A Weekly Newsletter
AVID Student of the Week - Gloria Acevedo 8th Grade
Wednesday WICOR by Craig McKinney
Pausing the Parade
I recently spoke with an AVID elective teacher friend who told me of a common concern she hears from her students. They express frustration because they feel like many of their teachers move so quickly through the curriculum, give them a test, and then move on, leaving them behind, bewildered and confused.
Having taught a fast-paced course with a packed AP-preparatory schedule, I know the pressure their teachers feel about getting the students prepared for the end-of-the-year test in May. It’s a daunting task to teach college-level work to hundreds of students who catch on to the content at different speeds. I also understand the students’ frustration. No one enjoys being confused, and the feeling of being left behind while the parade marches on is a horrifying one.
I remember—to use a completely non-scholastic but seasonally appropriate example—a college trip to New Orleans with two friends around this time of year. Festivities were in full swing on Bourbon Street, yet I was sidelined by a nasty stomach bug. Trying all evening to keep my Sprite down, I accompanied my friends for festive fun. At one point in the evening, when I was secretly hoping everyone would suddenly decide to call it a night, we heard a great commotion on the street outside. We ran (well, I kind of shuffled pitifully) outside to see a stream of parade floats passing by. Some of the beautiful parade float passengers called out to my friends, who naturally responded by leaping onto the parade float with the local revelers. I was in no condition for leaping, so I just stood there with my Sprite in my hand and watched in disbelief. I will never forget the sick feeling of watching my friends ride off into the distance on a float, leaving me all alone and fairly incapacitated in the French Quarter.
I imagine the students in my friend’s class feel something similar when a test is over and the teacher presses on to the next unit of study.
The bright side to my New Orleans anecdote is that about five minutes later my friends reappeared—festooned with beads—and accompanied me back to the hotel so I could get some sleep. I hope there’s a bright side to the students’ experience, too.
Whether you teach AP classes or on-level students, you undoubtedly have some students who “don’t get” what you’re trying to teach them as quickly as you hope. If you realize after grading a test or assignment that you’ve lost a majority of the students, you owe it to the class to pause the parade for some reteaching. Otherwise, you’re in for trouble down the road. I suggest building some “reteach or enrich” days into your calendar. If you discover that all the kids performed beautifully on the test, this gives you the opportunity to dive more deeply into the topic you’ve just studied or the one you’re about to begin. If you find that a portion of the class mastered the objectives, you can devise an activity to provide them some enrichment while you sit down with the stragglers and help get them back on track. And if the test was a widespread disaster, you can spend some time reteaching the class as a whole and offering them an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery again. Those of you who have a team of colleagues who teach other sections of your course simultaneously might consider shuffling kids around for the day, sending some of them to another room for enrichment activities while you focus on the students from both classes who require reteaching.
When you provide time in class for “going over” the tests the students took, make sure you plan an activity with the goal of improving students’ performance on future tests. Give the students ample time to look at what they’ve done, to analyze any patterns and problems, and to formulate a plan for future success. I suggest allowing the students to collaborate as they debrief their tests; often, a classmate can explain something more successfully than a teacher can. As unthreateningly as possible, encourage students to come to your tutorials to spend some time with you talking about the test, how they studied, and what they can do to improve. When you miss these opportunities, you can probably expect a repeat performance on the next assessment. It’s important that students develop a growth mindset regarding testing. We have to help them break the habit of getting down on themselves or giving up when they encounter a low grade and instead see it as an opportunity to rethink their methods of preparation.
Of course, it would be ideal if all students mastered what we were trying to teach. Having a bunch of failures on a test shouldn’t be a badge of honor proving that we are appropriately rigorous in our lofty expectations for our students.
One way to help this become a reality is to employ formative assessments effectively. Build in ways to check students’ understanding throughout the unit so you’ll have a clear picture of their levels of understanding and your need to reteach the class as a whole or reinforce the learning targets with specific students. Formative assessment also gives students an idea of their own understanding so they won’t be shocked by a low grade they didn’t see coming on test day. Formative assessments can take the form of exit tickets, quick in-class checks for understanding, hand-signal responses, or ungraded self-quizzes. I’ll write more about how to employ formative assessments soon.
As teachers, we often misidentify understanding when we do too much of the work and don’t ask our kids to do enough. We think that because “we” went over the material and the students nodded their heads, they understood. When we ask, “Does everybody understand?”, our students either say nothing or reply in unison agreement. We take that as a sign of success, when in reality we probably didn’t make sure that everyone cast an honest vote.
Next time you plan for instruction, think about ways to ensure that your students stay caught up or have options for how they can catch up if they’re left behind. Don’t hop on the parade float and ride into the distance leaving them feeling alone, vulnerable, and frightened they’ll never be able to join the parade.
Thanks for all you do to ensure that all your students can participate in the parade.