Irresolution…

My blog pal Matthew wrote last week about his encounters with Dan Meyer, a math teacher who commented about irresolution as a skill that today’s (and yesterday’s) students need to become ok with. The primary thesis was that students are conditioned to anticipate a finite answer at the end of each equation, and in the worst cases, they sit passively by waiting for the teacher to drop them off at that answer.  He admits that teachers often enable that tendency by clinging to the age-old techniques.  True statement.

During the first several minutes of the Meyer presentation, I got a bit restless, thinking “Wait a minute, what’s wrong with resolution?”  Great writers, scientists, thinkers, and dreamers seek resolution, and we SOAK UP their resolution, whether it’s the dramatic climax and resolution to a novel, the formula that explains how things work, the drug that gets them to work, or the product on the shelves that changes the way we live.  Could we be in this cohort if the makers of ENNIAC or UNIVAC decided to leave this whole “computing thing” open-ended?

Obviously, I’m speaking in hyperbole, but the fact is that the end product of learning is usually resolution of an essential question.  Hopefully what Meyer is saying is that students shouldn’t be disheartened when a swift resolution is not on the horizon.  Hopefully, Meyer is teaching his kids the relentless pursuit of resolution by, instead of waiting for the answer, learning what questions to ask.  I confess to only watching 20 minutes of his 52 minute presentation, so if he said exactly that, then I owe Meyer an apology.

My question since the beginning of the cohort has been “How relevant are 21st century skills in an intro-level Spanish class?”  After all, there are discrete skills that must be mastered in order to move on to metacognitive aims. I’m glad to hear Meyer say “Skill practice is part of a well-balanced diet.”  And this is my first data point in arriving at an answer to my question. Skill practice is necessary, but it is not the end-all, be-all.  Ultimately, the skill practice must be used for a purpose, and it will be my job to find purpose for my students.  Or better yet, it will be my job to guide the students to finding their own purpose.

I am struggling with one element of irresolution.  We just concluded the midterm marking period, and over the last several days (up until about 40 minutes ago, as a matter of fact), I have been writing a comment for each one of my students which will be sent home with midterm grades.  Each comment ranges from 100-250 words in length and covers academic, disciplinary, and social commentary about what that child is experiencing in class, homeroom, athletic teams, etc.  At this point in the year, under my old, stodgy, drill-and-kill methodology, I knew where almost each child was in use and knowledge of vocabulary, morphology, sentence structure, listening comprehension, and oral proficiency.  It was like a museum tour that I take so often, I know when an exhibit undergoes a slight change.

In my Spanish 1 classes, with which I’m only slightly modifying curricula for experimentation, I have a good bead on where they are.  I have dramatically altered the focus of my Spanish 2 Experienced class (sort an honors course, although we don’t call it that in the Junior High) toward co-created curricula.  And my grasp on their competencies is tenuous at best.  Am I doing a disservice by not having a firm grasp on where they are in the language acquisition process?

I’ve been quite good at ceding control of my class to the ebb and flow of project-based learning, but I’m not comfortable not knowing the needs of my students.  Advice?

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One Response to Irresolution…

  1. testingthewater says:

    I can still remember how much I disliked irresolution when I was my students’ age. I, like every teacher in my school, teach reading for the first hour of the day. Right now we are reading The Giver, which was one of my favorite books when I was in middle school. As much as I loved the book, I really struggled with the open-ended conclusion to the story. I craved resolution at that age. I don’t know what this says about me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if resolution was the reason that I preferred math to all my other classes for so many years in school.

    Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to your question. I feel the same way about not knowing as precisely where your students stand when your assessments consist of project-based learning. To borrow Meyer’s metaphor, I would think that traditional assessments are also part of a well-balanced diet. Because of the importance of end-of-year standardized testing, I would be doing my students a great disservice to not integrate multiple-choice questions into my assessments. My students need the familiarity with questions in that form, and I need to measure my students’ knowledge using the same scale that will ultimately be used to judge us.

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