I drove home yesterday listening to the tail end of Terry Gross’s interview with Commander Hadfield on Fresh Air (audio and transcripts available at the NPR website). I have blogged about his willingness to share and its value to the education community. There is much more than science to learn from Commander Hadfield.
“There are no wishy-washy astronauts,” Hadfield tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “You don’t get up there by being uncaring and blasé.”
You don’t get anywhere, really, by being uncaring, blasé, or wishy washy. It is not just about being a famous astronaut. It is about having goals and making an effort in whatever path you choose for your life.
Earlier this week, I was part of a team that visited Warrior New Tech Academy in Henry County. (Read about the New Tech approach to education at their website) The car ride there and back was excruciatingly long, but well worth the time. We heard students talk about the difficulties of changing their mindset and having to work harder than ever before to be successful in their new, project-based environment. These students knew that a large component in their failure or success in school was their own effort, resourcefulness, and determination to improve.
The key term used in New Tech environments is agency. Students have all necessary resources available to them: books, networked computers, search tools, team members, experienced teacher facilitators, a project plan, and time to execute it. Whether they use all these resources to learn is entirely up to each student. The growth and success of each student depends on how wishy washy a student chooses to be, or not.
To be or not to be. That is, supposedly, the question. I think a better question is, “Are you aware of how much effort you are making?” At one end of the scale is apathy. The scale progresses through wishy washy-ness and finally gets to awesome motivation on the other end. Grades don’t reflect this. We all know some kids can make very high grades without breaking a sweat, some work very hard, and some say, “my teacher gave me a __” without really giving it much thought. Grades don’t reflect effort accurately, therefore grades are not a reliable motivator.
Last night, with all this floating around my head, I spoke to a group of students in Dr. Gretz’s class (blog) . They are all teachers, and they were discussing how to best measure nebulous attributes like motivation and effort. I don’t know that there is a way to quantify motivation, but I think there is a way to get students thinking about the level of effort they make and how it affects their performance: Ask students to write a reflection.
Ask students to be honest with themselves and just write it all down without worrying about grammar and mechanics. Ask students to write in an authentic voice and in a safe environment. Assure students that this will not detract from any grade you have given them. You might even ask the students to read what they wrote themselves and never turn it in to you. Make students think about the work they did, what was good, what could have been better, and how they plan to improve in the future.
We cannot keep working under the assumption that students know what they need to do in order to succeed when nobody takes a look at what’s inside their heads. This is what the students at Warrior New Tech were telling us. They never knew how much they could do until they self-assessed how much of their success was dependent on them and independent of their teachers.
I think this is what Chris Hadfield is saying: We can get to where we want to go if we understand the effort that is required, and if we are willing to make that effort.
There are no wishy washy successful people.