A Pivot Update

Last week, I wrote about an instructional pivot I made, mid-unit. We went from me doling out prescribed activities, day by day, to students being given the rest of the unit’s materials all at once, in an organized plan. Students were given a lot of control over how to utilize each class period - doing individual work on their own, working on their individual assignments with their group, or doing group work.

Now that we’re more than a week into it (and now that work time has come to an end), I’m reevaluating. How did that work time portion of the unit go? Who was it good for? Who was it a disaster for?

WHO IT WAS GOOD FOR

I have several kids in each class who are great at managing themselves and their time, and they seemed to like the new structure, because it allowed them to buckle down and get to work without having to suffer through the whole-class cajoling of the teacher. And because students were allowed to choose their own table groups, these students also tended to seat themselves with like-minded peers. I’m anticipating the group and individual work from these kids will be very strong.

WHO IT WAS A DISASTER FOR

Okay, maybe disaster is a strong word, but all this choose-your-own-adventure work time was paralyzing for some kids. I saw a couple types of dysfunction:

  • Some kids chose groups composed of people they’re obviously friends with outside of class, and then discovered that they have no idea how to productively work together as a team. This was fascinating, especially given that some of them are literal teammates on sports teams at our school.

  • Some kids that are fairly apathetic about their learning gravitated to other kids who are apathetic, and so there was a lot of them sitting around, getting distracted by their phones and the internet.

I’m interested to see how these students are going to attempt to convince me they’ve learned the material. I’m guessing their work will probably be mediocre, at best.

So, how many kids are in each of these categories (good vs disaster)? Well, it depends on the class period. One class period has a balance that’s heavy in one direction, while the other class is the opposite. This was part of the reason for the pivot in the first place - one class in particular was just not buying into my daily instruction, so I decided to hand the reins over to them as much as I was able.

Now for the deeper reflection on my part: I don’t feel great about the pivot. It’s easy in these situations to say, “Well, I gave them everything they needed to do the work - now it’s on them!” But there’s that nagging voice inside that knows that’s not entirely true. Yes, students need to meet the teacher partway, especially at the high school level. However, I get the sense that I gave my students whiplash a bit when I did this whole pivot thing. I made it seem like it was going to be awesome - choose who you sit with! Decide what you want to work on each day! Here are all the materials!

On the surface, I infused the unit with a much-needed dose of student choice, and don’t Chris and I always harp on the importance of choice? But student choice isn’t a panacea. It doesn’t just magically fix what’s wrong in your classroom. When a group of students who are already disengaged from their learning is handed a long list of activities to complete, they’re still going to be disengaged. The only positive is that they’re not actively disengaged at me every day as I try to lead whole-group instruction.

So I’m left with needing to make another pivot, and that’s what I’ve been working on the last few days. I’m steeping myself in some edu-reading (right now, I’m in the middle of The HyperDocs Handbook, which is great!) and trying to get something to spark in my teacher brain.

Here’s the bottom line: this teaching thing is hard. It doesn’t reward quick fixes and easy solutions. It doesn’t care that you have a personal life that’s full of obligations - if you don’t pay attention to your classroom and put in the time to rigorously design your instructional delivery, you and your students will pay the price. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think I somehow utterly failed my students with this change in instruction, but I do have that uncomfortable feeling that comes from knowing I need to do better next time. The trick is to embrace that feeling and plow on.

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Erin DickeyComment