Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If you say three things, you don't say anything

Post inspired by Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Chapter 2: Simple

No plan survives contact with the enemy” Colonel Tom Kolditz.

I spent hours planning last week's licensure meeting. I wanted the group to generate performance-based assessments (PBAs) that might measure achievement of our power standard. Prior to the meeting, I collected a list of learning targets off course proposals and previous exercises. I scoured texts on PBAs to find examples. I created a 12-page handout with examples from New York State Performance Consortium, Eagle Rock course proposals and a couple of books. I designed a mini-lesson intended to get people focused on developing PBAs and using the learning target list to inform their judgment. I then put the class into three groups of three to brainstorm.

Two interesting things happened. First, two groups each came back with only one PBA suggestion despite it being a brainstorming session. Second, the feedback about the process consistently urged me to simplify: don't provide learning targets, reduce the 12 page handout to a single page, say less during the mini lesson.

I believe critiques are correct given the consensus of a group of intelligent people. However, at my core, I don't get it. Why is it better to scale everything back so that folks are working with the least amount of information. I hear that folks don't want to engage in the material at some deeper level. Throughout my career I hungered for understanding the fundamentals. What was the literature or research on this topic? Why do some suggest we do things this way? What is the larger process or bigger picture here? If a staff development meeting only had me run through an activity I felt like a technician rather than a thinker. My presence was not that important. I need my mind to be engaged.

But, I admit I find more evidence that I overcomplicate things and others prefer to hear things in a simpler version. I also understand there's a flaw in imposing my view of myself as a learner on others.

I must become more disciplined about simplifying my message.

From the Heath book:
“...plans are useful, in [that] they are proof that planning has taken place...[which] forces people to think through the right issues. But the plans themselves don't work on the battlefield.”

Commanders Intent: crisp, plain-talk statement specifying the plan's goal, the desired end-state of an operation.

“If you say three things, you don't say anything.”

1 comment:

Al Sylvia said...

Yeah, but...

Simplifying the message can simplify the issue can warp the response. I'm probably not the best person to be disagreeing with you here, Michael. (How many car rides did I enjoy pushing myself into the complexity of your thinking?) But my current work keeps showing me that the simpler the presentation of complex ideas, the easier it is to find simple (and completely ineffective responses) to issues.

For instance, if kids in a particular class are not getting better at reading, well then let's just institute formative assessments. They'll tell us what each kid needs to get better at and how we can support the teacher in helping those kids. Simple, right? Yet the vision building, training and support required to "institute formative assessments" is exceptionally COMPLEX. There is years of work there. And when the reading doesn't improve in, say, a month into the work, often a new "simpler" solution is looked for.

So I say, stay complex. Be more concise? Maybe. But I think losing the complexity is a bad thing.