Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Everybody in the Pool

This past summer my four year old son attended swimming lessons at his over priced day-camp. He loved the 3 hours a week. There were four other students in the class with him, and two lifeguards “teaching” him how to swim. The course had one objective – to teach each student how to swim. On the last day they had a celebration (it was more like a pool party) and each student showed off what they had learned.

Each student learns at their own pace. If you were to grade each student after the first week my son would fail along with two others while Zach (the Mark Spitz of the class) took to the water like a fish. I later found out that Zach has a pool in his backyard. Zach came to the pool already knowing how to swim and provided a model for the other students.

By the second week all but one student could float on their backs and hold their breath underwater. One student was still afraid.

By the third week my son was showing an aptitude for swimming. His instructor commented how quickly he was picking up all the techniques presented. I found out from the other parents that their children too were doing well.

On week six all four students could swim. Zach had improved his skills remarkably; my son was definitely excited about showing off his new found ability. Even the water-phobic Jake was paddling away.

This morning at SLC we spoke at length about annualized classes here at QHST. One comment I overheard was, “I won’t be able to pass some of these kids… [students had already failed two quarters]… no matter what they do now.” I quickly thought back to my son after the first week of his lessons. Imagine if the instructor quit on him after his first week. Or quit on Jake at the half way point. The academic year is only halfway complete. Like Zach, some students come to our classrooms with more skills than others. They already know how to “swim” through our academic classes. Our goal is to have all our students reach identifiable goals by the end of the academic school year. We need to make our goals clear. We need to allow time for mastery and shift our mindset from “our students will never learn this” to “our students have not learned the skills yet.”

The classroom is not a “job” and students are not “workers.” Our students are learning skills, not just earning credits. The credits do not come out of our bank account. We can’t fire them for past performance. Each student learns at his or her own pace. In our school’s concept paper allowing time for mastery of a subject area is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Annualized classes are a natural way of achieving these ends.


d. o'neill said...

Brown...a really good piece. For me your analogy puts annualization into a perspective that takes into account the development of a student and the growing process he/she makes throughout the school year that is not only academic but emotional and every other way. This is particularly true for 9th and 10th graders. It also speaks to all of us who are constantly striving to push our students into achieving all that they can while trying to overcome any obstacles along the way. To see sucess at the end of the day and to know that the objectives and goals which encompass both skills and content have been reached is really what we want.
It is concerning that a teacher would actually write off a student at this time of the year but perhaps that teacher is simply worried that the goals that the student failed to achieve so far will prevent that same student from moving forward and suceeding. It is of course a discussion that we all need to have so that we can better understand our individual educational philosophies as well lead us into developing a community educational philosophy or perhaps our "mission".
I am sorry that I missed our last whole SLC and am looking forward to our next discussion on annualization.

Foxy said...

Guess who is buying a pool this summer? You can tear down your deck and get a poll for LW.

I constantly remind kids that they are "still in the game" even though they did poorly. I sure do wish I had this many opportunities when I was in high school, ten day summer school, annualized classes, and saturday programs. If you think about it, it is more difficult to be unsuccesful rather than succesful.

What is the protocol for the annualized classes? I was under the impression that you are to average out the four marking periods. Is this correct? Does everyone have their own philosophy? Does each community do it differently? We never really discussed our options clearly. Brown, what do you do?

Joanna said...

I love this post. Your swimming lesson analogy was beautiful and I especially love your last paragraph about the classroom not being a job and students not being workers. That is the analogy that was always used on me; that it was my job to go to school and lax or shoddy work, or me just not getting concepts is step with the pace that the teacher taught them, was unacceptable and punishable by loud "drilling" (especially in math), yelling, and many many tears on my part. My entire educational career (some, not me certainly, could say success) has been based on me feeling guilty for not being good enough academically and struggling to catch up with the rest of the class, whom I perceived to be light years ahead of me. This really stuck with me that, regardless of at what pace one learns, if one is getting the skills that one needs in life, then one has achieved "success" in the classroom. And I certainly believe that the grades should reflect that growth (both academic and emotional), regardless of whether or not you were able to stick with ALL of the concepts presented to you. Maybe I'm rambling here, but thank you for this post Brownie.

Math Teacher said...

It might work in your school, because your school is small. It is easy to get to know all the kids. Services can be offered to help remediate those in need. My school has over 4500 kids. I have kids in my M&D class that failed last term because they either cut the entire semester, or did not have the background to pass in the first place. We are now in the last term before the regents. I have kids in that class that cannot factor or solve an equation. They are going to have a hard time keeping up (supposing that they do try) because math is sequential, and they need to know the previous terms work to get ahead this term. Also, since teachers do leave mid year, a new teacher is picking up a class with 34 kids who already have an established routine. If this has not been a good class to begin with, the year will be unbearable and some of the cliques already formed will prevent kids from learning. Also, we all know that some teachers are not so good, or that kids don't get along with certain teachers. With annualization, kids are stuck with these teachers all year long. Annualization is good in an AP class but not in all. It does makes things easier for the administration. I liked your lettuce post--I guess you guys even have problems in your small schools.

D. Guglielmini said...

In discussing annualization, we (the sophomore team) agreed that teachers have to establish goals for students to achieve and provide supports for meeting those goals. Most of the discussion about annualization has been about students who are failing - but we spent some time talking about those who are excelling- how are they challenged? What do you do for the Zachs who have already mastered the goals before entering the classroom?
I have witnessed a colleague experiment with different requirements for students that were not being challenged. In order to earn "expert credit," the students are provided with opportunities to work on extension assignments. There are also many class activities that meet the needs of all learners on a daily basis.

How do you challenge students? If a student does not rise to the challenge, what do you do?

Mr Tesler said...

Seeing where you've gone in just a few short years in a small school is absolutely amazing. Your ideas are truly insightful, and always make me think.

You make a great point about students not being "workers." I agree that we are here to teach mastery of a subject area, and that students do indeed learn at their own pace.

I have some concerns, however. One being the high-stakes assessments that hang over our heads as educators. Regents, ELA's, etc. These things don't seem to account for the fact that everyone learns at their own pace. They seem to expect that on a certain day in June, January, etc., everyone in your class will have a certain amount of knowledge and skill, and will be able to prove that on "the test."

A second concern I have is in regard to the student him, or herself. While we don't want "workers" in the classroom, we want a student with a "work ethic."

As Foxy pointed out "it's more difficult to be unsuccessful than successful." We provide opportunities for students to acheive success, yet some fail to take advantage of them. To draw from your example, some won't even get in the water.

What can I do, as an educator with the willingness to embrace these ideas, for the students who cannot, or will not make that effort to improve?