Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Still Driving

One of the references made in Pink's talk about motivation was to a company that held 'Fedex Days' - one 24-hour period per quarter where employees are free to collaborate and work on anything they wish, as long as they have something to deliver to the team at the end of the time period. Other companies have tried similar programs as a way to motivate staff.

Naturally, I thought of applications to education. Could we somehow allow students time to explore an area of interest and set their own criteria for success? Would they find it motivating, and heighten their interest in learning?

The payoffs could be huge, especially when it seems like so much education is rather de-motivating. A couple of quick thoughts:

- a careful but flexible structure would be needed; many kids might be willing to direct their own learning but may not have the tools or the road map on how to do so;

- it would have to be sustainable; there are far too many 'one-and-done' activities that follow a simplistic recipe, resulting in little more than a nice diversion once in a while; a staff sometimes leaves a workshop fired up about something and rush to share it with the students, but they lack the mindset needed to go beyond that initial step.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I picked up a book on my to-read list, Drive by Dan Pink. Pink gave a talk last evening and previewed some of the big ideas from the book.

The title refers to what motivates people - biology, reward punishment and fulfillment. There is a focus on autonomy, mastery and purpose as motivators. Like his other books, it is written with a business framework in mind, but will have application to education as well.

The coming weeks will likely find me processing the content here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

School and Competition

Just a quick link to a friend's blog about grading . . . Mickey has laid it out as well as I have seen.

Back In Touch

Midterms, the holidays and New Year's are now past and we face the cold winter months ahead. Even though the calendar says this is a new year and a new decade, those of us in education feel differently. It's still the old year, it was just on hiatus.

There are some benefits to a long break in the school year as we have just experienced. The classroom is a little less cluttered, there is renewed energy for assessing and working towards goals, and there has been time to add perspective to our planning and teaching.

An early 2010 benefit is the opportunity to attend a talk by Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, who will be promoting his new book on motivation. Though not an educator, Pink's writing has influenced my thoughts how we should be teaching kids today, and even inspired me to create a wiki for teachers based on his work. Alas, it has lain fallow for some time, but maybe the combination of a new year and a talk on motivation will inspire me to push this website forward.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Knowing vs. Remembering

The dichotomy between knowing a topic and remembering information needs some more attention. I am noticing that on assessments some students can mask a lack of true understanding with their excellent memory skills, as long as the test presents a question or problem in a format they are familiar with.

For example, if I ask students to fill in the data on a blank chart, and certain ones have seen that chart format in their book or notes or on a study guide, they can complete the chart successfully. But if I ask them to provide that same information in sentence form, they might struggle to do so. A student who really understands the concept, on the other hand, will be able to answer successfully regardless of their familiarity with the format of the question.

This suggests that we need to focus more on finding ways for students to reach understanding during instructional time, so that they will be ready for assessments. A first step will be to raise students awareness of the difference between the two - and thus my lesson plan for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Again

In a meeting today, I made a positive response about an organization and added (without really thinking) that any organization is only as good as its communication.

The notion of communication keeps popping up, all the time and in any situation. Communication in a relationship, in a business, in school - without it, any of those endeavors will stumble.

So boiling it down to its simplest terms, education is about helping kids become good communicators. Can they process information and can they express themselves? Everything else follows.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Lesson in Assumption

So many lessons naturally occur in life. Here's today's:

Three times a year, our students choose elective courses. They receive a description of the seven options and rank them from most to least preferred. Because some options are more popular than others, not everybody receives their top two choices, and my colleague does her best to create groups that are relatively equal in size.

Today, students found out their electives, and two eighth graders immediately went into 'outrage' mode, insisting they had gotten their seventh (and last) choice.

They hadn't. I checked with my colleague who said everyone got their fourth choice or higher, and the upset students had actually gotten their third choice. Somehow, in the twenty-four hours since making their selections, they forgot what they had picked and immediately assumed the worst. And I immediately bought into it. Oops.

I assume that it wasn't rabble rousing but more that their perceptions and memory were obscured. By time? By excitement? By youthful hypersensitivity? Who knows . . . what I do know is that it happens often. Our perceptions influence our reactions, and when memory is involved, our perceptions can take another step away from reality. And that's a good lesson to remember.