Instructional Innovations

MCHS Newsletter: Week of October 19

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Should Failure Be An Option?

As I drove to work one day last week, I caught a snippet on NPR about how failing a course affects individual student achievement and ultimately, graduation rates. Failing even one course dramatically affects whether a student will go on to achieve academic success; students have a lower probability of graduating with each class failed. While not the first time I've heard this research touted, this piece of NPR programming got me thinking: how do we positively affect failure rates without watering down curriculum or passing students willy-nilly? While I don't have the magic answer, I do think there is a valuable process in reflecting on our own instructional practices and how we might intervene with a student who is failing.

Step One: Look at the Data

In order to get a sound understanding of why kids are failing in our class or content area, we need to look at who is failing and at their individual areas of deficiency. We need to look at our grade reports, find the information, and then meet in our data teams to discuss the areas where kids are lagging behind. This is where the rubber meets the road: data has to drive decisions.

Step Two: Ask Questions

Next, we need to analyze the data and ask ourselves" what are the root causes of each failing student?". Sometimes "the why" is outside of our control. The student has been sick and missed class, so s/he will need remediation when s/he returns. Often times the answer lies within us and we become afraid to ask it: What am I doing or not doing that is negatively impacting student achievement in my classroom? Questioning our own teaching is not a fun practice. It is much easier to lay the blame at someone else's door; however, to truly articulate a change in student achievement, we have to ask the hard questions.

We also need to realize that often times students fail for a combination of reasons. Sometimes we can affect change in achievement by varying our instruction, but often this intervention needs to be accompanied with another like helping a student with test taking strategies.

Step Three: Implement Interventions

Once we think we have found the reason why a student is underachieving, we need to implement interventions to help the student. As we begin to implement the interventions, we need to repeatedly assess the success of our interventions: are they working? Are students achieving at higher rates due to our implementation of interventions? If not, we need to take another look at our interventions and adjust accordingly.

Step Four: Reflect on the Process

The last step requires that we take a moment to look at how our process of interventions affected the individual student. If we have exhausted all or our own resources, it may be time to reach out to an administrator for extra assistance. You have the history of trying to help the student and you have the data from this process to help the administrator inform his/her own practice as s/he works to help this student in other ways.

Teaching is profoundly personal. We pour our hearts and souls into the students we teach (can we get a measurement for that on our CCRPI?). Research shows that good teachers reflect on their practice. Take the time to look at "the why" behind your student failures and you will reap the benefits even if it's simply knowing that you cared enough to reflect.

What the Data Doesn't Show

Thank you for those of you who contributed to the Padlet from last week's newsletter. Here are the results along with some other salient comments I collected.

What the Data Doesn't Show:

  • So often I have fantastic students that can describe things to me in words, which to me means that they really understand... but then they completely bomb the test. Some have testing anxiety, some just don't do well with the formal "testing language", but most DO understand and "know" more than standardized tests show.
  • Money is an issue. It is an issue for our students, our school and our district. The data cannot show how much more we do with less. We take fewer field trips. Last year- APES in Commerce took 4 field trips. One of those was to a wastewater treatment plant. One of the FRQs was on wastewater treatment. It is a certainty that the experience those kids had on the field trip better prepared them to answer that question. We have to find creative ways to pay for those types of experiences for kids.

    We share novels- a lot. We share calculators- a lot. We share microscopes and lab space, computers and even sometimes scissors.

    Some schools do not have these obstacles; however, being creative with resources and working within boundaries makes us appreciate what we do have. We are blessed in many ways and those blessings help us face and surmount the obstacles.

  • There are some school systems so poor that all they have is money and high test scores. Money cannot buy pride and school spirit, a love of students and a commitment to the community. High test scores cannot show how much growth students have made, they only show the end achievement.

  • We have great kids. When people outside our school visit, they always remark on how great our students are.

  • The test score does not predict how our kids will change the world, and change the world, they will. A number on a test doesn't include their grit and perseverance. These two characteristics, and a lot of our kids possess them, are better indicators of how well kids will do in the real world.

  • The data doesn't show that some of the best lessons a student learns from a teacher are the ones they use in real life- not the ones they are graded on in high school. It's a much bigger picture.

  • The data doesn't show all the times you saw your students for who they wanted to be. It doesn't show all of the times you valued their voice. It doesn't show that you teach them first and the curriculum or content second.

  • McDonald's may make more money (data) than Chick-fil-a, but I leave Chick-fil-a full and happy, unlike McDonald's; data doesn't show how happy the kids are learning in a warm nurturing environment.

I could go on and on with comments I received. The takeaway is that YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE larger than any number on any test. MCHS is lucky to have some of the best teachers around.

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