Synopsis and comparison: A 2-part activity

This posts is one of two that describe ELA activities that use as their starting point an essay by Josh Spilker titled “What to Do If You’re a Talentless Hack.” The shortlink is

Spilker writes to people who have discovered they haven’t the talent  to succeed at the career they envisioned for themselves.

It’s an unpleasant fact of life, that when they get to college, many students will make that discovery—or the discovery that they aren’t as brilliant as their high school teachers assured them they were.

Spilker lays out the options available to students who aren’t going to make it to the top of their chosen professions.

Part 1: Have students summarize the text

The first of the two activities students need to do is to  summarize the text. Here are the directions to give students:

Read Spilker’s essay on Medium. Condense his ideas into no more than 10% of the length of the original, which is 134 words. In your synopsis, retain:

  • The order of ideas.
  • The “voice” of the original essay.
  • Some distinctive wording from the original.

Next week, I’ll give you directions for having students use their summaries as half the research for a comparison.

Live-streaming video for career exploration

In our rush to get students “college and career ready,” I wonder if we’re not overlooking the importance of first-hand experience doing the kinds of work done in the career fields that students think may interest them.

career options list

One of my cousins was very interested in art and design. He enrolled in the architecture program at Syracuse University. One of the first things he learned was that he absolutely hated doing the mathematical calculations that architecture requires.

He changed career paths, became a science illustrator.

Such vocational changes are not uncommon.

Medicine and law have high first-job dropout rates, far higher than the commonly bemoaned beginning teacher attrition rates.

Here’s part of an abstract of a study about law firm attrition:

law-exitBecause students have grown up watching doctors and lawyers on television, they think they know what doctors and lawyers do. After graduation, when they discover the not-suitable-for-prime-time elements of their chosen careers, they may decide they should have become shoe designers or forklift operators instead.

In a Forbes article about why so many physicians regret their career choice, Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Management who studies healthcare leadership, says:

If young people pursue the profession with full knowledge of what’s in store,  they’ll be more satisfied than if they believe they’re going to be thanked every 15 minutes.

Perhaps instead of live-streaming video of raptors’ nests in the wild 24 hours a day, we could steam images of CPAs and home health aides and computer technicians’ work sites (as this webcam of an Arlington, Texas, airfield does once a minute every day [[broken link removed 2016-01-22]) to give students a glimpse into the real workplace.

OK, it’s a crazy idea.

What do you suggest instead?


What could open networks do for education?

Writing at Forbes, Michael Simmons  explains why being in an open network rather than a closed one is the best predictor of career success.

Headline and author photo

A closed network is basically the people you know personally who also know each other personally.  Closed networks—whether they be networks within an industry, a political party, or a geographic location—are comfortable. They can get things done because people know one another’s skills and, as the expression goes, speak the same language.

For many people, venturing into an open network is as uncomfortable as going to a party at which you know no one. That’s why many people don’t like Twitter—”I don’t know anybody on Twitter”— and why many of those who do rely on hashtags to keep them securely within a closed network.

Getting outside one’s network, mingling with people in other networks, however, may be just what’s needed.

Simmons quotes from an interview Apple’s legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs  for Wired in 1995:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.

It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences.

So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

In the third paragraph of that quote, replace in our industry with

  • in our school district
  • in my school
  • in my discipline
  • in education
  • in the teachers’ union
  • in the state education department

Is it just possible that if we got out of our networks and away from our hashtags that we might be more successful educators?