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Semester Two and New for the Sake of New

By Dave Stuart Jr.

One of the folks who reviewed an early version of the book I just finished writing had this critique: There aren't enough new things in this book. Teachers want new — where's the new?

The answer, of course, is that there's not a ton of new in my book, just like there's not much new on this blog. You and I don't tend to need new — we need permission to focus, permission to jump off the hamster wheel and just think. New for the sake of new is kind of crazy — long-term flourishing is what we're after, not new. Since time is the currency we're poorest in, we teachers can't be constantly chasing new. There's too much to do, too much at stake.

Why, then, do we even have this penchant for “new” — new initiatives, new programs, new strategies? Part of this is probably the marketing machine we're marinating in each day. There's a market incentive for creating new and improved, and so there are advertising dollars and teams of smart people aiming, every day, at getting you and me to buy the idea that what we need is something new, something that we just haven't quite bought yet.

Another reason might be that we're impatient — it's easier to move toward the Next Thing than it is to keep coming back to the same old sandbox. The trouble with our impatience, of course, is that it's so likely to lead us astray. After all, the sandboxes we've been digging in for months or years may just be the ones to camp out in for decades, getting a little bit better at them all the time. As I said in a recent post, there are six sandboxes I constrain myself to, and below you'll find the small ways in which I aim to get a little bit better at them this second semester.

  • Key Student Beliefs: I want to get more consistent at using Chris Hulleman's Build Connections exercise, which is an evolved version of the expectancy-value activity I wrote about last year.
  • Knowledge-building: I want to continue experimenting with a new, significant tweak I've brought to Gallagher's Article of the Week assignment this year. I call it Burning Questions of the Year — more to come on that here at the blog, but that page is a good start.
  • Argument: I want students engaging in monthly pop-up debates on the Burning Questions of the Year. So far, I've been amazed at how much better my students argue when I give them a chance to become knowledgeable on the topic first. I mean, I know that knowing things makes you think better, but it's still just sort of magical to see it happen.
  • Reading: This one's a stretch goal, but I'd love to get my general world history kids to read 50 different primary source documents in semester two. We had to be close to that in semester one, but I did a poor job keeping track of the number.
  • Writing: I want to push myself to keep up the streak of next-day feedback on targeted pieces of student writing — that means better, saner grading. This will also help me prepare for a writing keynote in Idaho in April. (I give keynotes and workshops, by the way — consider me for your next event.)
  • Speaking and Listening: Conversation Challenges have been neglected in my room lately. Time to do that better with CCs at least 1x/week.

I'll be writing about these in the months to come, but my point in this post is to push you to resist the undertow toward new. New doesn't make sense unless what we're already doing really, really won't work. All the push points above are going to serve my students and me well. They'll get stronger, and so will I. And think of all the time I'll save not seeking the next big thing to occupy my time and attention. I'll focus, and I'll get better. (Here's the tracker I'm going to print out and keep on my clipboard, too, in case you're curious. Here's the Google Doc versionbut use File > Make a Copy if you'd like to use it — I can't respond to share requests.)

Teaching right beside you,

Dave Stuart Jr.

3 Responses to Semester Two and New for the Sake of New

  1. Lisa Chaya January 23, 2018 at 8:52 pm #

    I’ve been rereading Mike Schmoker’s Focus myself, and I also enjoyed listening to your interview with him. I’m happy to beat the same drum as you guys — we don’t need “new”; we need “just a few – tried and true!” Keep up the great work!

  2. Carly Bean January 25, 2018 at 12:50 am #

    Hi Dave, I am curious about the details of your Idaho visit. I live/teach in Moscow and would be interested in attending, if that is a possibility. Thank you for the work you do.

  3. davestuartjr January 30, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    Sure thing, Carly! Here is the info: http://davestuartjr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/flyer-for-email-2018.pdf

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