A Crash Course

This fabulous photo of my bike rider was taken by Erika Plummer.

Mac:

Mama, every time I crash my bike, I learn something.

Me:

Mac, that’s so awesome! What do you learn?

Mac:

I learn how to not do that crash again.

Nature, or nurture? My bet’s on nurture.

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Being Intentional About Being Intentional

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Intentionality is on my mind a lot because I think that assessment can be more interesting, engaging, and powerful (for learners and teachers) when it’s less about measurement and accountability and more about supporting authentic learning practices. In this vein, assessment can be an interesting catalyst for reminding us to be intentional in what we do and how we do it — and in knowing why we do what we do.  Being intentional means thinking about each and every aspect of a course we teach or program we facilitate to do our best to ensure it lines up to what we’re hoping people will learn from it. The short article How To Study Your Own Teaching (And Why You Might Want To), by Janine Utell, speaks to this very idea:

I’ve developed strategies to create good discussion, to facilitate broad and deep involvement, and to synthesize the contributions of the classroom community. I feel like my classes are going best when the room is a bit rowdy, when interactions lead to debates and eurekas. But due partly to assessment work on my campus and partly to collaboration with colleagues in a different discipline around designing a study of student writing, I decided to create a project of my own to investigate the effectiveness of my practice. I wanted a more robust picture of what’s going on in my classroom and whether it’s working.

Utell wants to see her practice differently because she wants to make sure what she does is working. (And like many of my best teachers and colleagues, reflecting on her teaching practice and pedagogical commitments is likely part of her DNA and happens with less intentionality as well).

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Intentionality certainly has its role in my yoga practice as well. In early January, my yoga teacher asked a group of us to define one thing we each wanted to focus on this coming year in our practice.  It was a sort of New Year’s Resolution moment. And I knew right away:  I need to focus on squaring my hips in poses such as Warrior 3 or Pyramid.

This is not me - my hips are not this square. Nor do I practice yoga in a place like this. I live in Portland - we practice rain yoga. So thanks to rfarmer on Flickr for making this image available for use!

My hips always want to go way off to the side, and I thus don’t get the benefit of the pose when that happens. By stating this intention, and with self-assessment and my teacher’s coaching and assessment in each session, I maintain that intentionality, and I am improving. I can feel it. It’s on my mind constantly in any pose that requires me to get squared. If yoga is about anything for me, it’s about intentionality. And it’s about seeing myself differently.

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Parenting my 4-year old is also a practice in intentionality — and learning and assessment — as well. Let me illustrate:

A few weeks ago Mac and I went to the zoo and found a friend in this fellow. Mac had been having a hard time with his own swimming attempts recently, freaking out at the thought of going under the water, so I seized the moment:

Me: Mac, why don’t you ask him why he likes to swim underwater so much.

Mac: Mr. Sea Lion, why do you like to swim underwater so much?

Mr. Sea Lion: blurb blurp bubble blurp

Mac: Mama, he says it’s fun to swim to the bottom and see all the kids down here.

Me: Wow, neat! I wonder what you can see when you swim to the bottom of the pool.

Mac: That’s silly mama. I can’t see anything. My eyes are closed!

WHAT? Mac always wore goggles in the pool – why did he close his eyes? What did he think the goggles were for? A fashion statement? To hold his hair back? I pointed out that with his goggles on he could open his eyes and see the bottom just like the sea lion, and – EPIPHANY!

Mac: Really? If I open my eyes in my goggles I can see down there?

Me: Yep – and you won’t get water in your eyes!

Mac: Cooooool! That will be really good, mama!

And the next time in the water, with his goggles on, he opened his eyes, swam to the bottom, and fetched a toy. Just like Mr. Sea Lion. Intentionality helped us out here, again. It reminded me that we often take things for granted and don’t question them for a long time until we have opportunity to see them differently.

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

It’s good to see things differently – with our eyes open.  (If you’re in need, Mac has a pair of goggles he’ll let you borrow if you’d like – if you open your eyes under there, you might be amazed at what you’ll find.)

Random Learning – Tower Cranes – Entry #1

Our nogs are prattling around my house these days. Mac is a 4-year old learning sponge, and we are exploring several random things he is interested in. So I am starting a new series called Random Learning, in which I’ll share all the random things we are learning.

Entry #1: How do tower cranes get assembled?

Answer #1: Watch this video to see how a tower crane self-assembles.

Answer #2: Watch this video to see how it’s done in a crowded city with strong people assembling the crane. (Mac pointed out that some of the guys are not wearing helmets or harnesses, and thus this is probably not a very safe way to do this activity. See, I told you our nogs are prattling! This is also a great example of transferring learning: Mac doesn’t know much about construction, but anyone who rides a bike without a helmet gets his firm disapproval. He even thinks helmets are important enough to casually wear around the house, and frankly, he’s right!)

Milestones

This is a picture of my kid with his bike at the age of 3 and 11/12 months:

This is a more recent picture of him with his new bike at the age of 4 and 30 seconds:

Some pretty major things needed to happen to get from picture #1 to picture #2. For example, in our family:

  • Four year-olds need to be able to put on their own socks.
  • Four year-olds need to make their beds when they get up in the morning.
  • Four year-olds need to take their plates to the kitchen after they are done eating.
  • Four year-olds, for goodness sake, need to feed themselves!!!

That’s right. We instituted milestones.

Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination. ~Wikipedia

Milestones, in this way, promote learning and help us assess how well we are doing toward a learning outcome. In the world of educational assessment, we call milestones a kind of “formative assessment.”

In my family, it’s what got us sanely from three to four.

Ok, ok, in all fairness, we really created milestones so to preserve what’s left of our parental sanity, but we also wanted the kid to have a goal (being four), to work toward something significant and important (and I quote, “Mama, I fed myself my dinner all by myself; now I can be four!”), and to have a sense of accomplishment when he got there.

The payoff for reaching these milestones? Well, not only did the kid actually turn four (which frankly seemed significant enough to all of us), but he also got that new bike in picture #2.

And guess what! To prove to us that he had in fact turned four, he ate 2 pieces of this birthday cake!

All by himself!