SAMR: It’s Not Just For Students.

I often agonize over the SAMR model and how I feel completely stuck at Augmentation most of the time.

Today, I felt like maybe I’m actually closer to Modification. Here’s why.

I’ve taught writing in some form my entire teaching career. This year, writing instruction is in my Journalistic Writing class. Before iPads and Google Drive, I scheduled lab time, wrote endless passes to the library, and begged students to complete drafts on time so I could grade them–by hand–fast enough to get the feedback to students in time for them to write a final draft.

This year’s students have been working on their very first news stories. Today was a writing day, where their only task was to work on rough drafts.

In the past, I would walk around the room and glance at sentences, making minor (mostly grammatical) changes.

Deciphering handwriting and scratched out comments here and there can be tough.

Today, I sat at my desk and read drafts as the students wrote them. I commented on their stories, looked for passive voice, found holes in their stories, suggested alternate sources. I worked with them. And as students had questions, I conferenced with students.

There aren’t many ways I can “significantly redesign the task” of writing news stories. But I have “significantly redesigned” how I provide feedback. Students this semester are getting feedback on their writing way more often than in semesters past, and that feedback is better quality (I type way faster than I handwrite). Later this week, we will do whole-group revisions and peer-to-peer revisions. Instead of only me reading their stories once or twice before a final draft, I’ll have read each of their stories at least 4 or 5 times, in addition to the attention of their classmates.

I have to believe that the quantity and quality of feedback will make them better writers.

For the past eight months, I’ve been thinking about the SAMR model as solely for my students. It wasn’t until today I considered it as a model for me.

Eddie Vedder and Journalism

Back when I coached speech, I really struggled to maintain a balance between teaching my students skills, allowing them some creativity, and guiding them toward what judges wanted to see. It eventually became nearly impossible for me to balance those–if I allowed my students to make some unorthodox choices, they were often denied state and national awards. But if I forced them into choices that pleased judges, their performances were a tad inauthentic.

Now that I’m a newspaper adviser, I’m faced with the same predicament. Do I let my students really make their own choices (and therefore make mistakes)? Or do I proofread every little thing, suggest every layout, monitor all story ideas, all in an attempt to “play to the judges”?

I talked about this with Stueve, my compatriot who advises the yearbook, and we decided we would take a page out of Eddie Vedder’s playbook.

At the 1996 Grammy Awards, Pearl Jam won an award, and as he “accepted” the award, Vedder acknowledged that at the end of the day, awards mean nothing. He was a little more colorful than that, of course, but he speaks the truth. We do what we do because we love it, not because we want to win awards.

So Stueve and I plan to let our kids make the choices, trust their decisions but guide them when necessary, and if we’re recognized by anyone outside our building, then great.

But if not, we’ll just be happy we get to work with some of the best kids in the building in creating something absolutely beautiful.

Full disclosure: today was State Journalism. One of my students came in 6th in column writing; a different student actually won our district in prelims of column writing. I’m terribly proud of them both.

Risk Aversion

I showed Morgan Spurlock’s TED talk to my Pop Culture Studies classes last week. Toward the end, he flashes this quote on the screen behind him:

“When you train your employees to be risk averse, then you’re preparing your whole company to be reward challenged.”

I chewed on that quote throughout the rest of the week, as my colleagues and I are forging new territories in our classrooms. Specifically, we are introducing our students to the concept of Challenge-Based Learning. And yes, the conversation about its grounding in Apple products is one for another day, but if you strip away the product placement throughout the resources provided, Challenge-Based Learning (or I’ve also seen it presented at Project-Based Learning), all that remains is a curriculum designed on teaching students how to think, work collaboratively, and create a product of impact.

The trouble for me is taking the risk. 

It’s a huge risk to try and guide juniors in high school through a research process that is so different from what they are used to. It’s a huge risk to relenquish some of the control I typically have in my classroom. It’s also a risk to trust that my students will follow me into the void, that they will take risks themselves and that we all will possibly fail.

But if we don’t take the risk…well, according to Spurlock’s quote, we’ll be reward challenged. If we don’t take the risk, my students will research meaningless topics about which they do not care, then write papers that I will not want to grade because they were not written with any kind of passion whatsoever, and I will have no one to blame but myself for not taking the risk.

So tomorrow, we begin a whole-class mini-research endeavor. All of us–myself included–figuring out the steps and elements of completing research that could actually change a life. I’ve been telling my students for the past week that even if what we do only affects one person, then it’s worth it.

I need to remember that sentiment throughout this process–maybe this year, only one student will find this risk to be worthwhile. But I will find better ways to teach this process and next year, maybe two students will love the risk. And perhaps it will grow exponentially from there.

And speaking of not falling prey to risk aversion:

First Year: Week Two from AE Stueve on Vimeo.

Why Write?

This morning I opened the paper and this was the front page story.

I’m calmer now than I was at 8:30 AM when I read it. And because I didn’t write anything in that moment, the passion I felt about the complete farce of a story the World-Herald published is gone.

Which is really part of the point the article makes: assessing writing the way we do is artificial. Giving students a prompt scrubbed of racial, gender, or social class bias on a random Tuesday and asking them to write for 90 minutes does not provide them with a real-world opportunity to practice writing. As I read the article this morning, I simultaneously composed a letter to the editor and a blog post. I crafted arguments and analyzed those arguments…and then I went to church and all my ideas faded.

I’m sure I could reconstruct the arguments and indignation I felt this morning, but it wouldn’t have the same impact because my “voice” would be a bit muted.

So what are “real-world opportunities” for writing? For me, that becomes one of the exciting questions I will explore this summer as I tweak my lesson plans. But I need ideas, starting points.

Why do you write? Even if you don’t identify as a writer, I’m sure you’ve written something since high school or college. Please share!

Write It Out.

If you asked my dear friends Mike and Matt to define me in three words, I suspect they would say “Piano. Sports. Writing.”

And it’s true–I feel most like myself when those three passions rotate seamlessly in my day-to-day operations. This time of year, piano is front and center–I typically accompany a few pieces for District Music Contest. So every day, I sit at my piano for at least 15 minutes to practice, and then I usually pull out music I haven’t played in years and play around for another 15 minutes.

I’ve been keeping sports at bay in recent years for reasons I’ve tried to articulate, but cannot. And in 25 years of following sports, I’ve always been able to keep perspective. It’s just a game. It means nothing in the long run. And I’m never directly affected by any win or loss.

But I have been an absolute freak show during the Mountain West Conference tournament. Despondency follows elation; nausea follows joy.

And it bothers me. A lot.

Why was I getting so wrapped up in games that ultimately mean nothing? Something else had to be bothering me, but my brain has been so scrambled lately, that thinking brought no answers. So today, I wrote.

I have two blogs that I try to update with some regularity, but knowing that tens of people will read my words, I censor myself quite a bit. Today, I wrote–by hand, the old-fashioned way–with a smooth-flowing Sharpie pen on crisp paper in a spiral-bound journal. I wrote five pages. I stopped, I reflected.I wrote more.

I’m not sure I arrived at any concrete conclusions as to why BYU’s loss to San Diego State saddened me so. But with every word that transferred from my brain to my hand to my journal, I felt a little lighter.

That’s what I wish I could ultimately teach to my students: that writing is a tool to help us make sense of the world. We teach modes of writing, masked as purposes: inform, persuade, entertain, describe. With my AP students, they’ve written me definition essays, process essays, cause and effect essays. But really, why write if not to try and make sense of both joy and pain?

Today I wrote to figure out what is bothering me. I didn’t have an introduction or a conclusion. But the writing mattered. Today’s writing probably mattered more to me than my Master’s thesis or any blog post.

Writing is a tool–how do you use it?