Good, But Can You Do Better?

Words are powerful, especially the ones that you find as unimportant or insignificant. Someone saying hi, asking about their day, or remembering a small details about their lives is sometimes all it take make an impact on a person. As teachers, we all have that story of at least one student who you made a deep connection with even though you didn't realize it. It wasn't until the recent GAFE Summit in Bakersfield that I realize there is another statement that is influential to students: 'Good job'. Now, I don't mean this in a students-need-to-hear-positive-reinforcement kind of way. While positive comments are necessary, Brian Hamm, the keynote speaker, challenged me to reevaluate the kind of feedback that I give my students and myself.

As Hamm was getting us attendees of his session ready to experience design thinking, he discussed the significance between 'good job' and 'good start.' Obviously, 'good job' implies that the task the person has been set to do has been completed adequately and they can then move onto the next job. 'Good start', on the other hand, implies that the work done so far on the task is adequate, but improvements can still be made until the job is finished.

I can't tell you how many times I have told students 'Good job!' or 'Great job!' While I may have provided some additional feedback for the ways they could improve their work, students typically never put this feedback into effect because their work was done; the assignment was completed and graded and its on to the new task. I know that at my previous school if I had told students 'good start' on their final product, then it would have caused a mass panic that the work they did was incomplete. Most of that has to do with the fact that the culture at my previous school was not centered around PBL or Design Thinking, but content benchmarks. As a result, the reaction to 'good start' shows the improvements that needed to be made.

But at Minarets, we are not restrained by content benchmarks or pacing guides. Instead, we are a project-based learning school where students are encouraged to fail and adjust until they succeed. Yet even in this environment, I still feel as though I allow 'good job' to be a usable statement in my classroom. I've found that giving the students distant deadlines lessens the accountability that is needed for PBL to be successful but then some students struggle to meet the smaller deadlines and save their work until the very end, not allowing for improvements and growth. So in the end, I'm left with products instead of protoypes, as Brian Hamm described.

Reflecting on the projects I have done so far, I feel that the problem may lie in the fact that many of them have not had authentic audiences. While students have already created some incredible things, many of the projects have been geared towards the class rather than an authentic audience. If a real 'consumer' audience was made then maybe students would improve their turn in rates, which would allow for more growth. In fact, this authentic audience is a key point in PBL and Design Thinking but one I have struggled adopting mostly because of lack of time. Yet this is essential to be able to tell students "good start" instead of "good job".

As always, GAFE Summit left me reevaluating myself and my classroom. I would have never thought that one word could make such a difference.

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