Saturday, December 26, 2015

Learning process? Passion or Skill Acquisition?

This is a blog I have wanted to write for a long time, but in the spirit of not feeling like I have "done" anything in this realm, until this week, I held off.  I truly feel that I should not post until I have "done" something, not regurgitate info.  I did something this week, that has nothing to do with my job, and I started at step 1, sort of.  I made a mixtape, or to be more 2016, I blended together about 20+ hip hop songs over an hour and ten minutes using an electronic turntable, my laptop, some headphones, and some large Pioneer and Cerwin Vega speakers.  I have speaker issues (I own about 30 of them).  The whole process took me over 10+ hours.  Well if you count the time in college, then as a 20's and 30's something (More like 1,000+ hours)  Why would I do this?  Music is a passion, there is always music in my head.  Ask my staff if it is a part of everything we do in PD sessions?  But just keep in mind that music is the passion or key to the process for me in learning this week. Passion is nothing without process.  Consistency, dedication, practice, proper repetition is the key, not passion... (but without passion the rest fall apart, hold on with me here!)

So back to the point.  What is your learning process?  You are learning something new, what do you do?  What is your first step?  If you read "The art of learning" by Josh Waitzkin or "Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintence by Robert Persig, you might have your learning process framed as mine as been.  Josh talks about the acquisition of skill through continued practice.  He was a chess master World Champion and later World Champion of Tai Chi Chuan martial arts. He stressed movements, both in chess and martial arts.  Practice each move, whether a piece or a punch, simple movements over time and practice create a memory that is never forgotten.  Do the work, I wrote about that before, and continue to do it, over and over.  even if it seems boring... movie based on his chess life:
 Robert Pirsig's book is being read by me constantly.  I never stop reading it (been reading it since 2001), but also can not read more than 10 pages at any time.  I have read it start to finish 3 times and on page 185 as of right now for the 4th time.  It is a book that you can not fully understand the first or second time, but is more than important in it's content.  

To explain it in a few sentences here is what I would say; It is an explanation about life and learning through the lens of a man and his son on a motorcycle road trip, part of it with another couple.  His bike is old and needs constant work by him, the other couple's bike is a BMW that is serviced by a mechanic. This argument of quality vs. quantity is used as an analogy throughout the book with multiple pointed and meaningful examples.  It is also told through the lens of a main character that is reliving a life that he barely remembers and is searching for answers to explain why he had a nervous breakdown. All of that with a father (main character) and son that apparently have had a hard time connecting in the past and are using this road trip as a way to re-establish a bond.  Very deep, hence the reason my brain is on the 4th read of this book, and still don't totally understand it.  But you get more each time you read it and I highly recommend it. 

So that is the context, here is the problem!  I usually don't write unless I have a problem with something.  My problem here is that I feel like I am reading and hearing too much about letting students do what they want...  We can' just let them do what they want. That is crazy talk right?  Letting them have   choice, passion, voice, personalization, etc. are all things that I strongly support and defend.  I will always defend them, and think they are the backbone of a really good educational system.  I also think student's health, social emotional, behavioral, etc. (whole child) approach are also important, but I don't want to deviate too much from my initial point.  

Here is the problem:  Too many think that if you create a "space or give tools" make it a "Maker" "White" "Learning" "New School" "1 to 1" "Autonomy" or "whatever".  

Then the "magic" is going to happen, like when the MTV show Cribs visited bedrooms... remember that?  Come on people, we know it is not that simple!  You need to put in the work, skill acquisition, practice, work, guidance, modeling, etc.  So here is my second issue:  First was space, second is with over emphasis on passion.  

"Oh no he didn't...", said the teacher that does Genius Hour

"He has no idea", says every teacher everywhere not just collecting a paycheck. I don't like those teachers, but again not the point.    

Yes, I did.  Maybe it is just me, but I have had so many conversations with "progressive" educators that just think you give a kid a passion and they are going to take off like a space shuttle into orbit. So as the administrator that has no idea!  I am going to tell you as well, that anyone that has come in contact with me understands that My Passion for working with "our kids" is the driving force of everything I do.  If you question that ask the #cddolphins.  But it does not end there. 

Passion time and Genius hour time is important, probably one of the most important things we do with "our kids".  But it comes with work and development.  So read on...

All of that being said, I am going to tell you that passion is the second most important ingredient in the learning process. Don't believe me, ask Robert Persig or Josh Waitzkin.  I have never spoken to either of them, but I think they would back me up.  Passion, my drive, is the gas pedal and sets the course, but does little more than that.  All that space does is make sure the seats are comfortable, which is also important, but not the most important part.  

So what does any of this have to do with me making a mixtape?  Well I experienced the learning process this week from ground zero.  I just got a new piece of equipment.  A Numark electronic turntable that plugs into my laptop and from there into speakers and headphones.  You control the music from this device with the laptop.  I have never used something like this before, as my time djing in college and post college was with more hands on equipment.  I spent one year in college (Senior) on Thursday night's at club "Outer Limit" playing music for college kids.  That was my college job, got paid pretty well when we had a good take from the door.  

So I had to learn!  I had passion, but passion would not allow me to mix music together seamlessly, speed up/speed down tempo, sync, set spot, pre-cue, sample, split output, or any of the other stuff that needs to happen in order for it to sound okay when going from song to song.  I was no professional DJ, I learned those hands on skills too.  But this was/is totally different.  

The idea is to not stop the dance party, but keep it going without interruption.  That is the ultimate goal, get people excited about the next song and keep them dancing.  That is the standard!  So I had to learn the boring stuff in order for my passion to come out.  If I did not learn any of that, or gave up, my passion would have died.  I had to sit on the floor and figure it out.  I did not have a choice if I wanted my passion to see fulfillment.  I needed to struggle and practice.  I hate practice.  I am like Allen Iverson.  I have a major advantage over our kids, I am 37 and know that it can be done.  Many of "our kids" don't have that same amount of life experiences.  They want to give up if it does not come easy.  Just opening it up to them and expect meaningful learning, does not happen.  They need practice, some repetition, and more practice.  They need to struggle in a supportive environment, and then more practice.  They need to reflect by videoing themselves, reading their work to others, getting feedback from their teacher, etc.  It is hard work, not just let them go!  

They can create, but what are they creating?  

Back to my struggle and my analogy:  Here is my example of my bad and good from my MIX TAPE.  It can be found on Youtube, but because of explicit material, I am not posting the whole 1:10:46.  If you want it, go find it with this picture.  

I think too many of us as educators think that we can put our passion of learning on our kids and they are just going to take it and run with it, if we find the right subject for them or topic.  I am here to tell you this is not the case.  We need to build up their skills, abilities with some mundane tasks, and other necessary learning tools so that when they find their "passions" they can be set free.  I did not like practicing over the past week (10+ hours) where I had to read, test, struggle, start over, call a friend who does this, not figure it out, and then do it again.  Even my finished product which you can find if you find this picture is not that great... trust me.  But for the amount of work I put in, I would give it a D+, but the most proud D+ I have ever gotten.  

Let's not forget as educators, passion is so important, but don't forget that practice, and skill development, again, practice, skill development, are the learning process.  The learning process is just that, a process, not always pretty.  Use passion to drive the ship, but please don't be a surface level racing boat, think more like a nuclear submarine and dive deep in learning with "our kids" before surfacing.  Use your periscope at times to show them the future, but make sure to stay deep even if you come to the surface at times.  "Our kids" need that and I can not stress my Passion enough to tell you to do that work, and don't allow a feeling drive your decisions.  Make it about practice, risks, and struggle to develop skills that will support passions!   


  1. Nice starting post, Doug!

    I agree that "passion," as it is used today is not enough. I've come across too many people (adults and kids) who don't understand the hard work that makes the "passion" turn into "talent" or "skill." It's not enough to care about something; it also takes the root understanding that getting good at anything requires long-term, sweaty, frustrating, repetitious practice and many, many failures along the way.

    I hate when I hear someone say "he's just talented" or "everything comes easily to her." They don't see the work behind the scenes and the long commitment. And many times, it's because they don't want to, because if they admitted that the talent or skill came from hard work, they'd have to put in that effort to attain the skill as well.

    "Passion" is simply the feeling that helps you pick an area and stick with it!

  2. Pat,

    I so agree with the "he is just talented hate!" It is hard work for everyone. We need to remember that and honor that.

    Thanks for your comment!