“Why are these scores so low? I showed them how to do this!”
Many of us have had reflective conversations with ourselves or colleagues drenched in comments similar to the one above. It’s frustrating to go through a process step-by-step with students only to turn them loose and receive a less than desirable assignment in return.
We reason that there must be something wrong with “this class” or we justify these behaviors saying that, “this group must be lazy.” In reality, it may not be a lack of effort on the students’ end, but rather the lethargy may actually stem from the teacher’s planning.
Gone are the days where the role of the teacher was to spew information while students collected it in tidy notebooks. With the onslaught of technology, our students have been transformed from information collectors in to information seekers. Our world has shaped learning to be far more productive in a problem solving scenario than in a catch-and-release system.
I recently attended a Vertical Alignment session with my district Curriculum Director where we looked at best practices throughout our English classrooms in the district. Being a high school teacher confined to fifty minute periods has produced many obstacles in creating a balance between Reading, Writing, and Language instruction. In a perfect world, I would tackle all three areas of ELA in a single class period, but that’s just not the reality of my classroom. I feel stifled by time restraints and frustrated when I cannot see my students making the progress I anticipate to see. Based on my scores from last year’s standardized tests I have added to my curriculum, but fitting everything in before March seems an impossibility.
As a teacher passionate about my content, I’ve been wounded by my student performance these last few years. Like anyone would, I have started to blame the group of students or blame their previous teachers, but the truth is if I’m trying to point blame I should look no further than my own lesson plans.
I read the article Releasing Responsibility by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey at the PD this week. What stuck out to me the most was the idea of Gradual Release of Responsibility.
Thinking back to my college days in my cluttered dorm room I can remembering cracking open my book of Educational Psychology and studying Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development. It is something that is so ingrained in my brain that I’ve actually forgotten all about it. I know that asking a student to work independently on something before they are ready is a recipe for disaster. I know that in order for students to work alone they must receive a focused lesson, guided instruction, and collaboration first, but when I think back to my frustrations with their performance I feel convicted because somewhere along the line I’ve skipped some steps.
As teachers we feel pressure from all directions, but nothing is worse than the pressure of time. Because of time constraints, I’ve recognized that sometimes I revert back to the old schoolhouse method of standing in front of the class, giving them notes, and then expecting them to complete an assignment or homework without any further practice. That isn’t setting them up for success.
The way to beat this slump is to narrow the content of your class. Find the standards that are pivotal for your course and focus on those and the skills necessary for mastery of those standards. When you have five things you are committed to accomplishing instead of forty you feel less pressure to move quickly allowing for a timeline that eases into the release of responsibility.
Designing lessons and units should be centered around these principles and not the curriculum maps or units of study prescribed by a textbook. (In fact, you may not even need that old textbook at all.)
At the high school level what does a lesson look like from each of these stages of the Gradual Release of Responsibility? In a focused lesson, a teacher may introduce new terms, show a video, distribute a notes page with ideas, read a story, or re-inact the setting or plot of the content being read. Guided instruction involves letting the students see your thinking processes. This means vulnerability in many cases, but students will learn most during this phase if you admit your weaknesses and provide modeling of your use of the skill they are working toward. Collaboration is giving your students a scenario or problem to work through with peers to help them gain experience and confidence in the focus area. Activities for small groups should always be things that they could not do independently. Nothing is more frustrating than to be placed in a group to do something you could have done more efficiently on your own. Design a little stretch or challenge into your collaborative assignments.
Finally, after all three stages have been mastered, then you may begin the independent stage of the instruction. This phase is absolutely necessary and should never be skipped, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the second stage. Lesson delivery isn’t followed by independent work.
If you are anything like me you may just need a reminder that dates, timelines, and tests shouldn’t dictate your lesson plans. Learning is the goal and should be the instrument to measure your progression through content. At the high school level the middle stages of the model above are often left behind an forgotten. We complain that our students aren’t motivated and they don’t enjoy school, but designing lessons that challenge them in all stages of learning will reignite their passion for your content and their performance on various forms of assessments.
The Ameri Brit Mom