I try to give up having expectations for those around me and having expectations for experiences as often as I can, because I believe the mantra that when we approach life with no expectations, it’s very hard to be disappointed.
I love the idea of “beginner’s mind”, where we choose to remind ourselves of how little we really know about what’s going on around us and in that moment of releasing ourselves from the firm grip of expectations, we become more fluidly rolled up in the waves of reality.
But disciplining the mind to remain expectation free is a challenge which most humans would dare not accept. The humility which we must face and to which we must grow accustomed is an unwelcome guest to those who live their lives grounded in the material and the cult of self-interest.
I can’t say I’m fully ready for a life sans expectations. Our minds by default build nests of expectations, which we can and do often forget we’re resting in. Being one who believes in the power of science and logic to explain parts of this world which are within that realm, I’m led to believe that there’s something about expectation which helps us to survive, which helps us to whittle away the the extraneous layers so we can find our core. And there, after learning about who we are through our struggle with our own and other’s expectations we feed that inner light of wisdom and insight and help ourselves and others to glow.
Designing Course Expectations that Determine and Motivate
In this job you’re never not thinking about teaching.
Last night I woke up at 4am, apparently because my brain was processing ideas for the upcoming term, and I had to write some things down.
If you don’t have Noteshelf for the Ipad, it’s a terrific app that lets you write really easily using your finger or a stylus (I prefer stylus).
I wanted to get down some ideas about the mechanics, expectations and goals of my classroom environment. Here’s what I came up with:
If you’re not making mistakes, you are not pushing yourself hard enough.
No exclusive relationships inside this classroom. When you’re outside this class, that’s a different story. In so many ways, I hope the principles from this class extend into your life beyond the art studio, and I understand that this particular principle should not necessarily apply. Just remember that during this class your commitment is to the group and not any particular person in the crew.
There’s an old saying that goes: “work smarter, not harder.” I disagree. Many people take this to mean: when there’s a shortcut, use it. But it depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to just get by with minimum effort, to find every which way to avoid challenging yourself, go for it. But don’t kid yourself into thinking you are not shortchanging your potential. If your bar is set high and your goal is to exceed your potential in every way, then you’re only cheating yourself when you try to think smart without thinking hard.
In order to think smart the right way, you’ve got to put in the time working hard. Scientists recently performed an experiment where they gave some people a hard math problem which could be solved a very simple way, but which most people could not figure out on their first try. When they gave people the math problem many couldn’t figure out the shortcut, but instead solved the problem the long way (which took more time but ensured that people learned how to solve the problem). What they did next was interesting.
They let some of the people sleep and some stay awake, and what they found was surprising. The people who stayed awake, when asked to solve the problem again, used the longer harder method; but the people who slept figured out the shortcut for doing it. By learning it the hard way, they mastered the process so their brains could take the next step and make their learning more efficient, which we’ve come to learn is a key characteristic function of sleep. So this anecdote has two lessons.
First that sleep is important, and maybe not for the reasons you might have assumed. Second, there’s no shortcut to finding shortcuts. If you want to work smarter, you have to first work harder. Aim to master that which challenges you, and be patient because learning and getting better at anything, be it soccer, saxophone, or sculpture, takes time.
Great advice from a blogger 10 years in the making:
10 lessons learned:
Blogging is communal: In 2008, I wrote that “blogging is not just an act of publishing but also a communal activity. It is more than leaving comments; it is about creating connections.” That is the single biggest lesson learned of these past 10 years. Every connection has lead to a new idea, new thought and a new opportunity.
Being authentic in your thoughts and voice is the only way to survive the test of time.
Being wrong is as important as being right. What’s more important — when wrong, admit that you are wrong and listen to those who are/were right.
Be regular. And show up to blog every day. After all you are as fresh as your last blog post.
Treat others as you expect yourself to be treated.
A long time ago, Slate’s Farhaad Manjoo asked mefor some tips on blogging and here is what I told him – Wait at least 15 minutes before publishing something you’ve written—this will give you enough distance to edit yourself dispassionately.
Write everything as if your mom is reading your work, a good way to maintain civility and keep your work comprehensible.
Blogging is not about opinion but it is about viewing the world in a certain way and sharing it with others how you look at things.
Many bloggers tailor headlines and posts so that they’ll surface at the top of search results, making them at once easier to find and less enjoyable to read. And this decade, a lot of other bloggers mistook a strong writing voice for caustic irreverence. But most eventually learned that writing with snark is like cooking with salt — a little goes a long way.
If anything, avoiding that trap Kevin mentioned is the biggest lesson of them all.
Facing the Truth about Education: There's no Bridge over these Troubled Waters
I hear educators say that “Technology is a tool and we have to use it wisely to achieve our outcomes” in schools. We decide what we want our students to know/understand/do and find the technology that best suits that type of learning. Targeted Technology Use. Sure, sounds nice, and perfect, but crucially: it sounds manageable.
But, it’s also true that the technology will change us. Any tools we use always end up transforming us: the way we think, the way we do business, what we expect from ourselves and others. (Read Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together)
In that sense, I’m all for thinking about how we can best anticipate the ways in which technology will change us once we integrate it effectively into the classroom. You see, the bad is always going to accompany the good. Certain dispositions or skills or content knowledge will have to be sacrificed if we want our students to authentically and wholly be transformed through 21st century education.
Mostly, we need to have clearer vision of what we want our students to be able to do, how they should think et c. We’ve heard a lot about critical thinking, creativity, flexibility, curiosity, collaboration, self-directed learning, the coaching model, teachers as guides, inquiry driven learning, the science of memory, neurocognition, etc.
Gosh; THAT school doesn’t sound like mine (and likely never will). Maybe parts of my classes sound a little bit like it, but it’s an upstream run for this fish.
The problem is dealing with the loss of control.
21st century learning is not about someone telling you what’s important, it’s about discovering that on your own. It’s about being inspired to know something, being able to figure out how you can find the means to learn it, it’s about learning and mastering it. But one thing it’s not about is training for a particular trade, which is essentially what our current system of education has been set up for. To give people access to broad swaths of knowledge which they can then choose from as they narrow their focus and choose career paths.
But teachers and schools are no longer the keepers of that knowledge. It’s readily available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
So what is our job all about?
This is the question we need to answer, and until we do, for many educators, students, parents, institutions, it’s going to feel like we’re waiting for the fog to lift. And in the meantime, as we’re lost in it, we’ll grab on to all the devices we can and tell ourselves it’s about finding the right tools for the things we want to do, which are based on the things we did before, which are pretty much the things we’ve always done. By seeing technology as a tool, we convince ourselves that this transition is going to be easier and that we’ll be in control every step of the way.
I think we hate to admit that we’re lying to ourselves, and we need to face the truth, recognizing that the waters are troubled and there’s no easy bridge across them. Only then can we really plan for what the future holds in store.
I’ve thought about this a lot too, but the issue I keep running into is how exactly laboratory classrooms would work. I mean sure, there are charter schools, but even they have to conform to the current larger structures we have in education. Any ideas I come up with would require exemption of the students that I’m working with from that larger structure, and I don’t see that being feasible. The only way I can see this working would be to have this experimental school (system) run by successful,
Interesting thinking on an experimental school. I’m wondering if there are programs being run through Gates or Ford foundations that might be something similar to this. There are other options though like designing a school within a school, etc. There’s more room for exploratory work in independent schools as well since they’re not bound by state standards (although the pressures of college admissions sort of make up for it).
As for places to connect with other educators, you should check out curriculum21. I was introduced to the site just last week, but it looks like a promising forum for engaged and motivated educators.
Insightful reflections on one teacher’s journey into the demands of formative assessment.
I’m really starting to wonder whether or not effective formative assessment is even possible in the classroom.
Here’s why: I’ve spent the first four weeks of this school year trying to make formative assessment a bigger part of my own instructional practices—and it’s damn near killed me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of the work that I’m doing and am convinced that I’ve adopted some of the best practices suggested by assessment experts ranging from Marzano to Stiggins, Ainsworth, Chappius and Chappius.
I totally flaked on my intention to blog the “Learning and the Brain” conference last weekend.
They cram so much into the day, that I’d lose the chance at taking notes and processing some of the information if I simply reported on what was happening (which was the form many of the microblogs from the conference were taking). People were tweeting under the hashtag #lb30, but it wasn’t commentary, just factual reporting. No thinking, just recording.
That bothers me. I go to those things to learn something new, but for about half of it, I felt like I was simply at a pep-rally for reforming education. Look, I’m there already. I know that cognitive neuroscience and our understanding of the brain and memory have opened up new avenues for re-examining the structures and practices of education. I need the practical thinking now. I don’t need to be convinced by Tony Wagner (I’ve now seen him make the same pitch three times). Everyone is saying the same thing, and they’re probably right (or at least they’re trendy).
Here’s what I need:
I need the support to create my own laboratory classrooms. I want to use what I’m learning about the brain and memory, and I want to carefully test the effectiveness of new practices in the learning environments I design.
One of the problems I have with education research is that people too often make causal links when there is only correlation. Then they hold those links up as the new holy grail of learning, as the evidence for changing the way we do things. Yes. It’s evidence, but there’s another part to the story.
I just heard bits from an interesting interview of Richard Feynman. He talks about how the world is made up of simple laws which we can understand, and which we can understand completely. When we isolate variables (which is what scientists try to do to create experimental conditions), we can understand the mechanisms which make something work and we can use those to predict outcomes (in itself it’s amazing that we can do this).
However in reality, nothing is in isolation. There are so many variables unaccounted for that influence initial conditions, experimental conditions, outcomes.
For example, in education, we can use knowledge of memory and learning and the brain to inform our practice, but we can’t say that the methods we develop from that knowledge represent the only correct practices. It depends on the population, it depends on the background of the students and the teacher, it depends on the institution, it depends on the genetic predispositions of both student and teacher, it depends on socio-economic-status, and even more importantly, it depends on cultural-historical context. The purporters of using research seem to be saying that all this new knowledge is pointing at one way we should teach students (sure - I’m oversimplifying a very nuanced argument) but it’s all based on knowledge we’ve arrived at through research we’ve done within the cultural-historical framework we’re currently living within. No education research is done in a vacuum. Researchers try best to control for the factors they can, but they’ll never be fully successful at isolating a process and examining it if they’re performing their experiments in real world conditions. And I question whether they should even try to isolate the experimental factors, because the point of the research is to improve education and education only takes place in environments when all those uncontrollable factors play a part in influencing outcomes. If the same research were done in a different cultural environment, there’s the possibility for changed results. So no matter how hard we try to find causal linkage in the realm of education research, those “truths” represent an illusion at best.
I’m all for improving the system we have, but I will not accept that the science is telling us the truth about how people learn. All it can ever tell us is how people learn in the environments in which we do the research. I guess it ensures that education researchers will always have jobs, since as we change the system, they’ll have to do the research again and again to examine how the stability of their “truths” is maintained.
In it’s basic form it is using the techniques behind gaming as a basis for classroom learning. Gaming involves problem solving, replaying parts of the game again and again until you get to the next level, finishing off an end of level adversary and can involve multiplayer opportunities where teams work together to solve the problems they face. As players progress through their games they collect power-ups, extra skills and always win points. A defeat encourages further gameplay until progress is made. Now imagine tying that into learning. Read more here.
This is a serviceable introduction to what gamification is, and how it ties into education (you know, if you’re into that sort of thing).