Do the Work!

Interestingly I am reading some pretty penetrating stories recently; penetrating in the sense that they are goading me right where I do not want to be goaded:  "Stop sitting on your butt!" they're shouting to me.  First I read this is 37Signals' "ReWork" and lately in "Do The Work" by Pressfield.

Today I watched a TED:  Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong.  It was interesting; I appreciated one of her points particularly, that in school we learn early that "being right is GOOD and being wrong is BAD" so we strive to be right; we avoid being bad.  In other words, we shy away from being courageous (I will get back to this issue if I have time).  I want myself, my children and my students to be brave.

IDEA:  Here is an idea:  when I have a test in class, I am specifically testing a topic I have assigned to students and which we have learned about and studied together.  However, in doing this I am taking away a students ability to choose what they love and to pursue what they are interested in - ideas that the IB considers in their philosophy of "optional" topics.  In my tests, I can offer credit for students who learn "off-syllabus topics."  The challenge is going to be, where to draw the line about how much off topic the learning can be, but I think I will attack that organically, not make a policy but deal with it in a case by case basis.  For example, maybe in the plant test, a student studies conifers in depth and explores transport in conifers in cold weather (why are they still green in winter?) and pollination (how do they fertilize without flowers?) as well as unique structure compared to flowering, deciduous trees.  If a student learns a lot in that area and demonstrates "depth of understanding" then I should credit them.  How much? Hmm in reference to the descriptors I suppose!  This would be more innovative than a flipped classroom (which has some good points) or beginning with the end in mind (that is great organization, but not exactly how a person really learns anything; I did not learn to make a website by having a clear idea of what I had to learn, I simply began learning by curiosity.

So, without an attempt to be a rebel, I guess I have to say that I do not agree that the panaceas are restorative.  Students watching videos on their computer because they are not learning it in class is really an annealing of the original fit: a passionate teacher and motivated students.  Anytime you have a passionate teacher (like Kahn), some learning will take place.  Anytime you have a motivated student learning will take place.  The conjunction of them both magnifies and multiplies their force and effectiveness.  So Kahn is helpful to motivated students lacking passionate teachers and the internet is valuable to teachers, like Kahn, trying to reach motivated students.  What a great idea!  But replicating that in class is silly because in the first place I need to teach with passion!

Except:  the point made by the flippers (from Colorado) is that a 15 minute lecture on tape forces the instructor to confine his discussion.  In that way the medium is constructive and shapes the practice in ways that are good for learning.  I get off task sometimes ... ok MANY times, and my respectful students kindly hang on my every (distracted) word (or maybe that rapid typing with only the right hand is a Tetris game and not notetaking...)  A premade video can be edited several times by the teacher to provide the salient content without the blah, blah, blah.  That is a valuable contribution of the flipped idea.

Flip contribution #2 - refocussing the classroom activity on student learning rather than teacher delivery.  With only 15 minutes to talk, you better say something valuable and trim the fat!  Get the most important elements done. Don't bother with trivia, don't bother with the minutae: just -

- provide the framework for students to append and hang ideas from

- give a sketch of the forest so they can stay oriented

- point the direction so they know where to go

- provide a visual context so they can remember what they are doing

- inspire them so they will LOVE the process and chew - or better! - GULP understanding

- provide live examples of you learning, so they can watch learning in action

- be courageous and try something new; take a personal risk; be vulnerable so the kids can connect

Copyright 2011 Jay Reimer    (You can email me at