Monday, September 20, 2010

The “Learning Tool”

Many people believe that the key to an improved lifestyle is less work. I think it’s better work. I believe that most of us want to work hard, but we want to do the kind of work that energizes us and makes a positive impact on others. That kind of work is worth working for, and the other kind of work is worth letting go of, finished or not. (The Art of Non-Conformity, p. 10)

I think that pretty much sums it up for our students, doesn’t it? It’s not that they don’t want to work hard. It’s that they don’t want to expend too much energy on work that isn’t meaningful. When we see reports of rampant plagiarism or tales of students who want to do as little as possible in order to get a grade, isn’t that an indication that they’re doing work that’s not meaningful to them? When students are working on something that they’re passionate about, rather than apathetic, don’t most of these so-called generational ‘values’ or ‘character’ issues disappear? Contrary to what many believe, our students don’t want to just get by. They just want better work. The preceding was taken from Scott McLeod’s blog (dangerously ! irrelevant) (

After reading this blog entry from Scott McLeod, I put it on the back burner for a while, but it seemed to resurface in my mind every so often. What is the impact on our students at Manson Northwest Webster? You know and I know we have “pretty good kids around here” adults, parents, students, and staff tell me this every week. And I agree with them. We do have good kids, we have kids for the most part that will come to class and do what is expected of them. We have kids that for the most part make good decisions. They will do what is expected of them regardless of the type of work that is put in front of them. When I think back over the last three years of professional development for our teaching staff, the focus in a nut shell has been on giving our students the opportunity to do “better work.” More meaningful work, real world work, work that challenges students. Will students sit passively in a classroom, taking notes, listening to an instructor? Yes most of our students will because we have pretty good kids at Manson Northwest Webster.

How do we, as a staff, get past just learning how to create “better” work in a professional development session and start changing the experiences we offer our students? Is that a fair question? Aren’t some already providing those experiences? Why aren’t all? When will our students demand to be taught differently? When will more students and staff start asking why? What will be the change agent for this process? It sounds like I have more questions than answers, but take a moment to think about each of those questions. They are big questions. What I do know is this we, as a community, have put a powerful learning tool in our students hand 24/7. Yes a laptop is a learning tool, please think of it this way. The laptop will become and is becoming the main learning tool for our students. The more new learning experiences students have using their laptop, the more comfortable students become with their tool, the more they will want to create “better” work. The change agents will not just be adults, but also our young adults in the building.


  1. Shawn:
    Your post is packed full of "nuggets" that I could expand and connect with, but the two that resonate most soundly are the suggestion of students wanting meaningful work and technology as a tool.
    Reflecting on my own practice, the lessons that have been met with most enthusiasm are the ones that students find value in, can connect with, and view as a skill or knowledge they will use in the future. The blogging community created with your students and ours is a perfect example of this meaningful work.
    Secondly, the laptops that our students are provided with are TOOLS, just as pens and books were in the past. When approached this way, schools, students, and teachers find success in the classroom.
    Looking forward to future posts!
    Shaelynn Farnsworth

  2. From a student's perspective, I believe you hit the nail on the head. For the most part, I am a very dedicated student, whether I dislike the class, teacher, or material I will do the work and try my best to get a good grade. However, when I get a project that interests me, right after it is assigned I just want to run home and do it. The disappointing aspect is most of the time those projects and activities are weighted in my grade significantly less than let’s say a paper. Now, I am not saying we should not write papers, they are definitely necessary, but when topics and projects are more appealing to the students, they will get more interested in the class resulting in a better understanding.

  3. Michelle, thank you for the comment. I agree with what you had to say. It seems that when school begin changing many times the projects become additions instead of becoming the assessment. It takes hard work and some creativity to create authentic assessments that match learning goals.