Like Fish Flopping on Dry Land

During the last 3 days of school, I nearly bit through my tongue on more than one occasion as I tried desperately to remain silent rather than intervene with my students.  My U.S. history students were tasked with their first iMovie project ever (at least for 95% of them), and it has been a struggle to say the least.  Often, however, as is so often the case, that struggle has been of my students’ own making.

You see, I knew that the vast majority of the students had never made an iMovie before, so I created short tutorials on exactly how to make the most basic of iMovies (which is all I was after) and posted those tutorials on my Haiku page.  When I say “exactly,” I mean exactly.  I walked them through the program from start to finish, telling them the order to do each step, telling them which button to click when, and on and on.  I then told the students where to find those tutorials and advised them as strongly as I could to actually, you know, watch the tutorials before beginning their iMovie.  How many would you guess took me up on that offer?  Based on everything I’ve seen and heard over the last two days, the answer would seem to be not many, with some students admitting as much to me already.

In addition to the time that often gets wasted by students working on group projects, the amount of time that has been wasted in my classroom by students trying to figure out things that they would have known how to do simply by watching a 15-minute tutorial has been truly amazing.  And my job in this particular case, I decided, was to remain silent as I watched them flop around like fish on dry land.  It’s been hard on me and hard on them.  I have gone home more exhausted from NOT saying anything than I would have been had I run around the room correcting each group all day long.  For their part, I know, they feel like I did not help them, that I left them high and dry, and the frustration was in some cases quite palpable.

The end products that I am likely to receive on Monday will more than likely be “un-grade-able,” at least with regards to the rubric that I’d originally given them.  And at first, this added to my frustration about the whole thing.  I know that I did my part in preparing them via the tutorials, my directions, and the rubric; why couldn’t the students do theirs, I wondered.

Well, I’ve decided to change my mindset.  On Monday, as they turn in who knows what to me, I am going to ask them to take a short, anonymous, reflective survey about the experience.  I am going to ask them questions like Did you watch the tutorial videos in their entirety before coming to class as Ms. Lamberti suggested?  If they are honest with themselves, most should be responding with a resounding no.  I am going to take time out of my class to talk to them about what they found frustrating and why, and hopefully, I will be able to get them to do a tiny, tiny bit of self-reflection so that the next time we do a new kind of project they can learn from the mistakes they made this time.  And I know I need to explain to them why I didn’t help them more than I did so that they understand it wasn’t because I didn’t want to do so or because I’m just “mean.”

I don’t know exactly how much history my students learned from this whole exercise.  In all honesty, probably not much.  I suppose I have to take comfort in the fact that, whether they realize it or not, and whether they apply them right away or not, they did learn other important lessons.  Time management, problem solving, communication with their peers, and preparation are all important tools to have in one’s toolbox.  Did they need to learn how to wield these tools the hard way?  Maybe and maybe not.  Maybe there is no other way.


  1. LOVE This story. You continue to inspire me. Next week’s post is going to be a follow up on my yoga theme – Honor the EDGE. It is about staying in the stretch even when it’s uncomfortable because it’s good for us. I’ll link to your blog (if I can figure out how) Got a tutorial for that? I promise to watch it:) Stay tuned.

    Also, congrats on your book review in SAIS’s newsletter. As we say in the south, I’m in “high cotton” being on the same page as you. What a compliment.

    • Thanks, Leah. I knew your post was going to get picked up. It was excellent!

      Remaining silent when we know we could fix the problem in a second is one of the hardest and most uncomfortable things we teachers have to do, I agree. To link to my blog, simply go up to the little chain link symbol when you are writing your post, copy and paste my web address in, and that should do it.

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