Thursday, January 29, 2015

Seeing engagement... and success

A student teacher observed my mastery-based class today.

(Most students were working on their Gattaca responses or cancer prevention posters, while a couple were wrapping up previous assignments.)

What most impressed him, he said, was how engaged the students were.

That's funny, because that has been my biggest concern. In the absence of external motivators like hard deadlines and constant threats of point deductions, I worry about how to motivate and engage my students.

But this student teacher's viewpoint is encouraging. It validates the fundamental philosophical foundation of this whole approach: provide autonomy, opportunity for mastery, and purpose, and that will produce engagement.

And it made me realize something: Sometimes all I see is my failures. I envision the "perfect" classroom, and I focus on the shortcomings, problems, issues, and challenges. I hone in on what's wrong, and miss all that's right.

Not good. My students need to know how well they're doing. (And so do I.)

I did the same thing with their Gattaca responses. My first response was to notice what they missed--what they didn't do, instead of noticing the way they all authentically engaged with the content in their own way.

My perfectionism rears it's ugly head more often than I would like. And it is kind of ugly. Though it does have a few redeeming qualities, I'd rather focus on (and enjoy) the good stuff.

And for goodness sake, Bill, this is working. They are working. They're enjoying the class. They're learning. And that's what's important.

It may be a bit messy along the way. Some targets may be missed. A few vocab words may fall by the wayside. A few details forgotten. A few minutes spent playing fantasy football when they should be working. Who cares. More will be spent learning to enjoy learning.

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