Make time for instructional agility

Last week I gave a quiz about natural selection and the results were not good.

The mean grade for the quiz was a D/ D+.

At that point, I had a couple of options, right? I could have moved on and said, “oh well. No time to reteach that concept. State test is coming whether we like it or not and there’s still a lot to cover.” OR I could have said, “Whoa! The kids didn’t get natural selection AT ALL. This is a crucial concept that I need to reteach!”

I chose the latter. We reviewed the misconceptions that arose on the first quiz. I then came up with a task that would require them to apply the criteria of natural selection to examples from nature. Each group then presented to their classmates and answered peer questions.

Tomorrow I will re-assess their understanding of natural selection and I know the results will be much better. They have had time to discuss, to process, and to ask questions. They have had to wrestle with the concepts in a different way than before.

My point is this: we often feel such pressure to “cover” material that we get poor assessment results and feel forced to move on in spite of the data. Either that or we blame the kids for performing poorly and we move on in order to punish them for not understanding the concepts the first time.

In the face of pressures and frustrations, it is critical that we make time in our schedules for instructional agility. We must be able to respond to the needs of the learners in our classrooms and adjust our instruction – even if it means taking a week longer to teach a concept than we had originally planned.

8 thoughts on “Make time for instructional agility

  1. Hello again Mr. Rice, I hope you are well. This is an interesting topic to reinforce, a much debated concept in schools these days. My experience with low grades on quizzes have been that most teachers move on and expect students to review before the cumulative exam the material. They might go over the test somewhat more thoroughly, yet 2-3 more class days on material is almost never dedicated to reinforcing. Only my Fluid Dynamics course did such a radical example of this, of 2 weeks of intense instruction and assignments to teach the basics of fluid particle motion.

    And your point is spot on that teachers feel pressured to move on to new material because of an incoming deadline, or blame the results on the students. Both are logically sound, as the whole curriculum “needs” to be taught and students can definitely be at fault for not being prepared for the tests. Though, if the class is cumulative, which most are, understanding past concepts can help learn the new, more complicated ones. On top of that, students will most likely learn new study techniques and the all important “how to succeed in this teacher’s class” techniques.

    A very good example and testimony to caring for one’s students. Good job!

  2. Hello Mr. Rice, I am an EDM 310 student at The University of South Alabama. I think that it is really impressive that you have so much passion about your work. It is so important for teacher to make sure students understand the lesson before moving on. I can still remember the teachers that did not make sure the class and I knew the lesson before moving on. In my future classroom I will strive to remain focused on teaching and not on test scores.

  3. Hello Mr. Rice, I am a student st the University of South Alabama! You know, so many teacher would have chosen your first option to how you would respond to this brick wall and that is the reason we have so many students who are struggling with new material to be learned! A majority of the material covered in the classroom is cumulative, so in order for a student to understand what is in section four of chapter three, the must first understand section one of chapter two. I think you made that right choice, and kudos to you for having the children’s best interest in mind, much respect from me! I would love to know how your students preformed on the second assessment, because we are currently learning how project based learning allows students to better understand materials, and it seems you might have threw in a little of this in after the first assessment.

  4. Brian,

    I’m am firmly in the camp of “depth” over “breadth.” In other words, I feel it is much more valuable to teacher a smaller number of critically important topics well than to skim across a wide range of topics. This gives me “permission” to slow down and reteach any important concepts that students didn’t understand. More is not always better!

  5. Victoria,

    Just because I have “taught” something doesn’t necessarily mean my students have “learned” it. This is a fundamental shift in philosophy. In other words, rather that assigning blame (to the students or to myself or the curriculum) for the fact that my students didn’t learn a concept as well as I expected, I accept the reality that they didn’t learn it. At that point, the question is less about why they didn’t get it and more about how to help them understand before we move forward.

  6. Hilary,

    The cumulative nature of many content areas is a great reason for taking time to reteach missed concepts. In many ways, my philosophy is even more simple than that; if it was important enough to teach it, then it is important enough to make sure the students get it. If it isn’t that important, then why am I teaching it in the first place?

  7. Mr. Rice, I am experiencing something similar to that in one of my “easy” classes, where what should have been an A ends up a D, along with all of my other classmates doing the same. The only difference, in my case, is that we get study guides that covers the chapters, take notes and receive lectures on the chapters, but no one seems to do well on the tests, mainly because the test is “too tricky” and really doesn’t test our true knowledge on what we have learned. More oddly than that is that everyone is telling the teacher that some things come from left field and no one knows when or at what time it was covered and why it is nowhere in the textbook. This might not be your case, but it was a great idea for you to want to reteach the subject to your students. I hardly doubt we will have that satisfaction, so I applaud you for taking a new approach to testing the knowledge your students actually got from the lessons on natural selection. As I told some of my classmates, “If we came to college to be dummies, I think we found the right class,” so sometimes it may simply be the testing method applied for assessment and not that you have a classroom full of underachievers.

    It is quite obvious to me that you applied the PBL approach to reteaching your students and assessing them. I had a long talk after class with my teacher just to let him know that it was likely his test, the way the questions were too tricky, and that I did digest the majority of what was covered in the three chapters we tested on. That is why I will have some tests per se, to meet the requirements of the school, but to go beyond that to teach the students in an engaging manner like you did. Is there anything more important that ensuring the pupils you teach learn something they can apply in the real world? Like you, I don’t think so, and finding new ways to teaching students that will make it fun, as well as educational, will make it more worthwhile to teach. I like the way you demonstrated “instructional agility” in your classrooms, because now you know your students learned something that can quantify all the time spent on delivering the lessons. Keep up the great, informative posts, because they really matter.

  8. Kevin,

    The most enjoyable thing about teaching is constantly striving to improve. If the goal is to make the teacher’s job as easy as possible by implementing a curriculum that “drives itself” then I want a new job.

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