Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger

I just had a birthday and I am feeling simultaneously old and reflective. I got to see some old friends who reminded me of how dumb I think I was when I was younger (They kindly didn’t tell me I was dumb. I just remembered).

Things I wish I knew when I was younger:
  • Charging stupid things on credit cards will make them cost much more in the long run.
  • Not checking your pockets before you do laundry can destroy half your wardrobe in one shot.
  • Show up at work on time. It makes everyone’s life easier.
  • You may think everyone is watching you. They probably aren’t. It’s not actually about you (or me).
  • Oatmeal that has dried onto a dish is really hard to remove. Wash the dishes.
  • Don’t take sides when your two friends break up.
  • Second chances are wonderful.
  • The harder you work, the more “luck” you have.

Here are things  I have learned from other, brilliant teachers, that I wish I could have used in my classroom:
  • Don’t grade every piece of paper that a kid touches. You’ll spend all your time grading and not enough time planning.
  • Put your bathroom pass on a lanyard. Otherwise -- where does a kid PUT the pass when he or she is using the bathroom? Ewwwww.....
  • Explicitly teach your students how to do stuff. Don’t just assume they know how to write or discuss or head their papers.
  • Have stuff for the kid who didn’t bring anything. That way, he or she can learn more with less argument.
  • Kids can get smarter. Treat them like they can get smarter (not like they’re just “dumb” for life)
  • The person doing the talking is the person doing the thinking.
  • When monitoring student work, read what they’re writing.

That last one sounds a little silly. “OF COURSE I read what they’re writing.”, you want to say to me. “I walk around my class monitoring every day, whenever they do independent or small-group work!”

Ah. I did too. But did you know that there are THREE kinds of monitoring? And I regularly did two -- but rarely did the third?

Boy. Hindsight is 20/20
  1. Monitoring for engagement: Checking to see if your kids are engaged. Everyday, you walk around the room and scan those cute faces to see if your kids are “with you”. To see if they are engaged in the learning. I did this. Probably not quite enough, but I wasn’t bad.
  2. Monitoring for compliance: I have to admit, I was pretty good at this. Every period, I walked around the room to see if kids were doing what they were supposed to. I had a shoulder-tap or a verbal reminder or a pep-talk for any kid who wasn’t completing his or her work. I rocked this one.
  3. Monitoring for understanding: I feel dumb for saying this, but I really didn’t do this often. This is where you walk around the room, but instead of seeing if kids are doing what they need to do, you are checking to see what they’re writing or saying and you SEE IF THEY GOT IT.

It’s so obvious -- and I rarely did it.

It’s just a type of formative assessment that requires the LEAST additional teacher work or effort (hooray!)
It really doesn’t take any more effort than the other two. Most good teachers are already doing the first two. But I freely admit that I rarely monitored for understanding.

What does it look like?
  1. Walk around the room
  2. Read what they write
  1. Listen to what they say.
  2. Did they get it or not?
  3. Adjust instruction from there.

*Small caveat-- they have to be doing something higher-thinking-level than  recall. It’s hard to tell if they “struggle” with recall. They really have to be writing or talking about something that doesn’t have one correct answer, like a summary, comparison, choice, or whatever.

Just like checking my pants pockets would have saved a TON of clothes (darn that chapstick in my pocket!), monitoring for understanding every day would have saved me a TON of time teaching more directly to where my kids were in their understanding of the content.

I know you do a lot of formative assessment at the end of the period -- exit tickets, summaries, scale reflections,etc. But sometimes, the end of the period is TOO LATE.

I challenge you to do this at least one time a period. Most of you don’t have to change your actual behavior (since you already monitor for engagement or compliance/completion). If you teach block (or if you’re an over-achiever), try it twice a period.

Check for understanding. Then, adjust or adapt your instruction.

  • Do your kids already get it? Great! Move on to the next activity or topic.
  • Are your kids lost? Quick! Stop them now and reteach or reinforce or remediate.
  • Are SOME kids lost and SOME kids fine? Split them into groups. Let the kids who “get it” move on or practice their learning. Take the kids who don’t get it and reteach it.

I wish I had known this. It would have saved me an insane amount of time that I wasn’t teaching what my kids actually needed.

Did you ever destroy a whole load of laundry by not checking the pockets? What else do you know now that you didn’t know when you were young and foolish?

Can you tell the difference in your instruction when you monitor for UNDERSTANDING instead of monitoring for engagement or compliance?

As always, I love to hear! Email me at


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