Posted on

Finding the exits.

Through the door…

Did you ever hear a buzzword or jargon from an evaluator or someone in an evaluative role and while you’re nodding your head, you have the realization that it’s meaningless without context? (That’s a nice way of saying baloney.) Recently the idea of ‘students not having a sense of urgency’ was attributed to my practice, and this made my hackles rise. I’ve been reflecting on what part is defensiveness, irritation, etc. for a few days now. The notion of ‘urgency’ connotes panic. Fortunately, I had read Andrew Miller’s article, The Tyranny of Being On Task before this jargon was laid out there, so I felt prepared to counter with research. But it also is about processing and allowing for confusion.

In any case, reflection is a two-way viewpoint. There are times we all want our students to feel, well, maybe urgent is too potent of a word but compelled to find out something new or talk about things that affect them, their families and world. Sometimes I wonder if I provide too much high cognitive demand–is there such a thing?  With Burning Questions and other rigorous thinking tasks, if one only sees a slice of a room during the process, no fair or accurate evaluation is possible.

In any case, here are some curated questions. Some of them were time-bound, and the topics aren’t relevant any longer. (I am not sure anyone cares if Mitt Romney was a bully in high school. Or maybe they do. *shrug*).

From the New York Times Learning Network:

163 Questions to Write or Talk About

55 Questions for Students

183 Questions for Writing or Discussion

Urgency, or passion, shifts and changes for us all. For example, by the end of this lesson, a reluctant writer wrote a delightful story. Many stepped up, took risks, and tried something new. When I see them again, they will all hear positive feedback on their growth in the process. And with that, I do have a sense of urgency.

Posted on

Confused? Good. You’re thinking.


Without going into the long backstory, recently someone told me students in my class were confused and whispering to each other, seeking clarity.

They said this like it was a bad thing. 

Oh, silly teacher…!

Well, it’s not.

In fact, it’s an awesome thing. A tremendous thing…dare I say….maybe one of the best things a student can experience!?

Confusion is metacognition as an expression: it means that the student or students are engaged, tracking, and wham! knows they’re lost–and when you know you’re lost you can try to find your way back. The point in question was during a challenging foundational attempt at point of view and perspective. Many of my students have had the creativity and risk-taking so drilled out of them that some couldn’t make a list of things they did in an hour without getting further instructions.

Me: Just write everything you did between 7 and 8 am.

Student: I was sleeping!

Me: Then write that down.

Student: What do I do?

Me: Write down everything you did between 7 and 8 am.

Student: Can I write that I was sleeping?

Me: Were you sleeping between 7 and 8?

Student: Yes.

Me: Then write it down.

Okay — that was a few. But the lesson added the next step of writing down was either objects or people were doing at the same time. One young man, who has a really difficult time getting anything done, wrote a delightful story about his dog from first-person dog’s point of view/perspective. This role-playing/narrative writing just clicks for some kids.


My friend John Spencer writes about confusion, and it makes a lot of sense.

The person who was questioning my practice, (and saying that students were confused) believes this:

However, schools aren’t built around confusion. We reward students for speed and accuracy (the way we average grades and set rigid deadlines) rather than nuance and confusion. We value teachers who can make learning efficient, clear, and easy-to-understand.

In fact, the word “urgency” was used many times. I know what urgency is, and it’s not “panic” or anxiety attacks — it’s a compelling reason to do something or to learn something. But sometimes that sense of urgency isn’t in every slice of a lesson — it builds, and results in great writing, even from the most reluctant and bashful of students.

Something else to consider: screentime may be doing some deep harm to our cognitive abilities. Or we just might be changing our means of communication. Please– I “urge” you to read John Spencer’s post on confusion, and listen to Parts I and II of the Ted Radio Hour Screen Time recordings.