Two Talks

[ February 21, 2008 ]

ony Schwartz of The Energy Project and Grant Wiggins of Authentic Education
came to talk to the faculty at Riverdale yesterday. The talks were both
provocative, engaging and challenged paradigms that many individuals
have about both work and assessment.

I had read of Tony’s work in the Harvard Business Review
in an article entitled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time”, Tony argues
that institutions and employees should focus on maintaining and raising
workplace energy rather than focusing on a false sense of mere
productivity–“busyness” for the sake of being occupied. In other
words, that focusing on quality of engagement and work rather than the
quantity of tasks completed is a worthy aim. Tony presented some of the
ideas that he has used in working with professional athletes and
professionals such as understanding the concept of ultradian
rhythms, cycles that occur in humans in 90-120 minute patterns, and
that by living synchronously with such rhythms is a good idea. He also
focused in on the notion that we need to take rest and recuperation,
especially sleep, as seriously as performance. It was an
extraordinarily interesting presentation, and I hope that we will be
able to work together in the future on a collaborative project that
will have us consider how the structure of school life can support the
idea that performance is not all about pushing students and faculty
members as hard as we can.

Later in the afternoon, Grant Wiggins, an expert on assessment, came to talk to the faculty about the balance between formative
and summative assessment. He focused on the idea that true learning is
a result of timely feedback and that feedback is in the form of a clear
and objective judgment of performance in a given task. It is true that
as teachers and parents we focus in on the summative grade in school
tasks rather than the actual quality of the performance. I wonder
sometimes what we would all feel like if the complex performances we
produce every day in our workplaces were distilled down to a single
summative grade. We all expect rich feedback as adults, and yet, in
schools the focus on grades has become obsessive to the point that it
actually distracts us all from focusing on the quality of the
performance. I hope that in the years ahead we will readjust this focus.

These
two talks were interesting and provocative, and I hope that they as we
have both these individuals back to the school in the next years that
they will help us re-imagine what a school should be.

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