If you can’t walk, crawl.

Joe (the amazingly articulate and involved art teacher) wrote on evaluations:

I was on a Fulbright Scholar’s Grant to the Palace Museum in the early 1960s, being caught up in Chinese thought, painting and culture. All the Fulbrighters traveled in a bus across the island to I-Lan, a small village on the eastern shore of Taiwan. Our hotel was high in the mountains, overlooking I-Lan, and I was restless. I went for a walk.

Across a ravine, on a moonless night, with a raging river below, I could see the outline of a pagoda which I wanted to visit. I found a swaying footbridge and confidently started to walk across, hearing the rushing water far below in the ravine.

My courage failed me in the middle and I crawled the rest of the way to the other side.

Then, I explored the pagoda. It was marvelous. When I decided to return, the only way back was across the footbridge. I walked again halfway and crawled the rest. I find that when I get into the unknown in my own creative work, I still use that technique. It taught me that if you want something bad enough, crawling to get there is worth the embarrassment. Getting A’s is nice but it will never compare to that pagoda on a moonless night in an unknown land (an undiscovered country) in search of “wonder”.

This is from my adjunct certification course.

Engaging Techniques: Kindergarten Week

This week we’ve been preparing to write a descriptive paper in class.

What is a very focused description? A riddle.

So on Monday we read riddles. I did a historical introduction to the ones I used.
(“This will be easier if you played a particular children’s game growing up.”
And “George Washington probably heard this one when he was growing up.”)

Eventually I gave everyone five riddles from the Exeter Book (circa 950 AD) translated into modern English. I tell them that the riddles are old.

Then I had them come up with answers on their own.

The students still came up with modern answers. But even those were interesting.

There is one riddle that scholars disagree on the answer. (The book has no answers in it.) I had the students get in groups and told them I would give them extra points if they could figure out what all the possible answers were. Everyone got it!

Wednesday I brought in art cards.

(Did I already tell this story?) I handed each student one and told them not to show it to anyone else. Unbeknownst to them I had at least three others that were very similar to theirs.

Then I told them to write a one line or sentence description of their piece. Then I took up the cards.

I had them give me their line and then I showed them the cards I thought might be theirs. They were surprised by how many cards fit their description.

Then I gave out another set of cards and had them describe the picture they received. This time when I took up the cards I placed them with other similar cards on the table at the front of the room. Then I had them exchange descriptions and come up and find the card matching the description they got.

It was a lot of fun. People were flabbergasted at how many of the cards looked similar. Overall, though, the students were able to find the cards with those second descriptions.

On Wednesday one of my students asked if we were having kindergarten week. Another student thought that would be fun. I laughingly said we would be playing hide and seek. Several of them were excited about that!

Then Calandra gave us the “non-astounding” alphabet technique.

So on Friday, I had them brainstorm on people, places, and things. Then I had them pick one and come up with 26 details starting with letters of the alphabet. I allowed one skip. And for each they came up with extra letters for, they received extra points.

I learned a new word, “xanthic.” It means yellow, which was some special someone’s favorite color.

It expanded their thinking and gave them a finite number of details to shoot for. They loved it! Thanks, Calandra.

Something that didn’t work so well:

I’m not very fond of group work. Mostly because I was always the kid doing all the work for everyone’s grade.

But I have been trying to include more of this for the sake of the students for whom it is a blessing.

I’ve found that if I want them to have productive group discussions I have to be very clear about what I want them to discuss. If I just say “discuss X” they will talk for less than two minutes on topic and then get off on their own lives.

I can give them a checklist or a set of questions to help stop this.

And I tell them I’ll be calling on them for answers afterward.

This is from my adjunct certification course.

Justify yourself

I was talking to an associate dean today. I am not sure that she said what I think she did, but this is how I interpreted the conversation.

I told her that I was getting a critical analysis of Gulliver’s Travels published by Ignatius Press.

She said, “Don’t you want to teach composition?”

I said yes.

That was the end of the conversation because someone came along and interrupted us.

But I got the feeling that she meant, “Why are you writing something on literature if you want to teach composition?”

I have a couple of answers.

1. If I am going to teach composition, shouldn’t I be able to prove I can write?

2. Just because I want to teach composition does not mean I have no interests in English outside of rhetoric.

3. Because they accepted my proposal.

Maybe I was taking the question the wrong way. But if I wasn’t, those are my answers.

Thoughts on Adjunct Certification

For the last year, my college has been offering adjunct certification courses. They are hybrid classes, requiring eight hours of face-to-face time and, supposedly, twenty-four hours online. The adjuncts who take the course receive $500. There is no other institutional incentive to take the class, and a similar class offered two years ago under a different name disappeared into the halls of academia without a lot of fanfare.

Inside Higher Ed had an article in May which discussed a program where adjuncts who completed sixty hours of professional development had their pay per hour go up $33. (That’s almost what I make.) With an additional sixty hours, their rank goes up to “associate faculty.” That would be worth taking the course for! When I am applying for a job, I hear a lot that “adjuncts aren’t good.” (But that’s another post.)

These are thoughts from Joe, a college art teacher for the last fifty years. (Yes, that is 5-0.) All of the thoughts, the words, the wisdom are his and are a reflection of his thinking on our adjunct certification program.

Professional Development- ACP: Summing Up (or I Am What I am)

When the ACP sessions started, the first question was: “Why do you teach?” and since that moment I have turned it inward (not for this program’s ultimate use but for my own). “Why do I teach” is the underlying drive that has made this a worthwhile pursuit and useful tool.

The four sessions were helpful:
A. Creating a Positive Learning Environment, where I wrote essays on: Change Can Be Scary, Effective Teacher, Student Expectations, and The Psychological Environment;
B. Planning for Learning, essays on: Assessment Roles in a Course, Textbook Selection, Core Planning in Consideration, and Significant Learning;
C. Instruction for Learning- Assessment and Evaluation, essays on: Assessment Strategy, Exams, Positive Evaluation Experiences, and Assessments as Motivators; and
D. Instruction for Learning-Teaching Strategies, essays on: Critical Thinking, Techniques to Engage Students, Effective Learning, Active Learning, and The Project That Went Awry.

What was wonderful was the communication and discussions from many points of view from the other members of the program. Probably, though, what was the most helpful to my own teaching was a dialogue with a small selection of the members and my internal dialogue where I replied to myself for myself.

A Beginning:
“May the beauty we love be what we do.” Jumalillal Rumi, 13th century Islamic Mystic poet

To sum up the program, let me divide the program differently than the syllabus, from a personal, internal perspective. I will start with quotes and comments (made upon my observations as they have been saved) on each section that we were asked to comment by the facilitator.

Determined Commitment:
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Chinese Proverb.

I begin with a statement: I never get into anything to waste my time. If it is not what I need, I make it so and work my butt off to improve myself and what is done in the venture. I have never said, “That is not in my job description.” My job description is written inside of me, not on a signed contract. Also I do not believe in getting out of a commitment just because it does not fit all that I expected it to be. I make what I expected it to be.

A friend of mine once quoted Kinsey (about the retention of employees): “High performers are like frogs in a wheelbarrow- they can jump out at any time.” That is not my way (although I know in the business world, it is true). I expect myself to be a high performer but not one who jumps out of the wheelbarrow of a program or a job. Hide and Seek is not my favorite game: Sardines is (where if we hide, it is all together). As Rodney King once said, “Can’t we just get along?”

Collect Stuff (Data Gathering):
“Knowledge management is the art of creating value by using the organization’s intellectual capital,” John Lewiston.

The initial commitment was to begin a journal that would encase all the ideas of my own self and the best of others with images that provoke further exploration and comment. The journal became more than a notebook. It was a passion “to find” and “explore”. It became a symbol for the program, and in time it became a model which was to be placed in the library for my students and others to view. What I found though is this truism: “Ability will never catch up with the demand for it,” Malcolm Forbes. The more that I worked on it, wrote essays for it, collected the thoughts of others; the more that it demanded that I find and portray. Therefore, it also became a symbol for teaching: IT NEVER ENDS.

Incubation (Time to Allow the Material to Rattle Around the Corners of the Mind):
“When in trouble, circle the wagons; when in question, search out all answers,” is one of my mantras for working.

Therefore if the facilitator asked me to write three entries, I wrote more; and if she asked for two replies, I wrote until I answered myself (through others). One of my working rules in creative exploration is: “If they give me lined paper, I will write since they asked for it; but I will write across the lines.”

Ah Ha (or Enlightenment):
“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face-to-face with another problem,” Martin Luther King.

What is surprising about this process is that once it was started, it is like rowing with the current. Things just jump into one’s mind and the assembly of images helps to create more ideas that should not go together but do. The latter essays for this ACP program became more than fulfilling any basic minimum; it became an exploration of years of teaching, questioning all the small things that were successful but had not been examined or accessed for years, and arriving at some conclusions that even surprised this teacher of Art Appreciation (the one course where I am free to be flexible while still preparing students to think critically and creatively in any endeavor).

Formulation (Solving Problems and Creating New Ones):
“I am only in competition with that person I know that I can become,” Martha Graham.

The journal was completed by adding forty more pages than the book was originally formatted to hold. The Media Center at the college will laminate each page (so that it lasts viewing over the years to come), rebind it, and place it at the Reserve Desk in Lone Star College-Kingwood’s Library. That same Media Center has created two power point presentations for my students on new material (at least in places new formatting) which were made to my specifications and using my selection of images and my writing. One of the images deals with a subject that a teacher of Russian origin recaptured an idea that became an essay. It was about money. We both agreed that you need it as a vehicle for movement but it is not critical once you have “enough.” The problem with many people is determining “what is enough?”

“Money is power, freedom, a cushion, the root of all evil, the sum of blessings,” Carl Sandburg.

Also I formulated that I would confront my students in Art Appreciation early with their choice of my class. When they signed up, they gave us a little of their freedom of choice but still retained their personal freedom to choose the works of art that touched their lives, the way that they expressed their critical thinking, and their own opinions about art (after expressing what society had determined was basic). In the research paper, they were free to find what I had asked them to find in any part of Houston. In the last two papers, they were free to choose the location and how to express what they had learned in the course.

“The right to be left alone- the most comprehensive of rights and the most valued by civilized men,” Louis Brandeis.

Of course, the system is not perfect.
“If only it weren’t for the people always tangled up with the machinery…earth would be an engineer’s paradise,” Kurt Vonnegat.

Mostly, in this ACP Professional Development session, I (we) learned that all the rules, all the suggested systems for working at the profession of education, teaching, that is, must in the end be a personal decision. The ways of teaching from the past must fit the personality of the teacher in the present. The means of stimulating critical thinking and encouraging creative solutions must fit the owner of those tools. If it does not fit, do not wear it. Professional development comes down to an old song lyric:

“Life’s not worth a damn until you can shout, ‘I am what I am!’”


The ultimate teacher for any human being is him or her self! That is one of the most important lessons for any teacher to teach to his or her students.

An Old Lesson Renewed:
“Old dogs can learn new tricks.”

As I end this program in professional development for teaching and learning, I also come upon a truism that I knew but was fighting against until the pure logic of it made me come face-to-face with its eventuality. At the beginning of this session, I used the image of rowing with the current as the way that a teacher should work. What I missed was: What if I wish to go against the current? To use the critical side of my mind, I must come up with: “Give up the row boat and get a power boat which can easily transverse the waters upstream.” In other words, there are times when a teacher should embrace technology. I knew that. I have been working with that in my own creative, professional work as an artist, but I have been slow to realize and acknowledge that side of my work when I move to teaching. Like money, technology is a vehicle to get from one place to another (as long as you know where you are going). I do drive to the college to teach!

What to do when things go wrong

When I used to run an art museum as a director, a good friend who was an old hand at this business told me: “There are at least four ways to cope with a situation that is a disaster:
1) solve it the next time and fix it up this time,
2) give it to an assistant to take from the disaster stage to success (a feather in another’s hat),
3) work your butt off to transform the whole situation and if it remains a disaster
4) walk away and forget it ever happened (except that you make a report to yourself to file away in some obscure filing case, just if you are tempted to do it again).”

When I retired from the museum business in 2001 (have not retired from a 50-year career teaching), I walked away and forgot most of it (although I have extensive files). Therefore there are some courses I do not teach (although I have the credentials to teach them). I find that the system of teaching them and the academic system that supports the teaching of them is an anathma to my best teaching self. Even if superfacially they appear as successes, I know deep down that for me they are “disasters”. Those are the ones that I walk away from and forget. The files are for others who might pick up the work from where I left off.

I now teach one course (at least two sections) that I am more than good at, Art Appreciation, no more, no less. Could I teach others? Yes, but don’t! I totally understand Suzette’s walking away from one course that does not fit her idea of “exceptional teaching.” I love now being an “adjunct professor”; I was a “full” one for years. It is like Donna Brazile being an “adjunct” at Georgetown University while she is also involved in Democratic politics and a commentator for CNN. As an adjunct, you are free to choose.

I also do not stand on a railroad track when a “disaster” train is coming.

This is from the adjunct certification course and is one of Joe’s comments.

Tip 30: How to Make Lectures More Interesting

Academics have a tendency to lecture, as this is the way we learned. Some things, indeed, need lectures. But most of us can improve our lectures. Here are some simple ways that lectures can be improved.

Vary the voice style.

Move around the room.
There’s Joe’s picture plane. (He says that teachers tend to stay within a “window” away from the students, like there is a piece of glass between them/us and the students.) I go to a part of the room where I am not normally. Or I take two parts and move back and forth between the two spaces.

Keep lectures short.
Of course, I think 15 minutes is short and the students think 30 seconds is short.

Start the lecture with a question that the lecture is aimed at helping the students to answer.
For example, You will have to write an essay later giving examples for this question: “How has the world changed from Old English to Middle English times?” One of the examples you could discuss is women’s roles. Then I give my Old English lecture on women’s roles.

Include an activity or assignment immediately after the lecture that involves the lecture.
Example, “List five things that differ from Old English literature/culture that you could note and write down as we read through Medieval literature.”

Prepare a handout.
This could be the main points OR
it could be the important concepts left blank with some of the notes filled in.

Tell stories.
People like jokes; they like stories. Give them something they can relate to and let them hang the information on that.

In the discussion of content of literature of the era, I talk about informing the uneducated. One part of this was the stained glass windows, which told stories from the Bible and acted as a picture Bible.
I bring a picture of a stained glass window that matches what the literature is about.

Relate the new information to previous information.
Remember that OE/ME essay you have to write? This is the second half of the information you need to use.

Create an activity or an assignment that applies the new information to the overall themes of the course.
We are looking at the intellectual and moral aspects of literature. What part of the contextualization would help us identify these?
–Answer: Content. This is the section that lists things like “strong belief in faith” and “plays that instruct illiterate masses in morals and religion.”

Defining and Encouraging Critical Thinking

Definitions I like:

[W]e need to think because the world we live in, however well we learn to cope with it, is constantly forcing us to choose. When experience surprises or disturbs us, we have to “make up our minds,” and, as the phrase suggests, when we do that, not only are we deciding what to do with the world about us; we are deciding what we are or want to be. –Monroe C. Beardsley, Practical Logic (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1950), x-xi.

[There are] two distinctly different kinds of thinking, creative thinking and critical thinking. Creative thinking may be defined as the formulation of possible solutions to a problem or explanations of a phenomenon, and critical thinking as the testing and evaluation of these solutions or explanations. –W. Edgar Moore, Creative and Critical Thinking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967) 2, 3.

student-thinkingCritical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. –Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, “Defining Critical Thinking: A Statement for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction.” http://www.criticalthinking.org/aboutCT/definingCT.shtml (16 May 2005).

I guess I personally describe critical thinking as the ability to listen to something or read it and analyze it for pathos (emotion) and logos (logic) appeals.

A simple series of questions starts this process:
What is the work trying to say?
What is it actually saying?
What is the work trying to make you feel?
Did it succeed?
What was it using to try and make you feel?
How is the text (or the picture) making an argument?
Is it a legitimate argument?
If it is not, what kind of fallacy is it making?

With both my students and my sons I model this. I remember very clearly pointing out a billboard to my sons and explaining that the billboard was trying to convince them that
1. alcohol was okay in the middle of the day
2. spaghetti needed a cold beer with it
3. a good time guaranteed with spaghetti and beer

Then I asked them what in the billboard made me think that.

I do the same thing by looking at a reading, telling the students a couple of different ways to look at something, and then asking them to tell me how someone reading the work could arrive at one conclusion over the other.

I talk about presumptions when I am doing this and I explain that a question can have two very opposite answers, assuming different ways of looking at something. I give as an example the “dueling exam professors.”


I wrote my thesis on Hemingway’s novels. I didn’t read many of his short stories. (Mistake that.) Several profs came to my defense. Two of them taught Hemingway and had opposing approaches to his works.

So the first one gave me a scenario, “Assuming X and Y (which were both true), what is the answer to Q?” I answered the question.

Then the second gave me a competing scenario, “Assuming A and B (which were also true), what is the answer to Q?” Again, I answered the question.

My answers were totally opposite. I don’t think both of them could be true in reality. But given the parameters of the question with those things as most important, the answers came out differently.

I tell my students that if I knew which of the presuppositions were in fact incorrect or which were minor instead of essential, I would have only had to give a single answer. But I didn’t.

It’s an example of critical thinking in action. Not a fun example when you are the person being used as the saber in the duel, but a reasonable one.

This was from the adjunct certification course as well.

What is significant learning?

Significant learning is when the students “get” what I am teaching in such a way that they are able to use and apply it.

An example from grammar is critical to what I am doing in my classes. If a student understands the grammar rule and can do every exercise correctly, then they have made progress. But if the student still cannot apply that rule to their own writing, then the level of learning for that student is still too low.

It is all well and good to be able to memorize or figure out the answer in an exercise. The most important part of my class, though, is applying what you have learned to your writing. That would be “significant learning.”

This is from the adjunct certification course.

Teaching and Testing

I think that the concept of teaching to the test is mostly, though not entirely, a function of the accountability process put into place in our K-12 system. Most people who teach to the test in this environment are doing so with the expectation of teaching their students the fundamental knowledge which is necessary for them to pass on to their next stage of learning.

Sometimes this is essential and useful. What if there were no understanding of end outcomes for a course/class/year/school? Then each one would be different and a student from one would not have learned or even studied the same things that a student from another did. We would not have anything like a basic level that could be assumed within education.

And this can be useful for a teacher as well. I went to high school in New York, where every student in a course must take the statewide final exam in their course. It did several things for the teachers.

First, it removed the onus of “it was too hard for X” because it is a statewide requirement that you know how to prove that a line has 180 degrees (or whatever).

Second, the final was useful because it gave the teachers a clear set of objectives to be aiming for. World history wasn’t just supposed to talk about the history of a single country outside of the US, but was supposed to cover art and architecture and politics throughout world cultures. European history wasn’t just modern or early, but covered everything from the Etruscans forward.

Third, it allowed teachers a bit of flexibility in grading. This was not mandated (like it presently is in Dallas or Pittsburgh), but a student not doing well in a course, but TRYING, could be given a low passing grade with the clear understanding that the student would not pass the course if they could not pass the final. That was a statewide requirement. So a teacher could reward effort of a student without doing social promotion or effort promotion for the entire course.

Applied to college teaching:

But since we are all college teachers, the question should probably be applied to college teaching. I think that in college teaching to the test is problematic.

College teachers usually create their own tests. They know what is on them and they should certainly make the information available to the students through discussions, readings, lectures, activities, and assignments.

But students often expect a review handout that covers every single question on a test, rather than types of questions or types of information. If the teacher says that is what the review handout is for, then clearly it should do that. However I often see students not studying, but memorizing the review handout. Then, when they go to a test, they are upset because the question, as presented in the review, was not on the exam. That’s ridiculous. Why should you need to come to class if the review handout is all you need to know for the exam?

In addition I have upon rare occasions had a teacher who taught only what was on the test and nothing else. Each class period consisted of covering ten or fifteen minutes’ worth of material which was boiled down to a single question on the exam. And that was all the class consisted of. I am opposed to this approach.

Thankfully I am in English and for freshman composition, my most common course, the tests of all kinds are writing. Since the focus of the course is writing and the students are writing and the tests are writing, there is a clear confluence of testing and teaching coming together. (At least that is the goal.)

In my British lit course:

In my British Literature course, I primarily use out of class papers, where the students have to integrate what they learned in class and what they have found or discovered on their own. I do have two exams, though, which cover factual materials in a paragraph form. In those exams the students must write about the work addressing a certain question.

Because the course is involved and we do lots of reading, I allow the students to use their notes. They cannot use the book, but they can use anything that they created. This does two things. It encourages reading as we go along (because there is no way they can do all the reading before the exams) and it encourages them to take extensive notes on my lectures, our discussions, and the texts themselves.

Some teachers might feel that they ought to remember the issues on their own, but I feel that the way I have created the test allows me much more flexibility and gives the students a greater likelihood of doing well.

I don’t expect them to have memorized Beowulf or Paradise Lost. I don’t expect them to remember every description of the characters in Gulliver’s Travels. But I do expect them to have a general grasp of the work (both for the test and afterwards) and to be able to find the more specific information (either in their notes for the test, or on the internet throughout their life).

In addition, for the final, I ask the students to create questions based on the information we have covered in the course. I usually use at least two of those and if they come up with a question I was already planning on, I let them know that as well. …In a class with twenty questions, I will say, “Four of these will be on the test. Two of them were already on the test and two of them have been chosen from your suggestions.” I do not, though, tell them which those are.

Department-wide final exam in freshman composition:

One thing that one of my other colleges had and that I wish we had here was a final exam that was department-wide for freshman composition.

For the exam, there would be five or six writing prompts chosen by teachers and could not be prompts used in classes that semester. Every freshman composition student would take the exam. Then each teacher would grade two exams for every student they had in their classes, but they would not grade their own students’ exams.

These grades would be on a scale from 1 to 5. When the exam was first created and used, teachers were required to get two grades next to each other. So if one teacher gave it a 1 and another gave it a 5, someone else had to grade it and either give it a 2 or a 4 for it to pass. Obviously those with two 3s or whatever were looked upon most favorably. Because of the growth of the English department and the class sizes, however, that school now only requires that they be within two points. So a 1 and a 3 would be a match or a 2 and a 4. Then they would get the average as their final grade.

What this did was allow the students an outside, nonpartisan grader examining their work. It eliminated any discussion of bias on the part of the teacher (at least for the final) and it allowed the department to know about any outliers. If, for example, my student got a 3 (a 70%) on the final, but they had a 98 in my class, there might be an issue. Or, on the other hand, if I consistently gave all my students better or worse grades than they earned on the final, this was also clear when I turned in my grades. (We had to give the final exam grade and the final average.)

This also let us know of any grading outliers in the department. If someone consistently gave significantly better or worse grades, their averages could be looked at and they could have extra norming help.

It created an interesting experience once when the first two graders gave a paper a 1 and a 5. The 1 was given because the audience (the teacher) was told that English teachers were idiots and the whole paper focused on how much smarter the student was than English teachers. The 5 was given because there was not a single grammar error in the whole eight pages of the paper (written in two hours). When other readers also failed to come to agreement, the entire department got back together to grade and discuss the paper.

Joe was almost as wordy as I was:

It is interesting to see how other English departments work. The only one that I had close relationships with is mine at Dartmouth College (where I was an English major and art major).

Unlike many other schools in the Ivy League, the English department had each major write a thesis before they could graduate. My thesis class was in the work of Josef Conrad. I wrote a paper every two weeks or sooner on what I read and ideas that came from the novels. In one course, we had to read of Conrad’s major works. Some papers I got a low B, some an A, and a few a C (where the instructor felt that I missed the essence of what I was reading but did a journeyman’s job in writing).

In the time before a final grade was given, I took one paper where I jumped off a cliff of risk (not caring if I landed or not), got an A because the professor could see that something was happening which was unique, and expanded upon that short paper for the thesis. I had to go in an defend my writing (which took Lord Jim and Monet and discussed the underpainting in each and how (in Conrad) it came subtlely through the surface of the writing of the novel, just as underpainting by Monet gave added meaning to his paintings. It was defended like my two master’s degrees had to be defended, they meet, discussed my ideas, and then I set up a meeting with my primary professor. I got a A for the thesis, an A for the course (although my comulative grade average was proprobly B+), and graduated with English Honors. I am telling this not to blow my own horn but to say that “failure” in some papers (some endeavors) can be “learning experiences” that leads to higher accomplishments.

Randy Pausch, the famous computer professor at Carnegie Mellon, who died recently after his “Last Lecture” was made viewed by millions worldwide, gave some students in his class the “First Penquin Award” (it commemorates the first penquin who jumps from an iceberg into predator-infested waters) to the student who tried something really difficult and failed to bring it off.

[Here is his Last Lecture.]

My friend Robert Wilson works on his 19 hour play, “civilWars,” for 5 years in six different countries, doing only acts in each, expecting to put it all together at the 1986 Olympics in Los Angeles. Los Angeles never came up with the money to bring all the theater companies together for the play so it never happened. No one has ever seen Bob’s efforts, but it made his professional life. Some may call this a failure. I see it as “experience” gained for the future (which he has used and made his name a part of the contemporary avant-garde scene).

At Dartmouth they did a survey of successful graduates, and the ones who were most admired for their accomplishments were the B and B+ students, not the book worm who got the A’s. There is more to success than what most tests ask a student to show. I would like to see a time when student give themselves a grade after five years out in the world. How much of the information was useful? How much was obsolete the day after they got their diplomas? What thinking did they receive that helped them unlock the systems of the world?

The mind today is not a toolbox of data; it must be, in my thinking, a sorting computer that unlocks systems and opens doors to data. A leader does not have to have or retain all the data but must hire those who do and be able to see the world from a satelite point of view. Those who are successful are able to jump the “brickwalls” placed in their path. They are able to find the keys that unlock the systems of the world and make them work for them and others. A teacher is one of the first mentors in this process (parent, school instructor, senior advisor in any business, role model, friend, partner, etc.).

Still, I enjoyed reading your ideas of testing, even when I see other ways to get there. We both agree that only teaching for the test leaves a student inadequately prepared for life.

Due to the foibles of the internet, I answered back in a concise manner:

Long post was lost… Short version:

In this day of legal issues, I would not feel comfortable grading someone for their effort. I think I would have a hard time defending such a grade for one person and not for another. (How do I know how much effort the person put in?)

I like the idea of the First Penguin Award, though, where the teacher identifies the effort/stretch and gives additional points for that.

I am not sure after-the-fact grading would be a good idea. What would they be grading? The class? Their memories of the class? The things they got out of the class? The usefulness of the class?

This is from my adjunct certification course.

The Psychological Environment: Theories of Intelligence

This last year I was introduced to entity and incremental theories of intelligence. In one, the student says, “I am good at this.” (Or bad at it.) In the other the student says, “I worked hard at this and I got it.” (Or didn’t work hard enough and didn’t get it.)

While it is true that some things a student may never get (I, for one, have never gotten geometry.), most things the student can get if they will keep trying.

According to research incremental theorists are more likely to succeed across diverse fields. Someone who is “good at math” may not use the same skills that make them good at math in English because they don’t realize those skills transfer.

The researcher I read said that process-oriented feedback from the teacher can help our students realize that they have incremental intelligence. “Good job! You are becoming a better writer. Keep up the good work.” Or “Study a little harder for the next test. Ask any questions you need to during our review.”

This difference made sense to me. I’ve decided to try it out. This is the first semester I have tried doing incremental encouragement, so I do not know how well it will work. But I think it would have helped me as a student.

Joe, an art teacher, answered:

This last year I was introduced to entity and incremental theories of intelligence. In one, the student says, “I am good at this.” (Or bad at it.) In the other the student says, “I worked hard at this and I got it.” (Or didn’t work hard enough and didn’t get it.)

While it is true that some things a student may never get (I, for one, have never gotten geometry.), most things the student can get if they will keep trying.

According to research incremental theorists are more likely to succeed across diverse fields. Someone who is “good at math” may not use the same skills that make them good at math in English because they don’t realize those skills transfer.

The researcher I read said that process-oriented feedback from the teacher can help our students realize that they have incremental intelligence. “Good job! You are becoming a better writer. Keep up the good work.” Or “Study a little harder for the next test. Ask any questions you need to during our review.”

This difference made sense to me. I’ve decided to try it out. This is the first semester I have tried doing incremental encouragement, so I do not know how well it will work. But I think it would have helped me as a student.

And Joel, a math teacher, chimed in:

I didn’t know I was practicing incremental intelligence theory. I had been applying the idea to my students as well as those I tutor. I don’t have any quantitative data that shows it works. But intuitively, I think it works.

This is another comment thread from a discussion post in the adjunct certification course.