Posts Tagged ‘change’

So, I’ve been thinking about change and being on the edge. I think about it because of my primary role as Director of Educational Technology, but also reflect about my affinity, or not, for it when I was in the classroom.

I am currently participating in CLMOOC 16 (Connected Learning MOOC) and Kevin Hodgeson posted a link to his blog post in the CLMOOC Google+ community. He included this image and quotation (from Howard Reingold) which got me thinking some more. Most of the schools I have been a part of have not been the out there on the edge kind of places.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 3.49.05 PMKevin commented that he has sometimes felt pressure to move away from the edge, if I am paraphrasing correctly. In comparison, as someone in edtech I am often encouraging people to come closer to the edge, to experiment, to try a small change. I lure them with food and prizes try to help see why it might be a place to visit some times.

Then I thought about when I was exclusively a teacher and at first was thinking, “oh yes, I was totally fine with change and exploring the edge.” However, if I am more honest, I was enthusiastic about changes that I wanted to make, edges I wanted to explore. I tolerated changes and edges that I was indifferent to, but changes and edges that I did not like, I did not exactly embrace. This is hardly unusual. And, because I was not opposed to exploring the edge in theory, I always described my opposition as opposition to the particular rather than the edge, but I’m not sure that is 100% true. I got away with it because it was clear that I wasn’t just putting my head in the sand, and I led change or exploring the edge in other areas. Sometimes I had to back away from the edge, or was asked to, just like Kevin.

Maybe what frustrates me is when folks are not interested in even thinking about what exploring the edge might mean. Or, maybe what I find frustrating is that this disinterest in change comes across as prioritizing teacher ease over student learning. Exploring the edge just because it’s there isn’t what I’m suggesting. What I do think is important is to remember that the context in which we are teaching changes regardless of whether we want it to, grant that permission, or pretend otherwise. If we do not change as well, not only have we not even investigated the edge, in our stasis we have moved farther from the edge not remained in place.

The flip side of course is equally frustrating. An institution filled with folks on the edges of all different ideas, strategies, and curricula does not look like a school program so much as it does the 3rd day in a row of indoor recess. Schools have mission and vision statements, strategic plans, and cultures to guide them and help to determine which edges to explore. And, they are big beasts that do not make quick turns.

Individuals exploring change in the midst of bigger institutions is a tricky business.

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Gwenaël Piaser:

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Gwenaël Piaser:

So, I’ve been reading and thinking about professional learning.

One of the things I did for my own learning last year was to take a Coursera course: E-Learning and Digital Cultures from the University of Edinburgh. (Link to next version) I’ve done other online courses and participated in this and that, but it’s been a while since I took a course that was this theoretical.

Not only was the course well-organized and filled with excellent resources, it was a good reminder that although there are many ideas about technology out there, there are theories and philosophies that help organize those ideas into groups and schools of thought. These philosophies and schools of thought have names, leaders, and followers. Even if some of the followers don’t know who they’re following, it’s good for me to put a lot of the commentary I am subjected to hear into a larger context.

This class was another way for me to step back and see the big picture. It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty of what accounts need to be made, who is having trouble with her audio-visual set up, and what will we do about computers and exams. However my job as Director of Educational Technology means that I need to be thinking about the bigger vision of technology use at school. How do we as a school want to view technology?  To which philosophy do we subscribe? What constitutes safe, ethical, and effective (Will Richardson‘s trifecta) technology use at our school? Are we as adults and administrators modeling this?

Since this digital culture is a new setting, it really comes down to how are we dealing with it. “Adapting to this new context of change, variability and uncertainty is the biggest challenge we are now facing—as educators and as people.”   (Marc Prensky “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom“) And yet Grant Lichtman makes the point in his new book #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education:

Change at most schools is not hard; it is uncomfortable. Sometimes it might be very uncomfortable for some people. It can be messy, complicated, and tiresome. Uncomfortable means making some tough decisions. But using the excuse that we can’t change schools because “it is hard?”–well, we need to get some perspective on the difference between hard and uncomfortable. (xii).

So whether we frame this as adapting to a new environment (a la Marc Prensky) or uncomfortable change (a la Grant Lichtman), how do we as individuals react? Do arrive ready to do battle with a powerful foe or do we come to a table to engage in conversation with a potential partner?

The more I think about it the more I think there is another theory is in play here. Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset seems very relevant. In education we think about this idea of the fixed or growth mindset in terms of students, when it comes to change in education, and technology related change in particular, the mindset of the teachers is the critical factor. Do we as teachers see ourselves as good teachers because of what we know and what we have always done in the classroom (fixed mindset)? Or, do we see ourselves as good teachers because of what we continue to learn and what we can add to our skill set (growth mindset)?

Is the future friend or foe?

I vote for friend. How will/am I preparing to meet this future friend? What am I doing to advance my own professional learning?

I think I am going to sign up for that Coursera course again. It’s starting soon. I think a second time around will help the material stick. Plus, I’m almost finished Grant Lichtman’s book and am going to get a chance to hear him speak soon. And, I’m thinking and reading a lot about assessment (read this book) and how to connect to self-reflection and digital portfolios (a favorite topic of mine) for a complete assessment package.

That should do it for me for a while. What are other people doing to prepare to meet the future and is s/he a friend or foe?


creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Matt Peoples:

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Matt Peoples:

So, I’ve been thinking about victories–small and large.

My school is in the process of transitioning to a 1:1 learning environment. Our middle school went 1:1 this past fall, upper school (high school) will be 1:1 next fall. One of the things I am responsible for is preparing our faculty and students for this transition. Really, faculty members are responsible for themselves, but I’m responsible for helping them help themselves. As you might imagine this is not all hearts and rainbows. However, I have a success story to share. It is not my success; it’s another teacher’s success. I am so excited for her.

She sent me this email:  . . . that was my first use of the computer that changed the experience for the classes!

So, here’s what happened. She tried something and her classroom was instantly transformed.

HA! No. That’s not how transformation happens, silly. Think again.

She has been testing out some new strategies and tools for a awhile. She has wanted to try things, and sometimes I have had to say, “No you don’t need another tool here. You need to think about your classroom goals first.” We have spent a lot of time talking about classroom teaching about writing, about whether google docs will make students better writers. (Spoiler alert-it won’t.) We talked about my class too, which has been really helpful for me.

It was mid-March when I got this email. This conversation has been going on since last school year. This year she really committed to making some changes from the beginning of the year. She has taken charge of her own professional learning–summer work, meeting with me, trying things. Most importantly, she has kept at it. Initially, we were talking substitution, maybe augmentation on the SAMR model *(See below for more info.) And, that was fine. Totally fine. Using technology is not always wow-y. Wow-y is possible, but it takes time to get there. A lot of time it’s not even possible to imagine wow-y at first.

If you look at the SAMR model, transformation is the wow-y level. Transformation consists of both the modification and redefinition levels. Modification is defined as tech allows for significant task redesign. Redefinition is defined as tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

So, if we go back to my colleague, she didn’t get to start above the line in the transformation zone. No one does. She had to start down there at substitution and augmentation. Looking back, she may even think she had to spend more time that she would have liked wading through those levels. I would say that part of what wading around does is provide time to get used to each step. There isn’t a set amount of time you have to spend at each level before moving on. It’s all personal. So, the more you engage in that thinking, the more you have those conversations and begin to be willing to look at your discipline differently, the sooner it is that you will get to transformation. You can’t get there by hopping on the train and waiting for the stop to be announced. Just like our students, we must work for it.

I think there are a lot of ways in which we aren’t that different from our students. Who doesn’t like a victory?


* The SAMR model is a framework developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura that helps teachers evaluate technology use. There are four levels of technology integration. First is substation, then augmentation. These are both in the enhancement group. Next are modification and redefinition. These two constitute the transformation level. Check out Kathy Schrock’s website for more info and a good image.

So I’ve been thinking about student engagement and empowerment. A few weeks ago I wrote about technology’s ability to add sparkle and perhaps encourage students to lean in to a topic. My original post was about engaging students partly because it began from some frustration with technology resistors. In particular I was thinking about folks who resisting tech integration on the grounds that technology adds fun and fun is bad.

I had some conversations with others, via the comments and Twitter, that are the basis for this post. In a comment of my previous post, Philip Cummings (@Philip_Cummings) made the very good point that engaging isn’t always enough.

I worry that too often we take stuff that just isn’t engaging to kids and try to infuse it with technology in order to engage them. For example, grammar drills aren’t going to become magically engaging just because you ask kids to do them on an iPad. Engaging learning is purposeful, meaningful, and timely to the learner. It connects with their passions and interests; the learners must think it matters (and not just for the test on Friday). My school is 1:1 with tons of technology-infused into lessons, but students still aren’t always engaged. The shiny might help for a little while, but I think it wears off fast.

I totally agree with Philip as I said in my reply to him. I was making a case, though perhaps not very effectively, for including technology as one of the ways teachers try to encourage students to lean in to a topic–as a hook to real purposeful learning not as a flashy cover for boring rote stuff.

Then on Twitter I had a conversation with Christina Brennan (@christybrenn) The key word in that conversation was empowering.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.22.16 PM

I think both of them were talking about the much bigger and more significant step of empowering students with technology. Again, I totally agree. (I was back there being frustrated about who was taking the very first step.) My big picture goals for students’ technology use include empowerment. Faculty believing that technology might help to engage students in meaningful work is a start and only a start. Setting a goal of using technology to empower students is much more impressive, important, forward-thinking, and interesting. And, let’s face it, maybe terrifying.

So, I started with the less threatening engaging. But is it less threatening a reasonable early step or is it a side step that doesn’t really get us on the path to empowerment?

So, I’ve been thinking about resistance, in particular resistance to integrating technology into class. Honestly, I think about this frequently. There’s the fear thing, the time thing, the kids-will-know-more-than-I-do thing. Another “thing” I’ve been tossing around in my head is the technology-is-fun-and-we-are-doing-serious-work thing.

CC photo by Paul Farning

CC photo by Paul Farning

I think there’s something about the trifecta of high level courses, high performing schools, and high-powered students that lends itself to all of us taking ourselves a little too seriously in the classroom. To be clear, I am very serious about education. By that I mean that I believe with my entire being in the power of learning and the transformative potential of students doing excellent work. I believe that students should work hard at school; it should push them intellectually; they should wrestle with ideas; feedback on work should be constructive, honest, and supportive. I think that all students should create work in many forms and actively reflect on their learning. I do not advocate “cute idea teaching” where projects that have no educational value but look great on the walls are the norm. And, in the same breath without contradiction, I am also all for a little sparkle. I want all students to lean in to whatever class they are in. Sometimes that pure form of a subject, however bright and shiny it appears to the teacher who specializes in it, does not look that way to the students. Sure we can take the attitude that “this is good for them,” like vegetables. However, putting our subject matter in the category of things students don’t like is probably not productive. Mixing in a little secret spice to (insert your favorite subject here) goes a long way in terms of adding appeal without watering down. If we can make what we know is good and worthy and valuable a little more appealing to the unconvinced would that be wrong?

In a recent blog post John Chubb, President of NAIS (National Association of Independent School) wrote about student engagement. He titled his post “Measuring what Matters: Student Engagement.” So, I’m thinking he’s all for student engagement just from that title alone. He references Ferris Bueller Day Off “Bueller, Bueller. . .” If that doesn’t make any teacher want to weep, I don’t know what will.

When I advocate using technology in class to increase engagement, I am never suggesting turning class into recess (see my point about “cute idea teaching” above). But, in some circles fun and even engaging has become a bad word, a word that means easy, not rigorous. Fun and engaging do not mean those things; I double checked. Helping students find a less intimidating and more engaging way into the material or discussion is not making the class too easy. It is meeting students where they are and moving them forward. If by sprinkling a little sparkly technology dust onto what we are doing I can get my students to lean in a little bit more, put forth some more effort, discover this topic is more interesting than they suspected, push them to think, super. I am not above a bait and switch.

So many teachers I know are great performers in class.  They will dramatize, use funny pictures, joke, anything they can to get help their students see the subject matter in a more possitive light. Why should that stop at technology? Technology is one more tool (actually many, many tools some of which will disappear just when you have fallen in love with them) to add to your bag of tricks. And, let’s face it creating the next generation of (insert your particular discipline here) scholars is not going to happen without students enjoying the subject matter and the work.

creative commons image by Flickr user Frog and Onion

creative commons image by Flickr user Frog and Onion

So, I’ve been thinking about what George Couros said in the Ed Leadership session of ETMOOC, which was last school year. I started writing something and then I really can’t say what happened. The thing about important ideas is they stick with you. Anyway, I’m back. So, George said, “the higher up you are the more responsibility you have to share…” He wrote a blog post about it too. Then I read an Edutopia post on a slightly different topic, but the author said, “you’re a leader and you’ve never heard of #edchat. . ?!” (I swear I read this, and I can NOT find it. The link just goes to Edutopia generally.)

Although my posts began as a rumination on change and where it can come from, really what it turns out I want to talk about is the dual responsibility of leaders to gather and share ideas. Everyone, in all professions, has some personal responsibility to keep up with his or her profession. And, there are times, years even (the baby years come to mind for me) when that is just not happening. While everyone might need a few break, it’s really not ok to get out of the habit entirely.

At any given time in a school there are going to be teachers at all different stages of their careers and professional learning. Totally fine. Not everyone needs to be out there learning new things every minute. It’s time to sit back and reflect on the ideas I’ve gathered. Personally, I find it tempting to keep gathering and gathering. I am a gatherer by nature and find it hard to resist more collecting, even when I have already gathered plenty. While all that gathering is helpful, it doesn’t come to anything until I act. I don’t have to act on the exact idea I gathered. It could be that what I collected reminded me of something else and then got transmogrified into another thing and is not even recognizable any more. But, the action I took was still inspired initially by that new learning I gathered.

When I run into that Goldilocks idea (just right, not too big or too small) it’s easy to get right to the action steps. I automatically find the time, have the energy, and have no shortage of enthusiasm for the work. No need to mess with what happens when all the stars align and inspiration strikes.

However, what about when inspiration doesn’t strike? What about when I have collected and gathered and left it at that? No action to show for my basket of sparkly ideas. I imagine I am not alone in this. I’m wandering and gathering over here, others may be doing the same on their own paths or may have wandered off. We may have even found a bench that got a little too easy to sit on. The view was good; there were plenty of snacks. Then a few people join the bench, a few more. Next thing you know it’s the Land of the Lotus Eaters and no one’s going anywhere. Where is our Odysseus, or lesser mortal, to shake us out of our stupor? Who will model action and experimentation not just dreamy collecting? Who will model sharing and reflecting? Who will be first to expose not only grand successes but thoughtful struggles and shifting ideas?

I think what George Couros and my mystery author were saying was that leaders have a responsibility to be out there first, to signal that it’s important to gather ideas, to try new things, to share ideas, and to stumble. They need not only to read and gather themselves but to share and make their thinking and experimenting visible. I would add that anyone can be Odysseus for a moment, can be that person who says ‘hey, time to get moving.’ The jostler may sometimes needs a little jostling herself in return. If we build and nurture a culture of professional learning, supported and modeled by our leaders, as George suggests, then we should be in good shape even without Odysseus, who honestly doesn’t get anyone but himself home in the end anyway. And isn’t this the point. It shouldn’t take a the efforts of Greek hero to maintain ourselves as professionals. It might take some good old mortals showing the way though.

So, I’ve been thinking about what makes for a productive visit for colleagues looking at 1:1 learning. I have visited four different schools this year with my colleagues. Each school has 1:1 laptop program yet there was wide variety not only in the schools but in the length of time they have been teaching and learning in this environment.

My conclusion: there is no perfect visit that fits everyone. Surprise. Just like Goldilocks, I was looking for the porridge that was “just right” for each person in my group. As the person bringing my colleagues, I was more anxious than I anticipated being. I wanted the school to look good, to show its best self, to reassure my colleagues if they needed reassuring, to inspire them if they needed inspiration, and to sing with them if they just needed a choir. Not too much, right?

Tourist Alert

Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Scazon

One high school we visited was honestly a mess. They do great things at this school, and I would be thrilled to have my kids there, yet neat and tidy are not words I would use to describe it. Also, we didn’t end up seeing a lot of tech use, which was why we were there. Turned out the colleague with me didn’t need that. He valued the experience of talking to the students and other teachers. He was taking a broad view. Phew.

We also visited a school that specializes in students with learning differences. Our visit there gave my colleagues some reassurance that the laptops did not need to be out all the time, that meaningful work was happening, and that management was doable. It also gave them the idea that class size of 10 would be great. Keep dreaming, my friends!

A day long visit to a very similar school where we got to talk to lots of teachers, administrators, and tech folks gave my colleagues some perspective on the journey of change and transition. It was helpful to hear from people in a very similar school. Plus, we got to see the students in action and talk with some of them about their experience. We lucked out in terms of seeing some classes that particularly resonated with my group.

Finally, a small group went to a local high school. We were in and out quickly, which meant that it wasn’t a huge time commitment, always helpful for teachers. As we walked around, there were computers in use here and there and it just seemed to be an easy integration. Plus, we got to visit 4 different classes where technology was being used very differently. What made it so useful was that several of the uses we saw were very reasonable for my colleagues. These were uses that made sense in the classroom and which did not present an intimidating model. They were doable now! And, given the super short drive, we could go again.

In all of these examples, one of the things that was valuable was the conversation during our travel time which ranged from 8 minutes to 2 hours. Each time it gave me a chance to put into perspective some of what we had seen, explain a technical thing or two, and listen as others imagined how something they saw might translate at our school. On each visit I also go a chance to observe what grabbed each colleague’s attention so that I can personalize my support for that colleague.

So, I’m thinking about all of these visits as I think about planning more experiences like this for other colleagues. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • If it’s not a big production with presentations etc, short and sweet is good.
  • Something needs to seem doable NOW to each person in the group.
  • Acknowledgment of teacher time and choice is important for folks to hear loud and clear.
  • The travel time can be important talking time for the group.
  • There is no perfect visit.
  • I would love it if everyone got to visit somewhere.

What do you find valuable when you visit other schools?

It’s true, I miss the kids

Posted: January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

So, I’ve been thinking about what I do and do not miss about being in the classroom.

Our beginning of the year bulletin board where our "say something nice" comments were posted after being read each Friday.

Our beginning of the year bulletin board where our “say something nice” comments were posted after being read each Friday.

I have been asked this question a lot lately. I always feel like people want and somehow need to hear teachers, especially teachers of younger students, say how much they love, Love, LOVE the kids. I’m a parent so I get that. While I have thoroughly enjoyed spending years with 10 year olds (and doesn’t that just put a different spin on it), I was never one of those elementary school teachers who just had to be with kids every minute. I think adults are just fine, better than fine even; I married one. I don’t think that anyone with whom I talk would doubt that I enjoy my students immensely. And, let’s think about that “spending years with 10 year olds” statement again. Sometimes it’s just time for a change. Anyone who has ever decided that a perfectly good skirt/shirt/sweater/tie/you-name-it that fits just fine is going in the donation pile knows what I mean here.

And yet, I do find myself missing the kids. A lot. In particular, I miss all the interaction and energy that a vibrant classroom community generates. Classrooms are living, breathing things. They have their own personalities that, if you are doing it right, you may have some say over, but are not totally dictating. It’s a surprise sometimes. You add the ingredients, shake it up a little, or a lot depending on how lucky you feel, and stand back. How great it that? Mostly. Sometimes the recipe is a stinker. It’s that energy and idea that any day could be one of those great days where you really feel like you are part of a group of thinkers that made me want to go to school every day. In some ways this year and this job are new enough that it sometimes seems more like a sabbatical. Time to think about what I have done, what I would do differently. Time to think about those big ideas and to think about the big picture and the long-term, which is part of what drew me to an administrative position in the first place. Now I get to the think about the big idea not just for me, or for 5th grade, or for lower school, but for the entire school.

Since I do miss those 5th graders, I plan on writing about some of our glory days together. There are many things that never got off the “write about this” list. I’m going to try to get through some more this year.

Context Change

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about the context of teaching. In the fall, I attended an ADVIS event at which Marc Prensky spoke. He’s the guy who coined the term “digital native.” One of the things that I thought was most compelling about what he had to say was his idea that people are not good at, and don’t necessarily like, the idea of change. People are good at adapting, as evidenced by our continued existence. With that in mind, he suggested that it is worth reframing the discussion to be one of adaptation to a new context. So he says it goes like this, “as the context in which we teach changes, it is important to adapt.”

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 2.37.36 PMThen over winter break I read the YA book, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, by Catherine Valente. Cover art and title aside, I have my doubts as to whether this is really a kid book. I think the title and art work suggest a younger audience than would enjoy it, but moving on. At one point our heroine, September, is getting all cleaned up to enter the city of Pandemonium (it’s a little Phantom Tollbooth-y in some of the plays on words) and is told (p.61):

The wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes as the world changes.

Context and adaptation.

I love the idea that it is not just what one does in a new context, but what one wishes that changes in a that context. And, when I think about it, it seems obvious. My wishes are certainly relative. When it’s close to dinner time, I wish for the dinner fairies to come and cook. When I’m at school, I wish for things like time to meet with teachers to think about new ideas. The good advice continues (still p.61),

And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is not everyone can tell when to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to remember to catch the world in its changing and change with it.

Now, if you remove the Fairyland parts, I think the you are left with some real words of wisdom, If you don’t update as the world changes around you, you’re likely to be left with regret. Or, wishes left unattended to can easily become regrets. Word it how you want and feel free to share your version.

So, now I’m wondering which of my wishes need a little laundering. I do not think my new office is Fairlyand, but my office is attached to a new job, a new context. What are my wishes now, in my new context? And, what will I do about them, for as the title of the book suggests, I must get there in a ship of my own making.

As I think about my fellow educators, some of whom are unnerved by this new digital context, I worry that their wishes are the wishes of a long ago time. Being the old guard, the keeper of tradition, starts out being charming and the voice of experience. But if that voice does not adapt at all, how long will it have any influence and at what point does it become simply the voice of the past that gets put aside?

Who wants to be put aside? Ignored? Found to be irrelevant? My guess is no one.

I wonder, is some of this concern about adapting to this new digital context at its core about becoming unrecognizable to oneself or to others? Will one’s toughness, or expertise not be recognized? Some more words from my novel. September says, upon meeting someone who recognizes the wrench she is carrying,

You know my. . . my wrench? [this makes sense in the story, insert me/a name here]

Of course I know it. It was not a wrench when we were last acquainted, but ones friends may change clothes and still one knows them. (p.171)

I believe that excellent teaching may, in fact must, change its clothing, be it room design, delivery, or assessment. The context has changed already. It’s time to launder our wishes lest they become regrets.

So, I’ve been thinking about how some of my lessons changed over time. In a recent post I wrote about coming up with new ideas. One thing that didn’t make the final draft of that post was the idea that sometimes a plan is good the first year, but then a lot better in later years. Here’s an example.

One year, I came up with the idea of having a “descriptive language Olympics” lesson. We were reading Tuck Everlasing and it was spring time and there was going to be some visitor. I remember this because we got an email from the assistant division head asking if any of us were doing anything particularly “outside the box”. When I thought about what I was planning for that next day, I realized it was firmly in the box and decidedly not that interesting. So, out it went.

Why is it that sometimes a simple question like that is all it takes to get me thinking about something better? Could I not ask that question myself? Does this happen to other people too?

Anyway, I believe it was in the shower that I hit upon this idea. There would be 5 events. In groups students would contribute passages from the text that best exemplified the particular kind of figurative writing for the event. I would judge and award 1st place, etc. I made a super-quick PowerPoint with the olympic rings on it and the following categories:

  • mood madness
  • sensory overload
  • figurative language freestyle
  • wonderful words
  • show not tell showcase

How did it go? Well the first year, it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. And, it was too long, too many “events”, and since I wanted to spread the winning around, the judging left a little to be desired.

The next years I tried a few little changes: fewer events for classes that were not that interested, having students come in with passages ready.

Then, last year, I made a bigger change. To be honest, I was partly trying to cut down on the time it took. In the end, the time was not that different, but the outcome was a lot better.

  • Instead of having the students collaborate on what to “enter” into each event, I asked them to enter 3 of 5 events digitally on our class blog for homework. Each entry was to have a passage and an explanation of why it was a good example of the given kind of descriptive writing.
  • Then in class, we discussed how to evaluate each entry (we decided on 10 points available for each entry-5 for the passage choice, 5 for the explanation).
  • The students collaborated on giving the medals to individual entries. No one judged an event in which they entered a passage. The judges posted their decision on the blog.
  • There was a brief and moving medal ceremony at which each judging group called up the winners for gold, silver, and bronze medals. There was cheering etc.
Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

So, why was it better?

  • All students entered passages.
  • Even though everyone had to enter, they had choice about which events to enter.
  • Explaining the passage was added and important.
  • Students were involved in how to evaluate the entries.
  • Students actually did the evaluating. (And, this is the biggest bonus I think. There was a lot of discussion about this. In the end it was often the explanation that won someone the event.)
  • I did less and the students did more.
  • A lot more of the class time involved thinking, collaborating, and communicating. There was a lot less waiting around time.
  • There was more suspense, and everyone had a horse in the race.
  • There was cheering.
  • The winners were spread out across all sorts of people, without me engineering anything.
The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

Medals all around!