Great Class Activity Gone Wrong

It can be easy to get excited about trying out a new classroom technique only to have it bomb. It sucks, but not all ideas can be successful.

This article recently came across my facebook news feed. It caught my attention as this was the high school I attended:

‘Grammar exercise’ distributed to students in Mission school raises concerns

I can understand the outrage completely! As a feminist, I want to grab my pitchfork and rally the troops. As an educator, I want to understand how this happened and whether it was a poor choice of topic or technique.

Ignoring the topic, this was actually a really good technique. This is clearly a teacher that cares and adapts to class needs. Not only did this start as a creative assignment, but student work was used to launch into a grammar lesson. This is incredibly innovative and I applaud the teacher.

The content selected though is questionable. But it is also taken out of context. We don’t know if the students were given a debrief or whether there was discussion on the prominence of domestic violence in the middle ages. I would not say it is a mistake, but extra preparation and caution needs to be taken, not just with the students, but also the parents.

Without hearing from the teacher, we really cannot understand the intentions. This could have been selected to launch into further lessons on women’s issues or domestic violence. After all, the technique selected was very innovative and thoughtful.

My initial reaction is understandable, but over dramatic. This really is  an example of a great technique going awry.

Why is the Middle Ages still part of the curriculum anyways? Surely there’s more value in women’s history, gender studies or black history….



Focused Conversation Model

A while ago, after a few courses requiring the use of the focused conversation model for reflective writing, I wanted to learn more as it seemed to me that it would have some interesting workplace learning applications.

What I did not expect to find was that is actual a model that was designed for the workplace! The main reference book on this topic is:

Stanfield, B., & Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs. (2000). The art of focused conversation: 100 ways to access group wisdom in the workplace. Gabriola Island, B.C: New Society Publishers.

This book is a great reference guide to facilitating discussion and meetings using the focused conversation model. Along with a clear outline of the different stages (eg. Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, and Decisional), it also outlines the different roles of stakeholders in the discussion. It offers guidance, tips, strategies, and advice for facilitating in a wide variety of different workplace contexts. As a reference book, it offers a sample of 100 different types of workplace conversations with suggestions on how to facilitate these conversations with the model.

I have not personally used this model in the workplace yet, but I think it would be a vary efficient way to structure meetings, particularly those meetings where some type of learning needs to occur. I think this would be very useful for analyzing the success/failure of a project. So often when we examine these situation, the focus is on facts only. The reflective component of this model allows for reactions and emotions, which as much as we try, cannot be avoided. The interpretive then allows for both the facts and emotions to be synthesized to an integrated position, with the decisional being a result of this synthesized view.

Getting the Most out of Mistakes: Radical Candour

Radical Candour is one of those new catchphrases in management. The technique is not new. We all have feelings and want to say what we are thinking to people we care about. However, in professional contexts we often refrain from saying what we truly think. We do this to avoid hurt feelings or avoid creating conflict. But this habit can lead to not providing critical feedback even when it is important.

The Radical Candour movement/catchphrase was popularized by Kim Scott. This video gives a great introduction to the framework of radical candour:

While many of the examples and advice is geared towards leaders, I think this applies to educators too, particularly in business or corporate environments.

As Scott discusses, there is an intersection between caring personally about another person and challenging them directly. Too much on any one side can lead to the avoidance or too much critical feedback.

I really like this framework. And it makes sense! Think of those times one of our best friends sits you down and offers you some hard life advice. Those can often be more meaningful and lead to more positive actions. This framework captures this with it’s emphasis on caring personally.

I can think of many times in my professional career where I have either been surprised by feedback I would have loved sooner or I myself have avoided giving this feedback. It is frustrating! And its UNFAIR. One of the things that Kim Scott points out that I LOVE is that it is our moral obligation to offer this feedback when we have it.

This is valuable to learning too. If we do not offer critical feedback, our students do not have the opportunity to improve. To do this we need to challenge them directly. Additionally, the critical feedback will be heard and digested better if we can demonstrate that we care personally about their success or failure. Together, this demonstrates that we are invested in their learning, which in turn ought to be mirrored on their learners end.

Getting the Most out of Mistakes: After Action Reviews

Have you ever been involved in a multi-departmental project that did not go as planned? In the days following, did you feel the frustration of fingers pointing? Did you also feel that this was a great learning experience except that there was no way to synthesize the lessons learned?

After Action Review look to solve this!

After Action Reviews were first introduced by the US army as a way to evaluate and learn from actions (successful or unsuccessful) to improve future actions. Since then, this methodology has found a home in many organizations as a way to integrate view of multiple stakeholders and improve organizational processes:

There area many different ways to perform an After Action Review. Some organizations develop their own structures, forms and paper work to guide users how to hold a review.

If you are new to this process and would like a few guiding principles, the following is a great article that offers a start:

This is a methodology I am looking to implement at work. In the past few years, we’ve had successful rollouts and implementations and some less successful. This can offer us a way to examine our successes to optimize this going forward.

Getting the Most Out of Mistakes: Reactions

One of the biggest problems with mistakes is our reactions and emotions. We often get defensive or won’t admit to making mistakes because we’re fear we will be perceived poorly. This is unfortunate as this attitude also prevents us from the learning opportunity that is our mistakes.

Here is an interesting take on mistakes:


Using improvisational Jazz, Harris shows how mistakes are often mistakes because of our reactions to them. In Jazz, mistakes are missed opportunities. Using the feedback from others, one can revise and make a new melody out of what normally would be perceived as a mistake.

This is a fascinating analogy to learning for me. Mistakes are missed opportunities and if we take the time to listen to others, take in feedback, we can create something new or take another path. This is where we can truly learn and grow, as we are taking knowledge, adapting and creating something new that is probably more personally meaningful.

Getting the Most out of Mistakes: What does it mean?

To start my multi post theme on “Getting the Most out of Mistakes” I wanted to explore the evolution of education and information and why mistakes and learning from them are more important now than ever.

This idea is captured in Diana Laufenberg TEDtalk “How to learn? From Mistakes”:

In this speech, she talks about how education used to be important because information was only easily accessible in institutions. Now with the internet students have access to information anytime anywhere. She argues for experiential learning and embracing failure as a replacement for going to school to get information mentality.

I love the idea of embracing failure. However, I do think this is difficult. We’re so conditioned to put value in marks rather than actual learning. To overcome this mentality, we will need to support students through this perhaps by investigating alternative assessment techniques, such as self assessment or pass/fail.



Mistakes: Life’s Free Education Plan

Recently, I have been teaching myself a new video editing program. While I have a fairly strong technical background, I am fairly new to the video editing world. It’s a bit intimidating, but I’ve been forcing myself to mini video projects until I get comfortable with the program.

Over the past week, I have been working at creating animated slide show introductions to training program in hopes to increase the self-directed nature of this program. I spent a couple days putting together the slideshows and animations. I thought I would make all the graphics ahead, then do the voice recordings and readjust the timing of frames later. During the process of making these slideshows, I was ensuring it was tidy and could see the video timeline and different tracks all on one screen. As I proceeded to make the voice recordings today, I discovered this tidiness and limiting of the different frames took away my flexibility to increase many of my frames to accommodate the audio length. There’s no easy way to fix this–I can redo the tedious task of moving each component farther up the timeline for each adjustment or copy and paste everything into a new project as I go and need to make adjustments.

I will probably never make this mistake again. There is nothing like re-doing work to enhancing learning from a mistake.

With this incident and a forum topic on “double loop thinking” in one of my courses fresh on my mind, it occurred to me it would be a great topic for a multiple posting theme!

Mistakes are powerful tools for learning. The best part is they are often free! That said, mistakes do not always involve learning. Rather, they are a learning opportunity. How can we maximize learning from mistakes? Are mistakes more powerful than achievements in the learning process? How can we as educators and managers use mistakes as learning opportunities?

Stay tuned for the “Getting the Most Out of Mistakes” series!