need to clean out my guest bedroom stacked high with everything I dumped in there from my classroom, plus I want to buy a large monitor to hook to my Mac. I’ve been struggling to* see* lately (long story about cataracts and getting old), and I know I’ll need to look at a larger display as much time as I’m spending online.

So I am making to-do lists each morning. I know if I don’t, I’ll spend the entire time sitting on my couch, feet up on the coffee table, staring at my laptop–twittering away. I use my Google Calendar, but I know I need something more.

I wonder–how do you all organize? What’s the best way to keep a daily schedule perhaps with audible reminders? I have an iphone, so I’ll take all suggestions related to apps as well.

And if I come up with a good system, I’ll share it here.

Now, back to searching for a new camera lens (was that on the list?)

Image: Uploaded on September 30, 2009
by nayukim

On the train

I’ve spent a lot of time on the train lately going back and forth between Virginia and Rhode Island, where my family lives.

The eight-hour ride provides much time to think. About life. About work. About how hungry I am.

On this trip, I’ve been thinking about my blog. When I first started blogging, I was running and training for races, and updates were simple. I was all about the run.

A few years later, I shifted to an edtech blog, one I shared with my teachers to help them envision how to integrate technology into the classroom. After moving back into the classroom, the focus (on this blog) became my students and me–a time to reflect on all I was learning and doing.

So now what?

We don’t need another edtech blog. There are too many already, most preaching to the choir and saying the same old things. Oh, that sounds a little bitter, doesn’t it?

But I love blogging. Writing gives me a chance to clarify my thinking, reflect on what I’m learning. Sometimes 140 characters just isn’t enough.

A logical step for me is to write about my new work, which by the way will be done mostly from the comfort of my sofa. Or dining room table. Or comfy chair in the library. I haven’t decided yet.

And there are so many decisions to be made. What kind of monitor will I need? What’s the best way to organize my contacts and interviews? How many cups of coffee should I drink every day?

I’ll need help.

So I hope you’ll hang around (all three of you) and jump in anytime.

Curiosity killed the …..

What makes a person curious?

I wonder about this constantly. I especially think about this when I’m teaching as it seems curious children are more successful. And if that’s true, what does that mean in the classroom?

This article and the research it pulls from have challenged my thinking (or at least given me pause). From Professor Steven Dutch’s research:

Curiosity and creativity in the fully adult sense are hard work and are acquired tastes, just like running is an acquired taste….

Even the most creative people spend most of their time tinkering. That’s probably a hallmark of real creativity – a restless curiosity. Noncurious people tinker only occasionally and with only short-range goals in mind. (They pay for it. I once visited a man who spent the entire time lamenting how miserable his life had been and how lonely he was. I looked around the house and saw not a single book or any sign of a hobby. No wonder he was miserable, and lonely too. Who would want to spend time with such a person?) The creative person’s constant tinkering first of all yields lots of unexpected insights, and second sharpens the ability to recognize potentially significant new results.

Since I haven’t come up with the definitive answer (and when I do, I’ll bottle and sell it), I’ll share an opposing view from this blog I found recently called Creating Brains. The author writes about creativity and curiosity, often quoting Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of my favorite researchers.

Good stuff.

Original image: ‘curious roy’
by: Stefano Mortellaro