This blog belongs to Patricia Atkinson and was created as part of the Education Media Design and Technology program at Full Sail University.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Week 2 Reading: Peer Response Debra Atherton

Hi Debra!
What an eloquent posting –as usual- that really describes the emotional response that we as teachers have to this reading. I mean, the stories he tells and the student responses he gets are a dream to the innovative, deeply-caring, and productive instructor.

I truly wish that I could be a student in your class or at least observe. Your style and intelligence, as well as positive attitude towards students, treating them as people not objects, is what I aspire to. I think it’s so wonderful that you recognized and responded to students’ strong need to feel meaning in their school activities. Don’t we feel the same way in our graduate program? I think that occasionally it is difficult for us as teachers to separate ourselves from our prepared content and reflect on how the students must feel as they see it for the first time. I have to constantly remind myself that not everyone is as passionate about seeing an artist work or discuss an artwork or complete a project as I would be. What I like about the Zanders is that they don’t necessarily tell us that students will respond perfectly every time, but it is our responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt and provide every support we can. I thought it was interesting when he told the story of the apathetic violinist who had just given up because of a bad decision on his part about tempo. I compare that to my students and try to remember that just as they don’t know what I went through last night or in other classes, I don’t know what they have been through either.

I know what you mean about the impeding shutdown of effort if we were to give students A’s. Heck, half my students don’t even care if they are failing let alone care to work with a free grade. Zander came up with an appropriate motivator with the letter, which I suppose gave him a basis for assessment on the true efforts given. However, I agree that his group is a LOT different than ours—more like a college class—which can handle way different levels of responsibility.

I think that you have totally introduced the universe of possibility to your students this year…not just in activity design but in modeling your own experimentation. Great job taking risks and steaming ahead even when we meet the stone walls of our students’ immaturity downfalls!

Debra's Original Post:

As I begin writing, the dominating truth is Ben Zander’s playing of Chopin. I started the video in a welter of not just tension and anxiety but resentment: “WhateverwhateverIjust don’tfreakinghaveTIME forthis.” There’s something about his playing that transcends any musical experience I’ve ever had before—as if Plato’s actuality of beauty had manifested itself through my ears into my brain.

That’s not good right now. Several times during the reading of these chapters, I teared up—my physical response to truth—but I squelched the tears. I don’t have to look at my thoughts to see the characteristics of the measurement mentality in my “operant powers”—tell me, when one quotes Shakespeare, is one required to cite? Or doesn’t one rather leave hanging the assumption that, of course, one’s conversational partners will recognize the allusion?—one of my favoritesbeing pretention. Oh, there’s a maelstrom of well
measured melancholy burbling under my surface, as I sit at the end of a challenging year, which is at the end of a grievously difficult decade. And this blog would give me an opportunity to do another productive round of bleeding ink, symbolically speaking, or I can turn to a rather more intellectual analysis of my classroom and my students.

I don’t have time right now to bleed. The kiddies it is.

I had an epiphany in Dr. Dan’s class that changed the way I look at the emergent adults in my classroom. I can’t even remember why now (of course, I can’t remember if I ate lunch today), but I recognized that what these young people really wanted out of their education was not to get out of it, but to know that what they were doing was meaningful. And that what they’re doing in school, well, they usually feel that that isn’t. We were at this time wrapping upPygmalion, and instead of giving them the usual literary analysis essay topic, I asked them to think about a problem they or a friend had that might have a solution in a lesson they learned from that play.

I’ve been teaching seniors for twenty years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so engaged in my life.

So when Mr. Zander writes that “adolescents are looking for an arena in which to make an authentic contribution to the family and to the community,” and “how few meaningful roles are available for young people to fill” (p. 40), I saw an explanation for the present vacuous obsession with prom. When we fail to give them anything productive to do, how can we be surprised when all that’s left to care about is “Me! Me! Me!!!”

On the other hand, “Me! Me! Me!!!” is a rut almost all of my students have been in for a long time. And I don’t know where this “senioritis” garbage came from, but they are utterly unashamed of wallowing in it. If I gave my students a guaranteed A, I have no doubt I’d never see a majority of them lift a finger again, except to text under their desks.

My students, you see, aren’t there because, like Mr. Zander’s students, they desire deeply to improve their performance, but because the state and their parents force them to be. Does this mean they’re getting nothing of value in my classroom? Oh no, no, no—you should see them, this week, shining eyes reflecting the black-and-white glow of Olivier’s Hamlet. And I am really sure that’d be happening, grade or no. But the other wonderful things they’re doing—the visual poem, the fascinating discussions? They wouldn’t have those experiences if I didn’t reward them with points.

My grades aren’t competitive. Plenty of points to go around—an unlimited supply. Of course, I’m fond of saying “I don’t give points—you earn them.” And I hope they earn them doing valuable work that teaches them not only how to express themselves effectively but who they are and what they are capable of. I see them satisfied when they achieve something in a way that certainly transcends the reward/punishment system of points. But without that carrot, I don’t see them giving themselves the opportunity to achieve the satisfaction.

At least, not this year. As I reflect, though, on opening for my students a “Universe of Possibility,” I see that I have myself modeled that concept continually this year. I’m not only one of the “Old Farts” but had a well deserved reputation for being, while devoutly enthusiastic, hmm, let’s just say a bit of a stickler. This year I have continually tried one new thing after another, flagrantly experimenting and making mistakes and trying something else. I’ve boldly gone where no one (not at my school, anyway) has gone before. When I showed our principal the tweets we did in class watching Hamlet, he looked at me and grinned, “Who’da thoughtyou’d be the one doing this, huh?” I’ve demonstrated categorically that one is never too … too anything to learn new stuff, no, not even if one's first pet was a dinosaur.

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