Diagnosing Learning

I recently started watching a new Netflix series called Diagnosis. Dr. Lisa Sanders has written a column for the New York Times about peoples’ undiagnosed medical conditions to seek feedback from the greater community since 2002. This has now been turned into a Netflix documentary series, with each episode following the life of an individual with a medical condition that has never been diagnosed.

I was hooked within minutes of the first episode. Not because of the person’s unusual medical situation (while interesting) but the way they approached getting this person an official diagnosis for a condition that has been plaguing the patient for years. No longer was Dr. Sanders’ column just one-way communication, but now they are encouraging readers to interact with the column more than ever; specifically through a recorded video message to share their thoughts on what the person’s condition could actually be. It is all about casting a wide net for help and leaning heavily on the collective knowledge of “the room”, or in this case, the entire world. It was fascinating to see the high level of response the young lady in episode 1 received about her condition, within the United States and well beyond our country or our continent.

Both the doctor and the patient were fascinated and overwhelmed with the level of response they received. As an educator, I have encouraged and watched other educators do this to grow themselves professionally for over 10 years. In our age of information abundance and connectedness, we have the ability to learn from anyone at any time; not just in a physical classroom at a physical school building. While the results were fantastic in this documentary, it felt like the medical profession is behind here. Are doctors not encouraged to do this to better themselves and better help their patients? Why is this still treated as an anomaly as we approach 2020?

Image of the Earth with a connected wireframe laid on top of it.

Then this got me thinking on a “big picture” level about how this relates to teaching & learning. Are we creating opportunities for our students to reach beyond direct instruction and seek out learning opportunities elsewhere? What would happen if we encouraged this more? Students have lots of networks built up through the various mediums they use, but are we showing them (and allowing them to leverage) what’s truly possible? Which type of learning fosters more inquiry and creativity? We must think about what we want for our students and give them the opportunities they need to flourish.

Start Somewhere

I am attending FETC in Orlando this week. If you have never been I’d encourage you to give it a go if your school/district can send you. Bring a team if you can. Get your district leadership to attend. There’s lots of great learning and many great people to connect with. However, this post isn’t just about why you should attend a conference.

From now all the way through summer is when the in-person conference opportunities really ramp up. We’re hearing more and more about personalizing learning, creating innovative learning opportunities, devices, coding, 3d printing, makerspaces, and the list can certainly go on and on. Many of you will be at these events. My question is, however, “Are the right people attending?”.

When anyone attends an event like FETC, ISTE, etc., there’s going to be an over-abundance of information coming at you. What’s important to do though, even before sitting through one session, is to identify one particular area that you want to begin with to change teaching and learning in your classroom or school. If you intake all this information (don’t get me wrong these events give you lots of great information) without a plan of what you’re going to do after the event is over, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, but you’re doing kids a disservice too. Create your plan of where to start before the learning even begins.

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Make Time to Celebrate the (not so) Small Stuff

This video just came out on YouTube yesterday and it’s quickly going viral. I heard about it on my local radio station and The Today Show gave it a mention this morning too.  Give it a watch first then I’ll share some thoughts on the other side.

That’s your feel good video for the week right there isn’t it? The Dad’s reaction, and his son’s excitement to share with his dad, is priceless. If you don’t know the back story (and I don’t know many details) the boy had majorly struggled in Math for a long time. As in, he was failing and success in Math was looking bleak. I don’t know what steps the boy and his dad took to be successful at Math but he brought home a C (or at least a passing grade) and the son getting to share his great news with his Dad is what was captured on video.

Based on Dad’s reaction, I’d say this was a monumental accomplishment in this student’s school journey. What a sense of accomplishment the student must have felt! Dad did such a great job at what I can only assume was the beginning of a major celebration.  This was a milestone for this young man. I hope his teacher made a point to celebrate with him just as vibrantly.

My last post I shared some thoughts about how movement; no matter how small, always matters.  It likely wasn’t an A or B that this young man brought home to share with Dad, but it was movement in the right direction. It was a major victory for him. Dad didn’t say, “That’s all you could do?” or just give a “Keep up the good work” and a pat on the back. Dad made this a huge deal; a reason for celebration.

I think this is something we need to make the time to do more for our struggling students, not just for our students who success in school comes naturally. We want all students to be successful in everything they do. In school and in life. That’s our ultimate goal for them right?  I believe that a crucial part of that journey means to help them feel success as much as possible while they’re with us, no matter how small it may appear from the outside.