Innovating inside the box (but maybe pushing out the walls just a little bit) #IMMOOC Week 3

“What if we recognized and built on learners’ strengths?”

It’s a simple question, and it seems easy enough to do, but it forces me to think about this box within which we are innovating. I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit crowded in here. Do you feel it? Maybe we should push those walls out just a little bit; what do you think?

Image result for breaking out of the box

I absolutely understand that we can’t overhaul the system, but we also can’t afford to use that system as the excuse to shy away from new and better ways of educating.

This MOOC is all about communicating, sharing ideas, and learning from one another so that we can all be better learners, and in turn, guide our students to more meaningful learning as well. If I innovate over here, and you innovate over there, and someone else innovates between us, we’re bound to create enough energy and excitement and possibility that the box will be forced to open.

George’s comment about grading and reporting in chapter 7 struck me as a box-opening type of statement:

“I think we spend too much time documenting what students know and not enough time empowering them to invest in their own learning and helping them understand their strengths and areas of growth.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which we communicate progress to students, and I can’t help but think that grades are an outdated mode of reporting. When I think about grades, I think about one of my favorite TED talks. Chimamanda Adichie discusses the danger of a single story and the ways that limited exposure can be detrimental to our understanding of ourselves and our world.

As a child, Adichie mostly read British stories even though she grew up in Nigeria, and so when she wrote, her characters were more like the characters she read about rather than the people living around her. “What this demonstrates, I think,” she explains, “is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.”

When she was finally able to read books by African writers, her thinking shifted: “I realized that people like me…could also exist in literature.”

I worry that sometimes our “underperforming” students feel that already their identities have been set for them. They feel that school is not a place “for” them because their interests and passions or ways of learning might not be represented there, so they get by without getting excited. They’ve been given access to resources that might only elicit mediocre responses from them, and so, they are awarded with mediocre marks.

“So that is how to create a single story,” Adichie explains. “Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

Do we want to create mediocre people who see themselves, sadly, in a single percentage? Or do we want students to know deeply that there is not just this one, single story of who they are in their learning — that they are, in fact, multifaceted and multi-talented in ways different from the student sitting next to them?

As Adichie points out, children are impressionable. It’s important that we take seriously the ways in which they develop their identities, and while  I think that sometimes grades can certainly boost a student’s confidence, there are also often times that grades don’t accurately reflect what a student can do. Grades can tear a student down and damage him or her in ways that can have lasting negative impacts.

I don’t think we want to tell our students a single story of themselves. Instead, “what if we recognized and built on learners’ strengths?” Let’s push a little on the walls of this box.





7 thoughts on “Innovating inside the box (but maybe pushing out the walls just a little bit) #IMMOOC Week 3

  1. Don Sturm says:

    Thanks for your blog post…I’ll have to watch the Chimamanda Adichie TED Talk. I, like you, feel very strongly about providing students a meaningful education. Before becoming a technology integration specialist I was a classroom teacher for 22 years. Sadly, I have many examples of students who teachers talked about with phrases like, “he/she is very smart, but they just don’t try.” I always felt that by the time students got to high school they pretty much know where they fit in the system. That is sad! The example of the cardboard box is wonderful. It allows us to push outside of the box while still working within the system.


    • thesecondyearteacher says:

      I can so relate to your experiences. It is so very sad. I think there is a major shift occurring, though. I have to believe, like you, that we can change this for students. Even if our voices are quiet, our voices can be many for these students. Thanks for your comment and for connecting with me!


  2. Jill Cross says:

    What a great post! Yes, our grading is outdated. My son did a self-reflection the other day and had to prove where he showed mastery in math then reflect on where he may still need work. It was the first time he had ever done something like that and he was invested! He took it so seriously, looking for mistakes and areas to improve. He has learned that mistakes are ok and he can keep working. The point of grades are for feedback and we have missed the mark on that. Now they are ranking and compliance and sometimes punishment.. We can do better if we push the walls of our boxes a bit! Our students are more than letters and numbers.


    • thesecondyearteacher says:

      Thank you, Jill. Isn’t it amazing what a difference that self-reflection can make? Sometimes it surprises me how accurate they are, too! We sometimes forget that they are the experts on themselves. I am thrilled for your son to have gotten that experience. Not only will it help him in math, but those reflective skills are so necessary in life.


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