How to Communicate Expectations?
This week, as part of the Pendulum Project Prototype I asked all the students to give a presentation regarding their experiences and plans for future paintings. To communicate my expectations for the presentations I planned to show them an example presentation and give them a model to work from. While this has worked in the past I wanted to try something that I heard from a colleague. The three level grading system.
The three level grading system is something that I saw while browsing Mike Amarillo's blog, another HTH teacher in Chula Vista. I saw that he had these descriptions of different "levels" of student work for presentations. Through a few emails he told me about the system that he uses. What I liked about it was that it clearly described expectations for student work in 3 levels of completion.
For example I used this for our presentations today as follows.
Basic Presentation: Key information included. All group members speak. Clear delivery
Advanced Presentation: Basic and diagram showing variable effect is high quality and well organized.
Challenge Presentation: Advanced and group shows expert knowledge by including calculations, answering audience questions, posing meaningful questions for themselves, etc.
After I gave my example presentation I had a discussion with the class where we categorized my work as Basic, Advanced, or Challenge. We talked about why it fit as one or another. In reality what I was doing was critique as a lesson, but what was different was that my expectations had already been outlined and so we were able to get specific very quickly.
Planning Is Important
Time Well Spent
I spend a ton of time planning out time with my students and making plans for projects. There's a cycle of Idea --> Predict --> Observe --> Improve. Because I have had a lot of practice with this pattern it comes pretty naturally to me. Lately I have been recognizing that being able to go through these steps is a skill as much as writing, building or public speaking so I have tried to give students chances to practice the cycle of ideas.
Lots of times I will notice students get distracted or off task when something had gone unexpectedly. Their measurements were wrong or they forgot to add something important. My interpretation is that they are skipping the Predict step and not getting into the Improve step. By not making predictions they don't see potential conflicts or issues in their idea and my not being practiced in making improvements they see their first failure as the end of the process and don't continue to try new things. To be the most help to the class I've been trying to give them lots of opportunities to practice and develop these skills.
"Children exhibit challenging behavior when the demands being placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to respond adaptively to those demands. The same can be said of all human beings."
The above quote is attributed to Dr. Ross Greene (as are the rest in this post), a clinical child psychologist who has been trying to help teachers and parents understand what they see as misbehavior from their children or students. The first thing that I like about the quote is that he expands the idea to all human beings. Something that I've learned while teaching is that it's no use at all treating my students like some subset of humans that have different dreams and desires and needs than myself.
This quote is in reference to the explanations traditionally given as to why people misbehave. If one believes that those who exhibit difficult behavior are doing so because they are manipulative or coercive or something then you will view them in a more negative light. However if one believes that everyone wants to do well, and that misbehavior is better explained as a lack of the skills to do well than there is an inherent sense of compassion. This is a much better place to start and a more helpful way to address the behavior than a negative place.
"When do you look bad? When you can't look good"
As above, the things that I'm learning about when I learn about my students are applicable to the rest of humans. The above quote is true of myself. I can remember times when I let people down, made an offensive joke, or embarrassed myself. In none of these situations was I trying to look bad, I just made a mistake or misread the situation. I must believe that the same is true of my students. People do well if they can. In this perspective misbehavior is nothing malicious but a lack of ability or skill to do the right thing. Greene says that from this perspective ones role is no longer trying to make a difficult person do the right thing but figuring out what's getting in that person's way and helping them get rid of it. This is a much more collaborative and compassionate perspective and the one I prefer to take.
From the perspective described above one becomes a partner in problem solving with the person that you are trying to help. This is already vastly preferred to being the teacher trying to make a student do what you want. As someone who is empathetic and compassionate and involved in helping solve a problem I feel way more engaged and helpful than if I'm telling someone why they're wrong or doing the wrong thing.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.