Saturday, January 14, 2012

Status Change

I'm at the Creating Balance conference and have been thinking about status. I'll write more about the conference later.

I've got two things to share, one classroom and one schoolwide (neither are original to me) that I think help address issues of status.

Robyn Jackson had an article on ASCD where she describes a red flag system she used to immediately catch kids as soon as their grades fell to certain levels. I would like to think one day I'd be organized enough to pull something like this off but today is not that day. One thing I liked was that she would preview the lesson for some kids. I know I fall into the trap of just catching kids up and I liked this immediately.

The hard part for science was that so many times I couldn't really preview the content well. We'd be developing a concept in class and it was hard for me to figure out a regular schedule where I'd be able to preview content ahead of time without giving away what he or she was supposed to be figuring out.

Where I modified this to fit was with classroom behavior. If you're a science teacher you know that when you have a lab, there are some kids who you have to just sit on. As soon as you get a lab going they're mixing random chemicals together or wandering around to talk to friends or whatever.

For about 10 kids I started previewing our labs. The day before a lab I'd ask some kids to stay after school and then spend about 10 to 15 minutes showing them the equipment they'll be using and making sure they knew how to handle and use it. I'd show them what their eventual setup would probably look like and some common pitfalls. I'd let them know what they were trying to figure out and, depending on how much I could give away, preview/review some content.

Status change right? These 10 kids didn't start off lost and immediately could contribute something valuable. For half the kids it was magical. They were like new students. They were in there leading the way. I took secret pleasure in watching the low status kid instruct the future valedictorians on how to use the overflow canisters or admonishing someone for grabbing the beam on a triple beam balance. There were another three who would start off well (the parts they had previewed with me) and then start to lose it when they got into new territory. Two kids it didn't matter.

Overall, really good bang for the buck and, just as a teacher, I've had a nice mental shift from always looking for how to review to also looking for ways to preview.


A couple of years ago I went to visit a nearby school. They dedicated themselves first and foremost to principles of community and it showed. They do this sixth grade orientation that I shared with a teacher at my (former) school and she started it up. She, by the way, is a far better teacher than I am. I take zero credit for this other than sharing the idea.

The middle school first works to identify fifth grade students who are at risk of dropping out, mentally or physically. They invite those students, perhaps a dozen, to a three day orientation a week before any other 6th grader starts school. Those students are all assigned an adult mentor and they're shown around school and introduced to the quirks of middle school life. There's a bbq on the last day and the parents are invited.

Here's the part I love. On the first few days of school those students get a special (colored shirt? a giant button? I can't remember) that identifies them as someone that other students should ask for help. For example, a huge thing for sixth graders at that school is how to open their lockers. These students know because they've been practicing. Again, status change. At the old school, I was the dummy. Here, I'm someone who other kids ask for help. The adult mentors check in from time to time but the bulk of the work is accomplished in those first few days.

At my school, the teacher in charge also teaches the Leadership elective (they do rallies, dances, fundraisers, etc) and she monitors them as sixth graders and tracks them into the leadership elective as 7th graders.

When I first visited the school, the principal reported that since starting the orientation (perhaps 6 or 7 years at that point) every single kid involved had been able to participate in graduation ceremonies after their 8th grade year.

I can't tell you how much I love this.

Our default action for an incoming at-risk fifth grader would be to schedule an extra "intervention" class. In other words, a student comes to a new school and the first thing we do is confirm that his/her status has managed to follow along. And yes, I'm looking directly at you Ms. High School Counselor who gives our outgoing 8th graders math support, reading support and no electives as freshmen.

Addendum: Bree just wrote about a presentation she did at the same conference addressing issues of status.


  1. This is really lovely. Thanks for sharing, Jason!

  2. I love the proactive-ness of these ideas for changing students' status. So much that I find myself doing is reactive. It's great to have the reminder that sometimes it is possible to fix a problem *before* it actually is a problem.

  3. Glad the conference inspired some good thinking. I am out of town this weekend and was sorry to miss it.