Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What do you think about while running?

My colleague, Robert Talbert, wrote a post today connecting teaching and running. The analogies he points out are effective and I have little to add of any substance from this perspective. His post did rekindle my interest in sharing what I think about during a run. And it should come as no surprise that I am usually thinking about teaching.

During the first mile of today's run, I thought about the following idea that I wanted to tweet:
This is related to a concern I have about attendance issues in my Introduction to Learning and Assessment class. I am trying something new this semester by not using in-class participation as part of their grade. In fact, I showed this video the first day of the semester and encouraged the preservice teachers to be learners instead of students. Perhaps I ought not be surprised when they take advantage of their new found freedom. The tweet was intended to remind me that learning has no bounds and that I need to trust a process that values intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. I tweeted it because I know I might be wrong and hoped that my Professional Learning Network would challenge me to refine my vision.

Halfway through my second mile, the podcast I had on got my attention. I like listening to All Songs Consider while I run. The combination of new music and analysis supports my pace and offers plenty of distractions as I consider, "How might this apply to education?" Today, I was listening to a question and answer session with Wilco about their new album. About 14 minutes and 45 seconds in, a listener asked, "How do you know when a song is finished?" 

How would students respond to this question as it relates to their work? I would guess the answer would typically be, "When the teacher says so?" whether that means the teacher deciding when the work is good enough or when they call "times up." But Jeff Tweedy said that during the making of the album, it seemed to be when all the band members were satisfied with their personal contribution. This idea of learner autonomy is exactly what I wanted to get across in my #TeachingReminder tweet.

It also reflected the focus of last night's outside observation with four of our student teachers, which is what I thought about during the third mile. We do outside observations to remind our teachers in training that instruction is only one part of the Teaching-Learning Cycle. Last night, the question the student teachers shared on their action plan asked, "How can we make assessment and evaluation less stressful for students?" Based on their experiences over the semester, they were concerned with the unhealthy relationships many of their students seemed to have with tests and grades.

I know that some people have suggested that doing away with tests and grades would solve the problem. In fact, we just read an article by Alfie Kohn on this very topic in Introduction to Learning and Assessment.  While this might be a solution, it is one that is curently beyond the student teachers' control. Therefore, we tried to focus on what we could do to help students have a healthier relationship with those grades.

When I finished my run, I saw this common thread in my thinking: supporting learners in developing autonomy. Now, how do I go about doing that? Maybe that will come to me during another run (or in the comments).

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