Tag Archives: Tweak Your Teach

A Superteacher’s Views on the Learning Divide

This 11th year of teaching has been one of contemplation and reflection on the craft of teaching. Today, I thought a bit about the apparent divide between a teacher’s perspective on learning and a student’s perspective on learning. I believe a starting point to correcting this situation is teachers and students communicating. Here is how I managed to reconcile the two over the course of my educational journey as student and teacher:

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A real teacher’s only job is to serve and help her students. At our core, we want all of you to succeed, to reach beyond the miasma of the average, the just good enough, to true mastery. Mastery to me means more than just scoring well on tests (tests suck. Seriously); mastery is reaching a level of immersion and understanding that leads to true passion, perhaps even the ecstatic bliss of knowing one’s purpose in life. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself with teaching. I resisted for a bit, always remembering my humanities and AP language teacher Dr. Earls, who taught me that learning is the thin veil between human and troglodyte. But yes, teaching is what fuels me, what keeps me motivated to be more. It’s this drive that should fuel your love of learning, but for so long learning has been a chore on a checklist, whose mark is the letter grade, a number on a sterile scale.

So, we come to an impasse. You believe learning is about getting a grade. I believe learning is about earning a grade. You believe your fate is in my hands. I believe only you can determine the course of your own education–you are entirely responsible for the choices you make.

I learned this as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. My first semester, a complete failure, is the one I’ll remember most because it forced me to live with the consequences of the choices I’d made. I reveled in my newfound freedom. I was away from home, living the awkward teenager’s dream of dorm rooms, dining hall food, and 6-dollar football games. I wasted my time sleeping, watching TV, going to the movies, and generally not going to class. I also wasn’t smart enough to save my money to purchase the class notes that semester. I’d chosen to take a particularly challenging course, AST 2037: Search for Life in the Universe because I loved science fiction (naturally), and assumed it would be an easy pass. I was wrong. The class threw so much math and physics at me that I was instantly lost, but instead of helping myself to learn, I gave up. So, after weeks of not attending my classes I earned the lowest grades of my life–a D+ in astronomy, two C+ in biology and to my utter shame, theater appreciation, and a B in art history. I knew instantly my scholarship was gone. I was downgraded from a Florida Academic Scholar to a Merit Scholar, putting more of the financial burden of school on me.

I worked for the next four years with single-minded purpose, never taking a summer off, taking on several concentrations to finally graduate with honors. I never blamed my teachers for my failures, nor did I hold them responsible for what grade I earned–if I earned a C on a paper, it was because of me. If I’d not taken advantage of the time given to me to work on an assignment and turned in what I knew was sub par work, I took the ding to the grade and added it to my list of “do not ever do this agains.”

So, it’s difficult for me to see it any other way, to feel that I should apply rules only in certain instances or occasions, to subjugate the worth of someone’s education by not holding them accountable to the standards everyone is expected to meet and exceed. To me, doing so would cheapen your education, making it worth less, making it less impacting on your immediate community and the larger human community. Yes, I want you to succeed, and I will do anything within my power to help you–within the scope of my responsibilities.  I am a guide, facilitator, evaluator, and cheerleader; I am not the learner, the one who must embark on a journey with a new set of tools, face a series of challenges, and return to the world with a new boon–mastery. You are the learner, the hero on your own journey.  I commit myself to ensuring you learn, to clarifying ideas, providing you with guidance and constructive critique, to constantly updating and polishing my craft to better serve your learning needs. I only ask that you embrace the call to adventure and make your world better through learning.

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Tweak Your Teach: Design Thinking for Educators Vol. 2

My exposure to design over the past four years–TED’s mission of spreading ideas through the marriage of technology, entertainment, and design; the work of those who work towards the cause for cinematic presentations, and the work of instructional design folks like Julie Dirksen–has definitely impacted my approach to building and revising my courses. I am in the process of reworking the online version of Professional Communication and Presentation and redoing my on campus lectures for the course, so, the design treat I found in my inbox on Monday couldn’t have come at a better time.

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Source: Renato Ganoza via Compfight cc

The  creators of the Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, Riverdale School and design firm IDEO, have released volume 2 of this amazing resource. This new volume of the toolkit icludes a basic introduction to what design thinking is, a streamlined process for using design thinking to improve the educational experience (whether it’s curriculum, space, process/tool, or systems-based), and a new workbook feature that takes educators through the design process. The workbook provides educators with a framework for completing short-term or long-term projects both individually and in groups.  Download this superteacher resource at the Design Thinking For Educators website.

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Tweak Your Teach: The Teaching Portfolio

I am excited to continue working on Tweak Your Teach and the rest of my blog in the new year. I’ve just updated the site to include a teaching porfolio section that I will be adding to and growing over the next few weeks. What exactly is a teaching portfolio and what is its purpose?

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According to Rutgers University’s Center for Teaching Advancement & Assessment Research, a teaching portfolio is a “flexible document” that details a teacher’s “teaching responsibilities, philosophy, goals and accomplishments.” This traditionally print document contains the breadth and scope of an educator’s experience and includes three major areas:

1. Teaching Responsibilities (What I do)

2. Teaching Philosophy and Statement of Competency (Why I do it)

3. Evidence of Effective Teaching (Proof that I do what I say)

A strong portfolio is dynamic–it changes constantly and includes both specific goals and measurable data indicating those goals have been met. More than proof of concept, a dynamic teaching portfolio shows an educator what he or she has accomplished and what he or she still needs to grow. There are several excellent print guides as well as examples available. One of the most highly recommended is The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions.

However, several  comprehensive guides to the portfolio process that don’t cost a penny come from reputable educational institutions like Rutgers. Two of my favorites are A Guide to the Teaching Portfolio by the University of New Hampshire and the very comprehensive and useful guide from the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at El Paso.

As I begin this process, I have many great examples to draw from, but find the approach to the standard portfolio to be a bit stale. I am working on ways to make it more dynamic and interactive, drawing from my design skills to further enhance how usable this is as a tool  for me and for others. I’ve added a few preliminary elements to the portfolio section, the most recent of which is my teaching philosophy. I’ve truncated this down from two pages to one, but would definitely like to add specific goals to the end. This draft focuses on my self-definition as a “super-teacher.” I began using this term several years ago when I saw a stark difference between those who teach because they cannot do something in their field and those who teach because teaching IS their field. Those are the super-teachers, at least the ones who call teaching their bliss and work towards the betterment of education for all. Check it out in the new teaching portfolio section under “About Me.”

Are you a teacher? What’s your philosophy on teaching? What do you draw inspiration from?

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Tweak your Teach: Dr. Tae’s Building a New Culture of Teaching and Learning

I am working on a new section to the blog that focuses specifically on education. In keeping with the tweak theme, I’ll be posting new articles under the category ” Tweak your Teach.” If you read this blog, you know, I am committed to the “tweak” in all its forms. Tweak your slides, your speech, your life, and definitely your teaching. At no time has this final point been more important in American education than now. Dr. Tae is one of my favorite educators.

Dr. Tae uses storytelling, simple truths, and skateboarding to present his case for a new culture of learning at TEDxEastSidePrep

Dr. Tae uses storytelling, simple truths, and skateboarding to present his case for a new culture of learning at TEDxEastSidePrep

His 30 minute talk, “Building a New Culture of Teaching and Learning” is inspirational and a must watch for superteachers. In this inspiring talk, Tae ses humor, impeccable logic and evidence, and the testimony of educators as well as weaving in his own personal and professional anecdotes to convey a simple and very sticky message:

School sucks, especially in science and math.

Tae then explains that the problem is not mutually exclusive to secondary schools. The entire educational model–from elementary to university level is broken. But why is the system broken? The problem begins in secondary schools. Firstly, schools do not hire great teachers because the focus is on certification and not qualification or quality. Further, the structure of schools is broken. Our students are given a fixed and finite amount of time in which to learn something and their performance is based on grades, which are coercive by nature. I had this experience–Mr. Feldman, my high school physics teacher is one of my most memorable teachers–because he was so completely awful. He demeaned students who were not already great at math and science and showed complete contempt for the entire experience of teaching his students. He taught me that physics sucks and that I am not smart enough to understand it. Definitely NOT the goal of education. This is a product of the standardized test driven model of education we inherited after the industrial revolution. The problem is compounded in universities, which have become a depersonalized experience, where the culture of open discourse and the exchange of ideas are considered burdens to the more “important” work of research.

So, what is Tae’s solution? Skateboarding. No, really, skateboarding. Tae then reveals a very simple truth.

To learn something properly, you work your ass off until you get it right. That’s it.

Schools are in complete opposition to this model. Schools don’t give students open time to master a skill; in school, students are motivated via coercion, but true learning must be self-motivated and guided by responsible mentorship; in school, students often turn to cheating (because what matters is the grade, not true learning), but according to Tae, real learning cannot be cheated. Mr. Feldman’s counterpart was Dr. Earls, a published author and authority in humanities, who pushed me to take control of my learning, who helped me to see the place education could have in my life, and who truly cared about empowering her students to be more than they already were or are.

Tae’s model of education is wonderfully idealistic–when I first encountered this talk two years ago, I was and am still stoked to know there are teachers committed to a renaissance of teaching and learning. Ultimately, Tae’s solution involves more than just a restructuring of the education system; it is the creation of a culture of education where each of us takes a role in teaching others, whether formally trained or not.

I think it’s important that you watch the video, dear reader, so I won’t rehash everything (even though I really want to). Instead, I’ll focus on just a few key points from each of the major segments of Tae’s talk.

All of us can share and teach. It is our responsibility to distribute and share what we know. We can all be great teachers; we can share our knowledge freely and really change our world. Knowledge should not be selfish. Teaching and learning are part of our cultural habits. They should not just be something we do in school. Share what you know. Watch Dr. Tae’s talk and be inspired to Tweak your Teach!

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