Thursday, May 23, 2019

Open Letter to Monte Syrie

In response to a call for inspiration, I am writing this open letter. Thanks for the inspiration, Monte!

Hi Monte,

I've been greatly inspired this year by your blog/Twitter feed (I'm @MadameGaudet), by your insistence on finding a better way, and by your genuine care for all of your students. I've been teaching for 15 years now, and it's nice to know I'm not alone in the struggles I have with grades vs student ownership, and in my focus on community and connection building first and curriculum only after that. 

If you're still feeling like you need some inspiration for your blog as the year winds down : Who are your "go-to" people either online or in person for inspiration and/or help navigating these changes? What benefit do you get from hashing out ideas with people in your own school vs online connections? How does blogging enter into your attempts to do better?

I am a middle school teacher, so grades in the traditional sense "don't matter" as much as they might in high school. I still find my students are so hung up on the grade that they neglect the learning when they start with me at the beginning of the year. By this time of year, they are more willing to take chances, and embrace experiences. I worry that when I send them off to high school this openness and commitment to learning will fall by the wayside with teachers who focus predominantly on compliance. This is not to say that the high school teachers at my students next school are not wonderful teachers, who truly care about their students. I know that many of them struggle with the same questions that I have surrounding relationship building and grading practices. However, as an institution, high school has a more grades-based focus than I do in my classroom. 

I hope that I've given my students enough of a taste for learning, for self-motivation, for curiosity, for compassion, and for questioning that they will maintain those qualities in the face of what high school will throw at them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Funny Little Experiment

I've been working on an experiment for the past few months, and it came up in conversation with a colleague this morning so it must be time to write about it! The experiment is simple. I have mostly eliminated the words "but" & "however" from my vocabulary.

Now, this may sound bizarre to you. "But what about when you need to say something and then say the opposite?" you may be shouting at your screen. Well, I have replaced those words with "and", "also" & "additionally." How does this sound in practice in the classroom? Here's an example of how a conversation might go:

"Mme Gaudet, I'm thinking of making a flamethrower for my Passion Project, would I be allowed to do that?"

Option 1 : Yes, but you will have to get permission and be safe.
Option 2 : Yes, and we will discuss ways that you can be safe while you do that.

The "Yes, but" option sounds a lot like "No", while the "Yes, and" response doesn't close off any avenues.

I'm also consciously using "and" instead of "but" when giving instructions and feedback to students. "This project will be challenging, and I know that we can do it." Rather than setting up a dichotomy between what is challenging, and what we can do, I link the two ideas together and it becomes as if one follows naturally from the other.

I don't know if this shift in language is evident to my students, or if it is having an effect on their perceptions. I hope so. I hope that they hear in my words a sense of possibility, a sense of openness, a sense of "and".