Mental Health in Education

If you ask a random Yellow Jacket to describe the last two weeks on campus, the majority would most likely respond with, “extended hell week.”

On the one hand, there was the academic side of hell week: first midterms in multiple classes on top of lab reports and extra curricular’s starting to pick up. It was tough, but everyone here chose to be somewhere where we can be academically challenged.

But then you have the emotional side of hell week… Many people know that GT has been on the news a lot recently. And not in a positive way. There was Irma, then a shooting, then a riot, then a fellow scholar died from an illness, and I recently heard that there may have been a few robbery’s as well (though don’t quote me on that one). Not to make light of any of these things, but I list them for the sake to say that our campus has not been getting the greatest press in the past few weeks, and I thought now that I’ve made it through hell week, I should take some time to reflect.

Thus I come back to my blog because it seems this is where my best reflections come out. (Even though they typically are written in about an hour with me just word vomiting onto a page, so who knows where this will go because I surely don’t right now. )

Anyway, as I was saying, it all started with Irma. The first wave of the storm. It feels so long ago, but then again so does the start of the school year, and yet we’re really it’s hardly been more than a month. I went home for the hurricane and got lucky that our power didn’t even go out, and GT wasn’t in too bad of a situation either so we got back in school by the Wednesday after with seemingly no problems jumping back into things.

Then there was the shot hear around the campus. I’ve been told it was the first time in GT police history that a gun was fired by a police officer on campus. I didn’t know Scout, but like everyone at Tech, I’ve been wishing for the best for Scout’s family and friends. And the peaceful vigil turned protest just seemed to come out of no where to me, because as I told friends who reached out to me around that time, it’s the kind of thing you hear about happening on college campuses but never really expect it to happen when you’re there. I was lucky enough to be in my dorm room at the time, and thankfully everyone I knew also stayed safe.

As for the death of Tessa Powers, I don’t know how public this was even made. All we were told was that she was sick and it was a sudden and unexpected death. I have friends who saw her two days prior at a coffee house I was invited to but couldn’t make it to. I can’t say I knew her well, though she was a member of one of my programs, and thus I knew several people who were close with her and her loss was felt deeply by the community.

To be honest, I maybe wasn’t worried enough about these potentially emotionally scaring events. I felt removed in some weird way, maybe because I was distracted by midterms and am also just not the most emotional person for better or worse. What I will say bothered me though, was that the protest was started by non GT students. Outsiders came onto our campus, caused a bunch of problems, and then GT is now has to deal with the bad press.

I don’t really follow the news as well as I should, but here on campus there was a lot of talk about that and it was making a significant number of students upset to see our school community being judged so much for a lot of things that just kind of happened to be on our campus. In times of struggle it’s at least nice to see a community come together, and I’d just like to acknowledge that tech did a great job of always alerting us when things happened on campus (I got at least 5 notifications telling me to seek safe shelter and then reporting when everything was under control). Furthermore, there have been lots of emails and announcements about events for people to pay their respects to Scout and Tessa and their families, and there has been lots of talk about mental health on campus with many resources for those in need of counseling.

Mental health actually has been a huge topic of discussion since I’ve gotten to Tech

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Student story: We need mental health education in schools

because my Grand Challenges problem is all about the evident stress problem on campus. And if feels like yesterday, though it was two years ago, that I was looking at this same problem at the Stanford d.School with the Innovation Diploma for interim. It seems that college campuses and mental health problems are becoming more and more of a conversation these days. I wonder why.

I haven’t done enough actual research to make a big statement at the moment, but my hypothesis is that it has a lot more to do with academic pressure from grades then schools would like to admit. The past two weeks have been very emotional for a lot of people and a lot of professors made the call to change schedules some because of that. Tests were pushed back in freshman chemistry. A few classes were canceled. Some classes became more of a discussion around the events of the past few weeks and were used as check ins to make sure everyone was doing relatively okay. Etc. That was great; I know it helped a lot of people.

Though I know some people still aren’t doing better. There are people on campus still overwhelmed with the events of hell week and can’t seem to find themselves taking time for themselves. Are we just going to be in this constant loop of people getting worked up, then something bad happening and then we address things, and then the cycle repeats? I’m curious as to what will actually change.

I know some people are advocating for more mental health services, though personally I have to wonder if people who really need help will take the time to utilize them. But I’m sure that will help lots of people who can’t seem to get off the wait list because their problems aren’t “urgent enough.” – yes, I had a girl tell me that.

Personally, my education oriented mind believes this is yet another example of why education needs to change specifically in regards to how we assess students. Assessment is a good and needed thing, that doesn’t mean number grades are the only way to assess knowledge and capabilities. I don’t have the answer for the “best system,” to be honest I don’t even know at the moment what I would suggest, but I know that students get too stressed over grades and these past two weeks have made me even more annoyed about it.

IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE ASSESS!

How might we get authentic feedback and assessment? The kind that truly allows us to have a safe space to fail and then learn and grow from our mistakes, without this looming fear of a few bad grades recking our future? What does a number really tell us? If people keep saying grades don’t matter after you get your first job and gain some credibility for yourself, then why do we keep grades at all?

I could go on, but I may just start sounding repetitive because I can feel myself verging into rant mode because this truly makes me deeply upset. I’m more than a number; and I want work that I feel is meaningful enough to work on for a reason better than just because “I want a good grade.” Isn’t that the real reason we still have grades? – because once they’re gone it will require us to give students different kinds of work which leads to a lot of new systems we need to prototype and explore?

It seems that the fact that people keep asking me, “how was your first hell week?” is reason enough to believe that this mentally and emotionally stressful environment wasn’t just because of the unfortunate and unpredictable situations of the last few weeks. If this is an inevitable unhealthy environment, that also means we should be able to prototype and test ways to avoid it, and I personally think that with some creative thinking there are a lot more options worth pursing than just increasing the number of counseling resources. (Counseling is still a great cause to fund, but there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and it seems like this is the only way being talked much about so far.) My vote is to rethink assessment since from interviews I’ve conducted and observations I’ve made, it seems to be a clear cause of a significant portion of stress and is something very controllable by schools, but it’s not the only way to tackle this challenge.

So what’s going to be our experiment to improve mental health in education?- and I’m not just talking about at Tech, because this problem is by no means isolated to GT, or Georgia, or even just higher ed.

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I’m No Editor

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.34.31 PM.pngAn article of mine went live today on the e-magazine Pioneering: Education Reimagined!!!! I posted an early draft of this article on my blog around mid-summer but I’m much happier with this final draft, and very happy to have one more thing off of my plate!

The most interesting thing about this experiance was having an editor. I don’t have very good grammar. I’ve accepted this fact long ago. In fact I spelled grammar wrong writing that last sentence the first time. However, apparently my thoughts that I write about are at least interesting and well written enough for people to want to read them.

In school though this typically doesn’t matter much. I never saw myself as a writer for years because I never made all that great of grades in English class due to my poor grammar. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that not all good writers are editors. Like wise, I know people who are good editors but not all that great at writing themselves. However, when good writers work with good editors, pretty epic stuff happens.

It was nice to be able to write something for a specific reason where I was more concerned with the ideas then the grammar for a change. Because I was able to work with other people who read over my work to help with grammar details, and it made my writing look better which was cool!

No one ever works entirely on their own. Even book authors. I wish in school we spent more time focusing on the different skills everyone has, and how people can work together to make something great. We don’t all need to be writers, or editors, or artists, or mathematicians, or historians, or scientists, etc, but we do need to know enough about different areas and about ourselves to know how our strengths can work with others to accomplish meaningful work.

Performance Bonanza

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Level 4 and up group routine to “We Built This City” ending pose. (video of full routine coming soon)

9 SUCCESSFUL ROUTINES IN ONE DAY!!!!

This past week was endless. All of last week I was working like crazy to prepare over 50 kids for various routines to perform at our spring showcase yesterday. Then Saturday was crunch time, trying to get in last minute practices, but only up until one of the girls had her Bat Mitzvah. And if you’ve ever been to a Bat Mitzvah then you would know they last all night long… Then Sunday was the big day and I was at the gym working for 12 hours straight, but it was worth it to see all of the smiling faces of kids and impressed parents.

I always say the most exciting part of a show is what happens backstage, but it’s typically not viewed as entertaining until after the show is over. I’m glad the audience mostly though everything ran smoothly because in the back room it was crazy. There were girls changing leos and getting hair done while some people were stretching and warming up skills. Then there were last minute order changes in the program. And what was most stressful was that I had to change all 4 of the huge routines about 20-1 minute before each show because so many people just didn’t show up… I had to re-block two routines slightly, teach a level 4 boy a routine to fill in for someone, and I even ended up having to be in one routine because I was the only other person that knew it and could do the acro skill with a girl.

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Level 4 and 5 team pose.

However, thankfully everything went still went surprisingly well and I was so proud of all of the girls. I even had a couple people say they were close to tears during some of the routines because the choreography was so good, which of course made me want to do a little happy dance!

I’m sure there were some mistakes, and I know there were more last minute “oops” moments, but the show must go on and I was very happy with all of the team and acro kids.

Then today my acro tops started asking “what are we going to do now in acro; are we going level 9?” We aren’t ready for level 9 yet, and I told them how we still need to work on improving and advancing our level 8 skills first. However, we did start working on learning new skills today which everyone was excited for. It made me think about how in school it’s also the end of the year, but in school if you repeat a level that’s like taboo even if you are

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Hot Shots (ages 4-6 soon to be on team) final pose after their group routine to “Little Bitty Pretty One.”
working on more advanced skills. Furthermore, in school there isn’t the same excitement about it being summer time and that meaning you get to work on a bunch of new skills and try different things than normal.

I wonder how we can bring the excitement of getting to learning something new back into school.

Climbing Down the Mountain

winning-story-wars-hero-journeyToday was the big day; it was AP Lang exam day. We finally took the real thing- the test that so many are going to use to judge if Kat and I successfully did something unheard of before by teaching our own AP course.

I’ve been conflicted lately. On the one hand I feel accomplished that we actually felt prepared and decent about taking the exam and hope we did well. But on the other hand, I don’t want to judge our success just based on a number after all the work we have done in order to not have to have grades and numbers in order to validate our learning.

Yes, I would like to do well on the exam, but there is also so much more we have accomplished this year even if we don’t do outstanding on the exam-we’ve sparked conversations questioning the fundamental nature of school courses; however, who knows how other people will view the success of the course if we don’t do well… And yet at the same time I can’t help but feel a bit of regret almost. Maybe this is how some teachers feel at the end of the year when they realize they haven’t covered all of the lessons they hoped to teach, and didn’t get to do all of the projects they would have liked to because there is only so much time in the year. I just feel like something is missing.

The year isn’t over just with the exam, and Kat and I still have our final MoVe Talks to wrap up the year, but there are only 3 official classes we have left and I don’t feel the sense of closure yet. I don’t know how I expected to end the year, but the entire course was based on “The Hero’s Journey” and at the end of the journey the hero is suppose to take the road back and return home with the “boon.” I wouldn’t call myself a hero, but I’m definitely a protagonist of this particular story, and I haven’t quite figured out what the boon is. I know it’s there and I’m probably just not thinking clear enough to realize what it is we’ve accomplished. I guess I just feel like there is so much more we could have done and so much more we dreamed to do that simply wasn’t possible at this point in time and yet we were too naive to realize that this time last year.

I’m still working on what to give my MoVe Talk about, but I hope whatever it is helps me find closure to this chapter of my story. I literally just realized that I’ve never really had to have a true project closure before. Between AP Lang and RISE, one thing I’ve been struggling with is the fact that we’ve actually taken ventures all the way to produce this year, and the hard part is figuring out when it’s time to say goodbye and pack up your newly found tools to move on to new mountains to climb. When do you need to make that extra push to reach an even higher point on the mountain, and when should you let others continue up and accept that you can’t climb every mountain in the world and this one isn’t meant for you to go further on.

Saying goodbye to a team is a true real world skill, that as of this moment in history, I’ve yet to learn in any sort of traditional school setting.

Venturing Forward

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It seems like it has been far too long since I’ve given just a general update about how things have been going in our Collab Course AP Lang class designed and run by Kat and myself.

Things have been going really well lately, and as we venture forward I just want to share some highlights of exciting things that have, are, and will be happening in this class.

We recently had our paper discussing solutions to The Creativity Crisis published on #Satchat Daily (under education) one of the biggest sources for education resources, as well as on the MViFi blog.

We’ve been reading Grant Lichtman’s book #EdJourney, and have been creating blog posts about our reflections on the book. These posts have also had their fair share of retweets and likes on Twitter! We’re also currently trying to work out a time where we can actually have a Google Hangout with Mr. Lichtman to get to discuss some of his book as well as how he went about the actual creation of the book since that is something Kat and I are both interested in.

In general, Kat and I have also started to get into a better flow as far as how we decide what to work on each day. For the most part, Mondays and Wednesdays are what we call “APLle Days” where we work on more of your typical AP Lang stuff like timed essays, multiple choice, vocab (both AP Lang terms to know as well as our running list that we each add 5 new words to a week that we read and think the other should also know), discussions, that kind of stuff that we know just has to be done to some extent still since this is an AP class. Then on Thursdays and Fridays we have “Explore Days” where the schedule is a little more open ended to allow time and space for our “normal” routine to be disrupted allowing for creativity and learning to flourish. Sometimes these days involve working on iVenture work that involves writing that we can use each other for feedback on. Other times we end up in deep discussions around forms of feedback and assessment and design thinking with some of our ID facilitators who often work close by. At times situations and opportunities could arise where we end up trying to decipher an instruction booklet with no words and put together a robotic hand. Sometimes it just means having meetings with mentors to work on ways to further enhance our skills as innovative learners and further develop our AP Lang program itself.

One of the recent programatic decisions that Kat and I made about a month or so ago was starting a new activity we call a “20/20“. Typically we do a 20/20 on Monday’s since it is our shortest class together each week, so over the weekend we will each read some piece. (Lately this has been a mixture of #EdJourney sections or pieces related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.) Then on Monday in class we will spend 20 minutes discussing the reading piece, then we will spend 20 minutes writing a blog post reflection on the discussion. This gets us in the habit of enhancing our discussion skills while also getting us to practice having to organize and write down our thoughts in a short amount of time. So far these have been going really well and I’ve actually appreciated the time constraint since it has challenged me to try and be creative, articulate, and clear quickly.

I’ve already talked some about #EdJourney, but I would like to talk more about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. From the start of the creation of this course, both Kat and I knew we wanted to read The Allegory of the Cave no matter what. As sophomores the piece had come up a few times in discussions and it sounded really interesting to us since some of the main points have to do with education and what is the “truth”–two things we are both passionate about. After reading the piece even just once, we both absolutely loved it!! So we did some research on how other people responded to the piece and furthered our understanding of its meaning.

However, just reading Plato once doesn’t help get everything across. We were so inspired by the piece that we started talking with my Latin teacher about how we might do more with the piece. He too thinks the piece is great and even made an interesting comparison to the work we do with our class and how it’s like the prisoner in the story who is let out of the cave. Since then he has helped us pick other pieces of Plato’s work to read (actually we will have a 20/20 on book 1 of The Republic this Friday) and helped us figure out a big theme we want to focus on: status quo. What is the status quo? How is it defined? Why do cultures value the status quo? What does it mean to go against the status quo? What happens to the people who challenge the status quo? Why do they do it? Kat and I hope to read and discuss much more over the coming days before the end of first semester, and hopefully create a joint MoVe Talk to help express our findings while also tying in work we’ve done throughout the year.

A few other things that we hope to do before the end of the year are to revamp our blog sites to work on better organizing and capturing our work, and also to learn more about what a good portfolio looks like and go back through our work to pick out bright spots from our journey so far.

What I’ve really loved about our course is that we have truly had the freedom to explore while learning and doing meaningful work. When I write something for a class that then ends up getting published and talked about by people you don’t even know, I feel incredibly proud and motivated to continue writing and improving my skills. Getting to talk to a wide array of mentors has also been amazingly fun and helpful because it means we are getting feedback from a multitude of perspectives from a California student to educators we’ve never met in person to our own Latin teacher, which hopefully has made us more rounded with our writing.

Plus I can’t even begin to emphasize how amazing it feels to not have to stress about grades. I feel more courageous to take risks and try new things, plus I don’t find myself up late worrying about a quiz, but instead I find myself curious and researching to be prepared for a discussion and writing assignment that I’m happy to get feedback on. Without grades our feedback feels like it is more focused on really trying to help us improve as a reader and writer, and have end products that go somewhere and contribute to larger conversations. I even had a teacher comment on one of my posts about The Allegory of the Cave about how she wanted to share my work with her students who were learning about different perspectives.

While we still take the AP Lang exam at the end of the year, and even the same midterm as the traditional AP Lang course students will take, I am not going to be judging the value of this course based on how we score. Sure we want to score well, but even if we aren’t spectacular, I don’t want to judge a whole year off of two tests. Learning is so much more than that. I know I’ve been learning; with reading and writing, as well as many other skills like sending emails to people you haven’t met, and organizing class structures, and knowing when to pivot and how to manage the unexpected. I’ve seen my improvement. I’ve read and heard my feedback. I know I have room to grow, but I also know I’ve been growing, and that to me means success.

As this year goes on I can’t wait to see what else comes out of this course. It may only be two weeks until Thanksgiving break, but there is still so much learning ahead of us, and I’m excited for it!

Comfort with a Fail Up Mindset

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I hate grades.

I don’t hate feedback or rubrics or growth measurement tools as a whole, but I hate grades. I know I’ve talked about this before; about how humans are more than a symbol, and how important feedback is, and how I believe the future of education must include a limitless growth measurement system. (Actually I didn’t truly process just how much I’ve talked about grades until looking for a few blog posts to tag on this post and realized I had a ton of posts on grades.)

I think the biggest thing that bugs me about grades is that I feel that they limit my drive to be creative because I don’t feel comfortable to put the possibility of failure aside.

When I try to be more creative and do something new for a project, it doesn’t always work out correctly. That’s life. When you try new things, eventually you will fail. That’s why at MVPS we always talk about “failing up”, because we know failure will come eventually in any authentic process, and you can’t necessarily control that; however, you can control how you react to the failure. By failing up it means that you will learn from your failure, and take feedback from the failure to improve your next iteration on an idea.

Failure is valuable. I often learn more from failures than successes. However, grading systems are not designed to allow comfort to fail up.

When your idea for a project doesn’t work- doesn’t fulfill the intended goal you were trying to achieve- you don’t get a good grade. That’s just how it works. Grading systems only look at the final product and access if you achieved your intended goal on the first try. So why try something new if there is at least a 50% chance that something won’t work and then your grade will suffer? Why look for a creative opportunity if you know you have a better chance at being successful, in terms of grades at least, with your old traditional way? Why take the time and effort to do something big and exciting, if a small and non-standoutish presentation is more likely to check the boxes of “what you have to do”?

I live for the creative and different moments in life. I want to try out new ideas for completing assignments. I want to make things exciting and engaging for others.

But when I try and it doesn’t work, I get a worse grade and I don’t feel motivated to try again. I don’t feel like I got feedback on what to do next time to make it better, I just feel like I know this didn’t work. I feel disgruntled because I know I worked hard and know teachers appreciate us trying to think creativly, but my grade doesn’t tell me anything about what I did, or the difficulty of what I tried to do.

And I really hope I’m not communicating this type of perspective like, “wow I totally didn’t deserve the grade I just got. What was the teacher thinking? This is dumb, I hate grades.” Because that isn’t at all what I’m saying!

In fact, given the grading system as it is, I think the grade is accurate, and not even horrible. And I love the teacher that this project was for. Plus I totally understand the feedback provided to my partner and I, and I know now that the presentation formate we choose didn’t quite teach the class the best. It just makes me feel more hesitant about trying new things, because the truth of the situation is that as far as school is concerned, grades matter.

I just wish grades made me truly feel that it was okay to “fail up.”

The Limit Should Not Exist

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Today in ID, to do a dry run for when council members do this same activity at COI on Friday, we had a very interesting discussion around Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic article, “Curiosity is as Important as Intelligence” from the Harvard Business Review.  I think the discussion was particularly interesting because we were all able to notice how much our discussion skills have improved since day on this year in ID. There were no long pauses, few facilitator “let’s get back on track” comments needed, more people referring directly to the text, a larger diversity in who was speaking (while I must say myself and a few others could still work at being better at knowing when not to talk to let others have a chance; a skill which I’ve been trying to purposefully work on), people were looking around at the entire group when they spoke, and in general there were a lot of good questions brought up.

I don’t want to try and recap the entire conversation because I don’t think that would be practical. I have included some pictures of the notes  Boa (Mr. Adams/Bo Adams depending who you are) was taking during our discussion, and some members of the cohort have also been continuing the conversation via blogs as well if you would like to know more about the thoughts of the day.

However, as I personally have gone through today, this idea of “How might we create meaningful learning measurement systems?” kept coming to mind. (This maybe is not the best way to phrase the question, but it’s the one I just came up with). Now the assumption I make with this question is that measurement systems are helpful and desired. However, the assumption I do not want to make is that measurement systems need to be measured by a number.

Throughout the conversation today IDers, including myself, kept being riffled by how the author did not give many concrete details as to how Intelligence Quotient, Emotional Quotient, and Curiosity Quotient are actually measured. We all agreed though, that measuring these quotients by numbers doesn’t mean much and seems very rigid of a structure for such abstract ideas. We even talked about other forms like color systems, or systems like our ID rubrics based on skills. Still though, we weren’t/aren’t satisfied with these other forms of feedback, but we do believe that it is helpful to have some sort of measurement system so that you can have goals and continue to improve while understanding what you need to do to take your skills to the next level.

The thing is that with IQ, EQ, and CQ you need to be constantly working those muscles in order to improve them, and there is always room to grow. However, if you make a measurement system where there is a clear and defined “top”, then what do you do when someone reaches that top? –and someone always does. How can you continue to improve your skills once you have reached the highest level? It seems that in theory the more advanced you become, the more important it is for you to have high goals to strive for, because otherwise you will fall back on your “training” and you skills will either go unchanging, or you will fall back.

Our facilitators gave an internal a few days ago on badging, and one of their current ventures involves trying to create a system of badges that is inspired by the periodic table. (Keep in mind, I’m likely not giving the best description of how they would define their venture, but I haven’t read or discussed anything by/with them on it, so I’m basing this off assumptions I made from their internal session.) The reason the periodic table is so intriguing is because elements are organized in many different ways by the natural observed properties that each element posses, and when you look at the visual, it is relatively easy for someone to understand after a little guidance. Furthermore, and this is the key, the periodic table is able to predict new elements that we have not yet discovered through trends displayed on the table itself.

After our discussion today in Innovation Diploma, I am even more hooked and loving this idea! Imagine a system for measuring learning that had no highest point and instead the system was constantly producing new goals and levels to reach and strive for. Just like how in the 21st century education systems are having to change due to knowledge being so readily available in today’s world of technology, history tells us that there will be a time in the future where yet another change will be necessary in order for education to keep up with our growing and changing world. Imagine if this system didn’t have to keep changing and instead it just kept growing. Imagine if rather than a single tool for measuring student achievement, there was an entire system crafted to adapt to different times.

Measurements and goals help us strive for greatness beyond what we may thing is truly feasible, and this strive in the end tends to be far more achievable then we believed. If we put a limit to our measurement systems weather that be “100%, 2400, Green zone, 5, the fourth section of feedback, etc.” we are being hypocritical to the idea that learning can continuously grow and get better by saying that there is no higher achievement.

Measurements and rubrics can be helpful for feedback; I am finally starting to come to terms with the idea of there being different forms of rubrics rather than just a number rubric, and these rubrics do help provide feedback and further learning. However, I’ve also discovered that I will not truly be satisfied with any rubric until we create a limitless learning measurement system that encourages life long learning by not marking a set “end destination” that must be the same and only standard for everyone to be compared to.

Hello October

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Today I really felt like school was back. The reason being because I had one of my first days this school year where I had a ton of different things to do and people to talk to during my “free time”.

The funny thing is that this feeling made me a little exited actually. Being busy makes me feel productive and helpful which I enjoy. Sometimes it’s just a pain to have so much to do and so little time, but this was different because it was the first time.

October in general is a busy month for me. We have our drama performance and competition, a band concert, auditions for the winter play and spring musical, people start touring MVPS, I’m going to Ohio this weekend to tour Case Western and visit my grandparents, the Council on Innovation happens, I’m helping facilitate a few other things, we have a design challenge coming to an “end”, Halloween, pre-Halloween laser tag in our costumes with Girl Scouts, and this isn’t even including school work…

October is just a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun. So many great things are in the works and I can’t wait for every one of them!

Understanding the Feedback Process

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For the past weekish, Kat and I have been working on a paper in response to the “Creativity Crisis” for our AP Lang Collab-Course. I’m not going to go into depth on the content of the paper itself tonight– that will come later with the paper itself– but what I have found quite interesting is how we have been approaching this paper differently than how we might have approached a paper for a “typical class”.

Our prompt actually came straight from an old AP Lang exam question; however, we tweaked it a tad because we want to take our paper a step further, so rather than just writing an argument piece, we actually plan on sharing this piece with online publications to get our thoughts/writing out to a wider audience. Hopefully we spark some interesting conversations, and as they are looking now, I think we will!

While writing this piece I have found the biggest difference in my writing is actually how I edit my work. I have a much stronger grasp on what it means to give and receive feedback than I did even a year ago (thanks ID!!). This allows me to go through my work and think, “If I was giving feedback to someone else, what would I be looking for?” So on my paper (done in a google doc), I’ve left comments asking questions about certain snippets of my writing where I think there could potentially be changes needed, but I want another perspective on it.

Rather than just writing a paper and having a teacher grade it based on a rubric they’ve designed, I’m actually getting the opportunity to say “This is what I want feedback on,” and then let mentors (including peers and even some student mentors from different states in fact) respond and add additional comments that they think are worth pointing out. To be honest the process feels kind of like when I would ask a peer to edit my paper before handing in an assignment; I’m very open to all feedback because I want it to make it the best possible before the “final draft”. It reminds me of what I imagine the relationship is between an author and his/her editor. I mean no one writes perfectly, that’s why we have other people look over and help edit our work so that we can make the writing as strong as possible. Looking at teachers and students as mentors in this way where we can actually have a conversation about my writing and how it can be improved (not just graded) has been really cool and super helpful to my writing!

With blogging, and therefore writing, almost everyday, I’ve occasionally had people say my writing has improved over the course of the past few years. This leads to the question of “What made it improve?” I now think that it isn’t just that I’m writing more often, while that is definitely an element of it, I think having a stronger understanding of what it means to give and receive feedback is what has made my writing stronger.

Feedback isn’t a number; that isn’t helpful. What does a number mean? Helpful feedback is the commentary on what you did well, what you could improve on, and suggestions for how you might improve. And when you receive feedback, even if it’s on things you need to improve on, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or did a horrible job, or that your feedback giver doesn’t like you and/or your work. It’s quite the opposite in my opinion, because if your feedback giver gives you feedback on the things they didn’t love, that means they care enough about your work to try and help you make it better. To be honest, I think the feedback on what and how you could improve is often more helpful then what you did well, because it moves you along on your journey with what to work on next.

It’s interesting how taking grades out of the equation effects my writing. I think I take more risks and try more new things when I’m not worrying about a grade. When I’m graded and do poorly, I don’t always (trying to get better at this) see it as “feedback to help me improve”, I just see it as “oh no I did something wrong…” I’ve really enjoyed not having grades attacked to our AP Lang work because it has made me feel more free to explore and take risks with how I write, and it has made me more open to receiving feedback.

There are many more ways to give feedback than just grades. I wonder how understanding feedback at a deeper level could help improve students overall communication skills.

(At this point I find it interesting to also note an old post of mine that I wrote towards the beginning of last school year that was also on feedback, which also happens to be one of my more popular posts. I feel like my thoughts on feedback have started to come full circle now after re-reading this old post compared to my current thoughts and post.)

Communication Practice

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I finally finished The Art of Innovation today!!!!! It feels so great to finish a book you’ve been reading for a while.

I also started acro camp today which was super fun! It’s funny to go from talking with a bunch of nerdy high schoolers to talking with kids barley 10 and many under.

I think talking with younger kids can be really helpful for testing your communication skills. When you talk to younger kids you have to be able to explain things in lots of different ways because who knows how the will best understand it.

Today we had a little girl at camp that was getting a little scared during the movie, so I had to explain how the kids were doing karate because they enjoyed the sport, but she didn’t understand what I meant exactly. Then I learned she does ballet so I was able to say it was just like having fun with ballet where sometimes it may hurt a little, but you keep doing it because you enjoy it.

I think it would be really neat for high schoolers to spend more time working with younger kids as a way to test communication skills. I feel like creating a world history presentation that 1st graders could understand would be a challenging enough project for any high schooler, plus it would be a cool trans-grade opportunity and maybe encourage the idea of fun learning!