Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can autonomy lead to success?

Update: I found this animated mind map of Daniel Pink presenting his ideas. "If you want engagement, self-direction is better." Daniel Pink  

    Earlier this year, I watched this Ted talk video in which business analyst Daniel Pink discusses motivation. His point is that the business world is not paying attention to the hard science behind motivation. Research, for 40 years (!) according to Pink, has consistently shown that traditional carrot-and-stick motivators do not work when the job requires complex, creative thought. Ever. So, why does the business world still operate this way?

     Recently, I read a related interview in which Pink makes the same points, but relates them specifically to the issues of education. He addresses teacher accountability and pay-for-performance, but of more interest to me are his points on student motivation. Pink says that if we want our students to engage in higher level thinking, creating products and synthesizing information, then we cannot rely on simple reward and punishment motivating systems. Sticker on your paper, anyone? A privilege for the table group that gets the highest score? This sort of "if...then..." classroom management is ubiquitous in elementary school classrooms. Pink says that this system relies on the assumption that students are inert, waiting passively for someone to come along and offer them a carrot...or a sticker...or an "A" even.

     Anyone who really believes students are naturally passive and inert, waiting for a carrot or stick to motivate them, has never seen a roomful of kindergarteners wiggling and dancing, touching and exploring anything within reach. They want to do things for themselves, make choices about how they spend their time, and actively help each other. We train much of this behavior out of them in the early years of school, when we should be encouraging it, cultivating and guiding their natural motivation to learn.

     Pink states that, in order for students to be motivated to complete complex and creative tasks, they need to driven by autonomy, a need for mastery, and a feeling of greater purpose. If the carrot and stick method is working in our classrooms, I think we need to be asking ourselves whether we are really expecting enough of our students. Are we asking them to synthesize information? to analyze relationships? evaluate opinions?

     I think we would see huge progress if we began offering our students their own version of “FedEx Days”. This concept would offer students pure freedom to choose a path, but require accountability to their peers at the end. They would be off to a slow start (because they would be un-learning years of compliance-based schooling) but things would fall into place after a few tries and I think teachers would be amazed at the results.

Autonomy >> intrinsic motivation >> engagement >> performance >> results.

Could you do this with your class? If you teach younger students, are you willing to begin teaching them how to use their freedom wisely, rather than training them to submit to authority?  Update: I found this  at coalcrackerclassroom about one teacher's experience with a "FedEx Day" project.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Teachers share their Go-To books

Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher and O dom supremo by Paulo Coelho (Zoyla)
Also, http://paulocoelhoblog.com (Zoyla)
Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher (Alicia)
(Nzinga) The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
(Nicole) Making the Most of Small Groups by Debbie Diller
Enriching the Brain by Eric Jensen(Amber)
First Days of School by Harry Wong (Rachel)
Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe, Seven Layers of Knowing by David Lazear, Best Practices by Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde (Vicki)
Classroom Instruction that Works by Marzano (Shawnna)
Literacy at the Crossroads by Regie Routman (Dr. Welsh)
Real Boys by William Pollack PhD (Connie)
Blog: http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com (Laurie)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hot topic: Teacher Evaluation

In one of my night classes, we read this article about evaluating teacher effectiveness. It seems like a scary process, as any self-reflection would be for most people.  I am excited, though, by the prospect of how much my teaching could improve.

The method of teacher evaluation described in this article is a process, rather than just a single multiple-choice exam.  Teachers must plan, reflect, analyze, collect data, reflect (again!) and project what they would do in the future. I am struck by the compelling nature of this process, for all participants.

Teachers must look at their own teaching more carefully than they probably ever have before. Analyzing students and student-related data before and after the lesson, the teacher finds out how much more effective a lesson can be when it is based on student needs and formative assessment results. 

The professionals who must score these teachers’ performance also learn valuable lessons about their own involvement in the process. Principals and district personnel might find trends in their schools and districts after scoring many teachers’ portfolios. These findings could guide professional development offerings. Also, in order to score, these professionals must learn about the specific needs of ELL students and SpEd inclusion students.

Teacher education programs, in evaluating their graduates as first-year teachers, find out where their weaknesses lie.  In a telescoping of the teaching process, the teachers of the teachers learn that their proces matters too….maybe more so for how many students they ultimately affect.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Leap years

August of last year, I took a leap. I can't even describe my decision process. I just held my nose, squeezed my eyes shut, and jumped into grad school with my knees gathered to my chest in the fetal position. Of course, I'm taking my family with me, as they patiently endure my evenings of studying and classes, and my absences from the dinner table. (I'm sure my 10 year old would've learned to use the oven eventually anyway, right?)

Tuesday starts Semester Number Two.  Out of eight. When I am done, my sweet Boy will be 12 and I will be 41. My inner brat did NOT want to register for classes. My inner brat likes to look at family photos on Facebook and chat with faraway friends. She also likes to take naps and make complicated dinners from scratch. After I'd explained salary schedules to her, she was a little more cooperative.  Also, we both love exploring new ideas, though without my discipline, it seems my inner brat would be lost :)

Educational Technology.  I'm expecting to grow more comfortable with using technology in my classroom, but not only for delivering content.  I want my students to consider their laptops just as standard to learning as they do pencils, crayons, and paper.  I want the novelty to be replaced with a comfort level that allows them to explore. We'll see.

Developmental Psychology.  It's been 18 years since I've had a psych class, a psych professor, psych assignments, blah blah blah.  I want this to be interesting, engaging, not just hard work.  We'll see.

That's what's up down here in Texas.  Hope this post finds all of you well and happy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

beautiful life

I know a girl, she's 29.
She has no kids, isn't married. 
Beautiful woman, great job.
She has a "5 Year Plan". It's written down.
I have known her almost 6 years and her "5 Year Plan" has changed at least 5 times.
I can tell you this: I don't have the guts to write down a plan like that.
"What if I CAN'T?!" "That will be too hard!" "I don' wanna!"
(These are the things that I say to myself when I consider making a 5 year plan.)
Ok, so, that being said, that I can't handle making this sort of plan, I still think it's part of the reason she's so happy.  I sincerely think that the reason she's so happy is because each step she takes in her life is towards something, not away from something.

What a responsibility, this life I've been given.  So much possibility and only I can decide to make something of it.  It's exhausting, when it should be exhilarating.  

I intend to be exhilarated, from this day forward.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Keep it simple?

Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.
Aldous Huxley

Change happens. Sometimes it happens to us.  Often we are guided by circumstance or by inspiration to make change happen on our own.  Either way is scary: the choices, the growing pains, the unknown.

Henry went to bed one night repeating, "There's no simple child."  (I think this was a little bit about his interest in the meaning of it, and a little bit about him just wanting to repeat anything over and over.)   For a lot of reasons, I can't clear my head tonight.  Just wanted to say that there's no simple life, either.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that :)

Hope this finds you well,

Saturday, December 5, 2009

loving words

     In the throes of a new relationship, not very new, but before the "I love you", there are things you want to hear from the your love interest.  You need to know you're important to him.  You want to know you're his first choice to spend time with, that he picks you when he has something important or funny to say.  Even after the "I love you"....and the "I do"....these same things are still important.   I'm fortunate that Hubby doesn't let me forget how valuable I am to him.  He treasures me, and he lets me know it every day.  There's something more, right now, that I want to hear from him.
     I would like to know that this house, these friends, and this small city are IT for us.  At least for the foreseeable future.  I want to talk about the landscaping, the kitchen counters and the floors (bare cement for two years now) as if we are the ones who will be enjoying all of it in the coming years.   I want a commitment to our present circumstances.  I want to feel permanent somewhere.  I'm starting to feel permanent here, but I'm nervous about bringing it up with him.  What if he doesn't feel the same way?  What if he doesn't say it back?  
     So, I look and listen for clues.  Does he want what I want? are we here to stay?  I'll work up the nerve to ask him. Soon.

Making the most of a Saturday morning

"Mom, can I turn on the TV?"


"Why not?"

"Because it's a beautiful morning and we don't need to turn the TV on."

"It's practically freezing out there! How is it a beautiful morning?"

"It's below freezing out there; it's 22 degrees."

"So, how is that a beautiful morning?"

"It's beautiful for two reasons.....three....no, maybe four reasons.....hold on a minute while I think about this."

1. The TV isn't on.
2. From my chair I see a kitchen and living room that aren't disasterously messy.
3. My Boy is sitting on the love seat, reading a book.
4. I'm reading a true love story written by a smart, funny lady.
5. There's a cat warming my legs.
6. The TV isn't on.

So there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I peeled the "Mess with Texas" bumper sticker off my car today.  It occurred to me that we're here for the long haul and it's a tremendous waste of emotional energy to not like the state in which I live.

On the same note, some gratitude points...

  • friends who will tell you the truth when you are ready to hear it
  • lemonade iced tea
  • freckles on Henry's nose
  • cool nights and heavy blankets
  • Hershey's milk chocolate

For some more  thoughts on optimism, and on choosing your outlook, see yesterday's posting at Lyn's Lifepixels.

Enjoy your day,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's quiet in here

There's such a striking difference between an empty classroom and that same room when it's full of children.   I don't have to tell you that the energy level drops considerably once the kids have walked out the door.

I'm an introvert, in the sense that I draw my energy from time spent alone.   So my days at school are an aggregate of our contrasting energy levels, held together by shared enthusiasm.  It's exhausting and exciting, and I am so blessed to be able to make a living doing something I love.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Banned Book Week (Sept 26-Oct 3)

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
— On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

Yeah, what HE said!!!
If  you really want to learn something, have a conversation (not an argument) with someone whose opinion differs from yours.   It's eye-opening, faith-strengthening.
Have a great day, read something shocking,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ooooh, shiny!

This is a 2009 Harley Davidson Street Glide.  Officially, I was terrified to be on it.  But....

Well, I can be distracted by shiny objects, and it certainly was shiny.  I'm not saying that I will ever own a motorcycle, but....

Yesterday, I was sitting outside drinking coffee with Jan and I saw three women on Harleys.  That doesn't mean I need one, right? Because I also saw three women wearing tank tops and I'm not going THERE.

As couples age,  they experience a hormonal switcheroo.  No,  I don't expect Hubby to put wallpaper up in the garage, but I am told that he will gradually be more settled.   Likewise, I hear that I will feel more wanderlust, less of a nesting instinct.   (Of course, I stopped right in the middle of writing this to verify, Google-style, and I found nothing.)

This means I might have to come up with a better excuse to shop for a Harley when I'm 50.

Enjoy your Sunday, rain or shine,

Friday, September 18, 2009

it's still about joy, just be patient

denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance

If you have experienced grief, you know that those aren't stages, but are rather part of an emotional menu.  You're limited, pretty much, to this menu for a short while following the loss, but gradually your choices broaden.

Phew!  It's a relief when you begin to feel the full range of emotions again.  What nobody warned me about is that those five troublemakers I listed above don't really go away.   They just creep back into the shadows, coming out less and less frequently as time passes.   From the Silver-Lining Camp comes this truth:  That loss has shaped your life, but now you are free to go out and (as they say) make the best of it.  Of the rest of it.

Thank God.  I don't need my Silver Lining peeps to tell me how great I have it now.  I love my life, and I am aware of that daily.  I accept my divorce, five years ago this summer, as a rocky place I steered around, a detour I'm glad I took.   Does that mean I'm never sad about it? never want to act like it never happened? Does that mean I'm never angry?  Nope.

Many types of life changes, like natural disasters or the death of someone close to you, come without a perpetrator, no bad guy for miles around.   You can bargain with God, but to whom goes the anger? Hmmmm.  Lemme see.  No one to blame. But the anger doesn't go away, and no one tells you that it should.  No one asks you to forgive, immediately, forever, and without hesitation, this person who hurt you.  No one asks you to make nice with the phantom "he" or "she" that destroyed your house, or took your family member away forever.

So, please, when a friend or family member is angry (and less-than-hospitable) sometimes with the person who caused so much grief, please be mindful.  Divorce involves loss on a grand scale: loss of the tangible and the intangible.  We can move on, we can have better lives, but the loss still happened. Sometimes we will feel angry, and we have a legitimate target for our anger, so just be mindful and wait for it to pass.

Thanks for listening,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Catching up

Today was a catch up day.  I caught up with student testing before leaving school for a routine doctor's appointment.   This afternoon, I eliminated the remnants of a week-old grocery list, so the cupboards aren't bare.  While shopping, I finally found some Fish Eye wine and have since made up for a few weeks without any pinot grigio.   We've also rented "Sunshine Cleaning " which I've been meaning to watch for a while.  The dishes are clean,  and before I go to bed, the laundry will be put away.  (Ok, maybe not.)  

That's what passes for "caught up" around here :)

Have a great Thursday!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I love my inner child

*stomp stomp*

My inner Five Year Old doesn't want to go to school today.  No reason, except that hot chocolate, a blanket, a book, a nap, and some TV is more appealing than round tables, worksheets, recess and fluorescent lights.

I know that my students, who are (I'm sure) much more in tune with their inner Five Year Olds, feel the same from time to time.  Maybe even today?  So, I'm going to get the necessary things done, and I'm going to read to them, and I'm going to try to find some ways to give them "hot chocolate, blanket, book, nap" feelings.  They could use it: 1st grade is hard work.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Read any good people lately?

Rather than favorite books, I have favorite authors.  Here are a few I can think of at the moment: Barbara Kingsolver, David Sedaris, Larry McMurtry, John Irving, Marcus Zusak, Ayn Rand, Pat Conroy (Kathy, I know you're heaving right now.)  From reading more than just one or two of an author's works, not necessarily from a series, I think you can triangulate his or her personality fairly accurately. Of course, since I don't run in those elite circles, I haven't tested this theory, but I'm sticking to it.

What a way to meet new people, right?  Just find "F  Zus" in the Young Adult section of a library and you're in:  "Reader, I'd like you to meet Marcus Zusak.  Mr. Zusak, this is one of your readers. She'd like to know a little more about you."   Sometimes, real life introductions can be awkward, but what's simpler than reading a book?    When I want to connect, but I'm not feeling socially adept (maybe my filter's on the blink again, it happens),  I open a book.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


When I first had barbecue in Texas (Rudy's in Leon Springs, 1994) , I was thrilled by the unique, rugged style of it, all of it: the building (half a gas station), the wood pile, the picnic tables, the trough filled with bottled sodas and beers.  Now, at least a couple times a month, I find myself dipping tender chunks of meat into a peppery vinegar sauce and mopping it up with generic white bread.  "I could get used to this," I said to myself when, after returning to live in Texas in 2004,  Hubby and I first visited the Rudy's closest to our home.  Now, my inner dialogue is a little on the entitled side.  "This," I say, "is what meat should always taste like."

After 5 years as a Texas resident, I have found that Rudy's is not, by any stretch, unique.  Smitty's, in Lockhart, has been smoking meat so long that the walls in the pit room are soot black.   Maurice's, a local place for a brisket fix, has been in business over 50 years.   Clem Mikeska's is a familiar sight on our drive to church.  A friend's 4 year old daughter calls Clem's  "the flame place" (referencing the logo on the front of the building) and it's her choice every time they ask where she'd like to eat.  Yesterday, we ate at Schoepf's in Belton.  Sausage is usually my choice, but last night I had a turkey sandwich, Hubby had the brisket plate, and the Boy had pinto beans and dinner rolls (as usual).  When the college-age man behind the first counter, in front of the open pit, handed me a tray lined with butcher paper, I smiled to myself.  There was my sandwich: a nondescript hamburger bun with sizable chunks of smoked turkey breast. No plate, of course.

If it's not served on butcher paper, is it really barbecue?

My Hidden San Antonio has a post about the Rudy's in Leon Springs, if you're interested in details about the unique atmosphere of this local chain.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Just five minutes

I know that I read others' blogs for a glimpse into their daily lives, to find a connection I might not have known about before.  I'm hoping this will be a way for me to give back.  Let me know when I hit the mark, when I give you something new to think about, or when I make you smile.

Someone asked me once, I think trying to ferret out an anxiety disorder, or possibly depression, "Do you ever feel joy?"  I answered, "Yes," right away, that was easy.  But, when?  That was harder question. I feel joy daily, and I am mindful of it because I have felt pain.  (*insert pithy text here about joy and pain going hand in hand*)   Mostly, I am thankful when small things go right, elated when small moments take me by surprise.  

wishing you a weekend full of pleasant surprises,