Right Time, Right Place, I

If you’re reading this post “live,” it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving – a difficult day for teachers, students, and parents.  It’s a two-day school week here, with a free dress day and an altered schedule on Tuesday.  For many families, it’s easier – and more important, in the long run – to leave a day or two early on that long trip to see family for the holidays.  They need to be in the right place at the right time.

Twenty years ago, schools here responded by … having a full day of classes on Wednesday.  “Those bad, lazy parents, students, and teachers!” someone likely thought.  “We’ll show them!”  So Ms. X, who couldn’t start cooking for her family, angrily handed out Thanksgiving-themed worksheets and complained about her “bad, lazy” students who wouldn’t do them.  “And they were even extra credit!” she complained.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with kids today!  They’re not like they were twenty years ago.”

Twenty years later, as current Ms. X and Mr. Y enjoy our Faculty Thanksgiving potluck on Tuesday, they may take time to complain about the bad, lazy students and the thoughtless parents – the ones who kept their kids at home and the ones who made their kids come.  And someone will probably say “Kids aren’t like they were twenty years ago.”

Factory-model schools struggle with time and place.  And they struggle with big-picture goals.  Why open school today?  Why close?  Because … that’s what we do.

On days before holidays and school breaks, I often hear twin complaints from colleagues.  “What is wrong with those parents?” folks ask.  “Don’t they know I’m giving a test today?” Or “Why did they send their kids to school when they know we aren’t doing anything?”

Not doing anything – what does that phrase even mean?  Everybody who’s alive is doing something.  Yet colleagues complain about “kids who don’t do anything” in class, and students plaintively ask “Are we doing anything today?”  And teachers – well-meaning, caring teachers like the author of this post – feel caught, trapped, helpless.

“Are we doing anything today?” students ask.  “Those bad, lazy students – or, if you’re more progressive, those poor, helpless ones – don’t even know how to learn,” teachers respond.  The labels themselves are part of the problem, and the underlying attitude that We Know Better.  More on that, though, another day.

According to experts, students should know “we’re doing something” – and know how to learn it – when they walk into class and see an objective posted. On the board.  After all, research shows correlations between clear learning goals and student achievement.  So does common sense.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should go and read Laura’s Google+ thread about Bloom’s Taxonomy and educational technology.  Read the whole thing, especially the comments.

Then imagine Ms. X, who’s been told she’ll “get written up” if there’s not “an objective on the board.”  Poor Ms. X will doubtless write something “on the board” … something she thinks is an objective.  Fifteen years ago, in my part of the world, she would have been told to include a “Bloom level” too.  “The learner,” she might write, “will demonstrate evaluation of Black History Month by making a collage.”

promise I saw that objective – word-for-word  – “posted on the board” when I was attending a professional development session.  That Ms. X (or Mr. X) probably was proud of it. “Using higher-order thinking skills in lesson planning?”  Check.  She probably went to the workshop with the mnemonic device for “remembering the Bloom levels in order,” too.

But don’t blame Ms. X and Mr. Y for trivializing “Bloom levels.”  Giant systems, by their nature, resist potentially disruptive tools.

“Bloom levels” have disappeared from our posted learning goals, replaced with “I can” statements and “Can I” questions.  I hope the taxonomy will become a descriptive tool (to analyze and classify learning goals) rather than a prescriptive thing (for teachers to “do” in their lessons).  Maybe we’ll even start paying attention to the emotional and psychomotor domains!

“Posted objectives on the board” were a distraction for my students, but projected learning goals are a helpful focus.  Though I’m not crazy about presentation software, I do make a daily presentation for each class that outlines what we’ll be doing … and the second slide (to which there’s a hyperlink from the last slide) always lists the learning goals for the day or week.  We look at them together at the beginning of class, and at the end of class we return to them as closure.  “On our traditional scale from 1-5,” I ask, “how comfortable do you feel with” each goal?  And once my students trust me, they tell me.

I’ve found a right time and right place to think about learning goals with my students – something that works with the rhythm of our time together.  If you’re reading this post “live,” my classes will be starting our day with a Vocabulary Self-Check, the right time and right place for my current students to evaluate their own vocabulary growth. (Previous systems which worked in their time but stopped working as students and school and society changed.)  We’ll be creating stories, too, and sharing them in the right time and right place: on Tuesday, when the schedule is crazy , when students’ brains are addled by the thought of turkey, dressing, dessert, and time away from school.

I hope Ms. X, Mr. Y, and their countless colleagues have a happy, safe, and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday.  I hope the same for my students and their families.  I hope we all return refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to move away from factory-model schooling toward building joyful community.

I hope it’s the right time and right place for that to happen.  What do you think?

Published in: on November 19, 2012 at 11:08 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] everything I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Monday was also Progress Report day … and it was the day when my colleague, Ms. C, finally […]

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