Things I Know 57 of 365: I have been doing some reflecting

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

– Confucious

My Cognitive Curricula grad course has been a refresher on the voices present in a metacognitive approach to teaching and learning. Taking the time to look closely again at Carol Ann Tomlinson’s work within the realm of differentiated instruction was an opportunity to “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey says. While differentiation is something I have been practicing since stepping into the classroom, sections like Tomlinson’s “Grading in a differentiated classroom” asked me to stop and contemplate the nuance necessary when working toward full differentiation.

Specifically connected to grading, I plan to think more deeply about my use of rubrics in my classroom. Teaching in a project-based school, much of what my students create is assessed using a rubric. Too truly embrace Daniel Kain’s suggestion of problem-based learning, though, I anticipate the learning will become messier than can be contained in a rubric. Throughout this module, I have started questioning the freedom or restriction of freedom inherent in rubrics. If I am attempting to differentiate assignments, I start wondering if that differentiation could happen by drawing upon a more authentic form of assessment than rubrics.

As my students create complex and dynamic texts and other projects, I wonder if I am restricting my ability to truly appreciate what they have create by asking their works to fit into four or five assessment categories.

Moving forward as a result of my thinking in the course, I will start to think about how close and how far away Kain’s ideas of problem-based learning get to real and useful experiences with the knowledge my students are collecting and creating. As I create assignments, I will more closely consider the contrivances inherent in asking students to do things that are almost real versus things that are actually real. If I must draft artificial documents when asking my students to consider a problem, am I doing them a disservice? Should I not be helping them access real problems and real documents? This is how I will apply my learning from this block.

Intermingled with my reading of Tomlinson and Kain during the block was my examination of Sam Chaltain’s American Schools as well as Nel Noddings’s Caring. In some moments, all four texts worked in concert with one another – asking me to build greater choice into my pedagogy and increase the role of democracy in my classroom. At other times, though, these four texts stood at odds. My greatest growth happened when each text was in contention with the others. Tomlinson and Chaltain advocate greater choice and freedom, an anti-patrician approach to teaching. Not long after those messages wove themselves into my thinking, I encountered Noddings’s argument that caring for our students does not mean allowing choice in all things. Sometimes, Noddings says, we are at our most caring when we restrict choice and tell the “cared for” what they must do. She indirectly argues for a limited democracy in the classroom. Wrestling with this idea was a moment of growth for me during this block. I had to come to terms with my ideal of a democratic classroom and my ideal of living as a teacher who is governed by an ethic of care.

My endpoint – well, my way station – is to move toward a fully democratic classroom as much as possible, to limit that democracy when that is how caring must manifest itself and to work toward the wisdom of knowing which situations call for which approach.

A final piece of learning from the block, or perhaps a lingering question, is the desire to better understand the place of failure and its value in the classroom. Kain seems to write from a belief in doing all we can to prevent student failure. I teach from a belief that failure can lead to greater learning and understanding. I see my role as helping to uncover new information and understandings. Sometimes the thing covering that information and those understandings is failure. If we teach and prepare as Kain appears to be advocating, I worry we are robbing our students of the opportunity to fail and then succeed.

My implementation of the block’s content comes largely in the form of considering what constitutes authentic assessment in the differentiated and problem-based classroom. The learning in the block existed as I attempted to complicate my thinking by harmonizing the syncopation of ideas that arose from incorporating ancillary texts along with the course-required readings. The thinking that pushes me forward is the want of a deeper understanding of the role of failure as I base learning in problems and differentiate as much as I can. This is where I stand as I become more cognitive of my curriculum.

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