The Pebble in the Shoe Revisited

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Facebook is so handy, just when you think there is no possible way that you can waste more time you get a notification, “This day 5 years ago…check out other things that happened over the years”. Of course, I jump in that rabbit hole, but today I  rediscovered a blog post I wrote after a revelatory gym experience. It was titled Pebble in a Shoe. The gist of the post was about those little things that bug us, that start out as just a slight irritant so we ignore them. But the more we ignore them the worse it tends to get until while you are trying to focus on the workout or whatever else you are doing you must stop everything because you have reached a breaking point. That once insignificant little thing has grown, it has taken your attention from your goals and distracted you from your purpose.

The rest of that post dealt with addressing the pebbles I was dealing with at the time. Before this blog, my previous one was all just an outlet that was focused on me (usually a way to help extinguish my hate fires) I could write down my thoughts and just walk away. I guess this blog is not very different aside from the fact that my focus is now dual. Now I blog to get out my thoughts on life but also education. Today is primarily an education post. The Pebbles that are in my work shoes if you will.

  1. The concept of not knowing what people are going through came full force this week as the struggles some students were facing came into focus. Tough home life, academic struggles, peer struggles, self-struggles. All of these things can invisible to the untrained and even the trained eye. Quiet kid in the corner that doesn’t bug anyone tends to get less of the focus. It is interesting to think that the fires we don’t see at first, that we don’t see growing, cause the most damage. The Pebble for me today was these kids, the Magicians that can make themselves invisible in plain sight. I think we as teachers need to make more of an effort to bring them out into the light. A mom and I were talking once and I was sharing how her child is a hard worker and does great things in the classroom and how they are so quiet but how that is ok because they are more comfortable being left alone to work. The mother agreed with me that they but challenged me to make sure they cannot be invisible in plain sight all the time sometimes it is ok to pull them out of that self-imposed isolation and make them share. SO as we built up last week and this week doing quick write and shares in the morning I asked the student to share to come join us in the conversation, students know they can pass, but this time, this one, did not. Of course, this is a nice little story about helping a student that enjoys their invisibility come out a little. There are so many other stories out there of students who remain just in the background that we need to make sure have the chance to come to the main stage once and a while.
  2. My second people is a continuation of this thought of not knowing what is going on. We are not the only ones that are unsure why a student is struggling, or unsure of how to help them. I was reading the other day and would not at all be surprised if it was Kylene Beers who was writing about this, but I read a blog post that talked about how with good intention we ask students “what do you not understand” or “how can I help you here” and the students do not know.  They know they don’t get it but they either can’t put their confusion into words or they don’t even know where to start. Image how big a pebble of annoyance that would be, the teacher always coming to help but the student not knowing how to express the help they need. I think students need to be taught how to ask for help, how to explain their process. As teachers we want to help but too often we only try one way…ours. I can’t help but wonder what if we taught students young to express their confusions, to note them and learn how best to explain the point they have lost understanding. Asking a student how we can help them is just going to make them feel worse when the answer is “I don’t know”. I don’t yet have an answer for this but I am going to address this little Pebble and find the answer because I know it will help students in my class.
  3. Finally my last pebble of the day. Assessment, Achievement, and Scores. One of those things is not like the others and one of these things just needs to go. Assessment and recognizing achievement is important. Motivation comes from meeting or approaching our goals, in the gym every day I get closer to a goal lift I am more motivated, I think about how I did that day (Assess) then set goals for the day if I reach those goals (achievement) I celebrate. What I don’t do is grade myself on a percentage of how much I accomplished. COuld you imagine assigning percentage schools to everyday tasks? “Ok, I got an 87% on dishes but only a 24% on taking out the trash” it is just idiotic and yet we read a story and have to give it a score. Today I had 2 different experiences that just send this point right home. One student opened his computers and saw that I had returned a piece of writing. Attached with a note “I have handwritten feedback” and the score on his paper. He came to me and said, “I would like to know what I can improve on because my score was not high.” Now my students know that they can always un-submit a writing assignment and know that I am happy to share any and all feedback they can handle, but what about those classes that do not offer that opportunity just a grade at the end? My other account was the rant of an angry student talking about why we have to grades at all, “We know who are the top students and we know we are not as good of students, why do we need a number to tell us that? Just tell me what I need to work on.” Simple as that. Feedback based on areas of need, and celebrate the things they do well. Even if that is a powerful sentence in a paper that has gone sideways.

I need to pay attention to the pebbles that are in my shoe, the little things because they become the big things, and I need to be aware of what those things are for my students. If we can deal with these little annoyances when the student comes asking for help because they see an area they struggle with we can avoid the blow up in frustration that comes from years of making students a number or a letter instead of looking at them as a person with needs that can be met if we are willing to put in the time to help them.

Funny what a 3-year-old post about the gym can do to make you think about education.

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