Grading. That's what is on my mind today, at least in part. Of course it is, but not in the most obvious way. Last night before I went to bed I grabbed my computer, opened a document and just started writing down all the ideas that were swirling in my head about things I want to do differently next year. Today, when I started grading I opened that doc up again because I was reminded that some of the best ideas I get come to me while grading. I think the things that grab me when I grade are the nuances in student performances that trigger thoughts like, "Ooh, how could I get this kid to dig into that idea a little deeper?", and more often than that it is all the screaming gaps in their performances that get me to thinking, "Wow! How can I avoid that in the future?" or "Eeek! How can I plug that hole for them?"
Either way, this time of year is the season for floods of great ideas juxtaposed with an absolute drought of energy to do anything about them. So, what do I do? I am at least trying to capture that inspiration and store it away, to save it somewhere safe, but come back to it when a energy sparks again. As much as I would like to believe I am good at reflection, I sometimes miss opportunities for reflection to do me any good because I fail to record my thoughts and discoveries when I should. They flit and fly away and are gone. What a waste!
On that note, my thinking shifts a little to the summer I have planned full of professional development that I am either giving or receiving. TELL Collab is just about a month away, and I already know that I am going to be asked what my one goal will be for the new year. How can I be epic? Gosh! It is always so hard to restrict myself to just one goal, but I think I am going to use what is on my mind today as my goal for this summer and the coming school year. I am going to do something that is more action based because actions are easier to monitor than thoughts or reflections. Based on today's grading, I am setting a goal to journal during every grading session, and I think I am going to label the journal posts according to what it is I am grading, so that when the next instance of that assignment or assessment comes up I can look back on what I was thinking at the time. Also, I want to do a better job of recording the a-ha moments my students' performances give me because I think I am not being as efficient as I could be about using what their performances tell me to make instructional decisions that help them grow. If I am being honest, my creative nature carries me away with my own ideas for instruction rather than learning from what my students are doing or not doing well, and then creating learning experiences that build upon their strengths or support their weaknesses.
This leads me down yet another reflective rabbit hole. I had a deep realization last night when I was trying to quiet my thoughts by getting ideas down in writing. I have finally learned my district's curriculum well enough now to say I really understand how it works and how it was built (at least I think I do), and while I love many things about it the one thing that frustrates me is how well structured it is. I know their are loads of language teachers who would kill for a ready-to-teach curriculum, so don't kill me yet! But again, my creative nature resists the control it exerts upon me. I have been fighting that control all year, but as I said before, I had an epiphany last night about what is actually happening in my head regarding curriculum and instruction and why I have been frustrated.
In a nut shell, it is this: just because something is creative or even fun doesn't mean it is effective. This means that the sweet spot in proficiency based language teaching is building a deep tool box of practices and strategies that are proven to lead to student proficiency, and then looking for ways to employ those tools creatively, or in ways that insert fun into learning. I realize now what I don't fully know, and what is in the way of my being creative in a controlled environment. I have some missing tools, or some tools I don't know how to use well, so I have some learning to do first. Then I have to be patient and willing to allow this controlled environment to rein in the creativity so that it can be harnessed and focused. Only then can I achieve that next level of language teaching skill.
The analogy you could make in all of this language teaching mess I am talking about is like an artist or musician and how their work changes as their own skill grows. The better they know their media or instruments they more able they are to find ways to use them in ways no one else has ever done or would expect. I am imagining the artwork of a child and how their pieces change as they grow and develop. All children can draw and color, but an artist emerges when she learns how to use the tools she has. My dad, for a real life example, is an amazing talent at making, building or fixing almost anything, but where he really excels lies in woodworking. He is so good at it that he envisions something he wants to do with a piece he is working on, and if he doesn't have the tool that will do what his mind sees, he creates one. A person can only do that kind of thing if they know their tools and resources well. My dad once imagined that he could create a round box by bending wood. So, he took an old hot water heater, refashioned it so he could set a piece of wood into it to steam, then took the wood out and bent it into the shape he wanted the box to be in. Then, he left it to dry. It worked, but it worked because he knew what the water heater was for, how it worked and how it could be modified. He understood which wood to pick, the nature of wood and how it response to moisture, and set out to make something others probably never thought of. He is always doing things like that.
I hope your head isn't spinning from reading this post. As you can see, there is just too much in my head right now, but that is the point. It is the end of a challenging year for me, instructionally speaking, so if I am going to benefit from all this thinking I have to get it down somewhere. These things I am thinking about or seeing in my students' work cannot be passing whims because whims don't do anything but entertain us for a bit. Maybe we should all be journaling when we grade, I mean, we are suppose to be reacting to our students' performances, right? Anyway, that's my goal. Maybe I am just the late bloomer in the garden. Oh well, no matter when you bloom you are beautiful. I will be sure to share what this journaling teaches me.
Happy Coaching, Everyone!