Friday, December 18, 2009

Save Them From Their Own Immaturity

Something Rick Wormeli said in his workshop last week resonated with one of my colleagues: students need to be saved from their own immaturity. This rang true in my mind this week as I listened to fellow teachers who were upset with students who refused to do homework. I realize I am blessed to teach gifted students who rarely have missing work (although teaching that population does have its own unique challenges). But as I listened to my friends become more and more upset with the kids who refused to do their work, I wanted to tell them that it is their job to save those students from their own immaturity. Junior high kids aren't mentally or emotionally equipped to completely manage their own educations. It is a disservice to our students if they don't do the work and we don't hold them responsible for it, even the kids who simply don't have the chance to do it at home because they have so much other emotional baggage to deal with at home. In fact, THOSE kids need us to save them in a whole different way. We teachers need to be the ones to guide our students in the right direction. We need to make every effort to ensure our students learn, if that indeed is what we want them to do (hopefully it is, since we are teachers). It may be painful for us or inconvenient for us; we may have to deal with a student we don't particularly like or a difficult parent. We may have to stand over a student and direct him or her. We may have to reteach and reteach again. Maybe we have to give up some of our lunch time or plan time. But if we don't save the kids from their own immaturity, we send the message that what we asked them to do doesn't matter; it wasn't that important to begin with (also a message from Rick Wormeli). If we send kids that message just one time, they will assume everything in our class is unimportant and will see no point in performing or learning. If we really want our kids to learn the important things we teach, shouldn't we do all we can to assist in that learning, even if it is uncomfortable for us for a time?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Differentiated Learning

I just spent the last two days a a workshop presented by Rick Wormeli on differentiated instruction. I am happy to say that after 20 years of teaching, I found myself inspired to make changes to the way I teach and evaluate my students. At the time in my career where most teachers find themselves settled in and maybe picking up the label "old timer" and maybe shaking their heads at the younger ones coming in, I am finding myself renewed. After listening to Rick Wormeli speak and explain how we need to redefine what a grade means; how we need to get our students to recognize that the work we give them has value and not allow them to skip our assignments; how we need to use an abundance of formative assessment to be confident students are ready for a formative assessment AND we don't have to count ANY of that formative assessment as a grade (and in fact, we SHOULDN'T count any of it as a grade); how we need to avoid the use of zero (on a hundred point scale) for a grade for work not turned in because a zero on a hundred point scale is devastating; and, among so many other things, how we should allow students to retake tests and quizzes for full credit if we really want them to master the standard, I find myself wanting to totally overhaul the way I do all my assessment in my classroom. I used to be adamantly opposed to the thought of differentiating instruction; I felt it was unrealistic in terms of logistics, akin to having 100 IEPs, but Rick Wormeli showed me how right it is and that it can be done. He showed me that it can't be done overnight, though, and it is important to start with small steps and build up from there. So that is what I plan to do when I get back to my class -- start small. I am going to find one thing to start doing and go from there. I refuse to be one of those teachers stuck in a rut, doing things in the same order and the same way year after year. I was trying to keep things fresh before hearing Rick Wormeli, but now I feel like I have a compass pointing me in a good direction and I am excited to try all the new things I learned!