Sunday, September 21, 2014

Deflating My Desire To Learn

My high school had a somewhat archaic English assignment. Freshman were required to memorize and recite a 40-line poem twice a year, sophomores memorized 50 lines, juniors 60 and seniors 70. Fortunately by the time I was a senior, they had canned this assignment.

During the fall semester of my freshman year, I bombed the assignment. I waited far too long to begin the memorization. Disappointed with myself, I made an honest effort during the second semester. I chose a poem of high interest; I planned ahead and pledged to memorize five lines each night. Most importantly, I felt confident in my abilities.

But then, as I began memorizing, I stumbled. The first five lines came relatively easily. The next five proved a little more challenging. Lines 11-15 posed significant problems; lines 20+ seemed impossible. I continued to study, but I began to doubt myself and I lowered my own expectations; instead of aiming for mastery of all forty lines, I became content to just memorize thirty. Soon, with the due date upon me, I knew thirty might be a stretch.

Sure enough, when it came time for me to recite my poem I floundered. While I was highly frustrated, I tried not to let the teacher know. I brushed it off as a stupid assignment (too this day I still believe that) that I didn't care about and didn't prepare for. That was surely easier than showing and admitting a weakness.

As my sophomore year rolled around, I dreaded the assignment--and having an additional ten lines. But I committed myself to acing it. I began preparing almost as soon as the school year began. Things didn't improve, however. For whatever the reason, I couldn't get past twenty or thirty lines. On the day of the recitation, I imploded. I did worse than ever. My well-meaning teacher, tried to boost my morale with generic statements like "you'll do better next time," "keep trying," "I'm sure you can..."

Didn't she get it? I truly had poured everything I had into this assignment. What else could I do?

I contemplated, "Why bother trying to memorize the 50 lines for the spring term?"

Seeing little value and possessing no confidence, I completely rejected the assignment. I felt helpless. My self-efficacy hit an all-time low; one that extended beyond my English classes. My own negative beliefs about my abilities presented a huge barrier to my own success. I withdrew from my classes  and became increasingly sarcastic and began to brush-off my poor grades.

After a summer of testing, I learned I had a learning disability, one that greatly influenced my ability to learn and memorize.

While I eventually regained my confidence and regained my self-efficacy, the the assignment forever turned me off of memorization and poetry.

Twenty-five years later that assignment still leaves a bitter taste, but while I never learned any tricks to memorizing poetry, it did give me a unique perspective on what it's like to struggle as a learner. Sadly, too much of what we do in school further alienates struggling students from school and learning. 

Let's never forget, it's difficult for students--for that matter anyone--to remain motivated when one is consistently unable to meet the expectations of others, especially when it's not your fault. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Ever-Expanding Use of Google Forms

Sadly we're not a Google (GAFE) school, but whenever possible I make use of Google, in particular Google Forms.

Here are some of the ways that I use Google Forms:

Student work completionThis form is used for students who consistently struggle to complete their work as part of our school's RTI process. With the edition of FormEmailer, the form is sent to me, the student's counselor, the student's family and to our school's remediation specialist. 

Teacher Evaluation of Me (Their Assistant Principal): This form  gives teachers the opportunity to evaluate me, which I've blogged about before.

Student Surveys: As a teacher I greatly appreciated feedback from my administrators and from my peers, but the most useful feedback came from my students. Several of the forms included in this database are Google Forms. 

Positive Referrals: One of my favorite parts of my job  is recognizing students for their hard work, their character and their determination. Faculty and staff members are invited to complete a Positive Referral form  . For more about Positive Referrals.

Walk Through Observation Forms: Like most systems our county has a formal observation document that I use for longer observations. For data collection and for shorter (up to 15 minute) observations, we use this form.  Combining this with FormEmailer, which automatically sends the completed observation to the observed teacher, provides teachers with timely feedback.

Google Forms have become one of the most powerful tech tools in my arsenal. I constantly look for ways to expand their use and welcome your ideas.