Friday, May 27, 2016

Last chance

I'd rather give a kid one chance too many rather than one too few.

There a comes a point in time when you have to decide that enough is enough.  You have given Little Glenn just about all the chances he could possibly need to make better choices.  Well he makes that same poor choice again and you are done!  Unless you are not done.

When do you say that enough is enough?  When have you given a kid his last chance to learn that lesson and make the right choice?  Do the other teachers admire your ability to set limits early and fast?  Or, do they admire your ability to give chance after chance after chance with the patience of Jobe?

I don't know too many kids who wake up and say, "Today is the day I interrupt my teacher so much that she loses her cool and drags me to the office!"  I do know some kids that may seem to wake up that way though.  For the 88th day this year, Little Glenn has interrupted you incessantly.  He didn't wake up deciding to be the supreme interruptor, but he is wearing that cape anyways.  Does he get chance number 89?  Or was yesterday his last chance?

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Over the last several years, the emphasis on tutorials has grown.  Schools are pro-actively providing tutorials for kids so they can get extra help, participate in extra lessons, or simply use more time with the teacher.  Giving kids extra time, extra help, and extra learning opportunities is a good thing, right?

For example, many teachers open their doors for kids on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for an extra 45 minutes.  Some kids show up because they want to.  Some kids are told they are required to be there.  Some schools provide a campus-wide plan for study halls before school and after school.  These extra times must be good for kids.  Some schools even open their doors on Saturdays!

It seems that most high school teachers offer tutorial sessions before school, after school, and during lunch.  These sessions typically seem to be focused on doing the assignment together, thus "earning" the kid a better grade.  In other words, if you show up for tutorials, I'll guide you through the assignment so you can get a better grade on it.  Who knows if there was better mastery?  The grade was better.  Isn't that all that matters?

There is a ton of time focused on planning, prepping, and executing tutorials.  There is also a ton of time and money spent on software and hardware that provides online tutorials.  Sometimes it seems that the primary focus of conversations about improving student learning is on tutorials.

Do tutorials work?  Is the time spent prepping and planning for them worth it?  Is the money and resources worth it?  We can't give ZERO attention to struggling kids.  But, are we counting on tutorials too heavily for their success?

What if we gave our initial lesson design that much energy?  What if we spent our time and energy on better classroom instruction?  How well would students master their learning in an environment focused on engaging, differentiated instruction that was designed based upon valid data?  Sounds better than tutorials to me!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Butts in the air

It is no surprise that most students have things they find more interesting than schoolwork.  During an average ordinary day of school, the list of more-preferred activities is long.  Even during our best learning activities, it would be tough to find a kid who would rather get their hands dirty with a plate tectonics lesson using cookies and dirt instead of mine craft or soccer or fishing.  In other words, no matter what you have designed for kids to do in school, there is probably something each child would rather do.

How do we tap into that?  How do we bring it to life in our classrooms?  How do we design learning so that kids use their own interests to drive the things you need to learn.

We have all seen that lesson where kids are truly into it!  Stephen Barkley says that you can tell what kind of lesson is happening in a classroom by the number of butts in the air.  When all the butts are in the air and all the head are pointed at the same activity, engagement is high!  When all the butts are in the air and they are crawling around the room, engagement is non-existent.

Lesson design is not simply choosing the next page out of the textbook, running some copies, then showing kids how to do the work on the whiteboard.  Lesson design digs deeply into the learning objective.  What do the kids need to master during this lesson?  How will I know if they master it?  Then the big question...What is the best possible way to ensure that they can learn it?

I doubt the answer is to open a textbook and do a worksheet.  How do we get butts in the air!?!?!?!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Extra credit

What is the purpose of extra credit?  Is it extra learning or is it grade improvement?

My son has had several opportunities to do extra credit during his freshman year.  Each time, it is solely for the purpose of improving his grade.  It seems funny to me that we give kids grades on assignments that supposedly measures their mastery of learning.  After the grade is given, many teachers offer extra credit opportunities rather than extra learning opportunities.  What is more important, the grade or the learning?

Still, I encourage him to get the extra credit.  It seems to be one of the rules of the game called high school.  It is a game that not too many kids enjoy playing.  Yet, they must play and they must play by the rules, no matter how archaic or teacher-centered the rules might be.  Extra credit is not really student-centered.  It is a simple way for teachers to make sure the class gets better grades.  It doesn't equate to better learning.  It simply allows the teacher to move forward through the written curriculum because student performance "looks" good enough.  Kids are told it is an opportunity to improve the grade.  No bones about it.  Extra credit is about the grade.

When a kid shows concern for a low grade, it gives the teacher an easy out.  Rather than worry about what the kid learned, extra credit shifts the focus to a simple grade adjustment.  In this game, adjusting the grade seems to solve the problem and keep the game moving.  I think many kids would prefer a better game.

***Many teachers may say, "It wouldn't be a problem if students did better on their assignments the first time."  What we would do in education if every student asked us, "I didn't learn this well enough from your first lessons.  What will you do right now to make sure I fully learn this concept?"***

Monday, May 2, 2016

"You don't fatten the pig by weighing it!"

Assessments, assessments, assessments.  Not only are we in the midst of state testing, we are also talking about the effectiveness of this year's assessment calendar and planning for next year's benchmark tests and district-wide tests.

We know we need to measure our students' mastery of the curriculum.  We also need to know how well our lesson design imparts mastery unto our students.  We also need to know if the kids are walking out the door today with the skills they should be leaving with.

Test, test, test, test, test, test!  We need them but have we embraced them?  Have we gone overboard?

Many years ago, when the ideas of formative assessment and common assessments first hit my school, our principal put out a calendar for the tests that made some teachers cringe!  Compared to previous years, the amount of testing tripled!  (It has tripled again since then!)

I remember one teacher looking at the calendar and saying, "You don't fatten the pig by weighing it!"

Obviously, our kids are not farm animals, but the statement has provided a litmus test statement for me.  Before any test, I now ask, "What will we use the data from this test for?"  If we are giving a test because we feel the need to give a test, but there is no plan in place to utilize the data, I will question the necessity of the test!