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What is “Good Enough?”

May 8, 2011

Teacher Musings:
I am a pretty competitive person. I try to rein this in for most settings, since I also highly value collaboration and cooperation, but my competitive streak does come out now and again (such as when I was in labor with my son . . . but that is a story for another time). I believe that competition can be good in some settings, but I usually avoid competition in my classroom because I believe that it stifles more learning than it promotes. I want each of my students to learn at the right pace and the right way for them and not necessarily compare themselves to anyone else since we all have different strengths and starting places in our learning.

However, the reality is that my students are competing. They are competing for spots in college, and once they are in college they are going to be compared with students who have had, frankly, many more educational (and life) opportunities. My students have developed a lot of skills this year. I have seen them use evidence more thoughtfully and deliberately in their writing. They are making more nuanced claims that don’t take an either/or stance. A the end of the last term I gave them a persuasive letter writing assignment on Monday, let them do their own pre-writing, gave them one day in class (Tuesday) to write and had them turn it in Wednesday. Not only did most of them do it, but most of them wrote 2 pages without a lot of help or guidance from me, and showed some of the strengths that I just mentioned.

This is all fine and good. But what they didn’t do was proof-read.  And it kind of scared me that they didn’t seem to care or notice.  A few asked me if I could proof-read it for them and let them edit after the upcoming break (which was great) but the majority seemed to think they were turning in perfectly legitimate work.

I can kind of understand students (and non-students) doing a kinda crappy job on something when it has to be done quickly, at at stressful time (like the end of the term) and where they don’t really care that much about it (which many of my students didn’t – this assignment was not a huge part of their grade).  Heck, I’ve done the same in my own time as a student.

What scares me the most is that I think some of them don’t really think they did a crappy job.  I think some of them think what they turned in was fine, or even great, even with the errors that actually made their writing incoherent at some points.  And if they think that is ok, what are they going to do when they get to college and are in a class with students (from private schools, from the suburbs, etc.) who KNOW what type of writing is acceptable, and what to do about it.

I know that my standards need to be higher, but I also need to be able to teach my students to meet those standards.  And I’m struggling to figure out get my students to understand what acceptable work looks like in limited class time, and without simply making them feel bad about themselves.  I’m all for brutal honesty when it motivates someone, but I know from experiance as a student and as a teacher that hearing someone tell you that your work sucks (even in a nice way) is often NOT motivating.

So, I came back after the break and told my students that their ideas were interesting and engaging (which was true) but that I didn’t read a single letter that I would be willing to send to someone outside our classroom, because they were rife with spelling and grammar errors.  I then offered to proof-read for any student who wanted to actually mail their letter.  Some students took me up on it and improved.

I just received their drafts for their next writing assignment, which involved them writing personal narratives to an actual audience.  And I received some of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever seen.  I don’t know if my talk about the last assignment mattered, or if this writing was simply closer to their hearts.  But something is working for now.  And I’ll take that.

What are you expectations for final drafts as a teacher?  Do you see different standards in different schools?  What are your thoughts about that?

Yummy Stuff:

As part of an attempt to use up some leftovers, and get some more veggies into our child (who is just getting his seventh tooth!) I made Greens Bowls this week.  It is not the most interesting meal – really it is just a layer of grains, greens and veggies.  You could do this with endless combinations, especially if you include some protein (such as beans, tempeh, tofu, etc.)  But here was the Greens Bowl we did with delicious results.

L-P Greens Bowl:


1 cup quinoa

1 cup veggie broth

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp minced ginger

1 TB miso paste

3-4 cups chopped, rinsed kale or collard greens

about 3 cups cubed butternut squash

5 TB olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper.


1. Preheat the oven to 450.  Toss the butternut squash with 3 TB of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Spread on a non-stick pan (or use foil or parchment paper) and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes (stirring once about 1/2 way through)
2. Bring veggie broth and 1 cup of water to a boil.  Add the quinoa, lower heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes.  (start this after you stir the butternut squash 1/2 through the squash’s cooking time)

3. about 5 minutes before everything else is done put 2 TB of olive oil in a saute pan and heat to medium. Add the garlic and ginger and stir and cook for about 1 minute.  Turn heat up to medium high and pour in 1/2 cup of water and 1 TB of miso.  Stir around until the miso is mostly mixed in.  Add in greens (kale or collard) and use tongs to toss until wilted (about 5 minutes). 

4. To serve put about 1/2 cup of quinoa in a bowl, top with about 1/4-1/3 of the greens and finally cover the top with butternut squash.  Enjoy dinner in a bowl!

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