January 11

Voice

A year ago, I dipped a toe into improv performance. Then dove in. More on the backstory another time. My thoughts today are on voice.

The diverse group of players I practice and perform with often use a variety of accents to help define their characters. Regional, continental, whatever comes to mind.

I feel more than a little inept at accents, but have begun playing with different voice registers. In practice some weeks ago, I dragged out a deep voice, as deep as I could make it. The reaction of my scene partner was startled shock. I used it on stage recently, which elicited chuckles from the audience, and some playful behavior on the part of my scene partner.

Last night at practice, I decided to use as shrill a voice as I could muster. It brought the house down. (My throat still hurts today.)

Sound Wave Voice by CSTRSK shared under a CC0 Creative Commons  license.

These experiences caused me to think about “voice.” We often speak of finding our voice, and encouraging students to find their voice. Which is valid and true.

Now I’m thinking we all have many voices. Even everyday interactions support this conjecture. The way we speak to a baby is very different from how we address our colleagues. Not only in the tone we use, but also the vocabulary and formality of language structures.

All of our voices have different things to say, and provide us with opportunities to explore different facets of who we are. What remains constant is the throughline, our authentic self.

January 9

Team Formation

In Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, Tim Harford discusses heterogeneous vs. homogeneous teams. He cites a 2009 study where college students were given the task of solving a murder mystery problem. Some of the groups were composed of four friends, others included three friends and a stranger.

The groups that included a stranger were much more effective at solving the mystery. 75% of the time, they came to the correct conclusion. The homogeneous groups correctly solved the problem only 54% of the time, while people working individually were successful only 44% of the time.

Interestingly, Hartford writes, the participants in the heterogeneous teams “didn’t feel very sure that they’d gotten the right answer” and “felt socially uncomfortable” [p. 50]. The homogeneous teams “had a more pleasant time” and (falsely) were more confident they had found the right solution. In other words, the team members’ perception of how their team performed was out of sync with their actual performance.

The diverse teams were more effective, but that is not how things seemed to people in those teams: team members doubted their answers, distrusted their process, and felt that the entire interaction was an awkward mess. The homogeneous teams were ineffective and complacent. They enjoyed themselves and wrongly assumed that because their friendly conversation was smooth and effortless they were doing well. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford, p. 50.

The debate about team formation in K-12 education continues to thrive. In this Edutopia article, Ben Johnson argues both sides, but ultimately concludes students blossom more in homogeneous groups. In 10 Reasons to Use Heterogeneous Teams, Dr Spencer Kagan argues for only heterogeneous groupings.

In education, we often look at grouping through the wrong lens, wondering how effective it will be to put students with different abilities in the same group. My hackles raise with the term “ability,” since it is based on a questionably valid definition (and data) as to what “ability” means. It also assumes a steady state, in other words that a student will always have the same level of “ability.”

One way #PBL (project-based learning) shines is that it accepts (just like the #realword does) that each student has different assets to contribute to a team. When (heterogeneous) teams are formed, the key to success is in identifying which role(s) fit each member of the team based on their unique talents and skills. As they succeed in the given role(s), students develop confidence and a growth mindset, the understanding they have the power to become ever more accomplished learners.

January 7

Unfocused Attention

I’ve been feeling totally unable to stay focused, that my attention divided in so many directions that in the end nothing gets done. In addition to teaching my #PBL classes, I am working on some micro-credentials. My husband and I are also planning a cross-continent move in the next six months. And, since we have lived in the same home for 18 years, there is major decluttering to be done!

Tim Harford, in Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives reassures me that “…having several projects may seem distracting, but instead the variety grabs our attention - we’re like tourists gawping at details that a local would find mundane…” [p. 28]. He further states, “…while we’re paying close attention to one project, we may be unconsciously processing another…” [p. 28].

Which is perhaps what led to using picture books in my literature and storytelling class this past week. As I document here and here, I’ve been reflecting on how experiences with books and reading at an early age gives kids a huge advantage in their future success in school (and life!). Not only does reading with our children provide them with exposure to and modeling of the reading process, it creates a positive emotional connection to books and reading. As this Washington Post article points out, it also helps them become “empathetic citizens of the world.”

Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world

So, I should not have been surprised when my teenage students expressed such glee when I assigned them close reading of picture book biographies. Perhaps they are also feeling the nostalgia of their younger years, being read to by a caretaker.

January 4

“Digital natives?” or something else?

I have been dabbling with Flipgrid this year, so far (mostly) successfully prodding students through one assignment. I asked them to develop and record two-minute biographical stories, choosing from a selection of well-known Eastern European leaders. Their recordings were then peer reviewed by their classmates and me. Based on the feedback they received, they were asked to revise their stories and re-record them.

The reaction to using Flipgrid has been mixed. Some students embraced it, others completed their assignments begrudgingly. When I have asked them what they dislike about Flipgrid, I get responses such as “I liked writing the story, but didn’t like recording it,” “I don’t like my voice,” etc. What most of the reluctance seems to be tied to is discomfort with communicating using this app.

What I find surprising about this reaction is that these same teens are fully launched on apps such as Snapchat, where they communicate with their friends through a video medium, complete with goofy stickers and other embellishments. (Flipgrid has a few of those, too.)

So, what is the difference? Do they perceive Snapchat as “not real?” Or is it because the Flipgrid assignments are “for real,” since the other students and I watch them and provide feedback? I don’t have a definitive answer on the reasons for the student attitudes, but I do know asking them to create Flipgrid videos is a good way to build their competence and confidence in communication.

There isn’t an online world and an offline world, there’s one world… ~ TEDxVictoria – Alexandra Samuel: Ten Reasons to Stop Apologizing for your Online Life

In this 2017 article, Alexandra Samuel debunks the idea of today’s teens being “digital natives,” and argues there are three different categories of technology users arriving in adulthood. She identifies them as “digital orphans,” “digital exiles,” and “digital heirs.”

“Digital orphans” have grown up with a lot of tech access, but very little guidance on appropriate use and consequences. Samuel sees this group as having a hard time meshing their online and offline lives, and in forming healthy face-to-face relationships.

The flip side of the coin is the “digital exiles,” who have minimal, limited access to online environments, highly controlled by their parents. Samuel sees them as heading in one of two directions when they gain access. Either they will go crazy with social media and find lots of ways to get into trouble online, or they will follow their parents’ teaching and become “neo-Luddites.” The question Samuel raises in regards to the second group is whether their day-to-day surroundings will be able accommodate their rejection of technology. (Have you tried booking an Uber ride without a smartphone?)

The third, and most balanced category Samuel identifies is “digital heirs.” They have had access to technology, combined with guidance from parents and teachers. They understand how to be responsible digital citizens. They have learned how create content across a variety of mediums. They will be prepared to navigate #reallife, whatever it looks like at the time.

Samuel’s assertions validate my belief that part of my purpose as an educator is to help students develop digital/media literacy skills. They also need practice with a variety of technology tools so that as they step into adulthood they will feel competent in #realworld responsibilities and careers.

January 4

Mind the Gap

At the end of each semester, I have my teen students reflect on the whole semester, their work, skills development, and my effectiveness as a teacher-facilitator. One tool we used popped up repeatedly as “disliked:”

“Not using trello, it didn’t serve us much purpose.”
“I learned how to use Trello, even though I don’t like it.”
“I like the course, I just really don’t like trello.”

As a project-based learning (PBL) practitioner, one of my objectives is to help students develop project management skills. This is one of the central elements of high-quality PBL. Not only are these skills useful for PBL, they are valuable in real life and the real world.

This is the second year I have integrated Trello into my courses. In prior years we used paper calendars to identify tasks and due dates. This provided some rudimentary information, but Trello provides much better depth, such as helping identify dependencies between tasks and flagging problem areas.

Trello by Wikimedia Commons shared under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

This is also the second year Trello has met with resistance from some of my students. As I think of ways to overcome this, I am reminded of one of the principles I learned last summer in the Bright Morning Art of Coaching workshop. Elena Aguilar has studied resistance in adults, particularly among teachers.

Aguilar’s general belief is that when people are resistant, it is not because they are unwilling, but rather that they have a gap in skills, knowledge, capacity, cultural competence or emotional intelligence. She has created a tool called “Mind the Gap,” which helps coaches identify the real reason people are resistant.

In the case of Trello, my hunch is my students have a gap in skills or knowledge. Although we do a low-stakes skills workshop at the beginning of the year, I suspect it was not effective for some students. So, back to the drawing board.

January 3

Read Aloud Already!

Returning to a subject I touched on in this post. I love books.I love reading. I read to my own children, a lot! I realize not everyone loves reading (sad face). Nonetheless, as a parent and/or teacher, it is highly important to read to children.

Reach Out & Read reports that reading aloud “[b]uilds motivation, curiosity and memory,” larger vocabularies (correlated to later academic success), and “[h]elps children cope during times of stress or anxiety.” In spite of these and a number of other benefits, only half of parents read to their children daily, and only ten percent read to their children from infancy.

Not surprisingly, children in poverty are read to less often than children not living in poverty. Regardless of the socio-economic environments our students come from, we need to read aloud to our students. As Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (one of my favorite resources) says, “[r]eading to children costs nothing! No matter how poor the community, it costs nothing for a teacher to read to a class. They take their library card, borrow a book, and then read to the class. Money has nothing to do with it.”

My last conscious memory of being read aloud to was in fourth grade. After lunch and recess. It was hands-down the best part of my school day. I delight in paying it forward.

January 1

Gists

There was a lot of chatter going on in my Twitter feed this morning, beginning with my friend Terry’s post “Let the Adjacency Begin: MYOB, Brightsiders!” Terry helpfully details his process for creating his short video. Sarah jumped into the conversation with her own “MYOB,” complete with details of her process. On the surface, one could declare that the two processes were different. However, in effect the processes are quite similar, it is just that the tools used were different. Kevin (as he is wont to do), decided to out-clever everyone and remixed Terry’s work with some additions.

In the meantime, in an adjacent conversation, Terry and I discussed real-life situations related to his post about this article, which describes some ways in which education and relevant learning are currently poles apart. After some yakking back and forth, and intertwined contributions from Ron and Sheri, Terry posted a #smallpoem about “précis” and “gist.”

I haven’t done much in the mix/remix arena for awhile, so decided to make my own creation, using pieces of Terry’s poem. My process:

  1. Upload an image to Canva.
  2. Add some text to the image.
  3. Download the result.
  4. Remove the text from the image and add some other, placing them in a different location.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times.
  6. Import the similar-yet-different-images into Movie Maker.
  7. Add some animations.
  8. Find free music to add.
  9. Publish.
  10. Upload to YouTube.
  11. Embed in this post.

 

January 1

Goodreads Finisher!

Phew, I did it. Finished my 100th book of 2018 just a few minutes ago. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, by Tim Harford, was a wonderful selection to end with. It was both different and broader in its scope than I expected.

I anticipated an analysis of messiness in the creative process, and how it leads to richer results. Harford does delve into that topic, and also explores a host of others. For example, how the German general Erwin (aka The Desert Fox) Rommel’s willingness to make “messy” tactical moves brought success. And how Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos’ willingness to “messily” sell what he didn’t have, and to buy toy merchandise at retail price from Toys R Us and Target to meet customer expectations, brought long-term success.

I felt particularly vindicated in the chapter that declares messy desks are actually more functional and efficient than tidy ones. Harford also substantiated my approach to finding emails, stating that “clicking through a[n email] folder tree took almost a minute, while simply searching took just 17 seconds.” [p. 240]

The final chapter of the book discusses a topic I’ve brooded about some. Entitled “Life,” it explores (among other things) the idea that “tidy” playgrounds are actually more dangerous, and far less effective at building positive human traits, than “messy” playgrounds which include things like fires, hand saws, and tons of rubbish.

A recommended read!

P.S. Online dating is a sham.