Assessment With Purpose

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How many assessments have this reaction?

What was the most successful lesson you ever taught? Why was it so good? How do you measure its success?

I’ve recently been reading a classic on motivation: “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink (2009). In part three Pink gets into the DNA of motivation; purpose. You can focus on intrinsic and dress up extrinsic all you want, but if your activity lacks a deep purpose, it will fall flat.

Last week I was interested in wrapping up a small unit on plural nouns. How could I close it out? There is the old-school paper method, where I plop a worksheet in front of them with a list of singular nouns the students must make plural. I could make a Google form full of questions. That would only substitute the paper. What was something I could have students do that would be more purposeful.

BloxelsEDU is an app that is free to download and use. You have to purchase an account

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Introductory Instructions

to build games. But, with one account, I can make many games that can be published to an online “Arcade” for my students to use. I have been taking a course through PD Campus, created and taught by Ken Ehrmann, where I have learned how to use this creative tool to engage my students in meaningful critical thinking.

To assess proficiency in making nouns plural in a super fun way, I decided to make a video game. I was interested in building into the game an element of reteaching. Additionally, the video game could show students some new elements of gaming design. (We have been working on crafting our own personal video games in class; I got accounts for all of my students through my PD Campus course–I highly recommend this professional development/grad-level class.)

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This student just got to the end of the maze!

The game would be a maze. The students’ purpose was to get to the end. What do you get when you get to the end of a maze? A feeling of accomplishment; I don’t have to tell you that this feeling is way better than completing and turning in a worksheet or filling in a Google form!

Here’s how I made it. I created a template frame within BloxelsEDU game builder platform that provided a few options of changing directions, so that students would be presented with having to make decisions on what way to continue traveling. I made sure that there were openings on the sides, top, and bottom that lined up with opposite sides, etc. Then I copied and pasted the template, over and over, making a huge waffle of terrain for video game characters to hop and run through. Next, I used coin blocks to select the direction that I would have the character travel. I replaced terrain blocks with yellow coin blocks in one direction choice at each stop throughout some of my maze waffle. From time to time I stopped and played the game, because some of the decision rewards came dangerously close to others. I wanted to be sure that the weaving back and forth would work and not cause a player to backtrack. 

After deciding on a place to end the maze, I went back and put red hazard blocks and purple, moving enemy blocks in the paths that would NOT be the correct decision. In other words, a student would be presented with a question that had 3 choices, one of which would immediately reward them with coins, and two that would harm the character, taking away hearts. At this point in the game development I could still view all of the different colors. 

over hereBefore disguising the blocks, I first created all of the questions and answers that would guide students through the maze. I varied the nouns and the way they were presented. Some questions had fill in the blanks, while others presented a singular noun, but asked what the plural version would be. After planting all of the questions and directions, I played the game, to make sure that the player would not have any hangups. This showed me places where I ought to spread out the path of the maze. There were places where it folded too close to itself. I didn’t want players to accidentally skip questions by stumbling into the correct channel through a mishap. 

Once the path was complete, it was time to dress up the game. I made a fake green block in the “Art Builder” of BloxelsEDU. This block was brought into my Plural Noun Maze to disguise all of the yellow coins, red hazzards, and purple enemies. I also hid some life-giving hearts with the fake green blocks. Another block that I made in Art Builder was a “transparent” block. I saved a square of nothing; containing no color at all. This I used to disguise the word blocks. I didn’t want students to see future word blocks while they were playing the game. They would assume the correct path of the maze. Additionally, I hid some hearts, enemies, and hazards with the transparent block. Come to find out, when I made them invisible, it took their power away. A player can walk right through a transparent hazard, and an invisible enemy really is a ghost. A player would never know it was there! Lastly, I wanted the end of the maze to be on a floating, invisible terrain, but when I turned the green blocks invisible, they may as well truly disappear. The player cannot stand on the transparent terrain. Oh well. 

Now that my maze was complete, it was ready to administer. Before having students play it however, I devised an ingenious plan for monitoring their work. Students would read each question, then take a screenshot of the answers. While the screenshot was still

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The screenshot would show me students’ choice of noun spelling.

available, they would “mark it” up by circling what they thought was the correct spelling of the plural noun. Then they would save the screenshot and travel in the appropriate direction. They would then find out whether they were right or wrong by immediately receiving coins or encountering hazards. I put these instructions in a visible word block at the beginning of the game, along with one that warned students that the maze’s directions were hidden inside invisible blocks. 

Students enjoyed playing the game. They couldn’t help but show me their progress. Many felt the need to point out hidden things that they found, as if I didn’t know they had been placed in the maze! Ha ha.

Finally, when everyone was done, I posted a generic, simple Google slideshow to our Google classroom, making a copy for each student. They populated their individual slideshows with all of their screenshots of the game. I was able to go into Google classroom and access each student’s slideshow to see exactly what they had circled as their answers for spelling plural nouns. I gave kids scores of 1-4 depending on how successful they were on their initial guess. It was funny, because I could see in the screen shot areas where students had accidentally or otherwise already found the coins in the correct direction! The screenshots also betrayed loss of hearts, indicating that students had checked to see where hazards may be. But, I was totally okay with this. The whole idea of the game was for it to be self-correcting. If they figured out what direction they ought to go before looking at the answers and circled the corresponding answer, more power to them. You got it right, one way or another! That’s life!

The lesson, the maze, the assessment… it was all totally awesome, but there is more. Because I shared the game to my BloxelsEDU classroom, in addition to publishing it to the “Arcade”, my students now had access to the game as something that they could alter. They opened it up as a “Remix” and were able to see all of the different tricks to the trade that I had developed. They could learn how to make their own games/mazes, but also simply change mine and put in different questions, totally change the path of the maze… The BloxelEDU world was the limit! And, now you can too! Enjoy.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

New @BloxelsEDU game: #Arcade no. 26523370 #ThePolitePirates #PluralNouns

Classy Character Development

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Small booklet to be photocopied and stapled contains my story, “Teamwork Changes Everything”

“What gender is the Squirrel?” a student asked me as she typed her written response into her iPad.

“What pronoun was used in the story?” I hinted. This is a story about a squirrel who is too worried about collecting nuts to speak with a rabbit who just wants to help. Eventually, the squirrel allows the aid, and in time the two become unlikely friends. I wrote the simple story for my students several years ago. The animals don’t have names, however, I do use the personal pronoun, “her”. I just refer to them as Squirrel and Rabbit, which is common among characters in folktales. 

My student located the female personal pronoun. I got the class’s attention and pointed out the student’s discovery. A mini lesson on pronouns ensued.

Even after all of that, this morning I ran across a written response that jarred me. I had the students write about how Squirrel changes throughout the story. They were to use sequence and display evidence to show comprehension of character development. One of the best responses was written by a boy. He did a great job writing an opening sentence, answering the prompt, providing evidence…

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The great written response that gave me pause.

 

Only one thing… 

The boy used “he” to refer to the Squirrel.

Now, this is not a big deal at all; I would not take any points off for that, but it caused me to pause and think. This was not a student who failed to pay attention during my lesson on pronouns. He is one of my better listeners. 

You know what happened? This smart kid identified himself with the main character of the story; the one who changes from frantic to friendly. I don’t think that this is a case of gender reversal. It feels more like gender take over. The student is a great kid, and I don’t think there was one malicious moment in his reading or writing or learning. I blame this on my lack of clarity when developing the characters of the story. I afforded the student enough ambiguity that he was able to comfortably substitute the male pronoun for the female without even thinking about it. 

This reminded me of a Twitter profile I recently ran across and look forward to following. “Write With Color” (https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/) is about purposefully including detail about race and/or ethnicity in character development when writing.

I used to think that it was a good thing to be vague when presenting a character, so that the reader can identify more freely. There is certainly a time and place for that. If your purpose for writing is to provide powerful female potential in the public mindset, though, it would be important to make sure that people are clear on who your character is. 

My student assuming a male gender for the character from my story did not bother me, but it was a wakeup call. As I write, I plan to be more explicit in who the characters are. In this way a white kid may find out that he is no different than a kid of color. A boy will find out that a girl is just as strong, and maybe more, than he is. I want to provide opportunities for comparing and contrasting, rather than usurping my characters.

Late Bloomers

I’ve been teaching for 9 years. This is a second career for me. To pay for college (graduated in ‘96) I painted the outside of homes. This turned into a lucrative business, and I liked working for myself. Eventually, I wanted to do something more with my life. Because I enjoyed connecting with people and communicating ideas, and because I thought investing in youth to affect the future was a noble and intelligent goal, I decided to enter the elementary education field. Boy, am I glad I did! Naturally, this story is much longer, but I wanted to just provided the basics, here. 

The past 9 years have provided plenty of professional development opportunities, but I had yet to attend many conferences. This past weekend I visited #Rewire19 and was energized and inspired by a long list of incredible presenters. 

In addition to learning, I felt like I made meaningful friendships with these mentors. Something that plagued me, though, was the idea of how much teaching many people had under their belt. There were numbers like “Teaching 20+ Years” thrown all over the place. Is it necessary to teach a long time before you share pedagogical practices with peers?

IMG_9978This question made me feel like a latecomer to a party. Wait, what’s that expression?

#FashionablyLate 

I do sport a pretty mean #Bowtie.

Beyond #Fashion, I feel like I do have something to offer to this party; a type of experience that didn’t come from teaching many decades in the classroom. And, I am not just talking about having run a successful entrepreneurial painting company, either. I am a “Late Bloomer”. 

This is one of my new *All-Time-Favorite* books: “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement” by Rich Karlgaard. I heard about this book from an interview with the author on the “Smart People Podcast”.

 

As I read the text, many things happened simultaneously. One, I felt my insecurity of seeming-career-procrastination melt away as I realized that I had gained many useful life lessons that were presently helping me be a good teacher, today. If I had gone right into teaching, straight out of college… first of all, that couldn’t have happened because I didn’t even study pedagogy! …But, if my younger-self had entered the education career field, I would have certainly burned out and failed. It is only through allowing myself to bloom later in life, that I am experiencing this wonderful world of teaching. While I may not be able to place a “20+ years” near my name when it comes to teaching, I have been preparing for this position all my life!

Secondly, the book “Late Bloomers” has caused me to view my students differently. Some students will be early bloomers. These kids are already shining in school. They are acing tests, excelling in reading and math capabilities. Everyone is excited for these students. But, what about the “Late Bloomers” who will need several decades to finally open up and realize their potential? 

IMG_9179I think every educator would do well to read this book. When we differentiate our instruction, we work hard to enrich students who need to be challenged right now, but what about the students who will eventually grow into shining stars? 

There are plants that take several years before blooming. If a gardener focused only on the early bloomers and allowed weeds to overtake the Stargazers (my favorite flower), he would miss out on quite a show, not to mention the marvelous fragrance. The gardner must make sure these July blooms are planted properly, watered and cared for appropriately, and protected from voracious sun-hogs. 

Whether you are a “Late-Blooming” teacher like me or a quick start out of the gate, make sure you are conscientious to the idea that within your walls are flowers that will take quite a while to bloom… And, that’s okay. In a world “Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and boy is it ever! …It’s our job, as educators, to power or fuel the patience everyone (parents, administrators, employers, etc.) will need to practice in order to see these blooms to their marvelous opening.

What are you doing to empower potential “Late Bloomers” in your classroom? 

The Polite Pirate Classroom Theme

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I have a pirate theme in my classroom. Why? Don’t I know what “pirate” means; What it stands for? I do. I also know that the commercial world adores them, their mark is everywhere, and everyone wants to be one! 

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Me, Sally Jo Saragusa, & Dave Burgess

I recently had lunch with Dave Burgess of “Teach Like a Pirate” (2012) fame. When I asked him why he had chosen the pirate theme, his answer surprisingly mirrored my own. He said that in the beginning of his career of speaking engagements he was sharing his expertise on teaching in a way students will remember content, and he felt like he needed something to tie his points together. 

[Burgess, Dave. (2012) Teach like a pirate :increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator San Diego, Calif. : Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.,]

Burgess’s (2012) book describes several key characteristics that a successful teacher will want to develop in order to make him- or herself an awesome educator. He unites the ideas with a mnemonic device: an acronym of PIRATE. The very first letter stands for passion. Well, is there anything more passionate than a pirate?

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Previous students visit their Polite Pirate captain. Video of “Pirate Talk”

The first grade that I taught was second. The kids were 6 and 7 years old. I wanted something cohesive to make every student feel like part of a team. More than anything, the pirate theme just happened. I liked the idea of the class being a crew, rather than a team. We weren’t going to compete against anyone else. Instead, we would embark on numerous adventures. There wasn’t any winning or losing; Just loving learning, and that is my main goal. 

While teaching is my job, I have a secondary wish of helping society evolve to a more courteous state. This aim, combined with a love of alliteration, caused me to add the word polite to our piraty theme, to form the “Polite Pirates”. I began writing stories involving characters from an imaginary crew of previous polite pirates (I told you I like alliteration;). These taught academic standards, as well as mannerly themes. The students enjoyed hearing and reading stories about what came to seem like their classroom mascots.

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This student not only dressed like a pirate for #TalkLikeAPirateDay, but made a treasure map for the occasion. She even had a pirate tattoo! 

The Polite Pirates are ten years old this year. I have yet to publish even one of their stories. Paradoxically, I share and even beg others to use this Polite Pirate theme. I am the pirate who gives, rather than robs. Last year I even thought of beginning a teaching hashtag of #PleasePirate to encourage others to use things that are shared freely on Twitter. Anyone who knows anything about teaching and teachers knows that we are all pirates! We find, borrow, reproduce, change, and share anything and everything we think could help our students learn better. The idea of good global or online citizenry looms above us, but in the end, we would steal to feed the curiosity and encourage inquiry in our students. 

It was this irony of pirates providing provisions for others that birthed their leader, Captain Iron Knee. He knows that it is only through giving that one’s hand can open to receive what he truly needs.

 

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More than anything, I want my students to enjoy learning! I’ll do anything to make that happen.

The idea of piracy may hold a horrible history, but letting go of the chains of literalism allows me to use its hugely commercial popularity to connect the experience of a super fun year in school to a life-long-love of learning. That is my overarching goal. 

And, with that I will leave you to stew. Perhaps you already have a theme. How do you use it? Is it just a way to decorate your room, or does it infiltrate your teaching? I encourage you to weave your theme throughout your pedagogy. Pirate ignorance. Provide knowledge. Prepare skills. And, dare I say preach politeness? #PleasePirate and share your thoughts. 

Differentiating Homes

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Nicole’s Blog & Melissa’s Blog

The following blog was written for a Parent EDU project that Nicole Biscotti (@BiscottiNicole) & Melissa Sidebotham (@MelSideB) are putting together. 


Good educators understand the need to personalize lessons, assignments, and assessments to meet the needs of a diverse population in their classrooms. The educational term for this is differentiation. How many times do educators treat every home as though it were the same as all of the rest? How is it that we see every student as a unique individual, but try to pigeon-hole the homelives into an assumed formula?

Several years ago I began using more technology in the classroom. My district was employing an online teaching component that included lessons and quizzes. With limited classroom time on shaky tech tools, I thought I’d assign some work to be done at home. The day after the very first assignment, I received an email from a single mom who traveled very far for work. My initial thought was defensive. Luckily, although new to teaching, I knew enough not to type what I was feeling. The practice of assigning online HW discontinued, and all was well. 

Last year, I tried sending “Reading Logs” home. I had done this in the past with moderate success. Some parents told me that they liked having their children write a sentence or two about what they had read each day! Of course there was never 100% participation, and as you can imagine, the quality varied greatly. I was floored, however, when I witnessed the vast gap in equity last year. There were some students whose writing was the best I had ever seen. Third graders were composing beautifully written paragraphs every night, after reading impressive texts. Others, however, weren’t even touching a text or scratching out one line on the log. What was I to do? 

Right around this time I was becoming more active on Twitter. Luckily for everyone, I came across many tweets suggesting negative effects of these kinds of blanket assignments. As I reflected on what I was seeing return to school, I realized that these reading logs were really assessing students’ home life more than their ability to read and write. Also, within only a few short weeks, I could see that this continued practice would simply widen the gap between the homes that provided a lot of support and environments that didn’t. What to do? Should I punish the “No-Log-Students”? Instead, I ditched the reading log. I am thankful to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) from Twitter for helping process all of these ideas. 

One thought has continued to burn on my brain, though: How different all of these homes are. During parent-teacher conference season I have some parents who visit my room as couples, arriving early, entering with notes, prepared questions, and goal-setting agendas. There are also parents who never sign up or contact me. We might speak on the phone, but I’m not surprised to learn that there are homes that feel like learning should be done strictly at school. 

Earlier in my teaching career I idealized some home situations and thought that everyone should strive to be like them. Then my daughter Scarlet was born. Scarlet is entering second grade this year. With each new teacher there are new communication styles, formats, and platforms being used. There have been times when I wished my daughter’s teachers communicated the way I did on the same social media platforms that I used. As an educator, though, I know that they have a bunch of students’ families to communicate with, and they should use the vehicle that works best for them. How could a teacher differentiate communication to parents while using the same platform for all? Content; Quantity; and even Quality could be ways to meet parents’ needs. 

Do you type up a newsletter for all families, and then wipe your hands of home communication responsibilities? What if the parents of a youth can’t read, can’t read English, or never receives the letter? Here’s an idea: Find out what families want to know. At the beginning of the year, learn what content would be helpful to each home. The newsletter could still be posted on your website, but you could tailor your communication with the homes of your students to meet the specific needs of each one. It could be a short note, a text, a quick email with a screenshot of scores, etc. You have data on your students. Collect some for your families.

How often do your families want to hear from you? Do you know? How much do they want to read? A parent told me last year that they liked bullet-point-emails. That opened my eyes. I knew my emails were too long. From then on, I had a list at the beginning of what was in each email.

Some parents like getting lots of detail, while others are more interested in simply knowing their kid is doing okay. Which style of parenting is better? Not only is there no good answer to that question, but it is a horrible question to begin with! They are simply different. One thing that has helped me communicate with parents in a tailored way is through providing specific feedback for each student’s writing in Google Classroom. The families that want to know a lot get a lot of text to read. The families that would rather a short blurb get just that.

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The sky smiled on parents leaving Willow Lane Meet The Teacher Night

Right now I am beginning a new school year. Last night was “Meet the Teacher Night.” Not every student’s parents visited my room, but of the ones that did, one thing that they all had in common was their uniqueness! Everyone was so different! Not just the way they looked; The attitudes shown in facial expressions, the ways they sat or stood to listen to me, their interest in speaking with me before and after my short presentation; These and many more characteristics spoke to me a very valuable lesson: Not only do I need to differentiate instruction in my classroom when teaching my class, but I should be differentiating communication with families. 

Is it my job to get parents who are okay being completely hands-off to change and become more involved? No, but I’m not going to ignore any families, either. My aim is to work at respecting the expectations of homes. Differentiating Homes means the same thing as differentiating instruction: Meeting parents where they are philosophically, psychologically, and physically. If a family thinks education should be confined to school, then I better make it happen in school, while I have their kid! If parents wish weekly reports, I will make sure there is information available about weekly progress. If parents need to feel involved in their child’s education, I will provide opportunities for them to be plugged into classroom activities. If parents don’t have time to read lengthy reports and emails, I will make short videos that can be listened to. My goal for this year is to work at breaking old habits of one-size-fits-all approach to parent-teacher communication. How will you differentiate communication between school and home this year?

Chapter 1: “The Island”

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Students wrote comments, connecting to the text, via Google Docs

One of the most important things to establish at the beginning of a school year is comradery among pupils. Several years ago I came up with a story idea that focused on this concept. It introduces my classroom theme of #ThePolitePirates as well as giving us a shared purpose.

The story has grown over the years, as I come up with more themes and invest more time into it. I usually share it with my students in a Google Doc through Google Classroom, so each kid has his/her own copy to practice connecting with the text via leaving comments. This year, for the first time, I plan to publish the chapters in this blog, so anyone can read the story and leave comments.

Feel free to “pirate” my tale. Change and tailor the idea to fit your classroom. I usually read it out loud to the students before having them access it in Google. I try to do a chapter a day for the first week of school. There is a bit of vocab and figurative language to explain, but it is a good tool for introducing all kinds of classroom expectations and future academic tasks.

Without further adieu, are you ready to be shipwrecked?

Chapter 1: “The Island”

Once upon a time there was an island; not any old island; but a special, helpful, resourceful, maybe magical island. This island was home to many plants and animals. However, humans had never set foot upon its shores, until, one day…

There was a massive storm.  It was not a big storm, or a strong storm, or a severe storm, but all three of these adjectives rolled up into one humongous, scary, powerful, and seriously damaging storm. It began so suddenly that several ships were caught off guard.  Some sailing vessels survived the storm, but many were shipwrecked.

The storm may have started suddenly, but it did not end for days.  Wind and rain pounded the water, while sailors, passengers, and pirates bounced like buoys on the sea surface.  

That’s right.  You read that correctly: pirates!  If passengers and sailors were scared of sharks, they were petrified of pirates.

Being shipwrecked at the same time, in the same storm and sea, though, found sailors, passengers, and pirates alike thrown together into the same boat… 

…or… 

…island. 

Did the island sit there while sailors, passengers, and pirates washed up onto its shores? Or, did it, as so many of the survivors came to believe, reach out its long shallow sandbars to save the poor sailors from certain peril?  Either way, about thirty people found themselves safely sunning on silky sand when the wind and rain finally ceased. Of their ships, nothing but memories survived.

Two or three persons from each ship made it to the island, so everyone knew at least that many survivors.  At first the people who knew each other formed small, tight groups that did not talk with, help, or share with the other survivors.  But, that did not last long. 

Some will tell you that the island brought them together.  Some say the storm purposefully plucked each person from his or her ship to make up the population of the island.  Others think the beauty and elegance of the island forged a bond between the survivors. But, everyone would agree that the savory smells from the campfire of Captain Iron Knee and his small crew of pirates was the most memorable element of that first night.

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Captain Iron Knee

Perhaps it is just human nature to want to join together and work as a team. Any way you slice it, though, each small band of two to four survivors of six or seven different ships eventually came to live, eat, work, play, practice, build, and therefore survive together as a team, unit, band, group… 

And eventually

crew.

I hope you enjoyed chapter one. Tune in for chapter two, where we explore some character traits of Captain Iron Knee.

What do you think the message or theme from chapter one might have been? What was the author trying to get across? Why was it written?

A Powerplay of Spontaneity; Is It Classy?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had something like this happen to you, as a learner.

It’s my freshman year in college. I don’t remember if it was 1st or 2nd semester, but I DO remember that it was 7:30 in the morning, Monday, Wednesday, Friday! [Seriously, who was in charge of that decision: A mandatory, first-year class that early! Clearly, the college was trying to weed out the non-morning-people… with a vengeance.] It was intro to something or other, and I had to take the class as a prerequisite for future necessary courses. So, I’m stuck in this pedagogical prison with what seems to be a brilliant professor who is trying as much as he can to wake us all up with exciting anecdotes. 

The thing is, there is this one rose among us weedy, thorny freshman who has grown beyond the bramble to sing in the early morning sunlight. This student probably already had a higher education, or at the very least was well-read on the topic. I don’t know. I never conversed directly with the guy. He would raise his hand, and the rest of us would lay down our pencils and pens. The lecture was over, as far as the rest of us were concerned. This star student would ask the professor a question. I never even understood the inquiry, let alone the lengthy response the professor clearly loved providing, complete with gigantic vocabulary that drifted like cirrus above our cerebral sleepiness. 

I don’t know how I passed that class. What was I supposed to do in the moment the lecture unexpectedly derailed to plow through the wilderness? Should this naive novice to higher education raise his hand and suggest the conversation steer back toward the original topic, where the rest of us are still stuck in mental mud? …And, while you’re at it, can you use verbiage the rest of us pion-pupils can understand? Should I have left the lecture hall, to go back to the cocoon that was calling me: my bed? It WAS 7:30AM!!! Or, perhaps I should ignore the nonsense (that’s what it was to me), and read the enormous, expensive textbook that I drug around with me, but hadn’t cracked?

That really happened to me. Another thing that happened was my very own participation in derailment, back in highschool. I remember glorying in getting teachers off topic to discuss some random recent event. The class was happy to rest note-taking hands and enjoy some cognitive freetime. 

And, lastly, as a teacher, I have found it fun to discuss something off the cuff that a kid brought up, assuming that he or she was invested in this divergent topic. I’ve thought that the spontaneity of switching gears to something that mattered, personally, to my students would be engaging. It very well could be, for that one student. But, what about the rest!?

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This is a quote of Diana Hess in an Interview with Joan Richardson of Phi Delta Kappan

I’m preparing a collaborative blog post with Mountain Buddha, author of “The Write Inspiration” on the topic of controversy. I was reading an article about using political controversy (oh my!) in a Social Studies classroom, when I came across an idea that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

It may seem classy and fun to allow a spontaneously surfacing idea to infiltrate a lesson, but this can isolate, marginalize, disengage, and feed in to a powergame. 

One of my favorite books is “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene (2000). Law number 30 (page 245) states “Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless”. When a professor or teacher spontaneously expounds on an idea that wasn’t previously advertised, he or she is showing off his or her power. Unbeknownst to the pupils, the teacher has done loads of research, reading, and thinking on the topic. He is older than they and has had some life-experiences that have added to his breadth of knowledge, as well. It may seem like he is speaking off the cuff, but there is a muscular arm of mental muscle under that sleeve. By not explaining how much he prepared for this seemingly surprise question, students are left in awe of his god-like knowledge.

The goal of a classy teacher should be to empower or “put power into” students. 

What would be classier to do, when a student brings up a topic that lies outside the given lesson, is encourage the thoughtfulness by affirming the question; “What a great question. I love how much you are clearly thinking about this topic.”

You could further support her participation in discussion with, “It’s great for you to ask a question that could really further our thinking.”

And, rather than hording the power, share the keys to it by telling the class, “I have read and thought a lot about that, and would be ecstatic to share the information with you. Let’s do that early next week. Why don’t you talk to your parents and peers, and think up some questions that you might have. If you want to really participate, you might want to see if you can find something to read about the topic. Sound like a plan?”

In this way, the classy teacher will pull all of his pupils into the pedagogy, rather than marginalizing most and exclusively speaking to only one or two who share interest and/or experience/knowledge on the spontaneous subject. If there are students who choose to ignore the challenge of preparing for the future discussion, they are electing to disengage from learning. They are rejecting the power of meaningful discussion. For those who are interested, they can fill their coffers with copious particulars for engaging classroom participation. 

This could very well be a controversial subject. I always enjoyed spontaneity in my teaching. I will likely need to work at this classy practice of empowerment. Do you already do this? Do you disagree with my thoughts? Can you suggest an alternative way of handling the questioning student, tempting off-topic discussion? Please share your thoughts.

 

Works Cited: 

Greene, R., & Elffers, J. (2000). The 48 laws of power.

Richardson, J. (2017). Using controversy as a teaching tool: An interview with Diana Hess. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(4), 15-20. Retrieved November, 2017, from https://www.kappanonline.org/richardson-using-controversy-as-a-teaching-tool-an-interview-with-diana-hess/.