Category: Teachers Contribute to the Academic Success of their Students

Compliance ≠ Motivation.

One of my favorite students of all time was a boy named Thomas*.  

What I dug the most about him was his curiosity.  It didn’t matter what topics we were talking about in class, Thomas was always wondering and always asking questions and always doing independent investigation on related ideas that left him intrigued.  He was one of the most passionate learners and thinkers that I’ve ever had the chance to work with — and I’m certain that he is going to be more than a little successful in life.

But Thomas was rarely “successful” in school.

He wasn’t an “Honor Roll” student, pasting fancy certificates on his wall and bumper stickers on his parents’ cars quarter after quarter and year after year.  Instead, he was constantly racking up Cs and Ds in his classes.  Missing tasks were the norm rather than the exception to the rule — and the work that he DID turn in was never an accurate reflection of what he was capable of.  His apathy towards assignments was a source of constant frustration for his parents and his teachers, who tried every trick in the book — groundings, loss of privileges, after school detentions, low marks, even LOWER marks — to “motivate” him to give his best effort on every assignment.

If you went back and looked at Thomas’s academic record, you’d probably make a ton of assumptions about him.

The fact of the matter is that there is nothing inspiring about the grades that he’s earned during his school career — and outsiders who have to make decisions based on little more than transcripts would probably turn away from Thomas in a minute.  He’d be filtered out before anyone would give him an interview simply because Cs and Ds are quick indicators of struggles that most employers don’t want to bother with.

And all of those assumptions would be wrong.

Here’s why: Thomas’s academic record is nothing more than a reflection of what he was WILLING to do — not what he was ABLE to do.  He’d made a decision early on that he wasn’t going to play the “compliance game,” dutifully completing every task and meeting every deadline without question.  Instead, he judged each assignment individually — and if he found it challenging or interesting or relevant, he’d invest in it completely.  If he found it pointless or repetitive or disconnected from important questions worth considering, he’d skip it no matter what punishments you promised.

So what lesson can we learn from kids like Thomas?

Perhaps most importantly, we need to recognize that sometimes the lack of motivation that we see in our students is a function of the work that we are asking them to do.  Thomas didn’t skip assignments or turn in tasks that were partially complete because he COULDN’T do the work.  He skipped assignments and turned in partially completed tasks because he’d decided that he WOULDN’T do work just to please a teacher or to avoid a punishment.  If he couldn’t see value in a task, he wasn’t going to value it.

Stew in that for a minute, would you.  In its simplest form, Thomas’s refusal to invest in work that he didn’t believe in was a form of protest — his way of saying to his teachers, “If you want my best effort, I expect more effort out of you, too.”  Sure — it would have been easier to just do the work he was being asked to do.  And yes — there are plenty of kids who will follow directions and meet deadlines because they fear the consequences that both parents and teachers stand ready to dish out.

But please don’t mistake that compliance for motivation — and please don’t suggest that kids like Thomas who refuse to comply are automatically lazy or disobedient.

In fact, if you regularly have to use consequences — think zeros or low grades or signatures on work tracking tools or phone calls home to parents — as threats to encourage kids to complete your assignments, it might be time to look carefully at your instructional choices.

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*Name changed to protect the identity of this student!

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Related Radical Reads:

Grades AREN’T Motivating

Learning > Schooling

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

 

 

Common Formative Assessment is about Improving INSTRUCTION.

Recently, I stumbled across this fantastic Ken Williams video about Common Formative Assessment on the YouTube:

Ken’s right, isn’t he.

All too often, we use CFAs to “sort and select and move on to the next step” in our schools, forgetting that instructional reflection is the second leveraging arm of the common formative assessment process.

Stated more simply: CFAs aren’t JUST about identifying students in need of remediation and enrichment.  CFAs are about encouraging teachers to address the strengths and weaknesses in their own practice.

Interested in starting that conversation with your faculty?  

Here’s a handout that I’ve been using along with Ken’s video in professional development sessions this month.

#hopethishelps


Related Radical Reads:

Ten Tips for Writing Common Formative Assessments

 

 

Digital Portfolio Challenge Posts

As regular Radical readers know, I’ve started a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project on my learning team (see here and here).  My goal is to encourage my students to become more reflective about their own learning.  After all, feedback GATHERED BY learners is ALWAYS more valuable than feedback GIVEN TO learners.

One of the things that I’ve noticed, though, is that my students really struggle with the language of reflection.  

The vast majority of the early posts that they are adding to their digital portfolios have been simple summaries of classroom activities.  They’ve written about books that they are reading or questions that they are wondering about or movies that they’ve watched.  They’ve written about concepts that they’ve studied and formulas they’ve learned and cultures they’ve explored.

But they haven’t told me much about their strengths or their weaknesses or the progress that they are making as learners.  They haven’t shared much evidence of their learning or set new goals for themselves or celebrated successes that they’ve had.

I think that’s because we rarely ask students to think reflectively about their own learning.

Stew in that for a minute.  How often do you set time aside for students to think about what they know and what they don’t know?  Do the kids in your classroom have a chance to think about who they are as learners on a regular basis?  More importantly, are you regularly asking them to draw conclusions and set direction based on their OWN analysis of what they know and can do?  Stated more simply, do the kids in your room act like passive students or active learners?

To facilitate active reflection in my students, I’ve created a series of Digital Portfolio Challenge Tasks.

You can find them posted here in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.

Each challenge task asks students to reflect in a different way.  Some ask students to rank order the study strategies that work the best for them.  Others ask students to compare learning experiences IN school to learning experiences BEYOND school.  Some involve creating written reflections about academic successes and others involve creating video tutorials and/or How To guides to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill or concept.

Here are a few examples of those challenge tasks:

Share a YouTube video that OTHER people can learn from.  

Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert on a ton of topics.  Choose one of those areas of expertise.  Then, find and share a YouTube video that novices can learn from.  Write about the reasons that you think the video makes for a good tutorial for rookies.  What should they expect to learn by watching the video?  What should they do AFTER watching the video?

Share a learning tip for a younger student.  

What one bit of advice would you make to a younger student about succeeding as a learner?  Why does that tip matter so much?  How do you know that tip will work?  Has that tip helped you as a learner?  How?

Share an example of work that you improved through revision.

The best learners are always revising their work.  Share an example of something that YOU have improved through revision.  Show us your first draft or explain to us your original thoughts.  Then, show us your final draft or explain to us your final thoughts.  Point out specific places where you made your work better.  Tell us HOW those changes made your work better.  Tell us what you would do if you were to revise this work again.  

My plan is to assign a new challenge task to students each week.

Not only will that give students a chance to experiment with reflecting in a TON of different ways, it will also generate a TON of different examples of just what reflection looks and sounds like in action as kids read the content being created by their peers.  Over time, my hope is that students won’t need challenge posts in order to create new content for their portfolio — but at least for the time being, their lack of experience with in-depth reflection is holding them back.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Do your students struggle with the language of reflection, too?  

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Related Radical Reads:

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning

More on My Digital Portfolio Project

 

 

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:

Brett’s right, isn’t he?  

We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.

More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:

 

Slide - If It's Not Graded

(click here to view original image on Flickr)

So how SHOULD we motivate learners?  

Easy:  By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do.  Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting.  Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that every task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.

Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging.  Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out.  But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.

Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms.  The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential.  They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards.  But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can improve their families, communities or countries, and they’ll tackle anything.

Now don’t get me wrong:  You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.

The vast majority of our students still want to earn passing marks.  And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments.  After all, they’ve been buried in messages like “you’ll never get into college with those grades” and “for every A that you make, I’ll give you $20 bucks” and “make anything less than a C and you will lose your phone for a whole quarter” for most of their lives.

But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.  

If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance.  Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks, not your TECH Geeks

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Are YOUR Students Doing Work that Matters?

Anatomy of a SMiShing Text Message.

An interesting text message landed in my inbox the other day.

Here’s what it looked like:

(click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to panic a bit.  I do a ton of work on public wireless networks — and even though I use a VPN to protect my deets from snooping eyes, I’m always worried that I’m going to give away enough information to get myself hacked.  Maybe it’s paranoia — but in today’s world, paranoia is probably a good thing.

But then my bunk detectors kicked in.  Can you spot the three reasons that this text message raised alarms?

Here’s what caught my eye:

The sender of the message is trying to make me panic:  Probably the most important step to detecting whether a text or email message is up to no good is to ask yourself a simple question – “Is this person trying to make me panic?”  Fear is the best friend of a phisherman, after all.  If I’m convinced that my account has been hacked or my money has been stolen, I’m more likely to take immediate action — read: hit that link and enter my most important details — than I am to stop and think.

So whenever I spot an attempt to generate fear, I force myself to slow down and look a little more carefully at the message that I’ve received.

The web address in the link is wonky:  Seriously.  Read it.  Why would a major company point me to any address as weird as http://bankofamerica.caseid-2078.com?  That’s a cheap trick that phishermen (and other shady folks like the leaders of the Fake News brigades) are resorting to.  Their hope is that as I’m panicking over my breached account, I’m going to see the first half of the web address without questioning the second half.

The harried, urgent, worried me might see “Bank of America” and click.  The thoughtful, skeptical, refuse-to-be-tricked me read the whole address and said, “Nope.  Not falling for that.”  And the Interwebs loving me typed the address into my Google Machine and found about a thousand references to a phishing scam.

#anotherwinforthegoodguys

Banks don’t usually send text messages — particularly asking users to update their personal information:  In a world where phishing — and in this case, SMiShing — has become an all too common method for evil creeps to fleece the innocents, banks have taken a pretty hard-line approach to contacting customers.  They pretty much NEVER send out email or text messages when there is a problem.  That protects everyone.

I don’t know if that is Bank of America’s policy.  I’ve never bothered to look, to be honest.  But I DO know that it is the policy of most major banks.  That means I never take emails and texts from banks seriously.

So how did you do?  Did you pick up on all three of the things that raised alarm bells in my mind?  If so, huzzah for you!

Now for a more important question:  Could your STUDENTS spot all of that sketchiness?  

If not, you’ve got some teaching to do!

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

The Anatomy of a Hoax Website

Curating Sources on Controversial Topics