Sunday, December 11, 2016

Let Me Reiterate

Doing something once isn't actually all that hard.

"I'm gonna get in shape!" Great! You feel good about yourself, you pull on your shorts and shoes, you hit the road, you feel strong and proud of yourself.

Day three, when you're sore and tired? That's when the work begins.

Let me start again- Doing something once isn't all that hard. It's the doing it again that's the tricky part.

This is a lesson we learn again and again. And again. And again. And we have to keep learning it because often it's one of those lessons we learn in one part of our lives that doesn't easily translate to other parts of our lives.

Iteration, repetition, is the key.

Take working out. Eventually that cycle gets easier. Eventually it becomes habit and the iteration of the workout system takes hold. Then the trick becomes including creative iterations within the system to keep the body guessing and growing. This is a learning system.

Students struggle mightily to iterate their learning. Because students are people and, as we established earlier, people need to learn their lesson again and again and again. And again. One of my jobs, and my biggest challenges, as a teacher, is to guide students to a place where they understand and accept this fact of life. This unchangeable tenet of learning- that you gotta do it over and over.

It's one of the reasons I love teaching coding. Coding tricks kids into doing this on their own. They code something, make it happen, see, in real time, where the problem lies, and fix it. Over and over. They keep trying. Because it's fun, it's like a game.Which is great for me. Build those muscles in the game, kids. I don't care, as long as you're working them. I do the same thing with reading comprehension strategies. I conspire with parents during conferences. "He needs to be reading every night, and he is of course because I ask him to. If you could ask him questions about what he's reading, good, detailed, WHY questions, what will help him in school. You know, you could also do that with TV or movies or video games. Yes, I know! It's the same muscles. Doesn't have to be books. He should be thinking critically about all the media he consumes anyway. And let's not fool ourselves into thinking the majority of that media comes in the reading he does because I ask him to." Coding works those iteration muscles.

My job, then, is to make them work in math and reading and science. And writing. Oh yeah, that's a big one. Projects and writing is where iteration, the strong ability to go back into drafts and fix, that's a skill that's going to play into their lives forever. So I use coding as a springboard for that, but that's not enough. Because I am a giant ego-case, and also because I like using what I know in my classroom (it works better than using what I don't know), I talk about my own writing. I bring my challenges and struggles and life lessons into the classroom and try to help my kids see how I use the skills they are learning. "Is this gonna be on the test?" "No! Because I almost never give you tests, you know that! It is gonna be a part of everything you do in class though!" "Oh...ok. So I should write it down then?"

I just finished a book. It will be out very soon. It's a fiction novel that I've been working on for, depending on how you want to count, over seven years or about seven months. I wrote the first "final" draft seven years ago, put it in a drawer, thought about it all the time, wrote other things, and then over the summer I dug it back out and basically rewrote the entire thing. And rewrote it. And rewrote it. Because real writing is a giant pain and it takes forever and I love it. A writer, google has failed me who, said, "Anyone can write. Writers rewrite." Because that's where the real art of it comes in.

And here's the thing I'm going to bring into my classroom from that- I did a final final final final pass of the full text this week. Like, this was the third time I've said, "I finished! It's really done!" And I found a ton of stuff. Not even story things. Little silly errors. Grammar and punctuation and words that were wrong. This was after I'd read it who knows how many times, and a bunch of other people had read it, and they'd made corrections and suggestions, and then I'd read it again and fixed more things, and then there were still more things. Now, does this mean that I'm a bad self editor? That's the risk I'm taking here, right? By telling my students (and you, dear reader), that after multiple passes I still found problems, I'm telling you I must not be very good at the whole editing thing.
The final final final final pass notes
Or maybe it just proves my point that there's always more to fix. After all, this book is over 78k words. That's a lot of words. So it takes a lot of combing. The bigger message here is I thought I was done three times. And still I went back. Because I knew it could be better. I knew there was more to fix. (Important Note- There's always more to fix. da Vinci* said "art is never finished, only abandoned".) I'm not trying to make my kids maniacs, obsessing over every little detail, but I kinda am. And to do that I'm going to talk about my journey. Because they like me, they respect me, and I think sometimes it's ok if teachers teach by telling stories from their own lives. That's a whole other blog post, but storytelling as teaching is probably the oldest form of the profession. Take advantage.

How do we get kids to reiterate? We help them to have pride in themselves and their work so they want it to be better. We give them things of value to do, so they care when they do it. And we also show them that iteration is hard, it's where the work really is. We show them in a dozen different ways big and small. We make our work more transparent. We show (and we believe) that it's a process. And that it takes time and can't be rushed. It's where we learn and practice patience and accept fault. Because fault is a part of it too. It's about honestly finding fault, assessing it, and correcting it. In small ways and big.

Every project I give my kids, writing or presenting or whatever, I pound the "First Drafts Aren't Done, Second Drafts Are Done" drum. But it's not enough to say it. I'm finding ways to teach it, to show it. A big theme emerging in our class this year is this idea of practicing something and dedicating ourselves to improving it, in small bites and big chunks. I think it's a combination of the kind of group I have and having two student teachers (one main, and an alternate that's in every few weeks) with me.

Doing isn't that hard. Getting good. Going again. That's hard.

*how pretentious am I, huh?

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