Saturday, November 15, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #14: Five Things I've Learned

Today's question asks me to reflect on five lessons I've learned during my teaching career, lessons that make me feel grateful. The biggest challenge this prompt poses is which five! So, in the order they pop up in my head, the list: 

Growth Mindset: Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology Success of  has had a huge impact on my teaching. It takes time, but I see that nurturing a growth mindset encourages students to celebrate mistakes, see them as opportunities for growth rather than as proof of their inadequacy. Assignments feel, I hope, like experiments to improve decision making skills rather than measuring a static, immutable trait. 

Blogging. There is no substitute for writing to a real audience. Learning to assign blogs  compelled me to think of relevant, meaningful writing assignments that help students develop and publish their ideas. I get better at developing these assignments semester-by-semester. And the quality of students' writing (and their feelings about writing) improve accordingly.

Mutt Genres: A "mutt genre" is the kind of writing that only exists in first-year college composition courses, formulaic writing  no one ever reads (or writes!) outside of a classroom. Certainly, the notion behind teaching mutt genres is laudable: teaching form, structure, and rhetorical patterns is important. But we run the risk of training students that there is a single, right way to produce text, one that doesn't exist in the "real world." 

Recognizing the risk of  mutt genre assignments pushes me to shift focus. When I'm at my best, my assignments compel students to make intentional choices based on their purpose, audience, and their own voice - not on strict adherence to a generic formula.  I wrote about mutt genres in this post, and I hope to keep moving away from highly standardized, decontextualized prompts to to those that challenge students to solve problems real writers encounter. 

On Course: This is one of the first professional development programs I ever attended, and the lessons I learned at On Course reverberate today. Two concepts that  stuck with me are the difference between teaching and learning and  the difference between a victim and a creator mentalities

Critical Thinking Community: This was also one of the first professional development programs I attended, and just like On Course's lesson, what I learned from the Critical Thinking Community remains vitally important to my teaching. Being able to identify the elements of thinking  and the standards of reasoning helps me make lessons relevant and meaningful beyond my subject area. 

Naming the elements and standards helps students claim and strengthen their application of those concepts. I don't know about you, but I never took a class on what constitutes thinking and how to judge my reasoning. Not in psychology classes. Not in my education classes. Not even in when I took philosophy. I learned about cognition but not anything directly applied to improving my thinking. 

Their publication, Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, is indispensable. 

All these lesson improve my approach to designing learning experiences. That's for sure. The other through-line is that these lessons also apply to me. I have to maintain a growth mindset to stave off insecurities and fear of failure - and to recognize that it takes effort, not some innate talent, to be a good teacher. Blogging keeps me writing. I have to practice what I preach, and  remain will to feel the burn of finding and sharing my own voice. And so on. 

Big ups to those thinkers, writers, and organizations that make me a better designer of learning experiences. And to the folks who run the professional development programs where I work.