Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What I Learned Today: Failure

Kevin Kelly at Wired.com recently interviewed Fred Brooks, the author of The Mythical Man-Month.  During their conversation, Brooks answers a question from Kelly about being "frank" with himself:

"You can learn more from failure than success.  In failure you're forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe that everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all.  Failure forces you to face reality."

I think a powerful reason why intelligent people don't succeed is the fear of failure, when failure can really teach us how to succeed.

I often see students fear failure because they are more focused on the "A," the symbol of learning, than the learning itself.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What I learned Today: Poetry

A Poem by Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting  
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What I Learned Today: What if Intelligence is not Fixed?

Many of us grew up with the notion that intelligence, being smart, is a set thing in our brains.  We're either smart or we're not.  We look around us and see some people are smarter, some can do math easier than us, some seem to do well in all subjects.  We had the notion that if we had to work harder, then we weren't as smart as someone who didn't need to work like we did.

But what if this is wrong; what if we can get smarter?  What if I helped my students see that if they get something wrong, it isn't because they are stupid, it simply means they need to work harder, ask for help, practice more.  If students accept this notion of intelligence, then getting smarter is under their control.  Intelligence as a set characteristic is a tendency of the West, while intelligence as pliable is an Eastern tendency (Japan, China, Korea, etc.).

Here's how I've adapted Willlingham's cognitive principle: [Students] do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work (p. 170).  Willingham blends both Eastern and Western notions of intelligence.

Why do intelligent people not succeed? (lack of motivation is one reason....).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What I Learned Today: Rubrics

I'm about to co-teach a class on critical thinking and I've been reflecting on what I will be doing differently in the class this year.  One thing I do more of is create rubrics.

1. I am co-teaching this class with a colleague because there are nearly 40 students.
2. I've learned a lot about how to use a rubric to give students guidance as they figure out the assignment, and give me a grading guide post.

Rubrics can be complex (with columns for Beyond Expectations, Meets Expectations, Below Expectations), to simple:  (this assignment has the following expectations: Uses APA formatting: is typed, double-spaced, has a cover page, 12 point font), includes a minimum of 5 days, includes at least 4 paragraphs (a paragraph has at least 4 sentences)).

This is more of a guidance than a grading rubric, but my department has settled on a standardized writing rubric for grading papers.

The book I've used that has helped me create my own rubrics is Introduction to Rubrics by Stevens and Levi.

I had to laugh when I was working with my colleague on the expectations rubric for  I told her that I couldn't believe we had to describe the number of paragraphs and what how many sentences were in a paragraph.  "Back when I was in school, I would have known what a paragraph was," I grumped.  "We shouldn't have to do this."

Maybe we shouldn't have to but it's amazing what gets turned in when I'm not that specific.  Last year for a reflective log that was titled Daily Exercise, I was amazed to get several assignments that were not done DAILY.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

What I Learned Today: How to be a Better Teacher

From Willingham's Why Student's Don't Like School:

To be a better teacher, one must: (1) Increase space in working memory (chunking, making process more routine, so that other things can be thought, i.e. once we've learned how to drive, we don't pay as much attention in working memory as we did when we first were learning), (2) Increase our relevant factual knowledge about teaching, and about our subject area, (3) Increase our relevant procedural knowledge.

To be a better teacher you must practice (some teachers level off in practice and skill after 5 years or so...

Practice means:  getting feedback from a peer, doing things not related to the task (exercising, eating well), watch teaching tapes of others, comment on tapes (yours and others), bring one new thing back into the classroom.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

What I Learned Today: Why Intelligent People Fail

Among a list created by Sternberg, R. (1994). In Search of the Human Mind. New York: Harcourt Brace:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Fear of failure
  • Procrastination
  • Wallowing in personal difficulties
  • Misattribution of blame (when it goes well, it's due to our actions, when it doesn't go well, someone or someone else is to blame)
I claim ownership to all of these reasons, in my personal life and as a teacher.  How about you?  Add to the list?

More info can be found here

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What I Learned Today: Unknown Unknowns

I've been reading Errol Morris' 5-part essay on not knowing what we don't know.  The technical term is the Dunning-Kruger effect: our own stupidity hides our ability to know we're stupid.  The classic example they site is of bank robber McArthur Wheeler, who thought that putting lemon juice on his face would make his face invisible from video cameras...

We say that one mark of an intelligent person is that they know what they don't know, but how is this possible?

Perhaps the smartest thing Donald Rumsfeld said was "There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns.  These are the things we do not know we don’t know."

Morris decides: "Using the expressions “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” is just a fancy — even pretentious — way of talking about questions and answers.  A “known unknown” is a known question with an unknown answer.  I can ask the question: what is the melting point of beryllium?  I may not know the answer, but I can look it up.  I can do some research.  It may even be a question which no one knows the answer to.  With an “unknown unknown,” I don’t even know what questions to ask, let alone how to answer those questions."

How can students recognize the differences between known unknowns and unknown unknowns?

Monday, July 05, 2010

What I Learned Today: Opinions vs Facts

"You are entitled to your own opinion.  You're not entitled to your own facts."  Attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, or James R. Schlesinger.  This is often flung about when debating matters of faith versus matters of science.

What are facts?  Can science provide us with facts? (a bee beats its wings 200 times per second). What about history?  (Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743).  Do facts change?  Are somethings we think are fact later found out to be not facts? What if a fact is false?  Is it no longer a fact?  Does fact imply truth?

To say that "human beings are complex creatures" is that a fact or an opinion?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What I Learned Today: What do You Want?

Henry Ford's quotation: "If I'd have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse,'" means that people have trouble envisioning what they really want and have trouble recognizing the importance of new things and how they can make a difference.

I wonder what the implications are for the classroom? Students may need some examples or guidance before they can really answer what they want from the class or their educational experiences.