Here’s why I will Never Tackle a Student onto the Gym Floor

–Originally published at FlippingAwesomeTeaching

A problem that The Flip helped solve for me: calming my conscience.

I teach a very heterogeneous student population in a widely diverse suburban community. I have actually had a kid who lives in a mansion sitting next to someone residing in a homeless shelter. Some students are gifted, worldly-wise, and all ready for high school … others read at a 3rd-grade level. They are all my students. I need a class structure, grading system, and curriculum that can make all these children grow and learn. That is extremely difficult, and I struggled in vain for about ten years. 

Sometimes I knew that I was going too slow, holding back dozens of kids with my pacing, and watering down expectations … just to make sure that nobody failed. I was an ELA teacher, and we read books at half the speed that many could have handled. While I tried to differentiate writing skills, I could not figure out a good way for direct instruction. Workstations, interactive lectures, lengthy handout packets, buying new books, staying after school….I tried them all. My systems worked okay, eventually, kind of, I guess.

Other times, I’m sure that I went too fast. If you missed a certain 20-minute portion of the class lecture, well that was too bad for you! “Get notes from a friend” because we’re moving on to the Super-Cool Project, which my higher-achieving kids often enjoyed but left others in the dust. You can see it in their face on Presentation Day, or while working in a ‘cooperative learning group’: a glazed-eye combo of panic and apathy.

At the “moving-on” (AKA graduation) ceremony in June, each student walks alone across the gymnasium half-court to collect a certificate of completion (AKA diploma … remember, this is 8th grade). I can vividly remember watching about a dozen kids each year stride in front of my row, and I’m thinking “I did nothing for you. I just passed you along, but you gained nothing.”  I always resisted the urge to tackle him or her onto the gym floor, shout “NOOOOO!! We’re not done yet! Come back upstairs to room 203 right now!” That would probably not work well for me.

​Anyway, I never feel that way anymore during the ‘moving on’/graduation ceremony. Even the challenging girl I wrote about last month — she made some progress early in the year, even though circumstances declined by June. Flipping for mastery has removed barriers and blame like

  • my after-school availability
  • the pace of my class
  • speed of my lecturing
  • appearance of note-taking sheets
  • clarity of the textbook
  • level of quality/cooperation of peers 

You can watch and re-watch my direct-instruction video lessons until you “get it.” Then hopefully we have time to build on that understanding with interactions and Super-Cool Projects. If not, that’s too bad and hopefully we’ll get there next time. But now I know that you know what you really need to know, ya know?

 

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