At our last staff meeting we were looking at some of John Hattie’s work from Visible Learning. Of course some of the rankings surprised us–how could it be that class size isn’t that big a deal? Or technology? I have been doing some further reflection to try and capture why his meta-analysis might be important for us as teachers. It is not that programs or ideas we do are not good for kids—he shows that almost everything works to some degree. What is interesting is when you start to look at those things that have the greatest effect and compare them to those that have a lesser effect. It would make sense that we would concentrate our efforts on the factors with the greatest effect size. Here are my thoughts, in a somewhat random order as it is the end of an extra-long weekend…
- Creating a challenging and trusting environment matters. Students do best when they know what the expectations are and when those expectations are high. And this makes sense. We all thrive when we are doing something challenging that we believe we can be successful at.
- Relationships matter. This makes sense, too. We are going to do our best in environments where we feel a sense of connectedness. When you can build a sense of community and team in your classroom you create an energy for learning.
- Knowing what and why you are doing something is important. Then getting feedback on it as you go increases learning and makes you want to learn more. This works for students and teachers.
- When students have a good sense that they have learned something that matters. We want kids to get it, and know they have got it. That makes for confident learners. We want to be teachers who get it, and know we’ve got it. It makes for confident teachers.
- Knowledgeable teachers provide opportunities for students to summarize, question, clarify and synthesize their learning in reciprocal ways—not all lecture and not all student discovery. Planned and purposeful mastery of the material. And when kids are struggling, teachers can pinpoint the problems immediately, and remediate that problem.
But these high yield strategies are hard. None of them are just about opening the textbook or the binder of worksheets. All of them are about teachers who intentionally determine the learning environment of the classroom. All of them are about teachers who truly believe that the actions they take impact the learning …and when they don’t see learning happening the way they want it to, they try something new. After all, they know that no one will die.
One of the nicest things about teaching is that you get a “do-over” every year. And most us, come the spring, start identifying things we will do better or differently next year. We have great intentions for September. The problem is, September is actually a terrible time to try new things in your classroom. You don’t know your students, they don’t know you, you are trying to establish routines, you need to do diagnostic assessments, IEPs are due (and you don’t know your students), long range plans are due, and the progress report is looming over your head. Often all of our best intentions go by the wayside in the business of September because we are just trying to stay afloat. So when is the best time to try something new? Spring!
April, May and June are the best times to try something new in your classroom because:
- You have classroom management for this group more or less figured out.
- You know your students and can predict what some of the challenges of your new idea might be.
- You students trust you and will forgive any disasters.
- You have built relationships with them already.
- You know them well enough that if your new idea doesn’t work and it interferes with some data collection, it isn’t a big deal. You will still be able to write the June report card.
- You’re thinking about new ideas right now—so go for it.
What might you do differently after the March break?
- Maybe you want to try using google classroom or an ipad app more regularly.
- Maybe you’d like to be more intentional with your small group instruction—do you intentionally plan who you will see and the teaching point that you are going to cover with them? Do you track this and write it down?
- Maybe you are going to structure your period in a more intentional way to allow for more number strings or some vocabulary development or a daily read aloud or some review of previously learned concepts.
- Maybe you are going to revamp how you give specific and direct feedback to students- regular conferences, as they work in google drive, in small group instruction.
- Maybe you are going to work on recording more observations and conversations and see how this changes your ability to write the June report card or form intentional small groups for specific skill instruction.
- Maybe you are going to be more intentional at teaching the specific expectations on the IEP and recording your observations of how students are meeting those expectations.
- Maybe you are going to increase the number of parent contacts you have both to get parent input on challenges but also to make good news calls.
There are always a jillion things to do. Pick one thing that you think would make a difference to your practice and try it out this spring on the classes you already know. You will be able to muck about with it and not have everything come crashing down. By June, you will have ironed out the kinks and made it part of your practice and then, in September, it won’t be a new thing but just how you teach.