Owning the Process, Owning the Results

Effective with current high-school juniors, there’s a new (and sensible) requirement for graduation in These Parts: you have to learn and demonstrate proficiency with very basic CPR.  Full-scale Red Cross certification isn’t required, but there’s a short factual “how-to” presentation (which happened on Monday while I was waiting in the Jury Assembly Room) and a hands-on check, which was scheduled for Tuesday.  Oddly enough, not all teachers and school employees in These Parts have to be CPR-certified, and of course the supply of dummies was limited in any case.  So groups of students would be called throughout the day for the training, and I’m sure Ms. X and Mr. Y were frantic about “all those interruptions” and “so much to cover” by Tuesday afternoon.  But as Latin Family members returned, many of them were more focused, more serious than usual.  There’s something about potentially saving a life, even the virtual “life” of a CPR dummy, that makes you stop and think, makes you take greater ownership of both the process and the results than you typically do in a factory-school.

Most of the time, the stakes of factory-school activities are low and the ownership is confusing or unclear.  “Do your homework,” Ms. X fusses, “or I will give you a zero.”  Who actually owns that homework?  D, who’s busy, and E, who didn’t understand, and F, who hates Ms. X and never pays attention, will all probably ask to copy G’s paper … and then Ms. X will “make” everybody put the homework in a particular order in a notebook, and Many A Ms. X “takes up” those notebooks at the end of the year “so students won’t cheat next year.”  There’s finally a mandate from our Local Powers, and similar mandates in many other schools I know, that restricts the percentage weight that homework can count in Ms. X and Mr. Y’s grading systems … and while that probably means those grades are a better reflection of students’ understanding of the subject than of their task compliance, the downside for Ms. X and Mr. Y is that the threat of that zero is less scary than it used to be.

But who actually owns that pre-printed textbook problem, that set of vocabulary words copied verbatim from the textbook glossary?  Is it the student who copied it?  The publisher who produced it?  Ms. X who assigned it?  Ms. X’s teachers, whose teaching methods she copies because that’s where she got her mental models of “school” and “teaching?”  Nobody really knows … and when the ownership is so unclear and the connections between that assignment and long-term results are fuzzy, it’s really not surprising when D, E, F, and the others take the “bad, lazy” route from Ms. X’s perspective.  (And Many A Ms. X, after “taking up and keeping” those students’ notebooks “to prevent cheating,” will change the dates on this semester’s lesson plans, turn them in unchanged next semester, and fail to see any irony whatsoever.)

It’s still a struggle for many Latin Family members to remember the more direct ownership, the more immediate stakes of the processes we use.  But whenever I’m tempted to worry or despair, to yell or label, to threaten or scold, it seems there’s always a big or small breakthrough just waiting if I only take time to watch for it.  “Oh!” N exclaimed, “this is our favorite activity!”  And N, U, and B made a beautiful Vocabulary Reflection and Organizer product, which they proudly hung at the very front of the classroom.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t quite keep the focus when we were working to finish the stories we’re creating, the ones that should be finished and presented today … but for 15 or 20 minutes on Tuesday N, U, and B were a small-scale joyful learning community, and that’s 15 or 20 more minutes more than we would have seen even a week ago.  E and J didn’t quite follow the process for their upper-level Minor Assessment, but they did write a fair amount of somewhat-comprehensible Latin while I was away on Monday, and J was eager to know if I’d had a chance to read it.  And when I think back to E and J as beginning Latin students, that’s tremendous progress, worthy of celebration.

An odd quirk of factory-model school structures, a sharp contrast with actual factories that make actual products in 2014, is that nobody really seems to take ownership or responsibility for either the process or the results much of the time.  “It’s not my fault,” says Ms. X.  “I taught it; they just didn’t learn it.”  “It’s not my fault,” moan D, E, and F.  “Ms. X gave me a bad grade because she hates me, and the test had nothing to do with what we did in class.”  “It’s not my fault,” says the test designer or publisher.  ¨That test is aligned to These Standards; it must be those bad, lazy teachers or students!”  The lines of ownership are unclear, and so is the relationship between the process and the results.  And in the end, despite all the rhetoric about “high stakes” and “accountability,” Ms. X is pretty sure that nothing that serious will happen.  “They can’t fire everybody,” One Ms. X once said, “so They are just gonna get what They are gonna get.”

In a joyful learning community, the ownership is a lot clearer, and so are the connections between process and results … especially when learners themselves are involved in designing those processes.  The transition is hard, especially when you’re building a joyful learning community inside a factory-structure … hard, but not impossible.  I wonder what new discoveries and insights await us all today!

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Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 11:40 am  Leave a Comment  

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