Broadcast Feedback

As is my practice, when I come across a definition that is new (to me) or better (than the one I currently hold) or more generous (to humans / teams of humans), I tend to catalogue it on RW. Describing the world, accurately and generously, is a moral act and forever unfinished.

As you may also know, I greedily read every word that Eric Hudson writes.

So, today’s post fulfills both of those conditions: highlighting something new (to me) and something from Eric Hudson.

I enjoyed Eric’s recent article about feedback in that it nicely staked out the territory of all the different kinds of feedback we could be considering in education. I also think it is very wise to think of feedback as an ecosystem — one that, presumably, can be healthy or unhealthy, appropriately diverse or inappropriately narrow. What jumped out to me, in addition to the robust ecosystem analogy, was Eric’s description of “broadcast feedback.” I hadn’t quite heard it described in precisely this way . . . and the definition itself will have an immediate impact on the way I think about how I use time in my classroom.

Broadcast feedback is designed for and delivered to a group. We often think of feedback as a private interaction between a teacher and a student, and in many scenarios, that’s appropriate. However, offering feedback to a whole group can spark meaningful conversation as well as avoid the repetition and redundancy that can come from giving the same individual feedback over and over.

When to Try It: Use broadcast feedback to examine student work together with your class. By gathering a group to examine an excellent model, you are providing useful information that students can apply to their own work. Do this live or use a screencasting tool like Loom to create instructional videos. Ron Berger has written extensively about the benefits of examining high-quality models with students.

I like, especially, the chance to design for “meaningful conversation.” And I thank Eric, as ever, for sparking plenty of that over the years.

Source: Eric Hudson / GOA

Technology & Design with Devika Patel

I liked sharing a “weekend long read” last Friday, so I’m doing roughly the same thing today. I learned so much from this conversation with Devika Patel.

Here’s how our producer described the episode:

Hear about how the facets of the human-centric design process invite us to embrace, and thrive in, ambiguity. Learn about why the design process plays such an important role in technology, specifically when designing features and modalities to meet the needs of consumers. Explore: How are companies beginning to thoughtfully integrate design technology, where previously, frustrations were high because most things were designed for the “system” and not the individual?

And here’s more about Devika. Happy weekend!

The Purest Information

This week I’ve been responding to a few early assignments from my Satire class. These assignments were all designed around a central goal: to help me to know, as quickly as possible, my new students.

In designing these assignments, I thought more about the mode of expression I was requesting than I did the actual questions or tasks. Why? Because, for me, when I’m getting to know a student, the purest information doesn’t come from a perfect sentence or a crisp analysis or something overly revised or processed. It comes from messy, raw, authentic, genuine responses.

So, early in a semester, I assign quick tasks that help me to hear my students’ voices, see their full faces (important during these mask wearing days), and observe their instincts in action. I assign tasks, too, that will encourage them to drift off script, away from any constructed narratives they may be carrying around with them.

(The tech all around us, admittedly, makes my information gathering easy.)

I ask them to respond to a Google form where some of the questions are highly relevant to our class and some of the questions ask them to share more openly.

I ask them to record and share with me a Quicktime video of them answering questions. One of these questions includes the story of their name.

And last, I ask them take a picture of a sample of their annotations and then send it to me.

All told, these three short assignments provide a small mountain of information for me. I hear voices and silences, fluency and disfluency, umms and ahs. I understand how each student approaches storytelling. I see which students like to elaborate on their ideas and which are more guarded. I see confidence or a lack of confidence. I sometimes see a bit of hubris, but this isn’t that common — high school students, generally, are pretty cool. Some students are funny. Some are serious. Most are in the middle. Some prepare too much and some too little. I see rhymes in the way they speak and the way they scribble. I see things that don’t rhyme but instead show possible forks in the road, possible roads not taken that, maybe, should be reconsidered. I see cross outs, stutters, start overs, stops, and let-me-take-this-from-the-tops.

I see becoming, and my job, maybe the best job in the world, is to stay out of its way, amplify it, encourage it, cheer for it, coax it, and then wave goodbye and wish it well when, a few months from now, our class ends and another one begins.

We Manage Most When We Manage Small

The title of this post is the title of a poem by Linda Gregg. Like all good poetry, it both steadies me and gives me a shove, offers both safety and edge. I’ve been reading it a lot lately mainly because the bit about managing greetings and farewells seems eminently doable . . . as my to-do list fills up and overflows and my good summer intentions are tested. I can do that, I think to myself, I can manage small.*

We Manage Most When We Manage Small

What things are steadfast? Not the birds.
Not the bride and groom who hurry
in their brevity to reach one another.
The stars do not blow away as we do.
The heavenly things ignite and freeze.
But not as my hair falls before you.
Fragile and momentary, we continue.
Fearing madness in all things huge
and their requiring. Managing as thin light
on water. Managing only greetings
and farewells. We love a little, as the mice
huddle, as the goat leans against my hand.
As the lovers quickening, riding time.
Making safety in the moment. This touching
home goes far. This fishing in the air.

*Apologies for the super literal reading of a poem that is much deeper than that. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking what I need from a work of literature.


Homework Policy

For my Satire Elective . . . and possibly some of you.

An analogy I like to use regarding homework is that it’s like pushups.  If you tell me you want to get stronger, I will tell you that you need to make sure you do pushups 6 times a week.  If you skip your pushups, or try to borrow someone else’s pushups, or watch someone else doing pushups on Netflix or in a video game, then you won’t get stronger.  Years later, when you face a critical moment in your life — say, saving your nephew from falling off a swing or pushing your stalled car out of the danger of incoming traffic, you simply won’t have the strength.  It’s really as simple as that.  Do your pushups if you want to get stronger and save lives.  Don’t do your pushups if you don’t care about getting stronger or your future nephew.  But be honest about what you want so that we’re both on the same pushup page.  Like all analogies pushed too far, that one just died.  Anyway, when I ask you to read something, read it as hard as you can for the allotted time.  When I ask you to write something, do all you can to put the best words in the best order.  Do both of these things again and again, and you’ll become a better reader, writer, and thinker.  You’ll build stamina, speed, perspicacity, a bigger vocabulary, insight, and precision — all traits that will slowly but surely give you an advantage in almost any career and, I believe, almost any life.

Powered by the F250 Cigarette Lighter

I’m a big fan of the band Big Thief, so of course I was delighted to learn about the recording process for their most recent song. It unfolded during a power outage. In fact, it folded that outage into something brand new. Here’s guitarist Buck Meek painting the picture as only he can:

On the third day of the outage, I found Adrianne [Lenker] on the porch writing a new song, so I sat with her and we finished it together, with the rain falling from the gutters splashing over our guitars. James [Krivchenia] and Sam saw us writing, and quickly set up a four-track tape machine in the kitchen, powered by the F250 cigarette lighter out in the yard. They set up the drums by the sink, and Max [Oleartchik] plugged his bass into a Bluetooth speaker set on top of the stove. Take two had a great bark from Sam and Hannah’s pup Jan during the solo, but we ended up going with take three because it took us about that long to learn the chords. Then we made pancakes and sausages and ate breakfast for dinner.

So that’s some inside baseball for music geeks . . . and also a nice reminder that creativity finds a way, flaws can be part of the song, and sometimes the spark you need is in an old car out in the yard.

Source for quote: Rolling Stone

Source for photo of the f250 cigarette lighter fuse: Youtube

Link to the song: “Certainty”

Starting from Seed

Here’s a longish read for the weekend. It’s from an archive I call “Travels with Reshan.” I’m offering it, with Reshan’s encouragement, because anyone in a classroom is about to “start from seed.” Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

At one point, [Mason] looked up and he said, “You’re gonna want to watch this next preparation, because it takes 75 touches.” We immediately wanted to understand if the dishes in Rioja were all thought through on that level. Second, we noticed the interaction with the chefs and  the people on the floor. They were great about popping in to the meal, almost right after we had tasted something great, as if to punctuate — with an exclamation point — the experience. When we pointed out these nuances to Chef Tim, he explained the ways in which they are deliberate but unplanned, coining one of our favorite new expressions in the process: “one-of-a-kind, one-at-a-time experiences.”

And here’s the rest of the interview / article. Thanks again to Rioja Denver for hosting us and telling us some of their secrets.

Photo credit: Jennifer Olson courtesy of the Imbergamo Group

Year 20, Day 1

At our opening day faculty meetings, our Head of School handed me a watch to commemorate the start of my 20th year at Montclair Kimberley Academy. It was the first time that I actually thought about this milestone. I’m sure that some of you see 20 years as a really long, maybe too long, time. I see it differently, joyfully even.

My school is large, as far as independent day schools go, but it still feels knowable. I understand its boundaries and limits, and I embrace its constraints. At first, twenty years ago, these were instincts I picked up from writers I loved. Joyce was at his best when he was working the angles of Dublin, William Kennedy had Albany, and Springsteen had the Jersey Shore. Closer to home, my own father used to tell me that, for much of his youth, he didn’t think anything existed beyond the few block radius in Jersey City where he ran and played and sang and sometimes fought with his cousins and his friends and his rivals. He’s not a writer, but the stories he tells of those days are ebullient and memorable because they are bound to local details and people. I’m not comparing myself to these writers (or my father), but they all taught me to cherish the particulars of a place and to sense the enoughness all around me.

Over time, too, my love of the constraints of a single school simply became self-reinforcing, a positive feedback loop. It was good to walk the same halls and notice both the chips in the paint and the new coats of paint, to learn to leverage the patterns that mattered in human development, to earn a sense of nostalgia, and to see records set and then broken. It was good that the daily, improvised soundtrack of my working life was built upon a familiar tune. Good, too, to be sitting on the coastline when graduates washed back from the oceans of their life, ready to share their stories. And it was good to see new teachers and crafty veterans, all working their own angles of Montclair Kimberley Academy.

Was good and is good.

Wendell Berry once wrote, “[O]ur human and earthly limits, properly understood are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning.”

Formal elaboration, in my case, has meant the 19 times I have taught Lord of the Flies, the thousands of lessons plans I have constructed, the hundred thousand words I have written on student papers, and the many (many!) hours I have spent in meetings with colleagues trying to build a better school and then an even better school. It’s all the same river, but the river itself is never the same.

Formal elegance is what I have often simply witnessed in or around or through others. I’ve seen it on our stages, in our classrooms, at our lunch tables, on our fields, in our library, and down our hallways. It has snuck up on me in the middle of student paragraphs or colleague emails, during class discussions and once even in a drawing of Tom Jones that a student handed in as the single, uber-answer to a six question quiz. It’s not unusual, I guess, to be loved by anyone.

As for fullness of relationship and meaning? That’s what I’ve worked at, sipped from, poured, made, remade. That’s the wood I’ve chopped and the water I’ve carried. And what I’ve enjoyed most, I think.

Year 20, Day 1.  


Source: Wendell Berry with a H/T to The Convivial Society: Vol. 2, No. 16.

Ghosts and Machines

On November 4, 2014, at 8:07 a.m., I printed out an article about Charles Darwin. It wasn’t too long or life changing, but I’ve been carrying it around, in one folder or another, since that time. (Humans are weird.)

It begins by noting that Darwin was a “dogged, daily walker,” and then it goes on to tie this practice to his intellectual output, which was massive.

His path was a gravel track near his home. He called it his “thinking path,” and he walked it twice each day. Such walking kept him healthy in all the ways that walking does. It was also part of his “cognitive labor” — so, something he did each day to help him to solve problems in his work. It spurred his creativity. Here’s a notable passage from the article:

Scientists speak of “transient hypofrontality”: a state-of-mind promoted by pursuits that require physical exertion but little thought or concentration. The parts of the brain that coordinate general concepts and rules are turned down, while the motor and sensory parts are turned up. In this state, ideas and impressions mingle more freely. Unusual and unexpected thoughts arise.

Having said that, the author of the article draws together body and mind, and I’m guessing this is the point that made me carry it around for all these years: “Thinking is embodied, and acting is mindful. We are not ghosts in a machine.”

What’s at stake in such an assertion is human wholeness and flourishing. Not a life hack, but a life.

Source: Damon Young in The Guardian