Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thank You, Daniel Pink

I'd like to thank Daniel Pink for putting my educational philosophy so eloquently and so simply. When I usually start talking about my pedagogical theories with my friends, or colleagues, or parents, or administration, I start taking up all kinds of time trying to explain my constant push toward internal motivation and away from grade shaming. I reference all kinds of texts I've read and motivational speakers I've heard. Finally, about thirty minutes later (and about twenty-five minutes after people have stopped listening), I get to the end of my mantra.

I've been reading Daniel Pink's Drive this week and I came across this beauty of a quote--five words that sum up my educational thoughts: "Only engagement can produce mastery." I look at it like this:

TEACHERS--------------------------------->ENGAGEMENT<--------------------------------STUDENTS

It's my belief that the best learning happens at engagement. When the teacher and the students are fully engaged, learning is optimal. So, two things need to happen: 1) the teacher constantly needs to push his lesson plans to be more engaging and 2) the student has to find optimal engagement in the activities presented. I refuse to believe that it is just one person's job. Like most jobs and activities, to have a great classroom, the whole group is needed.

To maximize engagement, I've made some major changes to the classroom. I do NOT claim that I have the answers, but I DO claim that I have been working very hard to create a more engaging classroom than I've offered in the past. Some specifics that have helped:
  • Change the seats so students face each other and then create the classroom environment so students don't get yelled at for talking. That collaboration is essential.
  • Create assignments that matter, that go beyond the classroom. For my writing class, we try to reach out to authentic audiences. Daily assignments are meant to help us get better for that purpose.
  • Be prepared to make changes mid-term. I had to do this with my vocabulary work last week. Students just didn't care about how we were doing it. So, I made changes to aim for more engagement. 
But there are important lessons for the students, too.
  • Not everything will be fun and engaging all the time. You may have to fake it and be okay with mildly engaging activities from time-to-time. 
  • When students get choice, they MUST make the reading/writing topic/journal entry engaging. If it isn't, that is squarely on them.
  • They should also, calmly and appropriately, ask the teacher why a certain assignment is being done. We teachers need to have answers to this question. If asked nicely (no sass allowed), most teachers will happily give the reasons.
So, it's a two-way street. But it's a beautiful journey because the destination is engagement. And, when engagement happens, so can mastery.

Right, Mr. Pink?