How to Grow Even the Highest Students

There is a lot of pressure to show growth in our students. (Value added is similar, but it uses a convoluted formula that no one really understands.) Last time I talked about merit pay and gave you the golf coach example.  That example was merit pay based on achievement.  Growth is totally different.  That same golf coach would never want Rory McIlroy.  Rory is the number one player in the world.  The ONLY way to show growth is if he is still number one next year.  He could win five tournaments, but slip to number two because someone won six tournaments.  In the education world, that coach didn’t grow him a year.

I teach ELA to a largely gifted group of students.  If I have a student who enters my class reading in the 99th percentile, he has to be reading in the 99th percentile at the end of the year.  Otherwise, he is considered to have not grown a full year. I’m often asked to explain how my students consistently show growth.

These are the things I can put my finger on.

Teach to the top 

Differentiation is a major buzzword BINGO term right now.  In my opinion, it’s a certain amount of hogwash.  I teach to the top of my class.  Find out what the highest student can handle and teach up there.  Use questioning techniques that make the highest students work to answer. The lower students will sweep along with the wake.  Certainly, it’s necessary to swing the boat around and pick them up once in awhile, but never teach the whole class with a lower throttle.

Be excited about your material and ENTERTAIN

Some of you are thinking, I shouldn’t have to entertain them.  They should want to learn. Really?  Been in a church service lately? Watched any TV aimed at adults lately? What was the last big blockbuster movie you went to that was black and white without any special effects?  If you, as an adult, have to be entertained to sit still for an hour, how can you expect a 10-year old to be any different?

If you don’t love what you’re teaching, the kids will know it.  If you can’t get excited about your material, which the kids will join you in that excitement, you better reevaluate your job.

Quick-write notebooks and Question/All-writes

In my entire master’s degree program, these were the two strategies that I learned and truly believe in.  You have to make kids THINK about the material you’re covering.  Quick-write notebooks are exactly what they say, a quick write after covering something.  For instance, after reading an article on 9/11, the kids did a quick write in their notebooks.  They have five options: a summary of the material, a connection to their life, a question they had while reading, an illustration about the reading, or an equation using numbers from the reading.  After a few moments of writing, they share with their table, and then a few share for the class.  Questions get explored and answers found. In this case, they made connections to stories their parents told them, drew pictures of the burning buildings, asked tough questions about why?, made equations from the casualties, and a few even summarized the events of that day.

You know those students.  You’ve just asked a brilliant, probing, thought-provoking question and they just sit there.  They have no intention of thinking that hard.  They’ve learned from years past that they have a 1 in 28 chance of being called to answer.  If they are called, they know that an “I don’t know” and some uncomfortable silence will get the teacher to move on to someone else.  Enter the Question/All-write.  Ask that probing question and then be quiet.  Once the kids learn that you aren’t moving on till everyone writes an answer, you know you have everyone working on an answer.  Cruise the room, verify that everyone is giving quality thought, THEN call on someone, or have them share answers with their table before you have someone answer aloud to the class.

Build rapport

This is a huge time and personal investment, but it pays incredible dividends.  This comes from my days in school.  If I liked a teacher, I would walk through a wall to do well in his class.  If I didn’t like a teacher, you couldn’t get me to do anything in that class.  Also, a kid who wants to come to school every day is there for more of your instruction than the kid who fakes stomachaches to stay home from school.

It takes a lot of work to grow your students a full year, especially the ones at the top of the percentiles.  However, if you’re willing to work, to be tired at the end of the day, to not mail it in, you can grow any student.