Excellence and innovation

It’s becoming more and more apparent just how important innovation is becoming.  Our students will set the next course for the future, but are they being properly prepared for it?  While we are creating an environment that is safe, creative, and allows for imagination… are we getting the job done.

There has to be a way of justifying the means.  David Burgess talked about using an assortment of assessments to track the learning in class.  Assessment always has to drive the classroom, because it’s the gauge as to what is working and what is not.  However, as educators we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were.  We may have a good idea, but sometimes it just flops.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that we ditch it and never look back.  Sometimes a plan just needs some tweaking.  It was brought up in discussion this week that for some lessons, you almost need a student focus group just to gauge if it’s going to work as intended.  Unfortunately, we are not usually given that luxury… unless perhaps you teach the same content class multiple times… which then you can rework the lesson throughout the day, but your first class may need a revisit.

Which brings me to my next musing:  I appreciated Burgess’s passion and creativity when it came to teaching, but I found myself overwhelmed at the immensity of the pace.  I had asked how you keep that passion across the board when you teach multiple grades (I generally teach elementary and intermediate grades).  It was a bit of a confusing question, and he did address one aspect of it.  We generally have a passion for teaching, not for the content.  Go with that.  I like simple.  It’s good.  But my real question was in regards to stunning lessons like the speakeasy, for example.  A great experience in the classroom–full of suspense and imagination!  Great!… now what about the other subjects that I teach?  I know if I tried to do that for all the subjects I taught, I would be flat out exhausted and broke.  Do you rotate which subject gets the stunning experience that day?  And hopefully this doesn’t come across as judgmental or sarcastic (the downside of not having social cues when online).  I am genuinely curious as to what other educators think.  When it comes to ingenuity as a teacher, I’m a bit broken.  I am anxious to get that back, and I appreciate the help.

When encouraging the innovation in the classroom, I’ve been at a loss as far as how to assess without dampening the learning.  Taking pop quizzes is such a downer!  I’ve heard of exit slips and such.  Again, if you teach more than one content area and your students don’t really leave your room except for lunch and going home, how do you work that?  I was thankful to come across the Eberly Center’s (2014) suggestion for assessment ideas or classroom assessment techniques (CAT’s).  They emphasize asking questions that draw out deep answers from students.  They suggest 1 minute write-ups, where the students tell you what they learned.  I really like this idea, as there’s not really a punishment of a “bad grade” if they don’t get the answer you’re looking for.  This makes it a true gauge, because if the student isn’t getting you, the teacher should reflect on what she’s doing, and evaluate what might help the student.  What was the muddiest point helps the teacher to know specifically which concepts are the most confusing.  And my personal favorite, paraphrasing!  Paraphrasing forces you to know the in’s and out’s of a concept so that you can explain the same thing in another way.  That brings ownage, and I love it!

So again, with matters of teaching in a multi-content area classroom, I am looking forward to suggestions about how to create experiences across the board.  This is why I love my PNL!


David Burgess. (2014). Google Hangout accessed on Feb. 14, 2014.

Eberly Center. (2014). Using classroom assessment techniques. Accessed at http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/assesslearning/CATs.html



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5 responses to “Excellence and innovation

  1. Donna Massin

    I love the idea you found about a one minute write up that students can do to show what they have learned. What a valuable tool! You would be able to tell if they are understanding the content and/or if they are engaging in the lesson. I think knowing that they will be doing a write-up, while not a “test” will motivate many to pay a little closer attention.

    I, too, was inspired by David Burgess’s lessons. And like you, I wonder at how to incorporate such things into my day. I teach elementary. Besides that, it seems i am constantly changing from year to year the grade level I am teaching. I know some teachers who have fantastic lessons that they teach every year and have been able to fine tune it every year. A teacher could start adding such lessons to their repertoire each year and end up with many of them. This isn’t possible when your content is different each year. Is this just excuses? Maybe so. Nevertheless, the idea of having a repertoire of many amazing lessons is inspiring and something to strive for.

    • I like that idea of creating a repertoire! It is difficult to apply these fantastic ideas when we are sans classroom, but idea collecting is ALWAYS a great idea. Thank you for that support! I’m glad I’m not the only one in this boat.

  2. Nicole Fuerst

    Thank you for asking questions that consider the balance of being a teacher and being a human being. Certainly, it is apparent that Burgess views teaching as a vocation…and for a long time I did too. (I want to say I still do, but I’m not walking the walk right now…so, I don’t want to talk the talk) I understand that all the truly great teachers viewed it as their life’s work…viewed teaching as a vocation. BUT! As a human being a person will ask and should ask the questions you posed. How do you strike a balance between teaching and home life? Where is the line of financial overload? What’s the best path for appropriate, healthy innovation? I have to believe that because Burgess has been teaching the same thing for 17 years, he’s had time and opportunity to build up resources, lessons, and the like. I have to believe that everything didn’t happen in a single year for him. I have to believe that it took some failures and some breaks for home life/recharging the human part of him, so that he could attack innovation again.

    That’s what I believe is really the true charge of innovation: perseverance…a willingness to keep trying…to keep coming at it however you can and not hating yourself because you can’t do everything all at once. Follow that path of curiosity. Make that one thing great this time and they will remember it. Bank it. Be able to pull it out again when you know it will serve your students well; however, when you brush of the dust, look at it from a new angle consider what might work better or how it might be fun.

    But don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once. You know your students better than anyone handing you advice. You know where the innovation will serve them best. That’s the place you target. That’s the place you blow their minds. It doesn’t have to be on the surface of the moon or in a speakeasy…it can be where you decide, because where you’re excited and confident about something is where your students will catch that fire too.

    I have started where I don’t HAVE to fake it…I’ve started where my genuine interests lie. Suddenly, my students are into science fiction too. Suddenly, conversation about “grinding” (body-modification with technology) are some of the most intense and contentious discussions in my classroom. Suddenly, I feel like teaching is an exciting vocation again. Suddenly, I have ideas about how to make authentic assessment happen.

    You know the best way, Tiffany. Thanks for asking those questions…I ask them all the time. I’m looking for answers too.

    • Thank you, Nicole! This does make me feel much better about where I’m at. I suppose it would be important to be “well-rounded” in our approach experiences in content areas. I’m never really quite sure where to be creative with subjects like math.

  3. Hi,

    I agree with Nicole, start with one thing and keep improving it until you feel you have that mastered that – then expand from there if you can. As a fifth grade teacher, I picked reading as it was my weakest area as a teacher – ended up developing my own reading program and developing PD for it that the other fifth grade teachers used..

    Our fifth graders ended up checking out more books than the rest of the school all together. I kept, (until it finally wore out), a letter from a former student thanking me for giving her a love for reading.

    My start in this change came from “Mindstorms” by Papert, which, on the surface, deals with students learning to program. Actually, it was my primer for developing and continuing a classroom open to more student driven activities.

    You can go back and pull out the creativity, even in math.

    Carl, (retired after 37 years)

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