Flat Connections

Transforming learning through global collaboration

As a participant in the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher Course, we all have the opportunity to live projects through the eyes of students.  The satisfying meaning making with people from all over the world is sometimes overshadowed with the challenges that we encounter to 




As a professional, I often get caught up in between the read and the respond, because there is a great deal of action that has to happen for that respond to be the end of the conversation.  

Let me clarify.  I work in my school's International Center.  I get an email from a school in India, for example, they are interested in connecting with our school.  They are vague in their request of general partnership.  Before I can give a definitive answer,  I have to find out more about the school, and then sell some possibilities to teachers who could make a relationship happen.  Is there interest?  Is the school a good match?  

Sometimes this process is daunting so the email sits in my in box for a couple of days (weeks!?).  Instead, I need to resolve to work towards being comfortable with unfinished responses.  

Thank you for your interest, I will investigate this possibility with our faculty and be back to you by [this date].  

Then I have to put that date on my calendar.  

Similarly, when we are working with our groups on these projects, we should also be comfortable with the unfinished response.  

Hey!  How should we go about this project?  

Hi There, So crazy at work today.  I can't get to this till this weekend.  I will send more info then.  

It is much easier to let the read (and focusing on) communications sit in our inboxes without responding.  

Back to the concept of formative feedback. Students generally strive to do what we want them to do.  And if they are not being told, explicitly, that they are not on the right path, or not working up to expectations, some of them will stay in this path of inaction, or least resistance.  Even if they know that they are not living up to their end of the bargin.  The challenge is to value autonomy while also holding people accountable.  I really struggle with this as a teacher and tend to lean to far to the autonomy side.  But, if you move in there with some formative feedback meant to spark action, it is so effective.

Hey, this is looking like C work.  

I hate invoking grades, but sometimes that works pretty well if only because it is a scale with which they have some familiarity and comfort.   

I am working on my FC-15 challenges and am trying to push through #9 where I assess my colleagues and myself on the work on our Flat Classroom Project.  I am going to move forward with the challenge and call it formative assessment, which may serve the dual purpose of finishing the challenge (for me) and moving the work of our group forward (for the group).  

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Comment by Susan Adams on February 12, 2013 at 3:41am

This is a great challenge for eveyone in this digital age - feeling comfortable to give an unresolved response.  It goes back to discussions at the beginning of the Flat Classroom book - if there is no response, the other party doesn't know if the message wasn't received, if the other party "quit," if the message was misunderstood, etc.  It's not only a good reminder of how important it is to make our kids aware of that, but a call to accountability for ourselves.

Comment by Allan 'Rocky' Shwedel on February 5, 2013 at 3:18am

Hello Emily,


Thanks for your reply to my questions. It sounds like you are using rubrics in neat ways with your students!


Your reply got me thinking about the fact that I don't actually have students make rubrics for assignments that I assess them on!  I do have them make rubrics for lessons that develop but not rubrics that are to be used to assess their own work.  I have rationalized this by telling myself that they wouldn't really know enough abut the particular content to create a rubric! The mind can do wonders with rationalizations. ;) But your reply did get me to begin think abut how I might actually have the class make rubrics for at least some assignments.  I could have them do a bit of reading on topic and maybe even look for rubrics for that topic on the web and then have them work in groups with each group focusing on one or two dimensions for the rubric.  Then as a class we could put a rubric together.  

There is definitely no rush in responding to this since I won't get to this until the Fall semester, but I'm wondering, how do you structure the rubric creation process with your students?

Again, thanks for sharing how you are using rubrics.



Comment by Emily McCarren on February 3, 2013 at 10:29pm

Thanks for your post Rocky!   I like to use student made rubrics that are built through group discussion and negotiation.  Engaging them in the decisions about what is important (and therefore will impact their grade) has been really transformative for me.  It takes more time, of course, but it is really helpful.  I'm not sure that will work in all subjects, but it works well in Spanish.  

And your comment about "outsourcing" the formative assessment part is really insightful.  I think that as teachers we have this sense that we have to do it all-- but we can't do it all (another theme of this post) and we need to have our students be partners in this, not just the recipients of our feedback.  You articulate this really well-- if we can support them in learning how to be self critical, as they are doing the work, and not just wait for our stamp of approval, then they also become more valuable to their peers.  

Thanks for the conversations!

Comment by Allan 'Rocky' Shwedel on February 3, 2013 at 4:45am

Hello Emily,

I surely can't share any words of wisdom regarding the seismic action that leads to the ever widening rift between "read" and "respond". :(  Indeed, just before I logged on here I read and then marked with a flag an email that I wasn't quite sure how to respond to! 

But the topic of your entry is what caught my eye since in my work with pre-service teachers, motivation and assessment are central issues. 

I'm curious, do you use rubrics in an active way with your students? By active I mean do the students discuss the rubric before the task/project begins; do they use rubrics to assess their work as they go along; and do they work with others to give feedback on each other's work based on the rubric? 

I ask because while motivation and engagement are central to the teaching and learning process, to my mind the information that a student receives when a teacher says that the student is doing C work, is that she/he is NOT doing good enough. It's a judgmental statement from a power perspective. From my perspective, rubrics, with exemplars, are a tool that can change the dynamics of the conversation.  With rubrics, the frame of comparison becomes observable characteristics of the student's work with reference to explicit and observable levels of quality.  (Alas, many rubrics aren't very good but even a mediocre one can provide a starting point for a conversation about quality.)  And in a possibly ironic way, it becomes a truly collaborative process, not just one where the teacher is 'teaching' the student. To use Flat Classroom lingo, when the student learns to use rubrics to assess his/her own work, the teacher is outsourcing part of the formative assessment process! :)

So to come back to my original question, how do you use rubrics? Do they seem to function the way I wrote about them?

But in the meantime, it sounds like you've found the Certified Teacher Course very useful.  Have fun with the remaining few weeks!


Comment by Julie Lindsay on January 30, 2013 at 4:05pm

Emily, in a perfect world, and one that has 48 hours in each day, we would all be expert responders. Your points are very valid, and this discussion is a great one to have as a wake-up call to have systems in place and priorities in terms of time taken to read and respond. 'Timely manner' is the key here. If a school asks vague questions and is not really sure what they want, a timely response may be 2-3 weeks, not 24 hours. However for many other work and education related needs we all know 24-48 hours to respond to an email is expected, or an 'apology' or recognition that the responder is tardy is needed. It is the people who do not ever respond at all that I worry about. Avoidance is difficult in a digital world when you have seen evidence of the person being online and then wonder why your email was not responded to :-)

Comment by akram on January 29, 2013 at 2:27am

Emily interesting post. We are under pressure to respond immediately or soon thereafter....reflective responses take time. I am trying to work according to three main goals that I want to accomplish period. Anything else falls in a B, C and D pile. Thanks.

Comment by Edna Marie Phythian on January 27, 2013 at 2:09am
Emily, It seems as though you and I have similar jobs. I also receive many vague requests for partnering. I think the reason is that others in many places want to get connected simply for cultural awareness reasons, where are committed to having partnerships that are embedded through the curriculum standards at an age appropriate level. So, I always go back asking their project ideas and/or curriculum standards. I can see what you mean by lingering conversations; but, I look at it as putting the ball in there court.

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