Eureka and Middle School Math · UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Bridge to the Future

This is the fourth of five blog posts I ended up writing when I was reviewing the exam wrappers from our first Module Assessment of this school year.  For more details, please see the blog post on Partnering with Students for background information if interested.

The Power of Exam Wrappers:  Part Four

Moving Students Forward from Past Expectations

Every year, as I have pushed my practice towards student-centered rather than lecture-driven, I have had students who write something along the lines of what I see here below on this Wrapper, basically that they want me to stand up in front of the class and lecture, calling on individual students, calling out students who aren’t paying attention, praising students who get the answer right.

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While no student puts it in those exact words, that is definitely what I know is underlying their words.  I was a top student throughout my decades of school.  In high school and undergraduate, that meant I read everything, paid attention every second, raised my hand constantly, studied like mad.  As a graduate student, I realized I no longer needed to work so hard, because I could listen with half an ear and do other things at the same time and I could STILL answer when called on, since this game of hand-raising and having the answer that is in the head of the professor is just a game, not the place for true learning.

So, when a student says things like “you should actually teach us” or “you should do face-to-face teaching,” I first start by looking at the data.  I keep records every day of interactions with my students.  When they are called to work with a teacher in a small group (i.e., “face-to-face teaching”), I check them off each time.  In the case of the student who wrote the feedback above, I was able to show him that he had received multiple rounds of direct, “face-to-face teaching” over the course of the weeks leading up to the assessment.  (He is the top row of this data sheet.)

Once I shared this data, the student could no longer say that he hadn’t had “face-to-face teaching.”  He then said he wanted “the whole class sitting together.”

 

Why?

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What purpose does that serve?  Students who are struggling with attention are not served by being expected to sit quietly and listen.  Students who struggle with hearing loss or with tracking issues are not served by being expected to copy down notes.  Students who can’t engage in that one moment, maybe because they need to go to the bathroom or because they just had a fight with a friend or something is going on at home, are not served by the expectation that they sit and be lectured at.

I am very comfortable challenging students whose expectation for teaching is that it will be kids in rows, sitting silently, all eyes on the teacher.  I ask my students to listen for three minutes at the start of class as we set the stage for the work for the day, but then I’m done and I work in small groups, doing “face-to-face teaching” with groups or individually that gives every student a chance and a responsibility to be engaged.

Moving on From Spoon-Feeding

On this same Wrapper, another student wrote the following:

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In 7th grade math, we give a very detailed Study Guide to all students a full week before the test.  We don’t say “you know what’s on the test because you’ve been studying the material” or “you should go through the material and figure out what is the most important and study that,” both things I have been told in my career as a student.  I think approaching studying that way is appropriate, but not for 7th grade.

And I think many students come to us, like the one above, expecting to “study” via getting a copy of the test that basically just has the same questions with the numbers changed.  That’s fine for earlier grades or maybe for other content, but I think we have a responsibility in 7th to bridge for students what their lives will be like as they move on from here.

Of course, we also need to have strategies prepared to help students bridge the gap.  With the student quoted above, I told her the following:

  1. We would never give her this kind of practice test because giving her a test that is just the same as the real test but with different numbers doesn’t tell me what she knows, just what she can memorize.
  2. We can’t give her a study test like that for our state test and our whole curriculum is designed to teach the students the material so they can be successful on the on-demand state test (MCAS).

Instead, I modeled for this student how she could make her own practice test by copying the questions listed on the study guide (i.e., RN Lesson 3 Exercise 3) into a document, scrambling them up, and then giving herself them as a “practice test.”  Since the kids have access to the answer keys, this would be a way for her to experience the uncertainty of the testing situation while also working with the recommended problems.  It also moves the engagement in the preparation to the student–I don’t need to prepare for this test, but she does.  We’ll see if she chooses to do it on the next Module Assessment!

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