Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Tale of a Distracted Learner

The teacher gives a task. 

Make a list of five things that you could do to have the greatest impact on your project. The student quickly gets to work, listing five things almost effortlessly, because he is so passionate about his topic. 

As he finishes his list, he thinks of a video he's seen before on YouTube that might be helpful. He wants to share it with other members of his project team, so he heads over to YouTube to find the video.

But the teacher zeros in, seeing him on his device. He moves over, places his hands on the student's shoulders, "Have you finished your list?" His words are filled with doubt. 

The student feels accused. He naturally wants to explain. Yes, the list is finished. In fact, I was taking the task even further

But the teacher is having none of it. He turns to the rest of the class, "He's doing his shopping on Amazon. At least he's not searching pornography."

What the heck?!?

Yes, the events I just described are true, including the uncomfortable reference to porn. But they didn't happen to a student in a classroom. They happened to me in a workshop I recently attended. We were given a task. To list five things that would have the greatest impact on our school. I finished the task. And then I was called out by the presenter in front of the group.

So how did that make me feel? Angry, frustrated, embarrassed, shamed, harassed, misunderstood? Yep. It was the most awkward thing I've experienced in a professional meeting.

But it got me thinking, I wonder if any of our students have ever felt this way. Have our "distracted" learners felt misunderstood under similar circumstances?

This type of thing should never happen in a classroom. We should never rob a student of their dignity, whether they are distracted or not.

Before you judge your students as distracted, consider if your goal in the classroom is compliance and control OR engagement and curiosity?

Full disclosure: I must admit I was not fully attentive in the workshop referenced in this post, although I was at the time of the interaction I described. I did not find the most of the presenter's content helpful. I was put off when he asked us to identify and share who we thought were the worst schools in our area. I didn't appreciate the activity where we had to critique our own superintendent publicly. When he repeatedly boasted of his $500,000 salary as superintendent, that didn't set well. When he declared that leadership is manipulation, I was ready to walk out. And when we had the next break, I did. 

Question: How does the story in this post get you thinking? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

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