Finding Our Story

This Edutopia post “just happened” to show up in my Google+ stream this weekend, and as I read it, I had an insight about the question that bothered me on Friday.  Why are the students at District Q and District Y so much more ready to own problems and results than their counterparts at Former School?  And why is it, more generally, that some people own problems and results while others look for helpers, enablers, and excuses?  Those are huge questions with many layers of answers, but as I read the Edutopia post, I saw connections with the five principles that Douglas Kiang addresses:

  1. “Wrap them up in the story”
  2. “Fail early, fail often”
  3. “Provide multiple paths to success”
  4. “Scaffold and recognize progress”
  5. “Build something that matters”

The more connected you are with those five principles, I realized, the more likely you are to own problems and results.  And finding a story that you can wrap yourself up in is the part I want to focus on today.

Stephen Krashen calls it compelling input … “so interesting you forget that it is in another language.”  That was the goal when we started building the Tres Columnae Project storyline: to “hook” our readers and subscribers so that they didn’t want to stop reading, so that they wanted to know more, so that they wanted to create their own stories to fill in the gaps.  “That,” said the beginning branch of the Latin Family at District Y on Friday, “is a really creepy doll!”  Now they want to make up stories about Lollia’s doll: where it came from, whether it’s really as creepy as it seems to be.  Compelling input leads to finding our stories and sharing our stories with one another.  For the advanced group at District Y, the first really compelling input was the storyline in Lectio XXIII about Lucius’ crush on Lollia; for the District Q group, it was the reading that led them to create their own mysteries.

Once you have a shared story that you love, everything else falls into place.  But the intermediate branch of the District Y Latin Family hasn’t found a shared story yet; I think that’s why we’re struggling with vocabulary and reading speed.  It’s my hope that the combination of romance and violent entertainment in Lectio XV and XVI will help us find our story … and we’ll throw in the gladiator fights in Lectio XIII for good measure.  If that’s not the right fit, we’ll have to create some stories together, possibly building on their shared interests in science and technology and history.  What aspects of Roman technology might we explore together, and how could we build our explorations into a shared story?

(Looking back at what they told me in September, I also see they like an “organized and focused” learning environment, that most of them don’t like English classes where they do a lot of writing but do like concrete things: working with numbers, working with their hands.  As we find ways for them to feel more in touch with the underlying structure of our shared work, to involve our hearts and hands in the work we do, that should help us find our shared story, too.)

I think I’ll have more to say about the other five “game design” principles from the Edutopia post in the days ahead.  But at the moment, I’m focused on how hard they are in the absence of a shared story that you own.  Risking failure frequently?  That’s scary if your guiding story is the story factory-model schools tell, the one about how bad grades send you on a downward spiral, while good grades lead to success in life.  And even if you don’t exactly believe the factory-school story, you hear it constantly from the very structures and procedures of School As It Is … the very same procedures and structures that point out one way to success, that seem to recognize some fixed abilities rather than progress, that focus on deficiencies rather than success and don’t have much space or time to “build something that matters.”

I think that’s why it was hard for the Latin Family at Former School to own their problems … because the school-story they’d heard for years, the one they continued to hear in Those Other Classes, was so different from the Latin Family’s story.  “Just copy my PowerPoint,” that school-story said, “and turn in The Work, and you’ll Get Good Grades and do well on The Test.”  It’s not exactly a satisfying story, but at least it was familiar.  And I wasn’t sure how to help them hear and believe a different story.

It’s easier in some ways because I’m not physically part of the story at District Q or District Y.  The school-story obviously doesn’t fit with the physical environment or with the kinds of interactions we can have in our virtual environment.  But what does the new, different story look and feel like?  We’ve mostly decided, but there’s still the occasional glitch when somebody says or does something that doesn’t quite fit … but they don’t quite realize that it doesn’t fit.

And sometimes that somebody is me!

“Are the directions clear?” I’ll ask, and sometimes the answer is “No, they aren’t.”  And sometimes that’s because I wasn’t clear myself!  But sometimes it’s because the activity itself is so different from a school-story assignment: there’s not an exact number of details to find, no physical page to find them, no worksheet to write them on.  When stories compete, it’s important to realize what’s happening!

I still don’t know what our shared story will be in the intermediate branch of the District Y Latin Family.  But I’m less worried and bothered than I was when I sat down to write.  I know I can trust the process and the community; when the time is right, the right story will emerge.  I wonder what other insights and discoveries await us all today!

 

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Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 1:55 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. #3

    I just listened to a podcast about self-doubt and how we think ourselves out of taking chances (#2). When thinking about how I hold myself back (and I feel like I’m in a transition right now), I can’t say whether it’s a fear of failure or not. (Rob says he can’t think of anything of which I am afraid–phobic, yes but not fearful.)

    In the podcast the point they made that struck a chord with me is the idea of breaking through inertia, that making a false start or even a failed start is still better than making no start at all. Knowing I’m in this place of change (and why) is sort of calming. I don’t need to take any action right here, right now, but I know soon I will be a flurry of activity, possibly of failure, and that’s okay. There’s more than one path for me to get from here to there. I merely have to take that leap of faith.

    • Satia, I’m sorry I took so long to respond to your comment. I know I’ve “thought myself out of taking chances” more than once in my life! Is it fear? Self-doubt? The perfectionism that says “if I can’t do it right, I just won’t do it at all?” It can be all of those things. But I love the idea of breaking through inertia. I’ve done a lot of that this week!

  2. […] I wrote yesterday’s blog post, I had no idea I would soon be living the first two of the “game design principles” […]

  3. […] between that phrase and Douglas Kiang’s five principles that I started exploring on Monday and Tuesday.  Art and life are mirroring each other in odd ways!  When you run into an […]


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