Tuesday, April 01, 2014

What's the Main Idea? Bla Bla Bla

I have for years found the question, "What's the main idea?" unhelpful, inauthentic, and downright sinister and damaging.  OK, that might be a little over the top, so let me give you three details to prove my point! Actually, don't look for those details because you won't find them.  What I find is that authors don't write to make just one singular point. (unless they are writing nauseating textbooks sold for millions of dollars to school districts)

For example, is there a main idea in Romeo and Juliet?  There are themes a-plenty, but not a main idea with a singular purpose.  Sure, you could summarize the boo,  "Two confused teenagers (sorry redundant adjectives here) fall in love against family's wishes and end badly".  But, is that all that William Shakespeare was trying to get his readers to understand and appreciate?  Hardly!

So,  if we shouldn't ask about the main idea and supporting details, what should we ask?  Well, first of all it is important to know that articles and texts often make claims and back those claims with evidence and examples, therefore it is important for students to know the difference between a claim an evidence that backs up that claim.  As for how to get students invested in the author's intent,  Vicki Vinton wrote an excellent post about an Expeditionary Learning lesson on Esperanza Rising.  In the comments of that post, she posed the following question:

I’ve been finding that it really makes a difference if we ask kids what they think the writer wanted them to understand, versus what’s the main idea or the important details.

This questions causes the reader to consider that there is an actual human being directing the scope and purpose of the text, who might actually be trying to tell them something important, interesting, or even entertaining.  It also allows for a much richer discussion that will not simply contain that one perfect answer that is residing inside the questioner's head.  What do you think?  What are the questions you ask to get students to engage with a text and more completely understand what the author was trying to accomplish. In case my thinking was unclear, maybe this will help.

The main idea of this blog post was.

A.  Main idea is an illusion fostered by the Platonic school of philosophy
B.  Textbooks are written by robots
C.  Vicki Vinton - one smart lady
D.  Questions are kind of important

Monday, March 03, 2014

Feedback is a Gift, so Spread it Around

A colleague recently gave me some unsolicited, direct feedback about my poor facilitation skills, and I'm not gonna lie - It hurt!  Actually, I'm very grateful as it helped me reflect on behavior that I had NO IDEA was going on - and I consider myself a reflective fellow (he said, humbly").  However, this reminded me of a quote that Russ Roberts of Econtalk is fond of quoting from Richard Feynman, "The most important thing is not to fool yourself, and  you are very easy to fool."

As a Principal, I give a lot of feedback and getting a taste of that feedback makes me want to give direct and clear feedback to others more and more.  True professionals want to improve their craft and get better and they will only benefit from honest feedback provided in an environment that is safe and supportive.   I will definitely press forward to give clear, specific, and actionable feedback to others and gladly solicit that feedback for myself.  

Sunday, March 02, 2014

From Chaos to Clarity

Chaos, multitasking, overwhelming, Television and Social Media, Inbox NOT Zero
7 open books, 17 open tabs on Chrome, 15 active windows on desktop
Open loops, indecision, Watching, Tweeting, Superficial
Divided Attention, Weeds, Choking, Distraction
Pruning, Cutting, Prioritizing, Eliminating
Choosing, Saying No, Humility
Audience of One
Totally Present

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Assessment and Better Running Times

Thanks to the encouragement of a former colleague, Gavin Kelly, I took up running about 5 years ago and have enjoyed the many benefits to my physical and mental health because of that regimen.  About three years ago I ran my first Half Marathon and ran a respectable 1:57.  Being somewhat competitive and goal oriented, I set out to improve my time through training.  One of the tools I used was an app that could track my pace and speed as I ran.  When I first used this tool, it would blurt out my pace every mile as I ran and I quickly realized that this was completely destroying my running.  I was over emphasizing speed, enjoying my runs less, and losing some enthusiasm for running.  

Therefore I would turn off the alerts and simply run my prescribed distance and only check the rate at the end of a run.  The end result.  Three years later, I have continued to train regularly (approximately 3 times a week) and focused on the deliberate practice of short, fast runs during the week and long, slow runs on the weekend and my most recent Half Marathon time was right around 1:50.  

This got me thinking about the benefits and detriments of assessment during times of deliberate practice and the discussion that Doug Reeves started on antecedents of excellence in his book The Daily Disciplines of Leadership.  I'm more convinced now that when students are engaged in purposeful deliberate practice in many academic areas, assessment might actually get in the way of the usefulness of that deliberate practice.    When I ran, I DID have certain mile or time goals in mind, but I rarely focused on the speed and rate of my running.  

Once I got to the race, however, I turned that reminder back on and was able to modify my pace as I ran to reach my target race goal.  However, I was only able to monitor and adjust my rate because I had put in so many hours of relaxed running with less concern for time.   I think students will have more confidence and success on their summative assessments if they have logged in the prerequisite practice without the overemphasis on scoring and perfection.  My take away is that we need to be thoughtful and intentional about what we measure in students' deliberate practice so as to encourage the type of practice that will benefit their learning goals and maintain their interest and engagement in the work. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Focus is What I'm Thinking About

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cnast/

 We've been thinking a lot about what our focus should be at Camarena. I have pushed "digital literacy" which failed to take hold because of its uncertain definition. Since getting input from our entire staff, I've been reading about critical thinking and habits of mind and want to take a stab at clarifying my thinking to this point.

 Could we have a focus on clear thinking?

 What do I mean by clear thinking?

 Thinking that begins with an inquiry - a question. That question is followed by observation and the ability to make sense of a problem. This searching includes the ability to listen empathetically to a variety of viewpoints and make associations with past ideas and interconnect concepts from different fields with the end result of being able to construct viable arguments around the question as well as critique the reasoning of others. After undergoing this discovery process, our students should communicate their thinking with clarity and precision. The final stage of clear thinking involves reflection and revision as necessary.

 Having said all that, it would be very challenging to focus on every aspect of this process.

Make Sense of Problems
Listening Attentively
Construct viable arguments
Critique others
Communicate with clarity and Precision

 So, Where do we begin? It seems to me that we need to begin with the skill of inquiry. We need to become experts at asking great questions and teaching our students how to ask great questions.

Will such a focus allow us to go deep? 

Will this focus allow us to connect this skill to all content areas?

 Is this focus measurable?

 Is this focus worthy of our efforts?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

We have slowly discovered that our most effective goal is to be best at certain things. We now try to get our people to help us work out what these things should be, how to define best objectively, and how to become best in our selected spheres. You would be surprised at how motivating this can be. James Brian Quinn quoted by Peters and Waterman in In Search of Excellence
Of course, this is one of the same conclusions that Jim Collins found a few years later in Good to Great. These companies decided they could be the best in the world at something and pursued it. Steps two and three are very important 2) Define best objectively and 3) Actually become best in our sphere. These are questions that deserve thought, reflection, and above all, action!

Flexibility in Organizations

I think an inflexible organization chart which assumes that anyone in a given position will perform exactly the same way his predecessor did is ridiculous. He won't. Therefore, the organization ought to shift and adjust and adapt to the fact that there's a new person on the spot Fletcher Byrom quoted in In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman
Peters and Waterman begin their study on excellent American companies by explaining why the rational leadership model of the past was no longer the most successful model in the late 20th century. Successful companies allowed individuals to make their personal mark on the organization instead of following a script from their predecessor. There are still remnants of the command and control model within ourselves and within our organization. Focusing on purpose and meaning will help us all get to the core of what needs to be done and allow us to pursue that path with the gifts and style that most suits us.