‘Scuse Me, While I Kiss This Guy!

In the annals of misunderstandings, maybe my favorite is the “Purple Haze” syndrome. Mishearing lyrics or poetry even has a terminology: mondegreen. I remember, hilariously, a friend making this mistake in real time; so awesome is the memory that I doubt its existence, like snipe hunting or cow tipping, a signifier masking misadventure.

In fact, so pervasive is Purple Haze syndrome, some believe it to be based on fact, even naming their mondegreen websites after the lyric as they ironically explore the possibilities that the whole paradigm of their site is, in fact, bankrupt.

But that’s not what I want to write about.

Sometimes, even when we say what we mean, it gets misheard. Misunderstandings arise as language bubbles through emotional and physical filters like stress and our cochlea. Saying what we mean exactly, then, is essential, especially when we are instructing children or offering feedback.

A student came into my classroom yesterday, venting: “I just don’t know what she wants from me!” What is she hearing? What is being said? There’s almost no way of knowing.

I’m working on condensing a general use  6 Traits rubric to 4  traits based on feedback from my English department. People seem generally happy with it so far, though some colleagues found it too specific. I’ve been processing that, and I believe I have come to an understanding that specificity expresses expectations. An analytic rubric should express expectations for product. As such, an analytic rubric must be specific.

Additionally, being specific demands that we make decisions about what good products or outcomes are. Too often, the hidden curriculum of what a teacher likes or wishes for filters through a rubric, leading to grades in the end. Student gets grades, tries again next time. A solid analytic rubric communicates expectations, ideally in language the student understands and has practice with. The hidden curriculum or expectations will still exist somehow, but the student can be empowered to improve in a creative cycle through solid feedback and reflection based around a good analytic writing rubric, for example.

Even when expectations are clear, the student has to apply them and get to know the expectations personally, through their own writing (or other performance) and through their personally significant mental models. Until then, pieces of a complex rubric will be mini-mondegreens, limiting student learning and agency.

We’ve got to be specific and clear. We’ve got to be repetitive when it matters. We’ve got to engage in cycles of attempts and feedback. And we’ve got to give students experience with the expectations to internalize them meaningfully. Because even when we do, someone is going to hear something differently.

Now, excuse me, while I…

Twitter Provides a Teachable Moment

My Digital Journalism students have been using Twitter to follow journalists, aggregate content that fits their interests, and promote their blog posts, but today they saw the cooperative power of Twitter first hand. And it was awesome.

We have just begun a nine-week long exploration of “The Feature” as a genre of journalism. The idea is a little artificial, but a convention of journalism, I think, and worth exploring. Students read a bit about what features are and how they are organized differently from straight news and opinion writing. The next step was to read the awesome piece about real life superheros published in GQ by Jon Ronson. Students had a few tasks to perform while they read, tying the initial instructional information about features to the example. Uniformly, they loved the piece, just as my IB students loved The Psychopath Test, also by Ronson, who uses a narrative style that is simply unique and engaging.

We discussed the piece and just had a great conversation. At the end of the lesson, a student wondered aloud if Ronson is writing notes the whole time, while crackheads and dudes in rubber masks engage in brinkmanship over a 3am Seattle street corner, or if he uses a recorder.  I started to speculate, then realized that I follow Ronson on Twitter and that we may be able to use a bit o’ social networking gold to find out. Twenty years ago, when I was in tenth grade, we could have chucked paper letters into the void after an author, never to hear of them again. Today, a boy fired off a Twitter direct message to Ronson and heard back 20 seconds later.

iPhone voice memos. Amazement. Engagement. And every kid in class has an iPad to pull off the same trick.

“Do I thank him, or is that just clutter?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. Do whatever you’d like,” I replied. And so he did, owning all of the experience.

My guesses about the impact are as follows:

  • Jon Ronson got 16 new Twitter followers
  • Students saw new possibilities in Twitter that they never did before
  • Authentic learning happened – students now know how a professional records interviews and thoughts and can already do this themselves
  • Young journalists got a little more stoked on writing

A big win, easily done on a whim, happened this morning. Oh, how these technologies may transform not just what we do and how we do it, but how we think about what we do.