3 Things I Learned from Hitting a Wall

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Last Thursday I hit a wall. After two weeks of working on writing expressions within small group rotation, I realized the kids were still missing it. Well actually, it was I who was missing it. With quiet time and prayer, reflection and conversations with my husband, I learned 3 key things.

1. I need to listen to what my students are saying.

My husband challenged me to ask my students what they felt was working for them and what wasn’t. When I inquired their opinion of small group, the responses were enlightening.

Students expressed they struggled with using Edmodo for numerous reasons. From login fumbles to computer hiccups to not understanding the layout fully which caused frustration among many.

Not understanding the purpose of games was shocking to me. Although I felt I had discussed their purpose it still was not evident to the students. When I compared playing the games to completing 10-20 practice problems, many lightbulbs turned on.

The biggest aha moment was when the students said, “when we’re doing independent work we need someone right here (patting the desk next to them) to help us get there it!” Even with a mini-lesson and modifying the tasks, it still wasn’t enough for them to think through it without explicit guidance.

Solution: Be explicit with connections. List the learning targets for small group instructions so students know which one they are practicing. Showing them how the mini lessons connect to the independent practice by literally showing them the task ahead of time. Once the mini lesson is finished, I’ll show them how it is setup just like the task. My hope is that it’ll begin to build their confidence in the idea of “oh this is familiar or I can do this”. Gradual release…
And vary the technology. If they’re frustrated with one aspect, they’ll begin to surf the web for other things.

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2. It can take more than 21 days to break a habit.

It’s been 7 years of procedural teaching, where the correct answer was the only thing you needed to know. 7 years of synapses pathways carved out in their brains from doing the same thing over and over again. Although I knew this, it wasn’t until my quiet time that I finally accepted that fact.

We’ve been engaging in tasks, doing Number Talks, implementing the SMPs and yet they revert back to their old way of thinking. The bible says to change the way you thinking by the renewing of your mind. This renewing has to be daily and it takes time.

My goal of October to have students at the point of those who’ve had conceptual teaching for years had come and gone. The picture I painted in my mind had been splattered with red paint. It was time to paint a new picture.

3. I lost sight of the ultimate goal.

When I reflected and thought deeply about what caused my break down, I had a hard reality to face. In that moment, I cared more about what the naysayers would think rather than why the kids weren’t getting it. Ugh…

There are many teachers out there who believe if a student understands the procedure, they understand the concept. They feel conceptual understanding is pointless and look for opportunities to say “I told you so” when other practices seem to fail (purely my opinion). In my head there was someone watching me in the dark shadows ready to jump out and say, “Ha! Your way doesn’t work.”

Solution: Refocus on what’s important. They’re farther than they were at the beginning of the year, so you know they will continue to grow from where they are now.

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One thought on “3 Things I Learned from Hitting a Wall

  1. Amazing post. What a beautiful response- turning to the kids to ask for help. Lovely. And isn’t that inner critic crafty? Always finds the chinks in our confidence and begins quietly chipping away. So glad you’ve banished the critic. I hope it’s gone for good.

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