Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Mastery

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The idea of practice, not mastery has been on my mind a lot these past few days…so it’s only fitting that its part of our #EduroChallenge. I first started really reflecting on this idea of practice, not mastery a few years ago when I started doing yoga. My wife and I had a deal. I would try it five times and after five times if I didn’t like it, I could quit. Well, after the fifth time I just kept going and the more I went the stronger I got, the more flexible I got and the better I felt. I’m now to the point that I can tell when I have not been doing yoga. My body lets me know.

What I love about yoga is it’s called your “Yoga Practice”. There is no mastery in yoga everyone in the room is practicing, getting better, pushing themselves and their bodies in ways that fill right to them that day and in that moment. I’m never going to master the perfect downward dog or crow…..but each day I practice I get a little better, a little stronger. Some days are harder than others, but you have to practice if you want to get better.

One thing I think we need to get better at is talking to students about practice and the importance of continuing to practice. We all look at our heroes and wish we could be like them. They make their craft, whether it be cooking, baseball, soccer, racing, football, etc look so easy. When we watch our heroes in action we get to watch hours upon hours of practice. None of them became the best at what they were over night…what you don’t see when you watch TV or a sporting event, are the hours of practice it took to get there.

I’ll often have people ask me how I went from classroom teacher to consultant to edupreneur. The answer…practice. I forget sometimes how long I have been doing this. Over 1000 blog posts here, over 100 podcasts there. A company here, here and here, and countless conversations, video chats, and trying stuff out in the classroom. I have been practicing this since 2000 and I’m still practicing it today. We call it the “Teaching Practice“. That’s what teaching should be…..we’re never going to master it. We’re always looking for new ways of reaching that child, or that child or trying this new strategy out. That’s what excites me the most about the Eduro Learning Micro-Credentials we’re launching. I get to help teacher practice, practice with them, and be a part of the journey.

My wife and god-daughter running along the Seattle waterfront

This all hit me again earlier this week when I was running. I’m always practicing when I run. I’m focused on my form, on the way my feet land. I know the only way I’m going to keep up with my wife (who out ran me the other day by a minute a mile) is by having better form. According to RunKeeper which I use to track my runs. I have logged 506 runs since I started using the app in 2008. That sounds like a lot of practice and it is. That is why us going for a 3-mile run is a short run, and a 6 mile is standard. That didn’t happen over night. I still remember thinking a mile was a long way, then two miles. Now running 3 miles is just what I do and running 6 is hard…but totally doable.

How do we instill the mindset in students that life is about practice, not mastery? That learning is about practicing and that practice will lead you to know more and practice more. How do we get to a place that practice means do, not try? Practice is what we do, not try to do.

“How many of you have done the 18 minute, right before class, copy and paste, plagiarized, bullet point, turn and read off the screen PowerPoint Presentation? Be honest.”

Every hand in the room goes up.

We know it as educators, kids know it as students. The presentation really is about finding information, putting it on some slides, add some transitions and then telling the rest of the class what it is you found.

Then there is the audience who is suppose to take notes on the information. A.K.A. copy the bulletpoints in bulletpoint format onto a piece of paper. Because there is so much learning in copying words from the slide to paper….NOT……and of course as you are busy copying the words you’re not listening to what the presenter is saying…not that it matters they’re just reading the words off the slides anyway. 

 

Pecha KuchaWhat if there was a different way? What if the presentation was a story, a journey, an in-depth look into some aspect of a book, a time period as told through images and the research of the storyteller. What if the preperation of making the presentation was about learning? What if it was about crafting a story and understanding a topic to the point where you could stand and without notes, without bulletpoints tell your story. 

That’s exactly what I’ve been working with in partnership with one of our high school English teachers. Let me give you the outline.

Students in 9th grade English are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. A classic read for many students in high school. To help students understand the novel and the time period in which it takes place. Each student researches some aspect of the 1930’s. Students are given a list of topics or are free to come up with their own. Some topics include, Adolf Hitler, Fascism, The Great Depression, FDR, Women in 1930 America. 

Students have free range to choose a topic (Autonomy) as long as they can tie it some how to the book, or how this might have affected the characters in the book in that time period. 

Once they have chosen their topic and had a conversation about the angle they are going to take with it and how it ties to the book, they are set free to research (Mastery). 

The Purpose is to craft a story on how or why they feel their topic ties to Kill a Mockingbird

Students use a modified Pecha-Kucha format. Because of timing instead of 20 slides 20 seconds a slide. We went with 15 slides x 20 seconds for an even 5 minute presentation.

Time Period: 2 Weeks (including 2 weekends)

Why a Pecha Kucha:

  1. Equality: Every student gets exactly 5 minutes. No 3-5 or 5-7 minute presentation. Everyone gets 5 minutes to tell their story.
  2. Style: The style of a Pecha-Kucha which is very much telling a story through pictures allows students to think both literally and symbolically about the pictures they use to tell their story. The focus is on the story not the slides. The slides act as a visual representation of the story and are not the story themselves.
  3. Content Knowledge: When using the Pecha-Kucha format there is no faking content knowledge. Students need to know their content to a depth that they can stand and deliever a story using pictures as a visual trigger to the story telling process.
  4. Examplars: Using the Pecha-Kucha.org website students have a vast array of examplar presentations to learn from and get ideas from. 

Assessment:

Because telling a story is all about whether or not you made your point, the audience (students) rated each presentation right after it was given. We created a form in Google Docs. Kids would listen to the presentation and takes notes. Once the presentation was over and as the next presenter was setting up the students would fill out the rubric on the presentation, hit submit and get ready for the next presentation.

Questions on the rubric. Answered on a 1 – 5 scale of 1 = Stongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree

  • The presenter has answered the ‘so what’ factor effectively
  • The presenter has a clear thesis statement
  • Vocal features (tone, pace, volume) are present
  • The presenter has used visual images symbolically and has linked them clearly to the thesis statement
  • The presenter has utilized eye contact and not referred to notes
  • The presenter has provided a handout with sources and a Works Cited page
  • The presenter has shown creativity in their use of Pecha Kucha (15×20 – 5 mins)
  • The presenter – answered questions from the audience with confidence
  • Comments to the Presenter

Use of Class Time: The research and the creating of the actual presentation where done outside of class. Class time was used to teach about creative commons pictures, creating compelling presentation, research skills, a clear thesis statement and answering the “so what” factor as the presentation related to the book. In other words class time was used to teach skills and context of the presentation. (Reverse Instruction)

Student Reaction:

  • Hate it: A lot of work for 5 minute presentation. (Love it!)
  • Hate it: Had to come up with my own topic, just tell me what to research. (Love it!)
  • Hate it: Finding pictures and thinking about how they fit with my story was tough. (Love it!)
  • Like it: I really learned what it was I was researching and in some cases ended up going in a different direction then where I started.
  • Love it: Being in the audience you really had to listen and figure out how the picture tied to the story. 

Teacher Reaction:

  • By far the best presentations I’ve seen from kids hands down.
  • The bump up in learning was amazing.
  • Watching some kids who struggle in class shine blew me away.
  • Will never go back to an “old” presentation style for this project again.

Lastly invite every administartor you know to come in and watch. You can’t help but listen to a couple of these presentations and go WOW. The level of learning, the content knowlede, the creativity and use of pictures is far beyond what even I expected. On top of that some of the angles students took on their research and how they believed it tied to the book was far beyond my own comprehension. Kids are at all different parts of the book as they read To Kill a Mockingbird. More than once students were caught whispering to one another “I haven’t gotten to that point in the book yet…..I need to get reading.” The teacher, loving the format and the learning he was seeing also did this same process with 11th grade IB students. What they produced was college level thinking and the depth that some of them with their thinking can’t be put into words. Simply an amazing project that I believe has changed both classroom practice and student knowledge for years to come. 

dan pink drive book
 

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Dan Pink’s new book Drive and thinking about how this applies to education and the work we ask students to do. My wife recently took 10 Middle School students on an Operation Smile trip into the mountains of Thailand near the Burma boarder. The Middle Schoolers spent their time playing the kids who came there to get surgery done. It’s a moving experience…the kind that shapes you as a person. When the students get back they are given one assignment…..reflect on your experience.

Autonomy: Take as long as you need, and use the media that you want. Purpose: Share your experience with others. MasteryYou can reflect anyway you want: Essay, blog post, video, presentation, etc.

One student decided to write an essay that I hope she decides to publish on her blog….it will bring a tear to any eye. And then there is Brian. The lone 8th grader on the trip who decided to express his emotions and reflection using video. I get asked by teachers how do you have students use media and make it a reflection not just a retelling of what happened? The answer, I believe, is in giving students a purpose. A meaningful purpose to reflect that is bigger than a grade, or an individual assignment. Yes…I’m going to make you go to Brian’s Blog to view the video in hopes that you too will be so moved by his creativity and message that you leave him a comment or pass along the message of Operation Smile to others.