Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nobody Fails...Almost

For three, almost four, glorious weeks I had no Fs. And then life got in the way. Let me explain.

One of the nice things about the benchmark is that it gave me what Robyn Jackson referred to as a red flag early warning system. I had a simple cutoff and everyone below that cutoff had automatic actions to take. I could definitely have done that with my standard assessments but I'm pretty relaxed about their progress. For better or for worse, I'm not the type of teacher that's constantly pressing kids to maintain a certain pace. The benchmark forced a deadline.

Because of the common assessment plan, I'd been doing lunch time and after school tutorials. The groups were small, 3-8, so I'd still had time to eat. All I'd been missing was the lunchtime socialization with other teachers. To paraphrase Peter Gibbons, I wouldn't say I'd been "missing" it, but that's another story.

The kids were coming until they learned whatever it was they needed to learn. Some of the kids made it out in the first fifteen minutes. Others spent nearly every lunch with me for two weeks.

What I realized midway through the tutorial sessions was that if they had learned it now, I should have been updating their grades. For some reason it didn't really occur to me that learning stuff from the benchmark wasn't any different from learning stuff from my class. It's the same stuff. Ok. I had to sneak in a little bit extra that wasn't on the benchmark, but it was basically the same stuff. I had forgotten one of the fundamental tenets of standards-based grading. It doesn't matter when you get it and it doesn't matter how you get it as long as you get it in the end. Once they made it out of tutorials, I updated their score to passing (2.0 in my case).

What was nice was that I didn't plan to do this so it wasn't like, "Come to tutorial and you'll pass the class." They came because I told threatened politely asked them to come.

And then?

In a comment, Bill Ferriter mentioned the problems with sustainability if planned intervention isn't a schoolwide thing.

Shortly after that comment, a couple of off-campus gang incidents made their way onto campus. The members of the smaller-in-number gang started hanging out in my classroom during brunch and lunch. They act cool, play music off my computer and pretend like they're setting up shop in a teacher's classroom, but truthfully I'm protection.

Lunch tutorials have been canceled for awhile and so tutorials just aren't available anymore for a good amount of kids. Not coincidentally, the kids who just can't come after school (safety reasons, have to babysit siblings, have to work, secretly live out of district) are the kids who are most in danger of failing.

This might not be a specific problem at your school but it's a good example of "something always comes up."

Like Bill said....frustrating. Systems to prevent kids from failing need to be built into the school day. We need to allocate time, resources, and people - from bell to bell - that we can use to catch our kids before they fail. Failing kids is easy.  Guaranteeing learning is not.

Postscript: Today I checked out It's Being Done and How It's Being Done [Amazon links] by Karin Chenoweth from the library. It's really interesting to read about different schools and what they're doing to guarantee an education for all. She's picked a variety of schools that have differing approaches.


  1. We are strongly encouraged not to have kids come in outside of class time (union issues), so the sustainability thing with regard to intervention is paramount. What types of things do you have going on within your class period to help those who are struggling?

  2. That's pretty weak. I mean...seriously?

    The leveled groups that we talked about earlier is my main go to move. It might be based off a quiz or a warm up question but I try to get them into a leveled group at least once a week so they can work on specific weaknesses. Last year I did leveled review weeks every 6 weeks or so but the switching of classes after the benchmark sucked up that time (for the better I think).

    For 90% of the kids that's enough.

    But for 10% it comes down to time and attention. Often it's just that they need the small group, distraction free time with me. Even if they're working on the perfect thing to help them, having the 29 other kids in class is just too much of a distraction. Both for them and in the amount of sustained attention I can give to them.

    I don't know how to provide that in class. There are schools (and I think Jeremy Powell is at one of those schools correct?), that can get a kid into a 45 minute class, during the school day, that meets his or her needs and then gets them to a different class once his or her needs change.

    That has to happen on a systemic level if we're serious about guaranteeing an education for 100% of our students.