Friday, 22 July 2016

3250 Digital Project Review - Poster Sessions

John Boulton's digital project on poster sessions was well organized and thorough. His material had a natural flow that moved through the definition to examples to a comprehensive checklist of steps for follow through - all supported by the concrete example of John's own classroom and techniques. 

He appeared to grasp the concept with authority and understand its benefit. I feel like it is often a struggle in a classroom to balance giving students the freedom to choose the nature of their assignments so they are comfortable showcasing their best, and giving some insistence to  practice skills in which they feel less confident so those skills are strengthened. I liked John's inclusion of a general topic (air flow) all students had to know, with the freedom to choose some aspect of this concept. The student-centred learning model empowers the process and fuels engagement because we all work hard at things we care about. 

I wondered if the checklist was complete -- this was a handy slide, should viewers want to take notes, but there may have been room to add the final concepts such as what to do once the class is divided, what kinds of follow up exercises to conduct, how to finish the classroom presentation component, etc.

Overall, I thought this was a great project and enjoyed its simplicity and thorough, natural flow. Take a look for yourself: 

Lip Service a Disservice

One of the discussion forum posts on Assignment 2 looked at Praise and Feedback -- are these inextricably linked? Is one necessary for the other to exist? The concept of praise and feedback was tied to emotional investment in another person and the way people are more likely to be kind or give back to us if we have invested some kind of kindness in them. Called the emotional bank account, it is most clearly demonstrated when one parent asks a child to do something and the child does not; another parent asks and the child responds with compliance. The parent who was granted compliance has clearly made more "deposits" into the emotional bank account by way of involvement, interest, time spent, or emotional connection.

But does praise really fall into the well of a deposit into the emotional bank account? Does "You're the best, Johnny!" really count as an emotional investment? I don't think it does. In fact, I think it does the opposite. In minor sports where I have been a volunteer coach for six years, I find kids who struggle and have their parents on the sidelines saying they are the greatest never, ever improve. They know they are not the best because their performance is a clear indicator.

However, kids who struggle and are taken aside to learn or relearn basic skills with clear (even if not always positive) feedback become so heavily invested in the process they become champions of positivity for the team. They don't even realize the feedback was critical -- in their minds they have something concrete to connect with, a chunk of information that they can call their own, access at will, and use to improve their game.

Besides feeling a bit disingenuous, praise is often misused in children's classrooms to defeat motivation and interrupt the development of concentration. It is so inherently difficult to watch a preschooler complete a task without chiming in, "Wow!" or "Great job!" or "You are so good at that!" Really, we should watch quietly and say nothing, allowing the task's completion to be the reward. Maria Montessori said, "When dealing with children, there is a greater need for observing than of probing," and she extolled the virtues of concentration as being more than a study skill; rather, she believed it was an essential, deep process that shapes a person's lifelong character: "The first essential for the child's development is concentration," she said. "The child who concentrates is immensely happy."

There is also strong evidence that praise lessens effort, as evidenced by studies into whether success results from raw talent or from the desire to learn, coachability, and intrinsic motivation. This article on the importance of the correct type of feedback explores the pros and cons of praise versus feedback and gives some great examples of ways to foster learning in people of all ages.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Motivation Mantras

I am a firm believer in life, action, accomplishment, and more or less everything being about the journey, and not the destination. The destination is lovely, don't get me wrong, but it is the passion and commitment, the adventure and heartbreak, the strength and fortitude we garner from the road to accomplishment that changes us deeply and as human beings. 

Whether we are chasing physical, emotional, financial, or educational goals, we are bound by an unwritten covenant with the universe that says whether we like it or not, this process will fundamentally change us. We can choose to see the change (or ignore it) and make decisions about what this means moving forward in life and the Big Picture.

In instructional strategy, I think it is important to remember that every step of the way is a step into change, and every question, comment, and revelation has two purposes -- its immediate context and its Big Picture ramifications for the person experiencing it. For instance, a student may devise a brand new way to approach a subject, and this approach changes the discipline he is studying and indicates his critical thinking and exploratory skills are evolving. Another student may fail miserably at an experimental theory, proving 1. her theory needs work and 2. she can experience failure and know she has the resilience to recover. 

As important as it is to understand the academic theories around what engages and motivates students, it is also important to think Big Picture about the journey to edification, the way process is progress, and the decision to continue and choose your attitude is the type of deeper learning that lasts a lifetime. 

Check this video out. I am not overly excited about the Hollywood imagery and gigantic weightlifters grunting for the camera, but I suppose their journey is as valid as anyone's. My suggestion, however, is to listen to it without the imagery first in order to grasp the meaning without thinking it only applies if you can bench press your accountant. 

The talk in this video is great because it encourages respect for the process and affirms the way choosing to move forward in whatever we are doing is an important and meaningful step. I don't mean to over dramatize the learning process; my point is just that we can learn so much about guiding others if we maintain perspective and realize every momentous, challenging, and committed step in the journey is valuable.