Attempt to Differentiate Projects

Just a quick one tonight as I prepare to offer my students the opportunity to differentiate their proof of learning for the first time.  I’d love some feedback on this project.  The project has been crafted to meet the learning outcomes for both ELA 10-1 and 10-2 and will be completed during class time.  It’s also been designed to be (more) authentic with the possibility of being truly authentic depending on student choices, to allow for critical thinking, student choice, and collaboration (by being completed in class where students can ask and answer each other’s questions).

The project comes after quite a bit of background learning, textual study, and personal reflection on achievement thus far.  Since my mistakes with the “Theme Song” project, we have been focusing more on purpose and the students are well aware that they will be “fixing” that project based on the content knowledge we have discussed from a proposal from Obama after the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting.  You can read a bit of what we’ve done here.  Since then we have done some work with applying the text to our own lives/context and found it interesting that Obama is willing to give schools/boards/states the decisions about how to make their own students safer rather than believing there is a one-size-fits-all solution (sounds like my plea for the structure of education).  While his purpose is to keep schools and communities safer, he recognizes that there are some issues where control needs to be given to other organizations and some issues that need to be nation-wide.  My students went through Obama’s suggestions for school safety measures as though they were the superintendent of our school board who had to decide which options to accept and which to decline.  They worked in groups, had to focus on the given purpose and defend their choices with evidence from what currently happens in our school.  Students are learning more about purpose while continuing to see how critical thinking and collaboration can aid the learning and application of content knowledge.

Today I reviewed a draft of the project with students and asked for their input.  This wasn’t the plan.  the plan was for me to finish the project and give it to their sub tomorrow for them to begin.  Then I’d come back and answer questions the next day and get them refocused to continue working.  However, a comment on Twitter made me immediately consider my plans for the day.  @shellterrell said, “Each Day we walk in the classrm we can tell Ss what is planned & ask how they’d change it up then go fr there” (April 16, 2013).  While I was already planning on offering a great deal of choice in the project, I thought I’d offer my students some say in it, and in the marking rubric.

I’m so glad I did!  Students had a couple questions; one good one involved ignoring Obama’s text (that we’ve studied) in order to focus on the bombing in Boston yesterday (a series of texts that would need to be studied and analyzed before completing the project).  I revised the project to allow students the choice of text(s) to select info from for their project.  The caveat was that the marking guide would not change.  The marking guide was the learning they were to prove.  How they did that could be open for discussion in order for them to be more engaged in the learning that would take place as they completed the project.  This project will be used to assess their skills and make further suggestions for improvement before they go back to the Theme Song project, so it’s important they are fully committed to it.

Perhaps the best thing that came from offering this project to students for their opinions before assigning it was the final decision on group work.  I figured from the initial write-up (the italicized bit here was added afterward) that students would recognize the importance of completing their own project.  As I figured, students questioned the rationale of the drawbacks of group work.  I explained that they are all responsible for the entire curriculum and I therefore need to know that they complete the project themselves rather than letting a classmate do it.  We discussed the possibility of each member of the group completing a write up of their contributions and ideas, whether the project went a different way in the end or not.  Then they asked why they couldn’t use the “specialist” tactic.   I explained that if they did that, they wouldn’t learn anything.  All they would do is prove to me that they are already competent in that area.  I explained that projects were not just about showing learning, but learning more. They wouldn’t have much motivation to learn more if they do what they are already good at.

Yesterday they reviewed the work they’ve done thus far in the term and reflected on what they were doing okay with and where they still needed to improve. (More on this in my next blog post.)  I’ve taken the over 135 specific outcomes from our ELA curriculum and categorized them into 4 main outcomes:  Decoding the Ideas of others, Presenting Our Own Personal Ideas, Presentation, and “Other.”  I try to categorize each rubric criteria into one of these 4 categories.  I know sometimes I look back on a choice and wonder if it may have better fit a different category, but I’m trying to make my courses more outcome based and I’m still learning (and doing it all by myself at the high school ELA level in my district).  Because of this, students have a pretty good idea where they are at and what they really need to focus on.  So, when we got to talking about this specialist idea, we realized that perhaps we could take a reverse specialist approach.

You see, if students are at an 80% right now in Personal Ideas and chose to specialize there while others took their strong categories, then the student will likely continue to do well.  This could easily mean another 80%.  Thus, they simply reinforced their current assessment, their mark hasn’t improved, and neither have they.  However, if students chose their weakest category or two to work on, they could save time by not having to complete the work in the categories they are capable of and instead focus on the categories they need to improve.  This way they learn more and improve their grade.  It’s differentiated learning designed to help a student learn in the area they most need it.

As I reflect on this now, I can see some potential issues that arise (plus a fallacy in logic–assuming students can’t improve in areas they are already doing well in–My main argument AGAINST grades just snuck up and bit me in the butt–of course they can continue to improve; even if they are already at 100% at a grade 10 level they can improve beyond that.  But our recent focus is improving weak areas, so that was my focus.)  There are going to be some issues here, but I’m willing to work out the kinks after they have a day to recognize the kinks.  In the meantime, there’s no harm in having them work on a project they’ve had a say in.  If anything, it could benefit them:  Thursday we can critically think through the process and see what kinks did appear.  Then we can solve them together.

This is an example of how, even in a grades focused learning system, teachers can still differentiate learning, allow learning to be engaging and meaningful to students, offer more or less choice to students depending on their needs, work to improve 21st century competencies, AND STILL cover the government curriculum.

I’ll see how it goes, reflect and blog about it, and grow from the experience.  Feel free to take a look at the project and let me know what you think.  Agree?  Disagree?  See some flaws that need fixed?  Let me know!

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Two Birds, One Stone: Critical Thinking and Collaboration Activity

Is my blog post title impolitically correct?  I reside in Redneck, Alberta where killing birds is pretty common-place.  You’ll live (Even if the birds don’t!)

I went “old school” today, which is odd for me, as anyone who knows me knows.  I used to push tech; now I’m open to students preferences. But today I forced pen to paper in order to make my point about the need for critical thinking and collaboration in our “learning community.”

I’ve taken to calling my ELA 10 class a community.  The students laugh at me but are slowly beginning to mimic me, even if it’s facetious for now.  I want students to believe that a community of learners will benefit them so much more than a class of students.  My goal for the class from the start of the term has been to build their critical thinking skills (see here), and now I want them to begin on collaboration as a critical thinking strategy.

My lesson today was designed around having students believe that collaborating together can actually benefit them by aiding them in their critical thinking.  For a bit more background into the current assignment, see this post and the end of this post.  Essentially, I want to move away from “essay” writing and replace it with more authentic “proposal” writing.  There are some major similarities, but there are also many significant differences. In order to do this, I am using a real life proposal straight from the desk of President Obama a mere 3 months ago.  The proposal deals with reducing gun violence in order to keep kids and communities safer.  The stated context of the proposal was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting this past December.  My students watched a powerful 15 minute news video produced by ABC to gain the needed context.  We discussed the tragic event, vented our outrage, and they brainstormed a list of 6 proposals individuals or groups might make in light of this event.

Today’s lesson introduced them to the proposal from Obama.  All we focused on for 80 minutes was the ~250 word introduction that contained a fantastic title, 3 paragraphs, a numbered list (the ideas), and a clear statement of purpose (the thesis).  I read the intro to them complete with appropriate emphasis and emotion (stopping to add some humour to the class with a photo to “explain” the 2nd Amendment of the American Constitution (We are Canadian, so it’s not common knowledge):

Bear Arms

Then the real learning began.  I slowly and carefully explained (and reexplained then drew a picture to visualize the explanation) what I wanted students to do:

  • Take out 2 blank, lined sheets of paper (What if I use a notebook?  Then tear one out and leave the other in.  Can I use my iPad?  No, this needs to be paper today. Can it have other stuff on it?  No, blank sheets, please.)
  • Today you will be completing a critical thinking activity and should come to understand that asking questions is encouraged rather than criticized.  Hence, I don’t mind your questions at all . . . but they should be thoughtful questions!
  • When I tell you to, you will skim back through the introduction.  As you skim through, think of two questions you would want to ask The President if he was here right now.  Keep in mind these questions should make you sound smart and thoughtful rather than, you know . . . (. . . like we actually are Mr. Groff?  No, no.  You are all smart and thoughtful and you’ll prove it today.)
  • You will write down your two questions on both sheets of paper, at the top, nicely, not all huge and stupid like, like the grade 11’s insist on constantly doing.  (laugh laugh laugh) [but they all got it right].
  • Again, once you have your two questions, you’ll put them both on both sheets of paper. (So both my questions go on both sheets?  Or question one on one sheet and question two on the other?  Both on both.)
  • Here, let me show you.

2 paper example

  • Okay.  Do that now.  [It took a while.  I warned them to keep their work covered and private because if their neighbour has the same questions as them their lives will soon get very difficult.  Students struggled to think critically and come up with two thoughtful/insightful questions to ask The President.  BUT they refused help.  They understood the task and insisted that I do NOT offer them a suggestion.  [Of course, I wandered the room looking over shoulders.] After most had their questions down, on both sheets, I let them get a drink and relax while the others finished.]
  • Now, listen carefully.  When I say “go” I want you to pass ONE of your sheets to the person on your left. [They are in a semi-circle, all community-like.] (Which way is left? That way [picture me pointing left].  Which sheet?  I don’t care, choose one.  Maybe the neatest one. If you have one in your notebook, pass it and keep the loose page.  But then people will look through my notebook.  I want to pass the other one. No you don’t.  Trust me.  And they won’t have time to look through your notebook.  Do I need to put my name on it?  No, you don’t.  What?  Just trust me.
  • When I say “go” I want you to pass one sheet to the left, the neatest, or the one in your notebook.  Left.  That way. [picture me pointing left . . . again.]
  • Then, read the two questions on the page you get.  So Jimmy is going to get up and take his paper across the gap in our circle (I have to get up?  Fine, I’ll take your sheet over) and he’ll get a sheet from Sarah.  Jimmy is going to read Sarah’s two questions.  Then he’s going to reread his own two questions–the ones on the extra sheet of paper he kept (Oh, that’s why we wrote it out twice.  Yes.  Wow! You really thought of everything.  Yes. Yes, I did.)  Then he’s going to determine whether Sarah’s questions are different than his, or the same.  If they are different, he’s going to write his two questions out on Sarah’s paper.  He’s. Going. To. Write. HIS. Questions. On. HER. Paper.  IF, they are different.  (What if they are the same?  [Ignore and continue]) If Sarah has one, or both questions the same as Jimmy’s then Jimmy gets to think up one or two more questions to add to Sarah’s sheet. (Oh, no.  It took me forever to think up the first two.  This is why I told you not to copy your neighbour’s questions.  I didn’t.  Then likely you’ll be okay.)  When you’re done, do nothing.  Sit back and relax.
  • Ready? (Yes) Any more questions? (No)  Gopher! [students begin to pass papers until some laugh and chide their friends because I didn’t actually say “Go.”  [They get their papers back] Goal! [same] Goat! [groans and no movement] Go!!! [And they do.]
  • [Sit back and watch the work happen.  Critical thinking and collaboration everywhere.  First they thought critically about the introduction of the proposal, getting to know it better without realizing it. [Not the real point at all.  I couldn’t care less how well they understand this text–but understanding will happen regardless]  Then, they are considering whether or not their neighbour’s questions are the same as theirs. (Mr. Groff, I think this question is the same, but one of the words is different.  Let’s take a look, but I bet you’ll be writing a new question.  Oh, nope, okay.  The word that is different actually changes the meaning of the question.  “Reduce” and “Eliminate” are not the same.) [A couple more close calls happen but in every circumstance the questions are slightly different in their meaning.  Stop the class and mention that they are now understanding the importance of word choices.  It is critical that you use the best word to get your message across accurately.  [unintended learning] Write a draft, then go back and rethink your word choices.  You often won’t be there to explain that you meant one thing but mistakenly wrote another.]
  • Now, pass the paper you received to the left again.  Keep yours, but pass the one that isn’t yours.  (Why don’t you just say “get ours back again?”  Because Rick, you need to learn your left from your right.  You don’t want yours back. [this one didn’t really happen, thank goodness!]
  • Repeat what you just did.  Read the four questions on the page you just got, the last two should be the same two you just read but not necessarily if your neighbour had to write a new question.  If any of the questions are the same as yours, you need to write a new question.  If all four are different from your two, add your two to the list to make six questions.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat
  • [Before the end of class, have students collect their original paper, which now has 10 or more questions on it.  They will know which is theirs because the first two questions on it will be the two questions they have on the other sheet in front of them.]
  • So, how many of you had to write new questions at some point. [Very few hands]  Isn’t it interesting how you struggled to come up with two questions from a 250 word introduction, yet most of you came up with different questions?  Were any of the questions terrible? [No, they weren’t.  They were all acceptable questions, many were thoughtful, and a few were insightful.]  Sharing your work with others, and getting to see theirs, can truly help you see a text or a situation from a different perspective.
  • As you walk out the door today, you’re going to throw one of your sheets in the recycling bin.  I don’t care which one.  That choice is yours. [Stand by door and recycling bin and watch students throw out the sheet with only two questions on it.  Nod in agreement and save their rationale for tomorrow’s class.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content Knowledge Vs. 21st Century Competencies: The Battle Begins

I had an interesting conversation today with @tstarkey1212 that began with a question from @appeducationfox regarding how to respectfully reply to teaches who don’t have time for tech with students, and ended with me questioning the dichotomy of knowledge and competencies.  And the battle between content knowledge and21st century competencies was spawned.  The conversation spanned a few different educational areas but these two focuses (knowledge and competencies) continued to be in opposition to one another.  For example, we “debated” which focus would provide students with better future prospects; whether or not a content focus creates students who expect answers rather than students who discover answers; whether or not competencies should be the focus of education; and whether or not content is only beneficial for standardized tests or whether it serves another function.  Each of these ideas kept coming back to content knowledge being at odds with 21st century competencies.  By the end of the conversation, I think both Thomas and I had some points to reflect upon.  This post is the result of some of my reflection.  I know I will have a lot more to do on this issue.

My journey into 21st century competencies is summarized here, along with some of my concerns with how we are evaluating students.  I have a hard time separating the use of standardized tests from what our current education system is.  I see the tests as the main focus for the government and, unfortunately, for many boards, admin, and teachers.  Whether my teaching focus is on content knowledge, as mine was for the first several years of my career, or on 21st CC, as the latest several years of my career have been, these standardized tests have been the bane of my teaching.  I don’t understand how the Alberta PATs (grade 3,6,9) and DIPs (grade 12) relate to what I’m teaching.  I know the “what” is the curriculum, and that this is also used to create the PATs and DIPs; however, where I teach my ELA students that writers write from a personal desire to express themselves and readers read with a personal context (I find new meaning in texts every time I reread them based on personal context) the standardized test expect students to identify “the correct” multiple choice answer as determined by a group of expert ELA teachers, in a timed test situation, without the option to read and reread or discuss or research or defend their answers.  For me, these tests are the epitome of “Content Knowledge” as opposed to critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and contextual information.  One of the questions Thomas asked during our Twitter conversation was “Do you find that teachers where you are equate knowledge with ‘stuff needed to pass standardized tests’?”  My answer was a resounding YES!  I know I do.  I believe that in order for my students to do well on these tests, they need to strictly focus on the knowledge-based questions they will be asked, that they must be taught NOT to think for themselves or to bring themselves to the texts they read.  And I’ve refused to teach that.  Of the five major ELA General Outcomes, the diploma exam focuses on two, and barely scratches a few of the “less important” (IMHO) outcomes of a third.  Curious as to what has been left out?

  • Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to explore thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences.
  • Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to manage ideas and information. (inquiry and research)
  • Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to respect, support and collaborate with others.

What’s left out are the hard-to-assess-with-a-standardized-test-non knowledge-outcomes.  What’s left out are the outcomes that ask students to think for themselves, to inquire and question, to collaborate.  What’s left out are the outcomes that begin to address what students need to be able to do in the 21st century.  So my answer to Thomas today was this:  “The fact that inauthentic standardized tests exist, perpetuates a negative equation of knowledge to the test.”  I believe that the very existence of these tests suggest that testing is the point of knowledge.  This is what our students come to believe, and many teachers as well.  Teachers teach to the test.  The test focuses on a small portion of the curriculum but is used to rank districts, school, teachers, and students to the tune of 50% of a grade 12 student’s final grade.  Teachers prioritize the curriculum to try to determine which outcomes are worthy of focusing on (for the test), suggesting that the other outcomes are not necessary.  The standardized test sacrifices competencies for the sake of inauthentic assessment of content knowledge.

My conversation with Thomas has led me to question how I truly view knowledge. What if I got my wish and inauthentic standardized tests simply vanished from existence?  Would knowledge then be given a place of honour in my teaching practice?  The obvious answer is “Of Course!”  I teach ELA because I love ELA.  I crave a well-written text, characters who make me cry or cry out in rage (though if anyone else is around I’m only crying because there’s dust in my eye), poetry that can make me see the beauty in our all-too-often selfish world, and persuasive texts that make me question my perspectives.  I relish the opportunity to create these texts myself.  I NEED to be able to share these passions with students.  It’s why I wanted to be a teacher.  I shudder to think that my students may not see the necessity of boasting of the knowledge of how to correctly place a semicolon in their writing, or that they lack the knowledge to comprehend an allegory from Greek Mythology.  I will admit that knowledge is not merely a requirement for career paths but also for witnessing the beauty of the world around us (and for you math teachers *yuck* I can now begin to understand your abhorrence with me for not knowing my multiplication tables–perhaps I’ll cherish the opportunity to gain this knowledge just as a means of self-improvement). For this realization, I owe you a sincere “thank you,” Thomas.

Coming back to a reality that still worships inauthentic standardized tests is hard for me, but I love my job, so I am forced to ask myself how I can continue to hold knowledge in high esteem while not falling into the traps set by testing.  I think the answer may be found in ending the battle between content knowledge and 21st century competencies and finding some common ground where the two can work together.  I do believe that much of the knowledge we expect kids to know can be “looked up.” However, I also believe that we can’t be looking up everything all the time or we risk looking incompetent (likely because we would be).  Consider this video shared with Thomas and me by @appeducationfox.

What would this video look like if the job candidate had been educated in a solely 21st century competencies classroom?  Would it really be that much different?  Reading and writing skills would suffer, basic mathematical equations would be time consuming, and science concepts would be unknown.  Clearly the two must work together.  I also believe that knowledge is tied to testing in the minds of students, even though it is the basis for life-long learning.  Education has become (or maybe always was) about testing and specific career prep.  In recent years we’ve tried to tell kids that school is about learning, but we haven’t separated it from the traditional methods of education.  The result is students who are beginning to hate learning.  I speak here from experience with my own children.  They used to love learning and school.  Now they view learning as something that should only happen at school (which every year they dislike a little bit more).  Just the other day, talking with my son at home about using his iPad more for learning than for games, he retorted that learning is done at school and home was the place for having fun.  I was repulsed.  Learning should be a life-long activity, embraced at every opportunity.  Learning should be fun.  My son has separated the two, and I blame a content-focused system that doesn’t value learning as a life-long goal but rather as a levelled activity, grade by grade.

So how can knowledge and competencies work together?  Where is the common ground?  What do our students need?  I’m sitting here thinking about what practical application this is going to have in my classroom when Easter Break is over.  I know I need to put some more emphasis on the knowledge, not that I haven’t been teaching it, but to actually make it more obvious to my students.  They need to understand that knowledge is important.  However, I also need to make it clear that it’s not knowledge OR competencies.  Everything we’ve done all term is still important.  I also think that I know exactly how I’m going to do this.  Before the break my students handed in a (more) authentic assessment task.  The focus of this task fit in with an ongoing term-long project where students are creating a meaningful opinion to share with others.  This assessment task was meant to highlight the importance of understanding the purpose of the writing.  Ironically, looking back at the project and rubric, this focus was not even mentioned.  Sure, we discussed purpose and studied a few texts with this focus.  Yet, my assessment of this task was 100% on 21st century competencies, linked back to the curriculum, and not on the knowledge I needed my kids to know:  That purpose will be shown through the presentation choices they make.  Skimming through their work, I know this is a problem already.  I received a few letters, and many academic essays, all of which seem to have the purpose of stating/explaining/defending a theme song choice for the film, but the presentation does not match the purpose at all, nor is it authentic to the situation.  I failed to put enough emphasis on the knowledge that was needed to produce authentic work, choosing instead to focus on the competencies that were needed.  I will need to correct this major oversight on Monday and use this work as a rough draft.

As a conclusion, I’d like to quickly share a chart from Alberta Education’s proposed Curriculum Redesign.  I’d like to discuss this shift in much more detail sometime soon, but for now, this visual depicts what I believe should be the common ground for knowledge and competencies.

curriculum shift

While the content-focus is lessened, so is the prescriptive curriculum and summative assessment.  What this means to me is that the knowledge the students and I deem as important (local decision making) will lead to greater depth of study and formative assessment.  There will be less focus on testing and more focus on learning.  This should benefit both sides of this battle!

The Dangers of Not Blogging Our Failures

Are all other teachers perfect?  Am I the only one making mistakes?  Should I really be allowed to teach kids (let alone teach other teachers)?  Some days, maybe a lot of days, I feel like everyone else has all their ducks in a row while mine are flapping about everywhere as though they were badly wounded.  And some days I feel like a badly wounded duck.  Some days my students act like they are badly wounded and I can’t get them back in a row.  And now that my simile is breaking down horribly, let’s move on.

I know the title of this post refers specifically to blogging, but that’s only because the people reading this are bloggers, or at least online learners.  In reality, most of what I have to say will relate to the dangers of not sharing our failures, no matter what form that sharing might take.  This post was inspired by a recent conversation I had with another learning coach in my my district.  I’m not sure how we got onto the topic at all because sharing failures isn’t something that happens too often, but I remember specifically stating, for some reason, that I felt I would be fired from this particular position next year.  To my surprise, my colleague admitted that she had been feeling the same way.   Now, we both knew that these feelings were unwarranted:  We were specifically chosen for our position because we are qualified to hold them, and our administrators often confirm the job we are doing.  But this is typically the case for most of us, isn’t it?  We know we are qualified, even if we don’t feel qualified; we know we make a difference, even if we rarely see it; we know we are on the right track, even if we sometimes fall down.  Yet we often feel alone in our failure.  The way I see it, we need to share our failures, and failing to do so is dangerous for a few reasons.

1.  Failing to share our failures leads to discouragement.

If individual teachers believe they are they only ones who struggle, it’s easy to become discouraged.  It’s hard to look around yourself and think that everyone else is perfect because their stories are full of success and advice.  This happens often on blogs, but also in our staff rooms and at conferences.  Of course, it makes sense because we like telling stories with happy endings, and we like inspiring others.  We feel insecure sharing mistakes, and I believe we think that sharing failures will lead to discouraging others.  However, it is more discouraging to believe that we are the only one who fails.  I wonder if this plays a big role in why stats are so high for teachers leaving the profession in their first five years teaching.  Do they look around and feel they fail more than anyone else?   My school, a K-12 with approximately 210 students, recently had 5 new teachers come to us.  All are in their first few years of teaching.  We only have 16 teachers in the school, including these 5, so they make up a significant percentage of our staff.  These teachers have made such a huge positive difference in our school climate and we are lucky to have them, but there are certain times through the year when it’s noticeable that being a new teacher takes it’s toll.  I’ve talked with these teachers and have heard the discouragement they feel from time to time, and it’s tough to hear them say that they can’t wait until they get more experienced and things get better.  I remember thinking this.  It hasn’t happened yet though.  Things haven’t gotten better for me.  I don’t think they do if we are continually pushing ourselves and if we refuse to become complacent.  I still have trouble keeping up with my marking and planning.  I still have lessons that go horribly wrong.  I still can’t believe how I’ve let my kids down after learning something eye opening from someone else.  But I rarely share these failures with others.  I rarely let others know I’m not as perfect as I try to appear.  And this failure to share is discouraging other teachers in my school.  Going back to my conversation with the other learning coach, after we shared with each other, we both expressed a sense of relief that we were not the only ones feeling inadequate.

2. Failing to share our failures leads to not learning from our own mistakes.

When I feel that I’m the only one failing I tend to have one of a few reactions.  If I can, I will quit.  A few years ago I was interested in kayaking.  I went out to the Grande Prairie kayaking club’s open night at the pool to get more involved.  Now, I’d been out a bit before with my brother who was also a beginner, but in that pool I was surrounded by people who knew what they were doing.  I’m pretty introverted, and it was a big risk for me to even show up there by myself.  I felt out of place.  I felt inadequate.  I felt like the only one failing, so I left and didn’t go back.  It was easier to quit than it was to face my mistakes and learn.  Other times when I feel that I’m the only one failing, I will ignore my mistakes and focus on something I’m doing well.  I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m not as good as others so it’s easier to forget my shortcomings.  This doesn’t help me learn and grow though.  Another common reaction when I feel like everyone else is perfect and I’m struggling is that I deflect fault.  When I make excuses or blame others, however, I am refusing to accept responsibility for my mistakes and to learn from them.  The opposite is true though when I realize that others struggle as well.  I take responsibility for my failures, confront them head on, and persevere until I’m successful.  Rather than feeling like I am inherently flawed, there’s a sense of challenge for me when I realize that things are difficult for others as well.

3.  Failing to share our failures leads to others not learning from our mistakes.

This one is pretty straightforward, yet it should be a compelling reason to share our failures.  A common question in education is “why reinvent the wheel?” One answer to this question is that often times we are left with no other choice.  It is not good enough for us to simply share our success with others while ignoring the process of failures it took us to arrive there.  IF I become a blogger who sticks with this practice and begin to share my success story with others and tell them they should be blogging as well, but I don’t mention the many failed attempts I made at blogging consistently and the reasons for those failures, then others who try to live up to my example will have to figure out solutions to these same problems.  Some of these problems have included:

  • not knowing what to blog about (failures would be a good suggestion, read what others write about and share your own opinion, successes, something you recently learned about . . .)
  • not having time to blog (I cut back on my tv watching, I construct piecemeal using the Notes app on my phone when I have the time then pull it all together)
  • not knowing how to get started (I talked to others to figure what blogging was, attended sessions about it, trial and LOTS OF ERROR, Googled answers to issues)

I’ve started and stopped blogging several times, due to the problems above.  Sharing my “success” with blogging without the struggles I ‘ve had won’t help others learn from my mistakes.  We need to share our failures, the steps to solve those failures, then the success we’ve had.

4.  Failing to share our failures leads to not utilizing the assistance of others.

Again, this seems obvious, but how much bother could we save ourselves if we were willing to share our failures with others?  I’ve told this to my students many times, “I can’t help you if I don’t know you have a problem.” (Let’s ignore my poor understanding of the fact that part of my job as a teacher is formative assessment and that I should know they have a problem.)  Others can’t offer their assistance if they don’t know we are struggling.  There is a wealth of knowledge out there and people who are willing to help us if they only knew we needed it.

5. Failing to share our failures leads to turning others off.

No one likes taking advice from a know-it-all.  When we fail to share our failures we set ourselves up as perfect in the eyes of others, and the consequence of this is that others begin to resent us.  We all know no one is perfect.  We all know there are no easy answers.  We all know.  Therefore, people become suspicious and wary of us when we set ourselves up to be experts.  Personally, I prefer to listen to speakers who humanize themselves rather than those who set themselves up as experts.  It turns me off to be sitting in a session with someone who feels they are better than me (I know you are already, so help me learn rather than preaching at me).  When people come to read our blogs, are they turned off by how we present our ideas, or do readers feel a sense of connection to other us as learners?

I believe we need to be more open to sharing all of our stories with each other, not just the successes.  We need to come together as educators and create a community of learners rather than an expert vs. learner hierarchy.  Failing to share our failures will lead to some dangerous consequences, but sharing our failures with one another will lead to all of us becoming better teachers for our students.