→ "Late Work"

I long ago decided that penalizing late work was not helping the students achieve any of the learning goals for my course. I want them to learn how to read Latin or write a compelling essay. Generally speaking, if it takes a student an extra day or two to accomplish that, that's preferable to me giving them a zero and then them not doing it all.

Plenty of teachers do not see things the same way, and enforce strict penalties for assignments that are submitted even minutes late. Whenever I ask teachers about these policies, the response is usually some form of, "We need to teach them a lesson?"

At a teaching blog run by Instructure (full disclosure: my school uses the Canvas LMS owned by Instructure), Sean Morris asks many of the same questions that I do, and tries to follow them to their logical conclusion.

What is the classroom meant to be? Should it be a microcosm of an unforgiving world? Should it be a retreat from that world? Should it be some kind of safe synergy of novelty, rigor, and relevant experience? And if it is this last, what “rules” must we establish in the classroom to keep our pedagogy intact?

→ "The Growth Mindset : Telling Penguins to Flap Harder?"

When I read psychologist Carol Dweck's now famous book Mindset, much of it rang true to me personally. I could certainly see myself in many of her examples of a fixed mindset, and I've written about that before. And teaching our students to be more receptive to challenges is, in my mind, a valid goal.

As Dweck's book has become more popular, so too have critiques against those with an overly-simplified takeaway for schools from her research, namely the idea that "grit" (hard work and perseverance) and a mindset that sees failures as positive are all students need to find success in school. I've been dismayed in my own position by teachers who use the phrase "growth mindset" as a cover for claiming that students simply need to work harder. There's a subtlety to Dweck's claims that seems to be getting lost.

I think "Disappointed Idealist" does a good job expressing some of my own concerns about those who are using the growth mindset in a way that harms students.

For all the reasons above, some children will be penguins in an education system which values flight as the ultimate goal. And when they flap their wings as hard as they can, repeatedly, and still fail to take off, they are then hit with a double whammy: firstly they’ve failed to fly, and secondly they’re being told that the only reason that they’ve failed is because they’re not trying hard enough.

→ "A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days"

In this classic, the late Grant Wiggins shares the experience of a teacher who shadowed two students for two days.

The whole thing is worth reading, but her three (related) takeaways:

Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.

You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long. I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention. It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day.

Considering how much teachers complain when they spend a day sitting in professional development, it's unfortunate that we forget what our students endure all day every day.

We spend a lot of time in schools observing teachers, trying to quantify good teaching. But much could be learned by focusing on students and their experiences. I wonder what a student shadowing program would look like at my school, and what insights it might provide.

Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations.

→ "Do schools kill creativity?"

In this old TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the impact it has on children that schools still value very narrowly defined academic skills:

And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that way...

I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.

How can schools adjust to value all the skills our students possess, not just those that will get them into college?

→ "Why Flunking Exams Is Actually a Good Thing"

Giving "pretests" has never been a big part of my teaching (and with Latin, there's really not much point when students are such novices). But there's research that suggests I may want to give it a try in my World History courses.

But the emerging study of pretesting flips that logic on its head. “Teaching to the test” becomes “learning to understand the pretest,” whichever one the teacher chooses to devise. The test, that is, becomes an introduction to what students should learn, rather than a final judgment on what they did not.

→ "What’s the job of teacher? The crying need for a genuine job description."

I like the late Grant Wiggin's attempt to write a genuine, outcomes-based job description for teachers:

An educator must arguably cause four things in learners:

  1. greater interest in the subject and in learning than was there before, as determined by observations, surveys, and client feedback

  2. successful learning related to key course goals, as reflected in mutually agreed-upon evidence

  3. greater confidence and feelings of efficacy as revealed by student behavior and reports (and as eventually reflected in improved results)

  4. a passion and intellectual direction in each learner

This is a great starting point, and one could add a few more points specific to teaching at a Jesuit school like mine. Importantly, Wiggins also makes clear what is not the job of the teacher.

With a genuine job description we can finally tackle a great problem in education, the common view that the job is to cover the content. No: marching page by page through a textbook (or the written curriculum) can never be your job as a teacher – ever. The textbook or curriculum is written completely independently of your goals and students; it is a generic resource that merely pulls together a comprehensive body of information and lessons in a package for use by thousands of people with varying needs all over the United States.

Whither Scarcity?

I was born in 1983, so for my childhood there existed only three Star Wars movies. From as early as I can remember, there were no movies I loved more. But I didn't actually own them; there were no cheap copies to go buy, so I had to rely on the local video stores to rent them whenever I wanted. At least a couple times a month, I'd head to the video rental section at Schnuck's or Doy TV Repair. God forbid they were rented out when I wanted them–I'd have to wait days to watch them.

I wore out these copies from the video stores. They had to be repaired a couple times, if I recall.

I wore out these copies from the video stores. They had to be repaired a couple times, if I recall.

So like most kids my age there was nothing except those three movies to foster my obsession with all things Star Wars. That changed in 1997 when filming started on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Entirely new Star Wars movies? That was unfathomable. The still-new-to-me Internet connection at home meant I spent hours (and it did take hours over dialup) downloading that first trailer.

Of course, The Phantom Menace and the rest of the prequel trilogy was mostly disappointing. The anticipation for each movie was in many ways better than the movies themselves. When the first trailers came out for Episode II and then Episode III, I was excited each time. Because no matter what happened, these were Star Wars movies. This wasn't James Bond, with dozens of movies, some good, some not. Once this prequel trilogy was over, who knew if there'd ever be any more? It had been 16 years between Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace, and there was every indication that Revenge of the Sith would be the last Star Wars movie for a long time.

Of course, in October 2012, The Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm, and announced there would be a brand new trilogy. Like so many others of my generation, that anticipation I felt as a kid returned the moment I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens.

And yet, there's something very different this time (in addition to me being a grown adult). That scarcity that made the original trilogy, and to a lesser extent the prequels, so special is nonexistent. Already they've announced that there will be "Anthology" movies in the midst of the new trilogy, with two announced so far, meaning there will be at least one new Star Wars movie released every year for the next few years.

Of course I'm going to see all of them, and many of them will be good and some will be really excellent. But knowing that Star Wars is now just another Disney franchise makes it harder to get excited about any individual movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is facing the same dilemma. When there's such saturation, it's difficult for any single movie to stand out. If you didn't like Age of Ultron, that's OK, because Ant-Man will be out soon, and then Captain America: Civil War with most of those same characters. There have been some great Marvel movies, and some surprises, but there's a predictability and a sameness to them that will almost certainly seep into these new Star Wars movies as well.

I remember being genuinely excited about moving away from home so I could eat an entire package of Oreos without my parents telling me no. Of course, I quickly learned in college that sometimes it's best to not eat all the Oreos (I learned that lesson with many different foods and beverages, really). Point is, I'm glad there will be more movies set in the Star Wars universe that I've loved since I was a kid, but I will miss having the opportunity to really miss them.

→ "Instead of Framing ‘Failure’ As a Positive, Why Not Just Use Positive Words?"

From KQED's Mind/Shift blog:

Failure, in education as well as general society, is a negative word. To fail means there is finality in being unable to meet standards or objectives for a task. Whereas in general society there is a dichotomy between success and failure, in education there is a spectrum. To not meet all expectations in business (except perhaps in the “fail fast” tech industry model) may be deemed a failure, and one from which to reconvene and try again, whereas in education the endeavor is not a failure but a space between full success and failure, one from which to reconvene and try again, in the spirit of effort. Failure is a foundational element of assessment in education, the letter F as important to the spectrum as the letter A.

As I'm (finally) reading Mindset, I've been thinking a lot about how to help my students be more resilient. The language used, especially around effort and what constitutes "success", is a big part of that.

→ "A good bucket brigade"

From Cory Doctorow (via Seth Godin):

A good bucket brigade allows everyone to contribute at their own pace, and the more contributors you get, the better it works.

I think I am fortunate to work with teachers who understand this. It's also important school leaders feel this way, and see themselves as part of that same bucket brigade.