Invoking empathy

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

George Couros says that “to be innovative, . . .focus on having empathy for those we serve.” To truly have empathy for others, we have to learn more than the single story students present to us in the classroom. It is not enough to look at students as they sit in our rooms and think we know who they are. It is not enough to pass out an index card or a link to a Google form. It is not enough to analyze a pre-test or assessment data.

Relationship building is key for reaching students where they are, rather than where we think they are. Without empathy, we teach in the style in which we are most comfortable, not in the style that is best for each learner. Truly working to know our students takes time, effort, and multiple attempts. I need to know my students’ passions. I need to know their background, where they come from, in order to know where they are going. And they need to know that I care, and that I am interested in them as people, not just data in my spreadsheet.

Innovation in Writing Conferences

As part of my quest to improve my teaching and stretch my horizons, I am taking part in a Voxer book discussion. This blog post represents my reflection on Chapter 1 of George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.

First, a little background. Although I am in my seventeenth year of teaching, this is the first year I have taught College Composition. For those of you that are not Ohio teachers, there is a push for high school students to get college credit for the classes they take. Teachers must be certified to teach these classes, are observed by the college, and must submit college aligned course syllabi in order for students to receive credit.

As a first time Composition teacher, I knew that one of the best ways to improve as a writer is for students to not only write frequently but also to receive quality, individual feedback. The traditional way is through a face to face conference, but with 60 students in my composition classes, I found this difficult. I tried group conferences, peer revising, and other more traditional methods, but I was unhappy with the quality of student writing. So I tried something new: using TechSmith’s SnagIt Chrome Extension to screencast my comments about their papers.

Here’s an example of two screencasts, recredited in WeVideo to protect student anonymity:

Using the rubric I provided them, I explained WHY their organization was lacking. Because they had submitted their assignments via Google Classroom, I could highlight one of their sentences and make suggestions to help them improve. While the screencast lacked the “back and forth” that a traditional conference provides, my students found these videos transformational. Their writing improved by leaps and bounds. When offered the option of having me write on their printed papers in place of a video, only three of 60 students opted for the traditional way. When they reflected on their success for the year, many students shared that my videos helped them know how to improve.

I have since heard that many of my fellow high school composition teachers are not commenting on student papers. Instead, they are asking students to peer revise & edit each other’s work, and requiring students to meet face to face in order to resubmit a paper. This, they assure me, saves them time and energy.

Let’s be honest, here. It took my entire Thanksgiving break, my entire Spring break, and untold afternoons and weekends in order to screencast. I had to read students’ papers multiple times. Was it worth it? Well, my students improved amazingly.

Now I have to decide: do I continue to innovate and screencast, or do I require students to work together and abandon my innovation?