Friday, June 13, 2014

Am I a Failure? #edchat

Today is the last day of school. I've packed up my things and I've entered all of my grades. I watched an amazing group of students graduate yesterday and I'm sitting at my desk wondering whether or not this year was a success.

I took the time to read all of my student reflection pieces on my class and 20 Time. There were plenty of kids that told me how much they loved the class and how blogging actually helped them become better writers. Others said 20 Time helped them find what mattered to them and they think all students should have do 20 Time at some points. They offered great suggestions to fine tune 20 Time for future students and wanted to see it continue. These comments were very nice and they made me smile. However, they were not all positive.

There were students that were very honest about how much they did not like 20 Time. They thought that the entire project was nice in theory, but just a tremendous waste of time. They would have rather spent their time doing more reading, analysis and other literature related lessons to better prepare them for their AP Lang class next year. A couple even said they felt unprepared for next year. These comments shook me to the core.

I strive to make sure that I reach every student and that every single one of them feel like they are in an environment that supports them in learning. For me, 20 Time was the best project for that because it gave the students the power to control what they wanted to explore. How could I fail at giving students the choice to explore their interests? In implementing 20 Time I had to make cuts in the curriculum. I trimmed fat that was not required and cut out assignments that I felt were nice, but redundant. By doing this, did I hurt my students for next year?

I understand that the perfect lesson is my white whale. In a group of 90, is it acceptable to have 15 that did not like the lesson at all be the deciding factor as to whether or not I bring a lesson back? How valuable is student feedback? I know it is important, but how much weight should it have in making decisions like this?

Some will tell me that 20 Time was a huge success and hosting a TEDx event is a great accomplishment. I'm very proud of TEDxGPSHS and the work my students did for 20 Time, but it bothers me to think that there are students that left my class feeling like I did not do my job. Maybe I need some more time removed from these year defining events and think more about what 20 Time, not only meant for my students, but meant for me. I'm just left with one question that will keep me busy this summer,

By not reaching all of my students, am I a failure?

Here is one thing that made me feel like a winner. 

This is a present from a graduating student. She made this as a thank you for being supportive of her art and her academic pursuits during her time at school. 


  1. This is great. I did the same thing--I front-loaded my work to Mon--Thursday, and made Fridays #GeniusHour. Basically, I tried to replicate a simplified Lean Startup using their interests. The were told "You all get an A unless you're not working." This was uncomfortable for them at first. Getting an A for not succeeding? For doing...whatever? Eventually they opened up. The ideas crashed and burned. Teams fell apart. In each case, I'd say, "This would be like when your company is failing--can you fix it?" or "Sounds like you just quit your team. You need a new job. Go interview the other teams and see if you can offer a skill or if an idea resonates with you."

    Little by little, lightbulbs came on. By the end of the year, I actually reviewed what they did in the context of a startup, a non-profit, and a social cause. I said, "You have been introduced to the skills it takes to solve problems, be entrepreneurs, and think outside the box."

    It was a victory. Of the students who didn't love it, and the one class that wasn't quite ready for this, I had conferences. I asked them if they could see the directions that this type of thinking could help them develop in, and were any of the skills valuable? Maybe the entire project wasn't where they were at right now, but they agreed that the skills were critical.

    Next year, I think I'll structure this a little tighter--that's what my reflection is now--but all in all, this was the biggest win of the year. Bet it was for you, too:)

  2. I don't think so. I think that 20 Time is a great idea, and Student Driven Learning is a choice. Kids saying they didn't get anything out of it seem to me like they didn't put enough in (for whatever reason). We've got a "Discovery" option up here which is similar to 20 Time. I don't teach it, but talking to my students who are in it, it's fairly easy to tell who is gleaning something from it, and who is sitting there wasting time. Hosting a TEDx event and having positive feedback is great, but sometimes there are those who aren't motivated enough or haven't learned how to direct their resources independently. You'll get better at helping focus those students from this experience. It won't all be positive every year, especially at the high school level.

  3. I received very similar feedback about our 20time projects. I too am not sure exactly how to factor that minority opinion into my planning. Honestly, the ones that complained about 20time the most were probably the types of students who would benefit the most if I could find a way to get them to buy in. To me, it seems that students who grasp the idea that the ability to take initiative, motivate/challenge themselves, and give 100% effort will enter the "real world" in a much better position than those students who only function well in an environment where they are spoon-fed and where each action they take is preceded by direct instruction from a teacher or employer. I saw way too many positives about 20time to turn back now. It's still early in my summer planning, but a lot of what I plan to do better next year is impress upon them the importance of developing habits/traits/skills/mindsets that are not just for "school" but for life. Alternative classroom activities may make some students "happier" or appear to be more engaged, but I think a lot of that is just appearances.

    p.s. I totally plan to "steal" your TEDx idea for my students next year... it definitely seems like it would help address some of the motivation issues I encountered. If you are interested in collaborating, I would love to have my students interact more directly with students outside of our school... for feedback, encouragement, etc. Keep up the great work!! And, no, you are not a failure by not reaching all of your students... just like they aren't failures by not achieving all of their goals. Assuming in both cases that the perceived "failure" is used as fuel to strive to be better today than we were yesterday.

  4. It sounds like some students are bothered because they are feeling pressure by high stakes testing and traditional expectations. They are not used to be given flexible, creative, problem-solving time. It's sad. If only they realized that's exactly what they'll need in the "real world."

  5. This is something I have thought about as an elementary teacher and a mom. I am planning to implement a genius hour on Fridays for my third graders. It sounds like such a great way to get students engaged in learning that I have to try it.

    That being said, neither of my high-school aged children really thought much of their 20% projects. After talking to parents of my children's friends, there were many other parents and students who thought it was a waste of time.

    My son started three different projects, then ran out of steam on each. In the end, his TED talk was on "How Not to do a 20% Project." He did learn that he should have put the time in at the beginning to pick a project he was really interested in so that he would have the needed follow through - not a bad life lesson. My daughter decided to read and blog about every Newbery award winning book. It turns out that there were an awful lot of older ones that didn't appeal to her and much of the reading turned into a slog. There wasn't much enjoyment is many of those blog posts. Maybe if there had been an additional focus for the project - trends through the decades - it might have been more successful.

    So was something missing? I suppose it depends on the lessons we are trying to teach. For high school students, the project process itself may teach the lessons. Pick something you are really interested in, change your focus as you go. For my third graders, these examples suggest that consistent teacher guidance is needed throughout the process. Maybe I need some volunteers on the genius hour Fridays? What do I do when a student is interested in something I have know next to nothing about? How do I make sure the students really are engaged? These are some of the things I'll be pondering this summer.

  6. I have had this same response over the past couple of years and I do not think that it is a negative thing. I have had the opportunity of doing 20-time projects over the past years with 7th - 12th grade students. There have been a lot of interesting trends that I have noticed including the fact that students seemed less able to actually do this as they got older, a ton of students do not have a passion and cannot figure out what to do, etc...... In my opinion the feedback has helped to point out some MAJOR RED FLAGS and issues in education:

    1. Students spend their entire school career being told exactly what to do. They are given assignments, normally ones in which there is a "correct answer" for each question. They are given cookie-cutter rubrics that let them know exactly what that teacher expects, etc... When they are faced with an autonomous and self-directed learning project such as 20-time, they do not know what to do. In fact, I have noticed more resistance from the 11th & 12th graders who cannot seem to comprehend what they are supposed to do. This is NOT good. Is our education system causing them to lose their curiosity, creativity, self-directedness, and ability to make decisions? We are eventually sending them in to a world of uncertainties in which they will need to think on their feet. They will have jobs with expectations, they will be handed newborn children and take them home to care for them, they will have relationships, voting decisions, bank accounts, etc..... There will not always be a person standing next to them telling them what to do next.

    2. They are SO scared to fail. The older students were much more afraid to "FAIL" at something because they thought it would keep them out of college or their job. No matter how many times I explained to them that there are multiple interpretations of the word failure, and that I encouraged them fail, celebrate it, learn from it, and proceed, they have a tough time understanding this. I get it, though. In every other class, when there is one right answer, they cannot take a chance. They have been trained to play it safe and do what the teacher tells you to do. The first step in becoming creative and independent, is giving yourself permission to be creative and independent. I think we need to start fostering this in students. Failure on a project did not mean an "F" in the class. It just meant that something you tried didn't work. Adjust. Implement the new version.

    3. There are a LOT of students that cannot figure out their passion. They have no clue. I have had talks with many students in this situation and found that many of them: wake up, go to school, go to practice, come home & eat, do homework, go to bed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. They have no time for passions. This is SCARY, in my opinion. In a world in which the suicide rates, bullying rates, depression rates, divorce rates are going up, this is something we need to help our students with. Give them time to find a passion. Once they have one, it is much easier and more rewarding to "Learn how to Learn".

    I could go on and on about how I have interpreted these results. I think there are a few more major implications, but my only point is that I do not think that these results are bad. I have had teachers try this and abandon it because too many students gave bad feedback. That is disappointing. They react this way for a number of reasons, most of which are red flags telling us that they need MUCH, MUCH more of this.

    I still think that 20-time is one of the most important things in education right now and a great lens into the deficiencies that our education system, thus our students have. As long as there is a lot of student self-reflection, assurance that we are more concerned about the process, and the reasons why we think this time is so important, I think this is a priceless pedagogical practice with a crazy high R.O.I.

    Oliver Schinkten

    1. Very well said, Oliver... couldn't agree more.


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