Three Questions

I had a really rough start to the week. I really began to notice the "self-pace = no pace" mindset taking hold in some of my students. It was taking some students 20 minutes or more to even get their materials out, despite constant reminders and checks. I really wanted to switch gears and go back to teaching with worksheets, grades, and no choice. It would have ended my headache, at least for the day, but I would have been compromising my philosophy of teaching and learning.

George Phillip is a middle school flipped history teacher in the area and he invited me out to dinner last night to talk flipped learning.

We talked open an honestly about what struggles we were having. How do we motivate students? How do we really manage the transfer of responsibility back to the kids? How do we keep them accountable for their tasks and for the learning itself?

We agreed on three things, which led me to these three questions for learning:

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  • What tasks have you completed recently? - Learning takes a variety of activities and practice opportunities, especially when the learning is abstract, like chemistry. I don't require that my students do worksheet A or B, but I do expect them to complete something to practice the skill or concept. This is very low-level accountability for the kids.
  • What have you learned recently? - Reflection is critical to learning. I wrote earlier about using Google Forms to reflect, and I'm going to keep those, but I think I need to go deeper. This question links back to my performance objectives (or standards) for each chapter. Students need to be able to articulate their learning in this portion. We're moving into higher order reflection with this question.
  • What are you planning on doing next? - If I don't have a plan for the day, it's not going to go well. I want my students to think the same way about their learning. What does this particular objective lead into? How are you going to practice it? When do you need to finish? These are all questions that I used to dictate, but they're also questions that we need to ask students if we want them thinking critically all the time.
  • After George and I had been talking for an hour and a half or so, a complete stranger walked up to us and said,

    Excuse me, I'm not trying to eavesdrop, but I couldn't help but overhear what you were talking about. I just want to tell you that I really appreciate how seriously you take teaching. We need to have more dedicated teachers in schools and I wanted to say thank you for all the hard work you put in.

    If you're in a similar place today or this week, I hope you can take encouragement from this. We're doing important work, and we can't afford to forget what's at stake.

    8 thoughts on “Three Questions

    1. deb wolf says:

      Thanks Brian and thank you “complete stranger” for noticing the hard work and challenge of teaching. I think part of the “self pace = no pace” challenge stems from how we have trained our students to behave. High school students have spent YEARS learning how to do school…they sit passively in class, complete worksheets, and earn points. The more points they earn, the better their grade. The grade is not associated with learning, it is associated with the accumulation of points. Therefore, when students enter a classroom where they are expected to truly be challenged to think, apply, create, and really learn, many of them get stuck. Whether this is the flipped classroom, a PBL model, or an inquiry approach, I would expect students to struggle with not only the WHAT they are learning, but HOW they are learning. Learning is hard, messy, and often involves failure and students have been trained to fear failure, not to embrace it. So bottom line…rather than think, apply, create, and fail…they just don’t do anything. So my question would be: how do we untrain them and retrain them and how can we do that in the short amount of time that we have them with us. Or, better yet, how do we prevent students from fearing failure in class, to embrace challenges, and to relish thinking?

      • I think the structure is absolutely key to this training. But, the problem is, the training changes every year, because each class comes in with their own “failure baggage” that needs to be addressed.
        I’m hoping that people like George and Delia Bush and Delyn Beard filter into our elementary and middle schools. That way, by the time they get into high school, the kids have had some great teachers and training in critical thinking and structured failure. It isn’t going to be one teacher solving this problem, it is going to be teams, at all levels of education, working together to change the face of learning.

        • deb wolf says:

          I completely agree with you…and there are some amazing teachers in our elementary and middle schools that foster these environments for students. However, as an instructional coach, I want to help all of the teachers in my school district (2000+ employees) move in this direction and it feels like an overwhelming task. How does this happen on a larger scale?

          • Do you have any kind of district-wide PD or growth initiatives? Or, maybe a multi-level PLC? I don’t know of many districts do that kind of thing, but I think as we’re being asked to grow, building that kind of community with small focus groups would be a good way to get more people involved. Just spitballing with that…logistically, I don’t know how to accomplish that, even on a small scale. Thoughts?

    2. Mandee_Books_and_Bling says:

      Thank you for sharing this! I, too, have those difficult times when I question the new methods and long for the silent “sit and get” days. I’m so thankful to hear from other educators who are taking positive risks for students. I know our work in important work. I know that it takes time. I also know that it is what is best for our students. I’m thankful for this exciting time in education. We are making a profoundly positive impact on the future and it is so worthwile!

    3. Mandee_Books_and_Bling says:

      Thank you for sharing this! I, too, have those difficult times when I question the new methods and long for the silent “sit and get” days. I’m so thankful to hear from other educators who are taking positive risks for students. I know our work in important work. I know that it takes time. I also know that it is what is best for our students. I’m thankful for this exciting time in education. We are making a profoundly positive impact on the future and it is so worthwile!

    4. Ben Haizlip says:

      Wow! Regarding your points 1 & 3, I’m thinking about the same thing right now! I’m going to be gone tomorrow and Monday for a race, and was wondering what am I going to do to make sure my AP Bio kids don’t just say “Free Days!” while I’m gone. I came up with (all on my own I might add!) something I call SAS. It stands for Student Accountability Sheet. It’s just an Excel sheet with their name on it. The next column on the sheet is headed “Today I will Accomplish… Then they just write one sentence saying what they’ll accomplish tomorrow in my absence. So, they did a SAS for Friday and Monday. When I get back, I can look at what they pledged to accomplish, and assign a small daily grade based on how they did. We talked about things that might come up like “my lab partner was ill, so I couldn’t do the lab without them” and how to meet those potential challenges. I say “Show me that you ACCOMPLISHED something else to make Adequate Daily Progress. ADQ is another term I’m starting to throw around with them. I expect them to take the initiative and say, “Hey, my partner is gone, but I can be working on the Free Response I have to pass, or the Vocabulary Quiz for the chapter, or the concept quiz for the chapter, or reading the chapter, etc. I like the idea so much, I think I’m going to make it a weekly thing where they have to print one out every week and turn it in. It makes THEM own what they’re going to do, plan it out, and then be held responsible. Those are certainly valuable skills in life, as well as science. It’s awesome to see that others are experiencing the same stuff. Thanks for the post.

    5. […] a science teacher from Indiana. He recently posted a piece on his blog called “Three Questions” in which he describes a conversation he had with a colleague that led to what they saw as […]

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