I had a lengthy discussion today with one student.  This student has been the focus of this blog once before.

I have learned from my principal that it can be very effective with students at this junior high age to be completely honest.  That is, instead of beating around the bush and offering advice in a roundabout way, come right out and point out the root of the issue as adults see it.  This can definitely backfire with certain students or if done at the wrong time.

Today, I felt it was the right time to lay it out there for this guy:

Can I say something that is a little bit pointed – even if it might come across as insulting?

    (student agrees)

I think your perception of reality is often skewed.  This causes you to feel like the victim  a lot, and when you fire back at the adult, things only get worse.

    (student thinks for a moment, then thoughtfully), I think at life a lot differently than most kids.

(I visibly agree with him)

Can we try something?  You know that, in the past, when you get called out by a teacher for something and you argue, nothing good comes of it.  Right?

(student agrees)

Let’s try an experiment.  Next time a teacher comes after you for something even if you didn’t really do it (from your point of view),  I want you to say, “Okay.”

(student ponders)

(teacher waits)

(student ponders more)

That’s going to be hard.



I knew I could count on you to try it.

We ended the conversation on very positive terms.  It will be hard for him to put aside his pride and just say, “okay,” but I hope he tries it.

I am not sure yet if I want to give his teachers a heads-up on that, though.  To really have this experiment most authentic, I shouldn’t say anything to them.  But to give this guy the best chance of experiencing positives when he takes ownership for bad situations, teachers need to understand the internal workings of this experience for this child.

We’ll see how this works out.  The key with this intervention is that it is simple and easy to remember.  The tricky thing with this boy is that, no matter what, he seems to feel singled out and treated unfairly.  It’s been a year and a half now that I’ve worked with him very closely, and I’m hoping we can start to take more ownership with this little intervention.


Higher Education – A Different Standard.

I began the masters’ of educational technology program at a local post secondary school in September 2006 after receiving pamphlets from them illustrating their course and program offerings. I had read through other pamphlets and researched other schools, of course. After a few weeks’ deliberation, I decided that this school was the one for me. The main reasons for my choosing:

  1. Cost – they were a bit cheaper because…
  2. Number of credits to earn masters – was less than other universities.
  3. Location – the cohort group met only 25 minutes from home.
  4. Campus – closer than other places
  5. Reputation – I had close relatives who had gone through the program.

I honestly deliberated this for 2-3 weeks. It was not a spur of the moment decision. In fact, I entered the program a bit late because of my need to research the best option. Hey, I care where I spend my $10,000 on higher education.

I began the program with a course in Educational Telecommunications. (Again, I missed the first course in the string because I joined late). This course talked about new web tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) as well as the history of the Internet and its application in schools. My main project for this one was a video that illustrated school application of Web2.0 tools. I was pleased with my work for this. In fact, part of the video can be viewed at: TeacherTube.com

Another course I took talked about hardware of computer systems. And, while I think this is useful on some level, I doubt that an entire three credits should be spent learning about hardware in computers. I don’t know of any school that allows its teachers to tear apart computers on a routine basis… I think this is a topic that could have been skimmed over in an hour or two within another course in the string. However, I did learn a bit during this course.

The second-last course I took before dropping out of this program was “Action Research.” And though this class looked the most daunting at first, it was the most beneficial. I think the reason it was so good for me was because the expectations were a bit higher than for the rest. In the others, it was assumed that class members were “doing our best” – I mean, we were learning some heavy duty programs like Photoshop and Dreamweaver in a couple hours. We can’t expect everyone to suddenly create masterpieces – and I wouldn’t expect to be assessed on that.

So the difference with Action Research was that we could create our own problem/situation and then go find some research on it, then do our own hands on research in the classroom. I think it’s something that teachers should be given time to do at least once a quarter while assigned to classrooms. Otherwise, we don’t really have any proof that our work is improving the knowledge/learning capacities of our students (unless you trust the Fed-mandated bubble assessments…).

The last course I participated in was an “online-only” course.  I really liked that format – the flexibility was great, and I prefer my discussion to be in writing rather than in person.

All in all, no major complaints about the content of the individual courses.

However, during the 4 short months I was enrolled at this college, I realized that, for the most part, the expectations of the professors were not all that grueling. As a matter of fact, that feeling is what drove me to request an “Accelerated, Individualized Program.” I wasn’t feeling challenged in most courses. I was hoping to come away with so much more than I did.

Now, I’m going to once again write a disclaimer here because I know that there are a number of educators who have benefited greatly from this program. I just didn’t.

And when I tried to do something about it, I was shot down.

I created a plan such that I would most benefit from my time at this institution.  Here is the real plan (names removed to protect reputations): Malcore Accel Plan for Masters

If you’re not into the attachment, here is a highly-simplified summary of my plan:

  • Squeeze 18 months worth of coursework into about 6 months
  • Take all courses at whatever location I can (there are several spots where cohort groups can meet in the area), based on possible conflicts
  • Pre-pay for all courses
  • Do any extra work they feel necessary to prove my understanding of curriculum beyond any doubt

If that summary makes little or no sense, please open and read the sterilized version linked above.

The response from the lowest on the totem pole was “like the idea but probly not much we can do…independent studies are frowned upon…policies…”

I understood his hands may have been tied. Next on the list was only one step up on the pole – I think the director of the EdTech program. I sent the same request – same document – and received a more lengthy response:

While I don’t doubt that you have the ability to complete this program in this accelerated mode, I cannot approve it for several reasons.

First, we do want students to stay with their cohort group whenever possible. While we do make a few exceptions, when students jump around we end up in situations where we have cohorts with classes that are under the minimum allowable enrollment causing faculty to receive less pay and then have other classes that have more students than what we normally allow. In some cases we have even ended up with more students in a class than computers. I have not been as flexible on this as I was in the past because of these problems – I try to meet the needs of one student and it ends up negatively affecting staff, faculty, and many other students.

Secondly, we do not allow Independent Studies anymore. This is not my decision but a decision made by the Vice President of Academic Affairs last year. This option is no longer available except with special permission from the Academic Affairs office for rare exceptions – like when the program is no longer being offered and there is one or two students who still need a few courses to graduate.

Another reason I cannot approve it is because we have Policies and Procedures within our School of Education that I must adhere to – in this case, the number of credits that you can take in a semester and the number of months it takes to complete a degree granting program. These rules are in place to make sure that students get the most out of their learning experience here at Marian. Again, while I do not doubt you could complete an accelerated program – if we allow one person to do it, we are opening the door to let others do it as well – thus policies and procedures are born. These policies and procedures also reflect the requirements that are placed on us due to our accreditation. We are accredited by both North Central Higher Education Commission and NCATE which have certain rules and guidelines that we must adhere to or risk losing our accreditation.

I certainly hope you can continue in our Ed Tech program but if you decide not to continue based on this decision, I certainly understand that as well.

I have an interpretation that may or may not fit perfectly with that response:

Sorry, Matt. College is an institution that doesn’t have to meet the needs of its students. We set the policy and even though you as a teacher are required to differentiate to meet the needs of all learners, we don’t have to. If you don’t fit our program, find one that will. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The part that bothers me the most is the fact that I spend my hours every day finding creative ways to get students to access curriculum (or at the very least, put up with coming to school). But when I make a request to have some concessions made (well, I was actually asking for more work and less time to do it in), I get shot down because it doesn’t fit the mold.

Furthering the contradiction are concepts brought up in class. We are learning about integrating technology to try to reach all the varied types learners with different tools. Well, I think I’m different and aren’t going to learn along the same lines as every other member of the cohort, so there was my plan.

I’m wondering if others have had similar experiences with graduate schools. Do you think this is okay? Am I in the wrong mindset – should graduate school set the program and all students should fit?  Why would an institution of higher learning hold itself to a lower standard of individualization?

I welcome your thoughts and experiences below.

Higher Education. The Institution.

this post has been re-worked and re-posted above.

This was going to be a comment at leadertalk but they think it was spam (what does this say about the quality of my words…?).  So I’ve chosen to post it here an link back to there.

My school just initiated a virtual staff meeting.  We have recently read an article “Working Inside the Black Box” (Black, et al) and have recorded our inner conversations in the margins of the printed article.

School staff, with the support and encouragement of administration, has set up a discussion board that is accessible to our school staff and a hand-picked panel of “experts” in the field of instruction and assessment.


I have learned that to really get the most out of these communication tools, we must open up the walls of our school and invite as many people as possible to the conversation.  This idea was briefly mentioned at a small committee meeting while setting up the discussion board, but was quickly shot down as “dangerous” (my word, not theirs).  Perhaps there are teachers in our building who may not take well to criticism from outside our building.  Maybe this is just a first step in our school’s progress towards a global learning community. I ‘m not sure.  I just feel like we’re missing out on a potentially incredibly conversation by closing off this discussion.


My question is this – how can I point out the fact that the benefits from opening up the conversation far outweigh any drawbacks?    Are there some articles out there I could share with the committee that would persuade them to include the world on this conversation?

Locus of Control aka Victim Mentality

I have a 8th grade (13-year old) student who seems to always feel like the adults in his life are out to get him.

His behaviors are very blatant and often obnoxious, yet when a teacher calls him on it, he feels like the teacher is picking on him.

For example, this morning he kicked another student while working together at a table.  It wasn’t the end of the world since the students were decent acquaintances, but it still was a distraction to both their learning.  So we had him move to another desk.  Once there, he proceeded to make random utterances, thus disrupting the class again.

As a side note, this is a student who is perfectly capable of devoting quiet attention to a task for hours on end – I have seen it.  So we are not asking of him things he is not capable of doing.

So we needed him to leave the classroom and go to another one just down the hall.  This was in his eyes a major offense on our part.

No matter how an adult tries to reason with him, we are met with a response like “I don’t understand why you guys always have to pick on me…”  As if he wasn’t doing something worthy of being removed.  We have tried to reason with him (both in the heat of the moment and when he’s calm), but he maintains the fact that we are singling him out as a “bad kid” when he’s doing nothing different than the rest in the class.

Watching a video of himself in such situations yields no better results.  He still perceives that adults are out to get him.

I am crying out in desperation here for some intervention techniques for this boy.  He is in a social skills class, so we have the opportunity to role play scenarios and such.
I am just at a loss for how to retrain him to understand that HE is in control of his life.  When he messes up, something bad can happen (and at school, we do our best to ensure there is a consequence).

Does anyone have any strategies for dealing with this victim mentality – or some insight as to his mis-perceptions?  We love this boy and want him to take ownership for his mistakes.

Blogging as an Explicit Lesson

I read a post today by Jeff Utecht that helped explain a little bit of why my class performed as they did on this.

So often we read that our students are “digital natives” and they come into the classroom with a vast set of skills for navigating web2.0.  It took some digesting (and more reading) for me to come to the understanding that the kids may be surrounded by this technology but still require explicit instruction on how to utilize these tools in an academic setting.

As I write this, resounding in my head are posts I’ve read in the past few months as others have constructed their own knowledge on this idea.  So this is nothing new to most tech-savvy educators.

This all just seems so odd to me – at least 50% of my students have Facebooks or Bebos or MySpaces…so why did I have to spend an entire class period explicitly teaching them the nuts and bolts of commenting?

To answer that for myself, I spent some time yesterday and today prying into Bebo trying to find a sample of one of my student’s comments.  I found plenty of students who are not in special education programming, but none from my department.

I was not surprised to find the gist of most of the kids’ stuff was “hey, w u, nmh” or “wut’s goin on this weekend?” along with the disturbing “I hate u! Y do u think ur my friend?”   Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t really see anything deep worth posting here or using as an model for my class this week.

So these kids certainly know their way around what they are comfortable with: thin conversations with each other…small talk.  So even given a great topic to discuss and reflect and respond to, they are not going to suddenly transform into A+ commenters.

I appreciate Jeff lending me his thinking stick for a little bit today as I limp my way to a realization that these kids need some explicit instruction on how to blog and comment.

Teach them how to lie Better

I have run across this phenomenon way too many times:

Something bad happens in school.
I approach the kid.
I tell the kid to tell the truth.
A kid lies to avoid getting in trouble.
I find out the kid lied and now he’s in trouble for both the original infraction and the lying.
Next time the kid messes up, the kid creates a better lie so he has a better chance of not getting in trouble.

I have had several kids in the last four years who have fit this sequence well. And I’m not sure what I’ve done to break this cycle and ensure the kid becomes a truth teller instead of a better liar.

This year is no exception in that I’ve got another storyteller. Very talented, bright student, who happens to be a hoarder and/or thief (not sure on that one yet). Sad thing is, he uses his brain to craft stories on how to get out of trouble. I can imagine it takes a lot of energy to do that (too bad he doesn’t apply all that extra towards learning…)

My principal has encouraged me to speak with his counselor (thank God he’s got one) to brainstorm ideas about how to intervene here. The counselor’s response was a new one – and I’m going to give it a try.

We need to create a box of trinkets and goodies (appropriate for 7th grader) that he loves. Each day, he is allowed to take one item from the box. The cool thing for him is that he doesn’t have to tell anyone what he’s taken and he doesn’t have to ask to take something. As long as he only takes one, he’s within his bounds. All of the items will be marked so that parents and I both know he has only taken from his free box (I’m hoping to come up with a cool name – any ideas?).

Now, if he is caught stealing from anywhere else (including home or school), all of the items that had been taken from the box will need to be returned, and will be taken from the box permanently. In addition, his access to the box will be suspended for three days. Once that time has elapsed, he will once again be allowed to dip into the box once daily.

It is the my hope that this “legal theft” from the box daily will satiate his “need” to take stuff. As a school, we are getting what we want (no stealing of other goods from school), and he is getting what he wants (goodies and treats – all while “sorta” stealing).

I am curious – does anyone out there have other ideas on how to stop a young man (13 years old) from a life of taking without permission?