No one walks into a basketball gym on day one, listens to a few pointers from the coach and then makes varsity and never misses a shot.
No one picks up a guitar after watching a few YouTube videos on how to play and finds disappointment when they stumble through their first song.
No one expects to be Picasso the first moment they hold a brush or expects to write like Whitman with their first pencil marks.
Except, of course, in the classroom. In the classroom, you either get it right away or you quit.
In the classroom, teachers and students alike are guilty of ignoring every lesson we’ve learned on courts and in rehearsals.
Full disclosure: I’ve always had a pretty strong animus towards documentary videos in my classrooms. Really, against the use of almost any videos, but especially against the classic documentary-teaches-everything.
Recently, I was able to pinpoint why.
There are great historical (and non-historical) documentaries out there. But like our textbooks, the overwhelming number of documentaries suffer from the problem of trying to do too much. Like a rambling history lecture, they become obsessed with minutiae and personal side-stories which are deeply interesting but historically insignificant. The entire process becomes more abstract instead of more coherent.
In an attempt to cover everything, they lose their voice and their purpose.
Struggle and failure are good for the student and the classroom.
Mistakes are not evidence that our students aren’t learning; they are the only evidence that our students are learning.
A lack of mistakes doesn’t represent exceptional teaching or learning.
If students aren’t making mistakes, they aren’t struggling… thinking… growing.
Strong, persuasive and effective writing is organic. It reflects the thought processes and argument as they are built in each writer’s unique voice. As teachers, we know this. We know it innately. We want our students to know it innately, too. We want them to learn what it means and feels like to own your writing. And like many parts of life, we realize most profoundly what good writing is when we are confronted with bad writing… say, when we find ourselves reading a stack of essays that are identical in nearly every way.
The writing process – meant to give space for a student’s individual interpretation and expression – has somehow become a rote transcription of the obvious (or perhaps, a poorly plagiarized version of our class lectures and textbook readings).
The rubric is to blame.
I am a recent convert – or mostly convert – to the Growth Mindset philosophy advocated by Carol Dweck and others. For a long time, I fell for the myth that embracing a “Growth Mindset” meant simply rewarding effort and completely ignoring achievement. I associated the entire concept with participation trophies: if we just tell every kid how special they are for showing up, they’ll all feel good about themselves and become Nobel Prize winners.
Those conceptions, of course, are wrong.