Chicago and Seattle: Teachers are Great People
We’re amid our the first leg of our short summer tour, and we’ve been to Chicago and Seattle.
There’s pretty much nothing better than meeting up with teachers and hearing their stories.
Nominally, we’re on an awareness tour, but since BlueHarvest is free, we’re basically just trying to find out what teachers are teaching, how they’re doing it, and how we can help.
Here’s a synopsis of our first two days:
Leg 1: ORD to SEA
We’ve been giving our schtick, and, it turns out, people know that grading is broken. Feedback and binary grading are in the future, and there are a lot of software solutions that exist to try and get this accomplished.
We’ve been asked why BlueHarvest is the right tool to use, and our best answer is that it’s designed to organize feedback and do it quickly by learning target. No messing with numbers and gradations; proficient or not. Share students with other teachers. It doesn’t do lunch schedules, it doesn’t organize syllabi and cross-correlatify those with state and national standards; it does rich media feedback, that’s it.
I suppose that’s my thing. All the edu-jargon and state-mandated silliness aside, let’s just do our job, and the currency of points is pale when compared to the actual work a teacher does, which is give actionable feedback.
An awesome teacher we met in Chicago, Collin Voigt, pointed out that all he wants is for students to be able to do things he didn’t explicitly teach them how to do. Think about what that means from an assessment and lesson-design vantage: It means kids have to be frustrated and spend time doing cognitive lifting.
We got on this same topic at a school in Seattle with teachers Theron Cross and Kip Wassink. We invaded their grading day, and they graciously gave us most of their morning to talk shop (and fed us wraps). Both teachers described the all-too common situation of the great Unfinished Project.
Kip described a lesson where a student attempted to analyze the rules of poetry to ostensibly find a pattern/pattern-breaking rule that helped to identify poems with gravitas.
Admittedly, this project was a bit above the student, and ended with a whimper. I have personal experience with this sort of quasi-product–a lot of experience–and the trouble arises when the student finds value only in a finished product, and not in the process. This is a common lament, so what can we actually do about it in order to explicitly help students enjoy failure, or at least profit from it?
TPS Failure Reports:
We threw around the idea of a failure report. In order for any sort of project, lab, media, etc… to be assessed, it needs to be accompanied with a narrative failure report wherein the student makes it clear how many things they tried. How did that bread-crumb them to their current state of the project, and then, most importantly, what learning was created and/or appended.
What goes in a failure report? A lot of meta-cognition, which is the point, of course:
- What standards the student felt they made progress on. (Ensures the students connects what they’ve learned, despite the status of the project)
- Why there’s a difference between their current product and their stated goal. (Demands that they find patterns in failure)
- How they handled bumps along the way, and how this increased or decreased the scope of the project. (Helps high schoolers develop scoping abilities when planning things, which they usually lack)
- What the team who takes over should start with. (see below)
The last point is something I think all the teachers we’ve met have been tacitly implying. How can we create a grander narrative that has an audience that extends beyond just me, the teacher.
If someone else finds this project interesting, shouldn’t they be able to stand on the shoulders of the students before them?
We’ll be leaving sunny Seattle for the Bay area on Friday. More teachers to meet, more stories to tell.