Like any good instructional designer, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to make learning meaningful, engaging, and relevant. And if it can be fun as well, that is even better. I suppose not all learning can be fun; but I am often surprised by stories from colleagues who made meiosis and mitosis fun. So perhaps the jury is still out on that. For those who drift into deep delta brainwaves at the mere mention of class, school, instruction, and teaching, forgive me, but my favorite teaching tool, the negative template, is a good one for moms to use; bear with me.
While working in my 9th grade ESOL English class in China, it came time to teach the kids about PowerPoint. I had to smile thinking of this digital immigrant teaching the digital natives about technology. However creating PowerPoints was something that they were not actually familiar with, so I sat down to think about how to do this without a high drowsy/drool meter score. I myself had been in so many classes where the expert taught the novices how to do something by telling us about it, and I hated those classes. That’s when I created the World’s Worst PowerPoint Contest.
The kids worked in teams and the only instruction I gave was the time limit; the rest was up to them. I figured instead of saddling them with 85 bullet points on good PowerPoints, they could freely figure out what a good one is by creating a very, very bad one. I wanted them to learn without the stress and pressure that usually accompanies homework, especially for ESOL students. Of course they met and even exceeded my expectations. I can just imagine the conversations that went on at home that night. Remember, most of my students were Korean and Chinese, and their Tiger Moms loved them to come in first.
Um…what’s that you’re doing there kids?
Oh, we have to create a PowerPoint for class tomorrow.
Yes, I see that but yours does not look so good.
You really think so? (This is said with a broad grin).
I can help you if you like.
No thank you…we got this.
To my delight the groups came in the next day and presented their terrible PowerPoints to the class, bragging about whose was the worst. When flaws were pointed out, they were proud of them:
Kids, this is really bad. I mean, yours may just be the worst!
Yeah, those 45 different fonts were MY idea.
Yes, but I put all the bunny rabbits and robots in.
And Tom added all the wing dings and different music styles.
And I squeezed a whole page of text on each slide.
It was a group effort.
I loved the joyous Pee Wee Herman I Meant to Do That moment. We then had a discussion about whose was the worst one and why. I didn’t have to teach anything; the kids saw the flaws, bragged, and laughed about them, argued about whose was truly the worst (mine is; yours at least had a theme) and then we voted.
The next assignment was to go home and fix their PowerPoint to be the best one, and they did so with no rubric, guide or set of instructions. It was one of those fun teaching moments where they made me laugh AND impressed me. I often think of the World’s Worst PowerPoint Contest when I have to watch presentations for work or school, and realize that I have a big smile on my face, which the presenter mistakes for enthusiasm.
So Moms, what’s the point? Am I suggesting that you go out there and be the worst darn mother you can be, and then go back and fix it? Um…let’s keep brainstorming… What I am suggesting however is that there are plenty of negative templates already out there. You didn’t create them, and I am not encouraging their proliferation, but they do exist, and since we cannot stop them, we might as well learn something from them.
So…especially for you new moms, you may not know what to do yet, but I bet you know what NOT to do. As you wait for this little bundle of joy to arrive, you may want to jot down some thoughts on what you already know is not good to do. The negative template is often a good place for novices to begin. For example, you may not know anything about infant nutrition, but I bet you know that infants cannot tolerate chilli dogs, and probably won’t feed them to them (until much later).
As you reflect on what NOT to do, you will see that you probably know a lot more than you think. When I was very young, I was lucky; I had an ample supply of negative templates to observe. For example in the park, or doctor’s office would be the mom cursing at her kids, another who slapped and yelled at them, and another who gave in to their kid anytime he fell on the ground screaming. My mom shared such an incident that was observed during her cafeteria duty volunteer day. Apparently this woman’s daughter wanted to attend the Catholic high school, where I was planning on going, Immaculate Conception, (which understandably we shortened to IC). As the story goes, the irate mom yelled at her embarrassed daughter in front of all the other cafeteria ladies, “I don’t wanna hear nothin’ about no IC!” At the time I could not tell if Mom and Dad were more concerned about the bad grammar (we had to speak proper English back in the day) or the embarrassment. I am guessing it was a little bit of both. (This quote became a family joke and often during my time at IC when I would come home to report on student council, sports, or yearbook, someone would say this to me in jest, and they still say it to me years later. Perhaps I should post this on the IC fb page?)
I am safely guessing that there are still examples out there to guide you. The only question I had was…ok, I won’t do that, but how do I get my kids to behave? And how do I go beyond just good behavior and meet their psycho/social/emotional needs? I know—this is a bit nerdy for a mere kid; but I was fascinated by human behavior even at an early age.
So whether you are beginning this wild and wonderful journey, or are already well on your way, use any negative templates you see to help you figure things out, and to reflect on what is important to you. It won’t be exactly the same for any two moms, but the heart of all this reflection will be the passionate love you have to see your kids succeed in life. And what does succeeding look like? Why of course that will be saved for next time (but you may want to list what it is NOT).