The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

All, Reflections

I love a good metaphor. I love a good framework for thinking. I love a good shorthand to support community work. One metaphor that has served me when I think, when I teach, and when I lead is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The eponymous basis for this metaphor is the 1966 Spaghetti Western that focuses on a Civil War treasure hunt. First and foremost, one cannot overlook a great theme song and interesting supporting characters to add depth to your metaphor. The GBU offers that as well as great movie artwork that can be easily worked into any classroom or meeting. So many wins! Even if my students don’t get the joke it amuses me. But The GBU offers me a lot more than simple amusement and I hope you will find this framework useful as you reflect, teach, and lead.


I really like using The GBU to help writers provide feedback within our community. I often use it myself when providing feedback to my students. The good is fairly obvious. What do you like about piece of writing you are reviewing? What is your favorite thing? What element(s) evoked a positive response in you? The bad feedback focuses on ideas the project sparked for you. What questions arose? Were there points of confusion for the reader? Ugly feedback focuses on issues that the reader wants the writer to address to beautify the piece of writing. What issues or problems distracted the reader from the message? Certainly beauty can be superficial but it should also dip beneath the surface. What do you (the reader) think should be done to improve this piece? This is similar to the bless-press-address guideline that National Writing Project teachers often use for an author’s agenda. I have found that it takes developing writers some time and experience with feedback loops before they can craft an effective author’s agenda and I like to share both frameworks as they think about writing, revision, and feedback. I also regularly use The GBU as a prompt to guide student feedback at the end of the semester (or unit): what was good about the class (or unit), how did they struggle, and what could be improved.


Left to my own devices when I need to make a decision I often flounder. For many years I tried the pro-con list but that never seemed to work for me. My brain just didn’t process ideas and fears and hopes in that way. But I have found that using The GBU as a journal prompt can help me think through the good things and the bad things about the choices before me, but also the dimensions of the choice itself. Does it need to be binary? Is there a fourth choice? What could be changed (or might change) about the choices that impact the value of the choices? It is messy but then I always imagine my thought process as a big snarl. I suppose that is why neat lists don’t help me.


When I meet with student teachers and when I meet with Morehead Writing Project leaders I often find The GBU gives us room to explore our work from a variety of angles. It gives us a framework to think and to learn and to discuss that is not top down. We often begin these discussions with The GBU as a writing prompt so we can find the ideas and events of the past (week, month, etc.) excite or challenge us. Much like a bell ringer will help a class focus its attention, The GBU helps the pressing matters of a work group bubble to the top. Also, much like a bell ringer, if you use The GBU regularly then the framework becomes a natural guide and the benefits increase exponentially.

What framework do you use to help you reflect? I wrote a blog post years ago about the 3×3 method that I have also used. Do you share your methods with your students?

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