Saturday, May 2, 2009

Never work harder than your students, Cha. 4

Support your students

Jackson starts off this chapter by defining the "Curse of Knowledge," knowing something and being unable to imagine what it's like not knowing it. She suggests that it's one of the big reasons that teachers have a hard time teaching until the remediation stage. Then, she suggests that by having remediation plans without intervening during instruction is tantamount to planning on our students' failure. This, of course, leads to frustration all around.

The mitigation to this--the principle for this chapter--is to plan interventions in to the lesson. In the planning stages of a class or a unit, a teacher decides what students should know. (This is reflected in "standard and benchmarks" and whatnot.) He then breaks that up into smaller bits, steps and stages of learning goals to put together some kind of continuity plan so that he's not just randomly pulling activities out of his file drawer. Then, he builds in learning supports over the course of the unit, so that when students trip up, they have a system to help them keep their footing.

Jackson identifies the following elements of an effective intervention system:
  1. The Plan is developed before students begin to fail.
  2. The Plan has a red flag mechanism that triggers action--objective, based on learning objectives (not behavior).
  3. A concrete procedure is in place such that when the conditions are met (less than 76%, missed standards, whatever), the procedure kicks right in. It's in the letter home, the syllabus, the class's website, on refrigerator magnets. Everybody understands the procedure, what it's for, when it happens. It's not punishment and it's not busywork.
  4. Students have shared accountability in this Plan. They have a well-defined job and responsibility for their learning.
Jackson suggests a number of interlinking steps to help support students' learning:
  • Anticipate confusion. Having once been learners of our subject ourselves, and having taught our subject every year more, we have a pretty good idea where our students will get tripped up. Prepare your students for those moments and have a variety of teaching strategies in your pocket.
  • Pinpoint confusion and uncover misconceptions. Know where your students are getting tripped up. She points out that this is tricky, because you can get right answers using wrong strategy. This action step (or whatever it is she calls it) addresses the strategies that students are using, and making sure that they're using the correct strategies.
  • Demystify the process. The process of education makes sense to educators. We live it, we dedicate ourselves to improving it, we've invested huge amounts of time to thinking abstractly about it. This is not so for student. Help them to understand why they're doing what they're doing.
  • Gradually remove supports as students improve. Make it clear that some of your "crutch" methods may be necessary now, but they won't be available forever. She makes the point of saying that, rather than changing the learning activities, try keeping the learning activities the same and changing the students' relationship to it. I'm not exactly clear what she means by this, or what this would look like in an WL class, but I get the shape of what she's saying.
  • Support the learning of students who have already mastered the learning goals. The teacher prep looks nearly the same for this step as the previous. Instead of taking the ambiguity out of a learning objective, leave some of the (learning-goal-relevant) ambiguity in. The students who already know a lot need to learn, too.
And in this way, Jackson comes back to content differentiation. These are all things that a teacher prepares for as often as possible. Jackson suggests doing this systemically, making sure that you have this process available all the time.

Our school has an "Interventions" class this year, a class we've been struggling with getting right all year long. We know that we need a mechanism to help students learn content they may have missed the first time, and this year it took the form of a 1-hour-a-day class. We've had trouble organizing the class logistically, re-teaching standards, getting students into and out of Interventions, and keeping occupied those students who don't need to make up standards. This chapter reads like Jackson has been through a number of projects like that. She's taken those experiments and tried to turn them into something.


Behind The Scenes said...

So what do you think could be the solution to your intervention classes? What system would work best for identifying which area Math, Science, Social Studies, English/Language Arts a student should report to? How do you keep track of where each student is and what class they are going to? Not only that but to go to her last point of how to keep the students that have kept up with their standards and are needing new information to learn. Do you expose them to new information and continue thier educational process or is this the time to expose them to a broader spectrum of enrichment activites? If your answer is new activites then who is going to instruct them and where will this instruction take place? I see this as a valuable learning experience, as well as an opportunity to give students an exposure to new horizons that they may choose to explore, but where is the balance and the even bigger question is Who is going to pay for those experiences. You cant just put the "SMART" kids in the gmy for an hour, what are you going to teach them if you only have the mimited supplies that a school system has?

JohnCosby said...

I haven't gotten to Chapter 7, "Never work harder than your students," but I have NO idea how she's going to do it. The intervention class works best when all of the people involved have EXTREMELY clear channels of communication. This means either a lot of centralized decision-making, either through the administration or by making one person in charge of the whole thing, or a highly-involved staff at all levels. They all need to be keeping really close track of standards assessed and achieved, and they need to be talking to each other, determining priorities, etc. Fortunately, with the school as small as it is, this last is less of a logistical hassle than it might be. Not that it's a lot of fun as it stands.

I've always thought that our Moodle site would be a really good platform for enrichment classes--I have in mind a million little, short-term sessions on things I'm interested in and could put meaningful lessons together for. (Spanish art history, the influence of Islam, and the Sephardic diaspora leap to mind.) The problem, of course, is the amount of bloody WORK that would go into this. I can do it, and I assume that my peers could, too. But we all have our actual jobs to do.