Saturday, September 12, 2020

On experts and expertise

Having reached the finish of a Twitter chat this morning under the #PLPNetwork hashtag, I felt a rare, yet familiar itch: I had more on my mind than would fit in another 280 characters or fewer. Those are the times I brush the dust off this moldering blog.

The tangent that caught my attention revolved around notions of 'expert' and 'expertise.' One participant said she eyes the former label skeptically, though she acknowledges that all people can accrue the latter. Another chimed in that she sees "expert power" as the legitimate fruit of motivation plus time spent working towards mastery, à la Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.

As for me, I took a walk and pondered fine-sliced meanings that distinguish expert from expertise. 'Expert' lands in my ear with a fixed-mindset thud. It's a label that, once earned, unintentionally encourages resting on one's proverbial laurels. In comparison, 'expertise' speaks to elastic capacity and a growth mindset. That's how I glossed it on my walk, anyway.

For those who want to split an even thinner hair, let's see what you think about this: Do you hear different connotations between these two phrases: reading expert and expert reader? That first phrase primes me to meet an authority, meaning I'm simultaneously respectful, but also a little skeptical -- particularly, until I better understand the person's expertise. The second phrase, with the adjective 'expert,' denoting 'skillful,' intrinsically suggests a practitioner with abundant experience -- from which I might learn. What about this pair: climate-science expert and expert climate scientist? And, in terms of relative credibility, where would you rank just: climate scientist?

This seems like as good a time as any to reference a cognitive bias that I've learned about in the context of backcountry skiing: expert halo effect. This misstep happens when one or more skiers attribute expertise that may not be warranted to a group leader. (Even when the attributed expertise is warranted, the attribution itself short-circuits individuals' decision making.) The group then follows that leader into territory that is more dangerous than would otherwise be frequented if the leader weren't there. Risk exposure, thus, increases. 

In writing this, my intention is not to undermine all experts at a historic moment when their expertise is regularly questioned or ignored. Rather than follow the leader, what if we redirect our attention to cultivating expertise in ourselves and recognizing it reliably in others, in order to learn from (as well as with) them? What if, after hearing from someone claiming the expert mantle, we asked, "On what expertise do you base your thinking?"

Friday, July 10, 2020

ROAS by any other name

    I'm reading The Writer's Practice by John Warner, a book that incidentally confirmed for me what I had long suspected: Educators, as a general rule and even to a fault, embrace acronyms as well as initialisms.
    This conclusion sparked for me as Warner shared his own mnemonic concoction, one that he admits leaves him not yet fully satisfied. "I'm recommending," he writes, "the previously mentioned practice I'd one day like to develop a handier acronym for but that for the time being goes by ROAS." (92) If that's not an invitation to talk back to the author, I don't what is.
    ROAS, for the record, is a four-step heuristic that coaches writers to React, Observe, Analyze, Synthesize in response to a selected text. Of the two writing experiences in Warner's book that I sampled today, one focuses on a commercial while the other looks at a work of humor through (ahem) ROAS-colored glasses.
    The acronym alternative that occurred to me, which may or may not prove "handier," is NOSE. Yeah, as in 👃.
  • N = Notice - Gather first impressions of text and our initial responses to it.
  • O = Observe (unchanged from Warner's original) - Look a second time, whether up-close at our most interesting noticings or at elements we missed before.
  • S = Speculate - Derive new meaning or ideas from prior two steps; what I refer to as "So what?" theories because they reveal potential transferable significance. 'S' could also stand for Surface as this step's purpose focuses on making subtexts more explicit.
  • E = Elucidate - Distill wonderings (what Warner on page 86 calls "raw material") so far into a cohesive discovery, perhaps more than one. I had other candidates for 'E' -- Evoke, Emerge, Editorialize -- and I eventually settled on Elucidate because I like how the root lucidus, meaning bright or clear, dovetails with Warner's emphasis on writing as thinking. "Think of it as a process of discovery in which what you have to say is revealed as you say it." (93)
I work with middle-school students, so I'm hopeful NOSE might hook that demographic through scatological appeal. Plus, I imagine low-hanging kinesthetic fruit -- picture one's finger tapping one's proboscis -- that might make this memory aide even more cognitively sticky. As someone who also revels in homophones and word play, I also appreciate how the acronym subliminally suggests that encountering and reflecting with care on a text can change what a reader knows.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coming through - 3.31 #sol20 Story Challenge

"Run through."
Words urged
by my
high-school
cross country coach.
Atop a tough climb
when I might feel
the need
to ease the pace,
his phrase
transforms punishment
into achievement.

"I crawl through it,"
A. S. King book
about harrowing
times teens
and we
can survive.

"Only way out
is through."
Macbeth's notion,
Frost's poem;
rock lyrics
mouthed by
Alanis Morissette,
belted by Bush.

Through lines,
splicing our slices
to viruses,
together flattening
a Story Challenge's
once-steep curve.


Monday, March 30, 2020

FFT - 3.30 #sol20 Story Challenge

Sunday night, I read about FFTs -- an initialism referenced here by Brené Brown. (The language is salty, so I'll leave you to do the looking up yourself.) Compared to the situations blogged about, I had a much milder first time earlier in the day. Following a lifetime wandering grocery aisles with my basket or cart, collecting items on mental or written lists, scouting the produce with my own eyes and hands, caving to impulse buys (managers' specials!), I made my inaugural online grocery order for pick-up.

I arrived at the appointed time Sunday afternoon and slid my car into one of the appointed spots. I called the number posted where a no-parking sign might otherwise be. A cheerful voice answered on the first ring and asked my name. Minutes later, another employee rolled out a narrow pallet stacked with four milk-crate sized containers. She explained that the store had most of my items, but several were out of stock. I understood and had purposefully deselected the checkbox next to "Permit store to make substitutions" when I placed my order. I feared the unintended consequences that low inventory might invite. In this case, the market delivered on about 75% of what I'd requested. Better than I thought, and I was grateful that someone, flouting my parameters, made the executive decision to substitute available organic carrots for out-of-stock conventional ones.

The employee and I checked the order as I shuttled items from crates to bags, two I had brought and two more that were provided because I was operating under the erroneous assumption that bags from home were now frowned upon. My only complaint, really, was that I might've picked a more comparably sized pair of yams than my anonymous shopping proxy. On balance, though, I'd call that (apologies) small potatoes. The clerk took a few coupons I had on hand, said these would be deducted from the total, and the new amount would be billed to the credit card I had provided online. Emailed encouragement from the store later estimated I had saved 30 minutes making this transaction versus traditional shopping. Not even close to an FFT; more like EZPZ.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Showtime - 3.29 #sol20 Story Challenge

My partner and I escaped into a musical last night, watching The Greatest Showman on cable TV. It was cheesy and ridiculous in the ways that most musicals feel to me. The story's overstuffed melodrama swelled predictably only to be resolved with cartoon ease -- which, I'd argue, was just what the proverbial doctor of wellness ordered.

One song from the score is called "This Is Me," and hearing it reminded me of a clip shared years ago at a staff meeting. In that setting, its purpose now dim in my memory, the moment felt like a cheap, manipulative pep talk. It still gave me goosebumps. (Count me among the suckers born every minute, a sentiment though not a quote attributable to P.T. Barnum himself.)

In our present circumstances, I figure who couldn't use that feeling of shivery exhilaration. So, if you haven't seen this short before or even if you have and you just want to experience it again, watch this when you're ready.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence 8 - 3.28 #sol20 Story Challenge

"O brave new world / That has such people in't," proclaims Miranda in the fifth and final act of Wiliiam Shakespeare's The Tempest, a thought I find myself echoing in a corner of my own brain as I sit in front of a laptop, enjoying this digital Hangout version of a Friday Afternoon Club more than I thought I would -- our socially distanced group of 14 colleagues sipping BYOB drinks and catching up on our unprecedented weeks, all while some fold laundry or unpack from a recent move or prep dinner or tend to their beloved pets, chores that would no doubt be frowned on or deemed downright off limits at local watering holes; plus here in the strange isolated comfort of our abodes, connected to and through our devices, we can actually hear everyone talk.