Reflecting on Riftworld Chronicles and Culture Shock

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So, I’m a giant nerd, so it’s not surprising that my taste in Youtube channels reflects that. Lately I’ve been enjoying Riftworld Chronicles by Geek & Sundry. It’s the story of a wizard from a fantastic world who accidentally winds up in ours. In the most recent episode, the wizard has to navigate the more paperwork-y points of our healthcare system.

Starting at about 1:33, the nurse and wizard have an interaction during which the nurse asks to see a health card, driver’s license, or other form of ID. The wizard complies by displaying a tattoo that surely has deep, significant meaning to him, but not to the nurse.

At this point, my spouse remarked, “He still thinks he’s in his own world!”

I disagreed. “He knows he’s in a different world,” I said, “It’s just that he takes the things that have universal meaning in his world for granted. He’s not thinking deeply about them because he’s never really had to before. Why would you question something that has always worked the way it’s supposed to in the past?”

This is an example of culture shock. When you are part of one culture and interact with or become immersed in another, you’re going to run up against elements completely unfamiliar to you (like “health card” and “driver’s license”). But you’ll also be faced with the fact that the things you take for granted seeming completely alien to others.

Culture shock can occur when traveling or moving to another country, but it can happen without you ever leaving home. You can experience culture shock in a lot of ways, through language barriers and age gaps, and other obstacles. I think sometimes professionals experience it as technology in our industries move forward. I think it’s common to feel towards social media, and how people use it. (I love Twitter lately, but I just can’t with you, Snapchat.) And I think it happens between students in our classrooms, especially when we get kids from different socioeconomic classes, different family structures, different religions, different races, different cultures, and so on.

So how do we handle culture shock in the classroom? I’m not about to recommend a one-size-fits-all sort of solution, because I doubt one exists. What works in my elementary computer lab would probably not be the best thing for a high school foreign language class. I think different approaches will work for different people, and that different classroom settings call for different ideas and actions anyway. It’s an important aspect of differentiation. You don’t make the effort to address culture just because we should celebrate diversity; you make the effort to address culture because it’s a very fundamental thing to basic communication. People may be completely unaware that they’re looking from a different perspective. But being aware that there may be a difference is probably a decent enough place to start.

Evaluation Scores

I saw and retweeted this last week:

It was just the right time for me to see it, because I had just wrapped up my current observation/evaluation cycle with my principal.

In Ohio, we use an evaluation system statewide, where teachers (and principals) are scored on a rubric in various areas, such as instructional planning and professionalism. The rubric includes ratings of ineffective, developing, skilled, and accomplished.

A couple of years ago, at the beginning of my teaching career, I would have been crestfallen to get anything less than “skilled.” When I was a student, I was so very, very good at school — good grades, good at taking tests, well-behaved; all those things came easily to me. I understood the game of school and how to play it, while occasionally getting a high score.

Then I went to college. Wow, college. In a lot of ways, it was still the same old “school” system: get good grades, keep up my scholarship, etc. But there were suddenly so many other things I also wanted to succeed at. And success in those areas did not come to me as easily as academic success did. I tried and I failed a lot. I tried and succeeded sometimes! At the time, I definitely had a mindset that believed if I followed all the rules and did everything like I was supposed to, success would come to me. Nay, success would be owed to me! I was deserving of success! I was very much prone to the overconfidence effect.

So if I had been identified as a “developing” teacher at the start of my career, I would have been crushed. Dejected. Inconsolable. And in desperate need of a major attitude adjustment.

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Because there is no one straight and narrow path to success. And “success” is not defined the same way for every endeavor, either. And success is a process, one that requires upkeep and forward motion. For example, a successful president is not just one who gets elected. A successful president is one who does right by his or her country throughout their term, by facing challenges and communicating, etc. (Not to mention that my definition of a “successful president” may be completely different than another person’s definition!)

So I was identified as a developing teacher. I am at peace with this. Excited about it, even! “Developing” is not just an adjective, it’s also a verb. I am developing and growing as an educator. I am developing and building my career. I am developing and receiving support from my administrators, fellow teachers, and other staff members in my building. I know there are things I do well, and I know there are things I could be doing better. It’s an opportunity for me to model a different road to success for my students.

The Backchannel

Today I had a second grade class in the lab. They were typing up their paragraphs about their Wax Museum subjects in a shared Google Slideshow.

Some students found the “chat” function, but clearly didn’t understand it at first. Instead of instructing students to close it, I explained it was there for us to use as a backchannel – a way for us to have online conversation while also working on our activity. I asked that we use it for on-topic talk (rather than everyone typing “hi!” or “hello!” all at once).

They did remarkably well with it!
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One student, who was clearly excited about the backchannel, immediately used it to ask a question – should he capitalize the “a” in Johnny Appleseed? I was able to type back an answer. Several other students asked questions, and answered each other faster than I could! For example, one student asked, “How do I make an exclamation point?” and another student simply typed, “shift and 1” faster than I could reach my own seat and type a response. I also used the backchannel to add more directions, such as, “If you finish typing your paragraph, add a picture of your person.” (That’s something we’ve worked on previously, so they knew how to do it.) It was also a good way to deliver little reminders, such as “Press tab to indent!” and “Make sure you capitalize the names of months!”

As students wrapped up what they were doing and class started winding down, the backchannel because less and less on topic. But I didn’t mind, because they all got their work done, in less time than their homebase teacher expected. And now they know another effective way to help one another and reinforce their own typing skills.