This past summer I had the pleasure of reading Damian Hughes' "The Five Steps of a Winning Mindset". In the book he wrote about Van Halen's legendary rider, and the clause that stated: "M&M's (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)"(Hughes 140). Of course, many of us have heard of this, and thought of the stereotypical egotistical rock star. But, the truth is far more compelling and something we might be able to utilize in education.
The story goes that in the early 1980's Van Halen were one of the biggest bands in world. Their stage set up was huge, and they often toured smaller cities who often did not have the experience with booking such large shows. David Lee Roth (a savvy business-man in his own rights) would arrive backstage and immediately go to the M&M bowl. Hughes writes that "if he saw a brown M&M he'd demand a line check of the entire production". The sign of a brown M&M was a sign that "they didn't read the contract"(Hughes 141).
So, what does this have to do with student writing?
Well, Hughes goes onto write that the brown M&M was a "tripwire". A small means of showing that the stagehands had "read every single word of the contract and taken it seriously"(Hughes 143). Let's imagine using a similar means of assessing whether or not a piece of writing was "ready" to be read. Let's be David Lee Roth (not sure I could pull off the pants and certainly couldn't pull off the stage moves) and think of ways we could leave tripwires in our assignments to ensure that students have "read every single word" and "taken it seriously".
I introduced my Grade 10 students to the M&M test today and asked them what should be the brown M&M's I look for as soon as I open their formal writing assignment.
As a class we came up with four.
1. MLA Format & Works Cited
2. First few sentences properly use capitals.
3. Plagiarism - I use Turnitin, so I can see a percentage on the assignment, and this is already an automatic sign.
4. Proper font choice
They came up with a few additional Brown M&M's that I thought would be worth visiting in a senior level class. For example we have talked throughout the semester about an although thesis statement, and, because we have also discussed breaking out of the 5 paragraph essay, they said I could merely count the number of paragraphs.
Ultimately, the idea has got me thinking about how well, or how poorly our students read assignments (even when we read it over with them). Do these tripwires act a means of ensuring students understand the minimal expectations of the assignment? If we tell them that their assignments will not even be looked at without these requirements does this force students to better understand the assignment and thus allow our students to focus on good writing.
The answer: I am not quite sure yet. I'll let you know.
Hughes, Damian. The Five STEPS to a Winning Mindset: What Sport Can Teach Us about Great Leadership. Macmillan, 2016.
I write about education, music, politics and my own philosophical conundrums. If I have left you thinking about something let me know. Sometimes I think this world needs more thinking.