Sunday, February 23, 2014

What's the rush?

     I found this post in a blog by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships in the Los Altos School District:

"Many times we are in a hurry and are ready to move on to the next lesson, subject or project. I wonder what would happen if we allowed students to linger longer on problems? Students might solve less problems, but my guess is that the quality of work will improve dramatically."

    I too am guilty of pushing my students to "get to the next problem". After all, I have SO MUCH curriculum to teach and so little time. If I don't get through it all, how will my students be able to perform well on standardized tests? Or, what will happen next year when they are in "so and so's" class and I haven't prepared them for the new mountain of material they will have to master there? And so I play into the same pattern of thought that we have had for many years: teach mile wide and inch deep (at best) of content. Hope that the students pay attention the first time because there won't be time to go over it again. It frustrates me on the days when the students ask good questions that keep us from completing all the problems I had prepared for them to do. If I answer the good questions, I won't get through all my notes (and many times I don't). Then they won't be able to answer the questions I gave them for homework. Aaaaggghhhhh!!! It's a vicious cycle because I often digress and answer their questions!

    So as I get ready to try more flipped activities (being slow to implement because I want to have everything PERFECTLY ready), I am realizing that I will have to wait and see (being a newbie) about the impact on the learning. I THINK it will be more powerful for the students. I HOPE that it will get into their long term memory instead of the short term memory (that doesn't even last until they get home and try their homework). But I am realizing that this class practice won't allow them to get through ALL the great problems that are currently on their homework worksheets, because the time that discussion takes is much LONGER than the time I imagine it takes them to do their homework. However, I have come to the realization as well that (a) they don't do all the problems because they either get frustrated or see a word problem (and by the very nature of that, it must be skipped), and (b) they miss the nuances in the problems that they really need to understand if they are to continue getting new problems correct (i.e. test/quiz questions, or AP test questions). So fewer questions, but giving them more time to linger might be just the thing I'm looking for to deepen their understanding of the content.

     I will have to ponder this more, for sure! I can see I have to put much more thought (and I know that I've been doing that already) into that face-to-face time so as to make sure they get through the "harder" problems and tackle those meaningful word problems (no more skipping them!).


  1. Paula

    Your remark about wanting to have everything perfectly ready reminded me of a terrific post by a former colleague - you can find it at

    I, too, teach the AP curriculum (in my case I have BC Calc and Statistics) and I totally get the calendar pressure. However, I have faith that my students will benefit more from rich classroom conversations than they would from more practice time. If a great question arises, run with it. The students will be able to deal with some practice time on their own (it won't be AS productive, but it'll do) and the benefits of great conversation in class will more than make up for some lost hands-on time. I've been at this for a long time (year 27 now!) and my experience has been that my students handle the AP demands at a higher level if they are involved in richer discussions along the way. Reward great questions with the appropriate time and energy they need!

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. It is good to hear that someone else has tried AP a different way other than the lecture method. I know that part of my not wanting to relinquish some of the "old ways" is that I have really great AP scores, and students telling me that how I taught and how much they learned became increasingly more useful to them when they were in college. It's tough giving that up with the thought "what if my test scores drop?" We live in a era so run by data results and we are continuously judged by that. Even though I think those conversations really deepen student's understanding and ability with the subject matter, I still hesitate with the notion "maybe it won't be as beneficial as what I'm 'feeding them' now". I am in year 28 (and still loving it!), and even though I see a huge benefit to the students, there is still the desire to keep "my data" impressive.