by Jean Prokott
Part of my classroom décor involves 8 ½ x 11 laminated prints of quotations, in color, that line like a 1990s-inspired wallpaper border. These quotes are about art, or education, or books, or our existential place on Earth, no big deal. I'm not sure the students notice them (perhaps when they zone out they'll take a glance), and, in fact, I forget them, too; they've become omniscient words of brilliance that mean something only when a body needs them to.
Not long ago, I needed a quote about education to jumpstart a journal for my philosophy students. And, like a student I'd jokingly **tsk tsk**, instead of observing my environment, I Googled "quotes about education," which led me to Pygmalion playwright George Bernard Shaw's: "You have learned something. That always feels at first as though you have lost something." It sounded familiar. I glanced up, and there it was in the wallpaper, written in Georgia font with colorful floral flourishes surrounding it. It'd followed me from classroom to classroom since 2009, when Georgia was still an acceptable font choice.
The line comes from Shaw's play Major Barbara, which is perfectly British in that it hits you over the head with themes of morality vs. materialism. Spoiler: in the end, utilitarianism wins.
If I sit with the quote, it takes different forms. To learn something is to lose naivete. Naivete might be synonymous with innocence, or childhood, or even nostalgia, which makes the loss heartbreaking. Shaw is suggesting the antithesis of ignorance is bliss. Instead, he says knowledge is worth loss. And/or he's saying loss is not loss. And/or: anti-intellectualism is bad. And/or: have you seen Pleasantville?
The quote reminds me of an essay I teach in creative writing that students often love, called "The Things I've Lost" by Brian Arundel. The essay explores the literal and the abstract things we lose throughout our lifetimes, how the small and the large can be one in the same. On Brevity, an education piece by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood notes, "[part of Arundel's essay] is largely focused on beliefs he has lost, and isn’t that the sign of wisdom gained through life lessons?" Wisdom comes from loss, because loss makes us grow; the holes that come from loss need to be patched, and quickly, with the sticky substance of knowledge, which is defined in many ways: grief, hope, intellect, power, reflection. What we've lost is just as much our personal identity, our autobiography, as the things we are or the things we've done.
While this allows for lovely existential reflection, there are ties to education as well--how we learn/lose and how our students do the same. When I showed one of Third Eye Education’s founders, Heather Lyke, the quote, she gave me a perfect response: It's not about "best practices"--it's about "better practices." We have to let go of what we knew was best to find the next best--often there is something better.
There was a time in history when teachers of yore were very excited about worksheets, how they would help students become stronger readers. (I like to think of this conversation: "No, no, see--I'll leave blanks and the students have to fill them in.") There are times when worksheets are great--the blanks are a metaphor for loss, I mean--but I think consensus is that worksheets should never do the heavy lifting. We know now students learn better when they are creating and questioning and writing their own worksheets. Research does not reach an endpoint. We do not say okay, we won research! That's a wrap! Everyone go home! We learn, ∞. This is social science and hard science in harmony. Think of how dull the field of education would be if we ever reached a finish line.
Looking further into the quote's diction, I interpret "learned" in a couple of ways. "Learned" could mean enlightenment, or a simple fact, or both. (Another quote I have in my classroom is Afred Lord Tennyson's: "knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." You can memorize the formula, but the wisdom is knowing when to use it.)
And there are the words "at first that feels like you've lost something." But you didn't actually lose, did you.
At the end of our metaphysics unit in philosophy (how do we know what is real, how do we know what is True), I show my students a web comic from The Oatmeal (author Matthew Inman) that explains the psychological response when our Truths are challenged. (As educators, when our best practices are challenged.)
The first line of the comic reads "you are not going to believe what I am going to tell you." In the following panels, Inman offers facts that help readers judge the "barometer" of their reactions. In the first example, he considers what most of us are taught: George Washington had wooden teeth. We begin on common ground. Then, he offers a new fact: George Washington not only had wooden teeth, but in 2005, the National Museum of Dentistry confirmed his dentures also included "horse and donkey teeth." (Inman calls it a "petting zoo of nightmares.") He asks us to consider the amount of "friction" we encounter after learning this. Generally, a reader would think wow that's nasty, but it wouldn't impact what they think of Washington. The final fact Inman offers: Washington's dentures may have been made from the teeth of slaves. This fact causes the most friction, and we must consider why. This knowledge stings: a founding father crossing the Delaware, a hero, did terrible things.
Inman explains our friction by means of science: "the part of the brain that responds to a physical threat also responds to an intellectual one." If something we've stood by in the classroom is challenged, we react in the same way we would to an alligator holding a knife or an administrator sending a vague email to meet him in his office. Our core practices are a house, and a challenge to them knocks the entire house down, implying we no longer have any practices. Thus, our amygdalas tell us to defend it. But wisdom says: build a new house. It's okay. (Inman offers solutions in the form of a pinky toe.)
In the perfect way it's supposed to, The Oatmeal's comic forced a metacognitive gag reflex in me, that I, too, have a house of comfort/knowledge. To build a house is a lot of work, and it's much easier to reject the new information. "At first," I feel as though I've lost my entire framework of pedagogy. I "learn" to rebuild again and again. This also could move beyond self-denial. If someone you value and trust helped you build your house, to let it fall could be taken to mean that person once lied to you, or betrayed you. While this is not the case, it is the response our brain offers. I train myself to understand that no, my second grade teacher Ms. Henderson, who taught me lies about Christopher Columbus, has not betrayed me. It was 1989, and school curriculum had a lot of work to do. ("In nineteen-hundred eighty-nine, some wrong school teachers told us lies…")
There's a lot at stake if you change your mind. You have to admit you were once wrong. At the start of the pandemic, scientists said masks weren't needed, and then they said we definitely needed masks. While some took that to mean scientists knew nothing about Covid because they changed their mind, most of us took it to mean they were doing their jobs, and it was saving our lives. That new knowledge meant Covid was more serious than we thought, which was scary. That stung. It'd be easier to say the scientists were wrong.
In a similar way, society considers a politician, or a political party, as wishy-washy if they change their mind or platform. It is ingrained in us that changing our position is in bad form. Honestly, I'd prefer a leader (a teacher, a boss) who changes their mind when they learn something new rather than a person who clings to old ideas for the sake of "stability." I'd rather be the teacher, anytime, anywhere, who realizes she was doing it wrong. There have been lessons I've loved that I've put in the back of the closet because fresh pedagogy renders them weak. In fact, transitioning back to in-person from distance learning has made me realize there are a lot of things that need to go. All educators (and the whole institution) had epiphanies during that time, ranging from the achievement gap and equity, to building student relationships, to changing a test question, and it would be a shame if we left those lessons behind. I, sadly, learned a lot about how and why students cheat, which breaks my heart, but now I've considered ways to make my assessments more personal. I've learned students don't define "education" the same way I do.
What I arrive at, with Shaw, and subsequently with The Oatmeal, is learning is hard because learning is changing. I don't care for change much--I eat the same thing for lunch every day (a breakfast sandwich, a yogurt, and an apple, if you want to follow the English teacher diet--it offers nothing beyond not having to think about it in the morning); I have a tattoo of the delta sign to remind myself change is the only constant and often get mad at the tattoo for being correct. A tattoo on my other arm is the Wallace Stevens quote: "it was snowing / and it was going to snow," from "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird." (It follows the line "it was evening all afternoon.") It is snowing forever, and in the process of the first forever another forever happens. You have learned something, you have lost something. You have shoveled, and there is more snow. The present and the future happen simultaneously. We are our best and we will be our best. This is what it means to be a lifelong learner, and this is what it means to lose.
By Gina Meinertz
As a leader, I have always avoided data. I know that sounds crazy.
We all know that we can’t make decisions without data, but every time I heard data analysis, goal setting, or SMART goal, I thought about someone else’s accountability for objectives and goals in someone else’s dream (or mission and vision if you want to use the 'correct' terminology). I would go into these meetings and learning opportunities knowing I would spend the time complying to the process without much excitement, action, or vision for how I would implement changes in connection to the data we were reviewing.
Then, along came an opportunity for me to help guide a data collection, reflection, and action-planning process for an area organization. It would be a way to give back and guide other districts in our region with their own MTSS structures.
My first response, internally, was the same as always, a little gag reflex and a deep breath, but then a "yes, I can do that."
I went to work learning about the Tiered Fidelity Inventory that the Minnesota Department of Education recommends. I learned how to give this inventory to other school districts and how to help these districts create an action plan from their data.
As I worked through this inventory in a few different systems, I started to appreciate how the data from this inventory was bringing each district’s story of collaboration alive. We were not just analyzing student growth, but discussing what processes and structures supported a productive team. The inventory used such depth and clarity, people who used to shrug their shoulders and say, “We do that,” started to question their system, their teams, and their data in new ways. They started to look at the patterns of their system to find specific ways to shift their system for the better. Finally, I was seeing data for the possibilities that it holds.
Many of you may already see it, but for those of you who don’t. Keep searching. You just have found the right data, reflection process, or personal connection to the data yet.
Here are a couple of things that I have learned about data once my fear decreased and my curiosity increased.
I am not in a place to call myself a data geek quite yet. But I am ready to share how I think you could find more meaning in the data you use. Here are three directions to explore:
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Know your strengths and interests. Then, find data that tells you the story that relates to your strengths and interests. For instance, I am a big picture and systematic thinker. By looking at data that was drilling down into specifics, I was missing the view that serves me the best. I need data that gave me a view of where we needed to be as a system and what we needed to do and change to get to our desired point.
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Data takes many forms. Many times, we feel like we only have one option, standardized assessment data, to guide our decisions. This is a great starting point, but we also need to be able to use other points of data to guide our decision making.
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I hope this quick read has convinced you to look at data with a new perspective, a curious one.
by Nick Truxal
The time has come. When Third Eye Education was launched, we made sure to include a link to make suggestions for future articles. At the time, we needed to test if the system would work appropriately, and someone on the team posted this anonymous suggestion.
“Like, what if you wrote an article about how good the Great British Bake Off was for educators?
We thought it was a fun joke, but as with many jokes, the more we thought about it the more the suggestion became an inevitable future article. With the launch of a new season of The Great British Bake Off (sometimes known as “The Great British Baking Show”), the time is now!
So, why is The Great British Bake Off great for educators? Here are three rounds of reasons!
The Signature Round
It Fixes You Up (“Solves” Burnout)
What can we say? High stakes relaxation doesn’t bring the heart rate down in quite the same way.
Repeatable at Home
Because Bake Off is something every single viewer can feasibly do on their own, it can build confidence to try out new skills in the realm of baking. Further, there is research to suggest that hands-on projects can boost mood for days to come after a successful outcome.
Speaking of successful outcomes, if baking does become a home enterprise, we can gain quick and easy wins in the form of cupcakes, breads, and eclairs. Once again, research shows that one of the very best ways to overcome burnout is through a series of quick, small wins. This can even happen just by watching the show and seeing the person you are rooting for progressing on to the next stage. Do keep in mind that students are also burned out right now, and finding quick wins for the classroom can be very useful for the culture of the class and the mental health of all involved.
The Technical Round
Represents Great Teaching
Clarity and Progression of Goals
The Great British Bake Off breaks each show into three parts: the “Signature Challenge,” the “Technical Challenge,” and the “Showstopper Challenge.” Each is clear in its expectations from long before the season begins. Furthermore, they build upon one another. The Signature Challenge can be practiced long in advance of the show. Contestants know what all Signature Challenges will be as the show begins, and they speak about how they practiced at home to get comfortable with their particular approach. The “Technical Challenge” is the “productive struggle” of the show. A chance to push the contestants outside of their comfort zones and force them to make connections between skills they’ve learned previously. The “Showstopper” is the final display - the representation of learning to the wider community.
As each of these challenges takes place, contestants get feedback in a variety of ways. During the signature challenge in particular, the judges will walk from contestant to contestant to give feedback about their planned projects. As soon as each bake is completed, the judges instantly give feedback. Study after study has shown that the most growth happens when feedback is done live or, at minimum, immediately after a skill has been practiced.
Choice & Community
Not only does each contestant get the structured choice of what they will bake each episode, they also have the opportunity on how to engage with their community of bakers. In the COVID era of Bake Off, contestants are put into a baking bubble where they can only interact with each other. This results in practice sessions being done with each other, advice being given, and bonds being quickly formed through this shared experience.
Models How to Adapt to Challenges
The Great British Bake Off has gone through judges, hosts, formats, and channels in its life on television. With each change, the audience is quick to point out that the show is doomed and life will never be the same. However, with each change, there returns a cast of people that clearly care about the direction things will take. There is an optimism that is infectious. There are, again, small wins in seeing favorite elements of the show continue on. In a world so full of change, it is great to see a show model how to successfully adapt.
So, thank you to whoever it was that jokingly suggested The Great British Bake Off for an article. It was a lovely exercise, and we look forward to the next article suggestion!
Ideas by Gauri Sood & Dr. Amit Sood, framed by Heather M. F. Lyke
Building trust, whether it be with students or fellow staff members, is foundational for learning and growth to occur. In our recent conversation with student Gauri Sood and her father Dr. Amit Sood, we explore five aspects that, when laid out and actively implemented, help establish trust.
Amit Sood notes that, “people don’t like you for who you are: people like you for how they feel about themselves in your presence.”
Plotting it Out
The Soods share five ways to build trust in such a way that people will grow to “like you for how they feel about themselves in your presence.” And, not surprisingly, these five fall into line much like the points found on a traditional plotline.
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Social Emotional Learning as a Collaboration
with Gauri Sood & Amit Sood | 9.28.21
Daughter and father, Gauri and Amit Sood (an international expert on mental health) speak to the team about collaboration with your audience as well as great mental health tools for teachers and students.
Dr. Amit Sood is one of the world's leading experts on resilience and wellbeing, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing, and the creator of the Resilient Option program. He has also authored many articles and books, including The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.
Gauri Sood is co-creator and lead trainer of HappiGenius, a Social Emotional Learning tool for young learners. She also serves as a member of the education committee for the Rochester Community Initiative and the Rochester Youth Commission, and she is the teen representative for Food Allergies of Rochester, MN. Gauri is a senior at Mayo High School.
Heather M. F. Lyke is the Teaching & Learning Specialist for Dover-Eyota Schools and author of numerous articles focusing on quality education.
My students have taught me an important lesson over the years that is a step beyond my vocabulary lessons. They taught me that words can be powerful. Words have power not only in the academic world, like my vocabulary lessons, but in the social and emotional world as well. Each word that is spoken has meaning. Even the most simple words, like “hello,” have meaning to both the speaker and the listener. The speaker has a meaning, but the listener may interpret it differently. Our words are powerful to our students, families, and colleagues.
Here is an example of where words matter.
As I was walking down the hall to visit a classroom, I noticed a student slithering like a snake down the hallway. I knew this student was not where he needed to be and that his teacher was looking for him.
My first thought was to say, you need to walk down the hall to your classroom.
Feeling like this was a demanding statement and one he may not respond well to, I decided to say instead, “You have great snake-like skills! Let’s think of another animal that walks on two legs that we can mimic as we head to your classroom.”
This is one example of how words can be powerful with adults too (not just our students).
“Ugh, Johnny is driving me crazy today! He just won’t stop tapping his pencil during math! I told him to knock it off and he wouldn’t!
What if you heard the teacher say this instead?
“Johnny likes to tap his pencil on his desk. I noticed it was bothering other students. So, I went up to him and said, ‘I bet you are going to be a fantastic drummer someday. Let’s practice drumming with your pencil at recess and I’ll give you a fidget toy to use until then’. He loved using the fidget and we finished the lesson without any more disruptions.”
The article “15 Ways to Bring More Positive Language into Your Classroom and School” from We Are Teachers provides a great infographic with examples of how to tweak phrases to be both affirming and positive.
The old phrase “think before you speak” is as true today as it was 20 years ago when I started my career in education. I hope you fall in love with positive and powerful words, too!
One day, after several spirited classes, in which school was starting to feel pre-pandemic normal, in part because I could see smiles in student’s eyes above their masks. I was congratulating myself for a great morning as I headed to the restroom where a quick check in the mirror necessitated a double take: right in the back of my carefully parted hair there was a Alfalfa spike, and it took some water to tame, so it had been there advertising my silliness all day, like the inflatable “air dancers” at car lots. I swallowed my pride and obsessively checked to be sure my buttons and zippers held the rest of me in place.
The next day, a less literal oversight occurred as I engaged my AP Lit class in an analysis of a provocative short story, Graham Greene’s “The Destructors.” (Quick synopsis: a group of young gangsters in post-World War II London destroys a thing of beauty. Utterly.) As we unpacked the piece, first in small groups and then as a whole class, our spotlight focused on one of the main characters, a boy called “T.” I pointed to a piece of textual evidence in which T behaves with kindness and empathy, which seems to run against the grain of his destructiveness. A student raised a hand.
Another blindspot! I’ve taught that story a dozen times, and I still missed something, not because I hadn't looked, but because I had--again and again; I’d looked so often that my view had become fixed, despite the fact that it was incomplete.
Dueck’s new book, like Grading Smarter, Not Harder before it, offers a wealth of research and classroom tested strategies for engaging students where they’re at and honoring their perspectives. Here are a few quotes from the book to chew on before we get into specifics:
- John Hattie, who wrote the foreword, argues, “Assessment is something we have done to students rather than with them” (ix).
- “Inviting students into the realm of assessment is linked to increased motivation, confidence, self-regulation, and performance” (6).
- “We need more testing but less grading” (89).
- “Why are so many individual educators, schools, or entire districts married to a percentage system when in the end they intend to report on one of five levels?” (123)
For students, these communication tools proactively circumvent embarrassing and deflating blind spots, and they provide empowering information to help students track their progress toward targets.
Some of his findings, summarized:
- Difficulty is desirable, especially when building long-term learning (81).
- Students learn more from an hour of testing than an hour of studying (84).
- Teachers and students need to distinguish between performance and learning, then lean into the latter (85).
- Immediate feedback may boost immediate performance but undermine lasting learning (86).
- Feedback too often provokes emotional reactions; we need to make sure it inspires cognitive ones (87).
- Grade inflation results when we confuse performance with learning (87).
- Event-based gradebooks are unreliable; grades must be standards-based (91).
- Students can and should track their own learning (92-99).
- Teachers need not grade homework (95).
- Pretesting may be more effective than retesting (98).
Yes, there are challenges there, and Dueck backs them with logic, personal experience, and recent, compelling research. Most importantly, he explains how to improve assessment practices: he includes classroom-ready materials for both elementary and secondary settings; he offers a detailed amplification of how to create and employ rubrics that function as learning tools by focusing on communication, as opposed to evaluation; and he makes and a persuasive argument for why and how we must revise grading practices to include student self-reporting and to escape from the imprecision. The tools he offers are substantial, timely, and actionable.
with Myron Dueck & Phil Olson | 9.14.21
Dueck triumphantly returns to Third Eye, this time joined by teacher Phil Olson, to discuss his new book and giving students voice.