John Hardison’s post on Getting Smart, the one about his school district’s new Blended Learning Academy, “just happened” to show up in a Google+ comment Tuesday afternoon. It had been a long, hot day, made hotter when the air conditioner in the Latin Family’s classroom started loudly, persistently thumping. The Relevant Guy came quickly, but it’s a two-person repair and the Other Guy wasn’t available. They should be back today, with cool relief to follow. But regardless of the temperature, I’ll be thinking about Hardison’s description of how his program builds on self-knowledge, shared knowledge, options for learners, and an inspiring facility in which teachers and learners will work. That’s what I want to see, and what I want students to see, in our work together … but what do I actually see? And what do they see?
I had told everyone about the lack of air conditioning, had reminded them that often, when it’s hot, tempers and patience grow short. Somehow, though, N, T, U, and B hadn’t heard any of that … “hadn’t bothered to listen,” Ms. X would say, but I think the picture is more complex. They ended up being, or at least acting, “really good, for us,” as they put it, when the Very Important Visitors were doing Very Important Business … and to their credit, they kept being “really good, for us,” for quite a while after the Visitors departed. I think they expected a reward, some praise, or one of the extrinsic motivators Ms. X or Mr. Y would use … and then, when that didn’t happen and they began to revert to business as usual, I’m pretty sure they expected yelling and labeling. After all this time, the Latin Family’s approach of intrinsic reward, of doing right things because they’re right, is still foreign to them … maybe as foreign as the Roman notions of pietas, dignitas, gravitas, and virtus we keep talking about. “Am I going to get an A this time?” one asked. “You know my mom expects me to get an A.”
For N and T in particular, the Game of School has “always” been about transactions. If I “am good,” I should get some kind of reward: a shiny trophy, a sticker, a high grade, some candy. If I “am bad,” well … That Group Over There was bad, too, so they should get in trouble! N and T aren’t very good at playing the Game of School, but it’s what they see in school buildings and classrooms. Self-knowledge? Shared knowledge? Options? What are those? “Just give me a worksheet,” K used to beg me, “and tell me what to put on it. I know I’d get a good grade then!” And N, T, G, U, and so many others believe that, too.
We’re focusing on mysteries as the end of the year approaches, unresolved questions in the Tres Columnae Project storyline and intriguing questions, different for each person, about Roman history and culture. After the Major Assessment Product presentations, we took some time to generate and share lists of some of those mysteries. But N, T, G, U, and B were at a loss. There’s “supposed to be” a worksheet for such things, it seems, so why bother to listen to oral instructions? Why bother to notice that everyone around you is doing something, or to ask them what’s going on? If you wait long enough, Ms. X will yell and label or scold and punish, and you can look hurt and confused and try to get her angry or upset instead. “Please share your list of mysteries,” I asked them. “Please share your list.” Eventually, after much whining and arguing, they cobbled something together, fearing that they might not get credit.
What do they see? I wondered at lunch time. And what do Ms. X, Mr. Y, and their other teachers see? With the air conditioner broken, it seemed prudent to sit in the cool faculty workroom during my free period, so I “just happened” to see One Ms. X. “So much potential,” she said, “but so few results.” N, T, and the others have a fixed mindset that focuses on that potential. “I’m a good student,” they think, “and I’m smart, so I should get good grades,” and by that they mean “someone labeled me once as good and smart, so the shiny rewards should automagically follow for all time.”
There was a Special Sheet for the Very Important Visitors to complete, and ours had lots of compliments about what she saw. But the Special Sheet had a back, and the Visitor didn’t see it or “didn’t have time” to complete it … and one of the questions there was about levels of engagement, with a scale from engagement down through ritualized compliance to rebellion. I’m not sure what you can see in a fifteen-minute visit, but I’m curious to know who decided to (try to) include that, and why it ended up at the bottom of page 2 where it would be hard to see. I wonder if Ms. X and Mr. Y plan to share their Visitors’ observations with their students, and if there’s any plan for a larger conversation. Do our Local Powers see an opportunity for growth and change, or do they see Yet Another Hoop imposed by Greater Powers Yet?
In a joyful learning community, which we ended up being (or working towards being) despite all the challenges of the day, it’s important to take the time to share what you see and how you feel and what you (think you) know with each other. In a factory-model school, there’s “not enough time” and “too much to cover” for that, and “the bad, lazy ones” won’t be listening anyway, and there might not be a worksheet, and it probably isn’t on The Test. I wonder what new opportunities to see and understand more clearly await us all in the days to come!