Finding the Balance, III

Balance … it’s important.  If you want to maintain it, purposeful routines can be helpful.  Emily talked about them at length in her blog post yesterday, and the Google+ thread about her post is full of wisdom.  And Diana said,

My life is routines.  I wouldn’t survive without them!  With soooo much happening in my house every day, I set routines for my daughters, dogs, and family in general.  My 5 year old is learning how to set routines for herself, as she watches me do so for myself, and for the family as a whole.

Modeling is key.  We got a puppy recently.  After a few days of relative craziness, our older dog had taught the puppy many of the family routines.  Iris The Puppy learned from watching Neptune The 4-Year-Old-Dog model proper routines and behavior.

We model routines for our children all the time.  They learn from everything we do and say.  Children, and humans in general, I believe, though many of them won’t admit it, like routines and lack of chaos….  How do we teach them that things are connected?  That there are reasons?  Modeling, it seems, is the best way.  We need to start practicing what we preach.

When there are purposeful routines in place, that awful random feeling abates.  Twenty years ago, my students were surprised by the “Latin Family’s” routines and procedures; they expected randomness, yelling, and labeling in school.  Ten or fifteen years ago, many expected routines and procedures.  Today, in a strange regression, many are surprised …  sometimes even resistant to the strange notion of routines.  “Are we doing anything today?” was common in 1993, rarer in 2003, common again – despite posted agendas and learning goals in most classrooms – in 2013.

Perhaps the requirement of posted goals, plus malicious obedience from full and overwhelmed teachers, has encouraged some students to see those goals as random.  When I ask, they say they “don’t know” – but  “I don’t know” is what hierarchical systems encourage Us to say when Powers That Be ask questions, isn’t it?  My students are more surprised when full, of course.  But for some, consistency is a daily surprise: directions are posted in the same place, materials picked up here, returned over there.

K, K, B, U, and B are the “laptop cart team” in my morning class.  They know exactly what to do on those days, and they fulfill their duties perfectly.  But on other days, despite posted directions – and despite their place, less than a yard from the Materials Zone – they need reminders about picking up the assignment.  Once it’s picked up, sometimes they even need reminders to do it.  But with a  real, important, meaningful responsibility, they never need reminders.

On Google+ yesterday, we talked about fullness and pressure, success and failure, learning adventures, connections, and randomness.  And over and over, we talked about balance and compassion and personal regard.

Is that the missing piece?  When students feel like nameless numbers, is it hard to buy in to routines and procedures that are in place?  And is that why it takes so long for some to believe in the “Latin Family?”

All too often, schools emphasize the numbers, ignore the names and faces behind them.  At this time of year, Ms. X and Mr. Y are mainly interested in whether “my grades look OK” – my grades, they say, though the effect of those numbers on students’ futures (and self-concepts) can be profound.  The school administrators I know well are kind, compassionate people, and they work hard to build positive relationships with their students.  But during exam week, other priorities take center stage:  relatively silent hallways, few disruptions, scores good enough to keep higher Powers That Be appeased.  Measurement of learning isn’t unimportant, but if you’re not careful and intentional, it can easily take second place to the urgent siren song of grades and compliance-building.

“Which classes have exams today?” asked quiet, thoughtful C Monday morning. When I told him, he was puzzled. “I have Mr. N third period, and he didn’t say anything about a midterm.”  A few minutes later, K asked if our class would have one  … even though our Major Assessment process has followed  the same structure from the beginning of her Latin experience.  There’s an individual performance task (reading a paragraph, reading one sentence aloud in Latin, answering oral questions) and a collaborative one (usually a filmed version of a story). I think most of my students see the connections between these tasks and the smaller, related ones they’ve been doing  … and I know that most can assess their Individual Response performances quite accurately, because we fill out the rubric together. S, who had been seriously disengaged from class for a while, wasn’t surprised that he’d regressed . K, who tunes in and out, was glad he’d maintained his proficiency level.  C, who’s been sick and had significant family challenges, was surprised by how well she understood the passage. W decided he needs to pay more attention; N says she needs to read more Latin; L was thrilled that he’s moved up by a proficiency level since last month.

But for so many students, school as random is still the expectation.

Maybe that was acceptable when the Industrial Age was in flower, when schools fulfilled their design function of sorting and selecting for industrial occupations. In those vanished days, when random-seeming orders from Powers That Be were common, perhaps it made sense to keep the bigger picture hidden.

Were those the good old days or the bad old days? Either way, they were old days indeed, very different days from the ones in which our students will spend their working lives.  The end goal is clear, but the path is obscure: today, this hour, what will we do – separately and together – to build and sustain joyful, purposeful learning community in the midst of all that randomness?

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Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 10:32 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. Do you have at hand a Double Pendulum to demonstrate to your students and fellow faculty?

    Conventionally, people need and want rules, so they know what’s expected of them, and so that things are more orderly and less random or chaotic.

    But did you know that mathematicians discovered something utterly astonishing about the behavior of rule-driven systems? Did you know that rule-driven systems are inherently chaotic?

    One of the easiest ways to see this, both visually and viscerally is with the Double Pendulum. Everyone knows that an ordinary pendulum, like that found in a old-fashioned grandfather clock, swings back and forth in a perfectly regular and periodic manner. Utterly dull, boring, and predictable.

    But what if you hang a second pendulum off the bob of the first one? Then what happens? The behavior of the Double Pendulum will surprise you.

    Scroll down to see the two GIF animations here:

    https://math.uwaterloo.ca/applied-mathematics/future-undergraduates/what-you-can-learn-applied-mathematics/dynamical-systems

  2. This post reminds me about the importance of creating optimal routines with students and then revisiting those routines now and then to assess purpose, performance and needed revision This will be a good discussion with my students once our early spring testing is complete. Thanks for the inspiration.


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