So, there may be a chance that I *gasp!* missed a day of class on which we had a morning pages assignment that is required for our Unfamiliar Genre Project. So here we are (and here I am), getting back to it here in this final quarter of the project.
The prompt for this morning pages entry was based on a TED talk by Carol Dweck on the difference between a “now” mindset, and a “yet” mindset. The gist is probably one we are all familiar with. I think we’ve all heard, at one point or another, the idea of seeking long-term goals over a beyond the short-term rewards we might get right now.
It’s a basic financial lesson. Don’t spend your entire paycheck right away. It is much wiser to buy things you need immediately, say food, rent, &c., and then save some, and put just a part of your earnings aside for personal spending. With what you save you are planning for the future. This is money that you are not spending yet, but are setting aside, possibly even investing in, for your future. However, Dweck argues that the way students are trained to approach school is for immediate success. Students are looking for the next “A.” Children in athletic activities are looking for a trophy, right when the game ends. For me, this often manifested in my band-kid geekiness. I loved to play music. But it wasn’t a priority I was willing to invest in. I rarely practiced outside of the school lessons. I wasn’t preoccupied with the thought of I’m not a good musician yet, but was thinking I am an OK musician right now.
Surprise, surprise. This attitude manifested in my musical ability. I was a pretty decent player in our band. But I certainly wasn’t the best, and I paled in comparison to my classmates that definitely practiced.
My attitude towards History and English on the other hand, was a “not yet” attitude. I didn’t realize it, but the fact that I was truly passionate about these subjects made a huge difference. I was able to read a lot, which if you ask me counts as studying literature despite my undeveloped understanding of how to study literature at the time. Similarly, even though I now realize this wasn’t the best source, watching the History channel gave me a framework for the narrative nature of History. I learned to understand the cause and effect nature of historical events and could understand the topic much better for that reason. I knew I wasn’t a historian–yet. I knew I wasn’t a writer–yet. But I knew that with enough time and effort I could become either of those things.
I would like to believe that every student could have this experience. I believe that every student has subjects that they are passionate enough about to put in time and effort in order to improve. If that is true, then that suggests that all students are capable of embracing what Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” Every student can apply a “not yet” attitude if they are given the proper encouragement.
For a few years after High School I worked as a wrangler on a guest ranch. I learned a lot about training horses and equine psychology. One of my favorite lessons in this experience was learning how each horse needs a little bit different form of encouragement to get them moving in the right direction. Not every horse was willing to move the way that their rider wanted them to from the beginning. But horses respond well to encouragement. They respond when you reward the slightest effort. They respond well to a growth mindset approach.
As a teacher of the human variety of animal, I might not have the opportunity to spend hours on end with a single student working with them on how to respond to a cue. At least, I won’t be able to do that with each individual student. But what’s to keep a teacher from implementing the same kind of effort–>reward approach in the classroom.
In studies that Dweck cites in her TED talk, students were able to learn better when their process and progress were monitored more than their end result. In math, for example, a student’s ability to approach a problem creatively and to work through the process of finding an answer should be just as important, if not more important, than whether they got the right answer in the end. If you can refine the process, eventually you will get to the right result. The student will know how to get to the right result and understand how to get there as well.
By the way, I despised “showing my work” in math class. However, I understand the importance.
I despised it because I knew that my homework grade was based on getting the right answer, rather than following the right process. But the work was a step in the right direction.
As I’ve been working on the UGP I’ve been struggling with showing my work. I am a results-oriented person. I find it difficult to give myself the grace to go through the difficult process of exploring an unfamiliar genre, only to create a product that I am unsatisfied with.
But say I was working with a horse. I had a horse that was terrified of gates in a fence. Every time we approached a gate, I could get him to walk up to it, but then he would bolt away from it. So, we had to go back to square one. I went out to the round-pen and walked the horse up to a fence. Then, I worked on moving the horse away from, and back towards the fence. Because of his misunderstanding of what I was asking, I started with asking, and if he didn’t respond how I wanted him to I would hold the pressure. I gave him encouragement and just kept it there. Then, if he even shifted his weight in the right direction, I would “reward” him by taking the pressure off. The next time I asked, he would know what was expected so I could hold the pressure until he shifted his weight in the right direction and took a step. Release pressure, reward. I’d pat him on the neck. Rub and pet him. Whisper sweet-nothings in his ear.
He had to go through the process, and the least amount of effort had to be rewarded.
I’m proud to say that this horse is now known for his prowess in operating gates. Obviously, we had to go a lot farther than steps in the right direction, but the idea was the same. Encouragement, effort in the right direction, reward. Sometimes I had to hold a cue, hold the pressure, for a very long time, but he got it eventually.
How does this translate to the classroom?
As a teacher, I hope I won’t forgo the process of teaching. It takes a lot more patience, and a lot more effort on my part as well as the student’s. I will have to be willing to put in the time over numerous class sessions to push students in the right direction. And, I have to learn how to reward effort over results. Effort, when properly directed, will eventually get you to the right result, but it takes a journey to get to a destination. It takes work.
And it takes compassion.
When I first started working with this horse, I got so frustrated with him. I couldn’t get it through my thick skull why he wasn’t responding how I wanted him to. I wanted him to open the gate right now! But he had a history. He hadn’t learned the process of opening gates, and because of my frustration towards him he learned to be afraid. When he was afraid he would literally run from what I wanted him to approach. Students do the same thing. If they don’t believe that they can get to the right answer, they will go to great lengths to avoid having to give an answer or give effort to get there.
I want to reward effort. I want to reward process. Drafting will be a part of a student’s final grade on a paper. And I don’t mean just coming to a drafting workshop (though I intend to have those in my classes), but also to see the changes that students made. I learned this lesson eventually. When I began using the “red pen of death” on my drafts, my writing got better. I learned to cut the fluff and keep the stuff. I learned to read papers out loud to make sure that sentences made sense. My writing got much better when my process began to develop.
Now, all that said, I’ve failed in process for the UGP. I didn’t spend much time “immersed” in the genre. I didn’t devote much time to holding the pose, wobbling, and eventually finding flow. Part of this comes from the fact that I am comfortable trying to write in new genres. But, my final result will suffer because of my disengaged attitude. I din’t take the small steps in the right direction, but just tried to get there all at once.
I’m going to suffer for this over the next two days as this project wraps up. But, maybe that’s part of my process. I’m going through the process, in this case by not achieving a result I am as pleased with, and that is the pressure to step in the right direction next time. This is where failing comes in.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Failure is part of process. Just because you didn’t get the result that you wanted, doesn’t mean that all is lost. No. You’ve just learned a lesson that will help you approach your next challenge in a different way. If again you don’t get the result you want, then refine your process. Process, process, process. And with that, I am going to get back to drafting my screenplay.
It’s time to continue in the process.
Post Scriptum. After all this talk about process and refinement, I’ll admit to not proofreading this post. #hypocrite So it goes.