“Things that make grownups uncomfortable are okay if they drive results for kids.”
This little nugget of wisdom from my principal is one of my driving forces this year.
So often, we ask kids to do things because it makes our lives easier. And many of these things are really good things to do: Students writing their name on their homework does make teachers’ lives easier, but it’s also a good life skill. Students raising their hands before they speak makes it easier to manage the class, but it also shows self-control and order.
There are some things, though, that simply can’t be explained away with “it’s good for kids.” It’s those instances where there will be some uncomfortable grownups at my school this year (myself included).
When it comes to names written and hands raised, I think most of us are aligned that it serves some purpose. But having 24 students sitting through the same lesson when it isn’t at their zone of proximal development just doesn’t make sense in 2015.
While we had high hopes last year for blended learning, it ended up looking more like blocks of time for teachers to sit in front of the room, often looking slightly confused as to what they were to do.
It wasn’t that teachers didn’t want to help kids. This wasn’t an issue of willingness. They honestly didn’t know how to pull data from our blended learning programs, and therefore, they didn’t have any meaningful way to differentiate learning. It was colloquially called “computer time.” Oops.
Grownups weren’t uncomfortable, but they definitely were confused.
Although it’s only week two, this year is off to a much clearer start. None of us are true experts at this work just yet, but we have already carved out an hour a day for blended learning. We’ve also dived headfirst into data in a way that finally feels truly meaningful.
In these conversations, there’s some discomfort in change (“What do you mean we’re going to have 12 first graders on targeted reading lessons on computers, six reading independently, four getting a small group re-teach, and three getting a specific intervention?!”), but there’s also a great sense of possibility that we can see dramatic growth from our students this year.
Blair Mishleau, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
KIPP DC Heights Academy