Until the end of the period, it was hard to tell if the class was a complete disaster or if some of it was salvageable. There were pockets of students working productively and others who seemed either stymied by the expectations or down right defiant about putting forth the effort necessary for the learning in class that day.
“I was clear, right?” I think to myself. What else could I have done to make this class more successful? How much of this train wreck was me and how much of it was them? What can I do differently to do better tomorrow for more of them?
So we’ve all been here, right?
We make a plan. Maybe we know that it’s good or not right away, but we have a plan nonetheless. We’ve dotted our “i"s and crossed our “t"s, but something just isn’t right.
As I collected the student work from the period, and then subsequently read what had been turned in, I wracked my brain for what I could have done to make it more successful. I do this a lot.
Before every class, I email my students my lesson plan. I provide them supplemental materials to help with scaffolding and differentiation. Expectations are again reviewed at the beginning of class as well as written on the white board and/or projected by ELMO. There’s a long enough pause to take questions and for me to remind them of the expectations and then it’s off to work if no formal lesson is happening in those beginning moments.
After reviewing the work from the day before I know which students struggled for one reason or another and it’s time to talk to them one on one just in case it isn’t a matter that should be shared in a small group. I’ve already decided that I won’t be formally assessing or recording the work I saw yesterday and instead will give students another opportunity today to take another swing at it, practicing the same skills, but presenting it from a different angle.
This was our first official attempt at literature circles. Although we had practiced independent expectations, we didn’t really practice the group norms for this particular activity. I’ll take the hit on that. Wrongly assuming they would be able to transfer the skill from other group work we’ve done. So today I’ll need to be more intentional about the group time is used.
There will be a formal mini-lesson today around the expectations of the group discussion. An email has already been sent with some time structures to help them balance or at least adjust expectations for today. Since I’m already working with some additional challenges, although not uncommon ones for public education (class of 34 with about 4 students who are absent alot, large disparity in levels despite having really tried to form groups around level and overall motivation toward learning).
Just can’t give up, that helps no one.
So here are things we can adjust when things don’t go well:
- First determine if a full on do-over is necessary. Are you going to keep things the same and just make a few adjustments or are you going to scrap the whole thing and involve the students. One way you can do that is to ask students in the next class period how they thought class went yesterday. Ask them to be honest. Maybe get them writing about it first. Then elicit some advice for how you can move forward more productively, not letting them off the hook. It’s easy to complain about something that is hard, but it isn’t as easy to offer a real solution. Ask for their help.
- Do some reflecting on what you did to be a part of the failure. Believe it or not, we always have some part in it. There are lots of different reasons things can go wrong and owning your own part of it will at least allow you to take some control over fixing it.
- Be intentional in the choices you make in the next day to not let this teachable moment slip away. Pretending it never happened isn’t going to serve anyone well, so find a way you’re comfortable or not comfortable making it right. Try admitting where things could have gone better and give it a go with a different approach.
- Be aware that the new approach may not work either, but for different reasons. Just don’t get discouraged. Teaching is hard and every class isn’t a wonderful symphony of learning. Some are down right terrible, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Look at it as an opportunity to grow and to continue to push yourself to know your learners better and try new things.
- Consider all of the reasons why things went the way they did and look at the data, not just your perception. What did you actually get from students? Do groups need to be adjusted? Does the lesson need to be retaught? Does the arrangement of the room need to change? Do you have to try a more structured protocol? Are more scaffolds need to be in place?
- What went right? What evidence do you have that suggests it wasn’t a complete failure and how can you build on that? Look at student work closely here. Talk to kids directly.
- Don’t be afraid to slow down. The content will get covered; it’s more important that the students got whatever they were supposed to get before you move on.
There will be times when scrapping what happened altogether may be the best plan and just starting over or moving on and then circling back at another time, but more often then not, it’s worth it to just pause and reflect. These moments can yield a great deal of learning for everyone, including us.
How have you salvaged an epic fail in your classroom? What was the learning in your personal teachable moment? Please share
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.