That’s why it is so important for schools to treat intrinsic motivation as an explicit learning target. Not every student is going to struggle with this – but those that do can have life-long benefits that carry them to success.
One path to supporting this objective is fostering a culture of growth mindsets. Growth mindsets allow students and teachers alike to understand that any current gaps in mastery are only temporary – they will last only as long as it takes to address. For some gaps, it might take years of practice to fill; others might require only a change of perspective.
Regardless of the strategies employed, teachers and school leaders should create explicit plans for supporting student growth in this area. In the complex science of learning, this is one characteristic that can have a wide-ranging positive impact on other outcomes.
The capitol city of Georgia is a paradoxical mix of old and new, familiar and foreign. Since this was our first visit to a post-Soviet country, we didn’t really know what to expect before we arrived. It was absolutely a memorable trip, full of new and interesting experiences.
We tend to travel fairly blind, without doing a lot of research before-hand, and Tbilisi was a joy to explore with the group of friends we came with.
Right from our first steps out of the airport, we felt welcomed and comfortable. Customs and local staff are friendly and helpful. Cell companies offer free sim cards & $5 4G plans.
We loved the feel of Central Tbilisi, where shopping districts, café-lined streets, and modern art parks are neighbored by very roughly-finished high-rise construction. There is wealth here, but also austerity.
And we also enjoyed the countryside, which we traveled through on a day trip to Armenia (a trip in more than one way).
We arrived to our apartment in Tbilisi hungry. None of us having any idea of where we were, where to go, or what we wanted to eat, we did some quick googling-while-walking (thank you, cheap and easy data plan!) which led us to a restaurant in our neighborhood. We stumbled in, a starving, travel-worn, somewhat-smelly, too-sober group of eight with no reservation.
Our only desire was for edible food – any kind. And beer, of course, or wine. As our group tumbled in through the doors to the restaurant like a Three Stooges octet, we were greeted by white-jacketed waiters, a coat check, and table settings with severally-sized spoons. We almost backed out, but the staff there were so lovely and so welcoming – and our starvation so immediate – that we had no choice but to sit and puzzle over the menu.
We ended up trying everything.
Our server took
great care of us, and she and the kitchen staff ordered and walked us through
an extremely satisfying meal of stuffed breads, soups, wine, cheeses,
meatballs, dumplings, and sauces that I never learned the names of. All
delicious, and all very familiar while also undeniably foreign. We loved it,
and that was an amazing entrance to the culinary experiences of Georgia. The
manager took such good care of us that as we were leaving, she apologized for
not having one specific Georgian dish on the menu, and recommended a nearby
place to try that tomorrow.
80% of my calorie
intake while in Tbilisi came from meats, cheeses, and wine, and it was
glorious. I am absolutely a glutton
while on vacation, and I never say no to something new that looks good. After all, when am I going to be back here
again? Diets are for home.
We like to walk when
we visit new cities, and one of the reasons is that we get to check out the
hundreds of cafes and restaurants as we walk by (and stop in). Our daily plans were minimal, amounting
essentially to walk across town eating,
drinking coffee, and sampling local beers & wines until we get to X
Meat skewers, asian-style dumplings, khinkali (meat-stuffed breads), sausages, soups, and kababs are delicious and easy to find. Many restaurants serve their own home-made wine in pitchers in addition to bottled stuff, which was fun to try, honestly not too bad, and very cheap.
As our driver pulled up to our apartment building, we hesitated at the blank concrete, exposed rebar, and dangling wires that decorated the entryway. The apartment was on the top floor of a 13-storey apartment building, and although the photos of the apartment looked nice, the exterior of the building was everything you might expect a half-completed post-soviet apartment block to look like.
We’ve seen this
before in other places: South/East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East,
southern Europe – the practice where private interior spaces of buildings are
decorated and well-maintained, but the exterior public faces of buildings are
completely neglected. Some cultures put a very low value on the outside
appearance of their homes.
Having no option but to head in, we found an elevator whose exposed metal frame and cold-war aesthetic sparked discussion on whether to walk up 13 floors with our suitcases. We accepted the test of faith. The closet-sized elevator allowed us to get upstairs in three separate trips.
Also, something new for us: a banged up metal box in the elevator requiring payment for the ride – just less than the equivalent of 4 U.S. cents, each way.
We held our breaths
as the hamster cage of an elevator ushered us clanging and jerking to the top
of the building. We tried not to imagine the growing volume of space between
our bodies and the ground below.
It took time, but I
grew to love this elevator.
Thankfully, the interior of the apartment was in stark contrast to the public front of the building (the 13th floor foyer and hallways were also unadorned concrete, with exposed wiring, dangling lights, and immediate need of a good sweep). Clean, modern, and decorated with a clear sense of design (and a somewhat-foreign color palette), our hill-topping penthouse apartment rental offered a gorgeous view of the surrounding city. It was dark when we got to the apartment, so the city lights were out in full effect.
After dropping off our bags, we went out for the dinner I mentioned above. Some of us thought to take the stairs down to the street because the elevator wouldn’t carry us all at once (and to save the 3.7 cents).
Remember the unfinished nature of the building? Yeah. Turned out that the stairwell was unlighted, of rough cement, with no handrails, and littered with debris. Large openings at each landing offered windy, glass-less views that seemed more than marginally unsafe in the moonlight. We took shifts using the elevator.
Tbilisi is easy to
get around, with a developed transit system.
Subways and buses are easy to use, and Google Maps transit tools make
you feel like a native.
It is also fairly walkable, and exploring Tbilisi by foot was rewarding. We spent days exploring cafes, restaurants, street art, and oddities almost everywhere we went. My phone says we walked about 30 km in the week we stayed in Tbilisi – not bad.
Tbilisi is an old
city and both large and small architectural artifacts of its past are easy to
find. Probably the most famous landmark
is Narikala Fortress, which sits high up in central Tbilisi overlooking the Kura
River which winds through town. Frankly,
I wish access was more restricted, as little care is taken to preserve the old
stonework, but it was fun to climb up the walls to enjoy the view.
Another common destination is the Dry Bridge Market, which is a flea market filled with art, toys, jewelry, and lots of miscellanea. Lots of really cool stuff here. Here is my souvenir from the trip:
Overall, we really enjoyed our week in Tbilisi, and I would go again. English-speakers are sometimes hard to find, but we were able to get everything we wanted with patience and smiles. Lovely people.
“Don’t tell me you believe ‘all kids can learn’ … tell me what you’re doing about the kids who aren’t learning.
It surprises me how
many well-intentioned educators try to justify abandoning their students to
We talked about this last week. If you’d done your homework, you’d understand. We covered this yesterday; get the notes from a friend.
Yes, teenagers need
to learn to be self-motivated, to do things for themselves, and so on.
…but should a kid be doomed to fail algebra because she never learned how to organize?
Yes, there are
real-world reasons that teachers don’t always have time to re-teach for a
…but if schools don’t have systems in place for supporting teachers to do this, then we have abdicated our professional responsibilities.
Our job is to maximize learning, whatever it takes.
If we, the
professionals in the room, don’t take personal responsibility for each of our
students – and yes, this means re-teaching too – then in essence, we are
entrusting our students’ educations to their own self-motivation. Many young people are organized,
self-directed, and motivated – but those are not generally the ones we need to
develop support structures for.
Effective schools focus on supporting the students who need help – and check up to make sure it is working!
As DuFour said, tell me what you’re doing about the kids who aren’t
Our job is to make students learn; giving them the opportunity is not enough, because having the “opportunity” to learn something is different for every student. For some students, writing the due date for an upcoming assignment on the board will be enough of an opportunity – they know the classroom routines, will see the date, and will turn the assignment in on time. But we know that this will not be enough for every student. Did these other students have have an actual opportunity to turn in this assignment, if they don’t think to look at the board when they come into class? And should we allow this disposition to deny them an opportunity to learn?
Bottom line: If your
school wants to ensure the highest possible learning for all children, you need
to have a systematic approach to interventions and extensions in place. You need professionals organizing the system,
and you need a dedicated staff who are committed to ensuring high outcomes.
If a student is
falling below standard in English, does it help that student to shake your head
and mourn that they should have studied?
Did you join the noblest profession to watch your low performers sit in
the back and fail Geometry?
Should have paid attention last Wednesday when I covered this. Now we’re on Chapter 12.
No, that student
deserves a targeted intervention to catch them up and help guarantee them a
quality education. Because that’s what we do.
Those of us old
enough to remember the early days of the internet (and before!) have seen the
transformational power of technology on society. Some days, it seems that everything has
changed; on other days, the writing on the wall just has a new font. We’re still human, doing human things in
human ways. Love in 2019 is the same as
in 1989, conflict and disagreement are the same, and we aspire in many of the
should be used to leverage learning, to transform how learning happens. More often than not, cell phones or laptops
are used in classes as a way of automating processes, making things easier or
smoother – and that is fine. I’m happy
that my ELL students have immediate access to Google Translate! But is this transformational? How is a student using Translate in class any
fundamentally different than having a paper dictionary out on the desk? It’s faster – yes – but is that it? Can we really say that learning has been transformed?
Sometimes I see
something in classrooms that makes me think Aha!
– something that is impossible without modern tech. A Youtube video, for example, or a Ted talk
on the projector. Surely this could
never have happened pre-internet! But is
that right? Haven’t teachers used videos
to supplement their lessons for decades before Yahoo! was a thing? Having billions of videos at the touch of a
key certainly adds to the depth of what teachers have access to – but is it
transformative? The basic learning structure is often the same as it’s always
When I look around
many classrooms, I see essentially the same classroom environment in which I
learned as a child in the 80s and 90s.
Largely teacher-driven, with time for small-group and individual work,
but with teacher-chosen and directed lessons. Maybe a video to supplement. We have yet to remove the trappings of the
factory output education model.
I have used
technology pretty extensively in my teaching practice – going so far as to go
paperless, one year. It can do great things, and can help organize, streamline,
and simplify in many ways. And it can feel good in the moment. Having a group of students collaborating on a
shared Google Doc can give a taste of something different, something impossible
without technology. Bringing in a
really good Ted talk can inspire students and teachers alike.
But so what? Are learning outcomes greater if students
collaborate on a shared doc than if they write their ideas on huge sheets of
butcher paper? Are the fundamental
models of learning changed by showing a film to your students?
Educators who bring
in technology in hopes of transforming the learning in their schools are
working from a false hope that modern tech can make everything better by
itself. Instead, teachers should focus on how new technology can fundamentally
change the way students learn.
One such way is by
expanding the interrelations between students. When I grew up, we could only
realistically collaborate with groups of about 4 students – and we had to be
sitting next to each other, for the most part. One new thing that modern tech
allows is for students to work across the classroom, or in another classroom,
or even another country. John
Hattie’s research on Visible Learning shows that cooperative learning leads
to improved learning outcomes, with an effect size of .40 (having potential to
accelerate learning beyond the norm).
Ultimately, new tech
should change the way students think & learn – not just change the way they
shows that the impact on learning of tech in classrooms is a mixed bag. For
instance, one-to-one laptops, often a key marketing point for private schools,
shows an effect size of .16 (likely to have small positive impact on student
achievement). It’s clear that just putting the tech in front of the students is
not enough – students learn through engaging lessons and strong adherence to
Donald Trump has said that he invented the term Fake News, but even if that isn’t true, he did undeniably popularize the term. We might owe him a bit of thanks for that.
Prior to 2016, who
was talking about Fake News? Not many – and in a sense, this change may well be
a net positive to us, because even though discussion was limited, our media was
nonetheless filled with half-truths and outright lies. Honest reporting may
still exist, but it increasingly drowned out with ‘curated truths’ and biased
info-tainment – and this trend has been escalating for decades.
Although some people
were talking about modern media lies the in pre-Trump era (Jon Stewart is a
famous example), we lacked the pithy branding that “Fake News”
provides. Donald Trump, by branding the
problem so neatly, has made our media misinformation problem easier to talk
about – and people are definitely talking about it.
All over the world,
politicians, reporters, entertainers, and everyday people are talking about
Fake News. There are some very different
ideas about what media might be Fake News, but I see it as an overall good thing
that people at least agree that it is a problem, and that they are talking
about it. Until that happens, nothing
can be done to fix it.
For teenagers, the
idea of Fake News is something that they
have grown up with. It’s a normal part
of the world for them, and many can only hazily remember a world before
then-candidate Trump popularized the idea of fake news.
As teachers and
educators, information media literacy matters. If a democracy in the 19th century relied on
a literate, engaged, and educated population, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, then a
democracy in the 21st century requires citizens who understand how much of what
they see is false – this is a defining aspect of media literacy in our time.
Nothing can be taken at face value; everything must be questioned.
education focuses on the development of critical thinking and assessment. Our students learn to ask key questions and
how to do research to make up their own minds on the truth of an issue. They quickly learn that everything is biased, and how to discover
sources of bias and use that knowledge to weigh the value of different
Our children accept
that Fake News is a real thing – and it is easy to see that they are
right. But what’s most troubling is how
truly difficult it can be to tell what’s real and what’s fake, and this leads
to an even larger problem: if it takes too much work to tell the difference,
then many people will just give up entirely without trying.
To prevent this, we
need to actively train this generation of students, and each subsequent
generation, with the skills necessary to tell true from false, real from fake,
truth from lies. It is absolutely true
that there are powerful interests in the world putting their resources into
polluting our media world with lies, conflict, and misdirection – we need to
answer their efforts with our own.
education should focus on the deep analysis of current topics and
articles. There is constantly something
in the global and local news that can be used to hone our students’ skills, and
lessons are made all the more rich by being topical and relevant.
education should also focus on informed inquiry through research and practical
questioning skills. Teach our students to question everything, and how to find
answers to those questions. These core,
foundational skills are transferrable to many areas of life.
I’ve taught Media
Literacy as a high school elective course, but its principles can be integrated
into many core subjects from elementary school on up. We owe it to this
generation and others to give them the tools that they will need to
successfully navigate the misinformation age.
In 7th grade, a
short story of mine was read in front of the class as an example of the exact
type of writing that one wanted to avoid, if one wanted any respect whatsoever
as a writer.
We were supposed to
write sci-fi stories, and since I had recently read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy, I took a comedic approach to my storytelling, filling my pages with
lines-long acronyms and initialisms that I found (and find) hilarious, but that
my teacher found terrible enough to be used as a cautionary tale.
I still think fondly
about that story.
Many years later, I became an English teacher. This was possible in part due to the fact that good writing teachers need not be good writers (although it helps to be able to fake it), and over the years as I’ve thought back to seventh-grade, my feelings about my sci-fi tear-down have stuck with me.
cautionary tale of writing has become my own cautionary tale of teaching, and
she taught me a critical, unintended lesson: that teachers are often wrong, and
their mistakes can linger for decades. One skill critical for successful
teaching is empathy – you need to know how your teaching will be received by
It turns out that teaching is complicated.
After grad school, where I learned some of the tricks one needs to teach writing (or at least to be able to fake it), I took my bag of tricks overseas, where I settled in Korea. I lived in Seoul for 7 years, married my wife, met my son, learned a lot, played a lot, and added to my bag of teaching tricks.
One of the great
things about teaching-tricks-bags is that they can always hold more. I taught
at Asia Pacific International School in Seoul, and I was fortunate to have
leadership there that encouraged me to grow, to learn, and to try new things.
There, I practiced developing student agency, and I pushed the boundaries of
what it means to give students choice in their work and to get them
self-invested in their learning.
After Seoul, I moved with my family to Kuwait, where we worked at the American School of Kuwait. We lived there for five years, and a lot has happened to our family in that time. My son started school there; he was 3 years old when we arrived. My wife earned her Masters in School Counseling and became a professional educator; I became a Literacy Coach, earned my admin credential, and became Assistant Principal. I built a desk out of wood I scavenged from construction sites.
I am happy to look
back on my time in Kuwait and see how far we’ve come as a family, as
individuals, and as professionals. We’ve made life-long friends here.
That said, Kuwait is a mixed bag. It’s hard to blame the teachers who arrive in August amidst 50C weather, 80% humidity, and dust as far as the eye can see, who say “nope,” and head out at the first opportunity.
We are leaving
Kuwait now, for Mexico. It’s our turn in the expat life-cycle, constantly
churning with comers and goers. My son is turning 8; although we have traveled
quite a lot and Liam has seen many places, Kuwait is the only home he
That is strange to
me, and bittersweet.
I often wonder if
we’ve made the right choices for our son, but I think that all you can do is
make the best choices you can, and hope it all works out. In keeping with the
theme of this blog, when I take a moment to look around, I’m happy to see where
we’ve come, and excited to see where we go.