Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
They were each given a stack of small cards as they entered the classroom. Each set was unique. No two students had the same stack of cards.
The kids were intrigued.
Attached to the classroom walls were ten large diagrams of different human body systems – the digestive system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system and so on.
The kids had to stick their cards to the diagrams to effectively label the different organs.
Some cards had names, some had descriptions.
It was a lot of fun. The kids were moving, talking about the work and learning new things just by doing this activity.
Following this the students played some learning games, completed a textbook question and ended the lesson with a ‘Think, Pair, Share’ plenary activity.
Some would say that this was a great lesson. But why?
The push protocol
Is a grade D an acceptable grade for any student?
Keep that question in mind for a minute or so.
A 2013 study by researchers at the University of California found that increased student engagement and excitement in class can, actually, lead to less effort being put into assignments and homework. In striking and surprising addition to this, increased engagement within lessons did not lead to increased results on tests and assessments.
This study is corroborated by what I’ve found to be true time and time again: that singing, dancing and keeping the kids entertained is just not enough to ensure high attainment takes place (but we need to do it anyway, because it still serves an important purpose).
Teachers in Western pedagogical systems have unfortunately been conditioned to believe the following:
- That as long as the kids are engaged, well-behaved and enjoying their lessons then that’s all that matters (especially for a formal observation)
- That progress, not attainment, is the defining factor in a child’s success and the benchmark against which teacher-quality should be assessed. If a 16 year-old student, for example, has achieved a grade E in Term 1, and then gets a D in Term 2, then good progress has been made.
In fact, what I’ve found is that active engagement strategies coupled with effective and regular feedback and coaching/mentoring are the ingredients needed to push students to achieve top grades.
So, for that kid who’s not on the S.E.N. register and who’s not operating with English as a second language: is moving from an E to a D in one term in the final year of IGCSE studies really acceptable?
We often try to quantify predicted grades with ‘intelligence tests’ too, such as ALIS, CAT4 and CHEM. Certainly, if a student is achieving lower than their predicted score from these tests, then that is a cause for concern. But what if a student is meeting their target: is that enough?
In my honest opinion, we can all get students to exceed their targets by genuinely showing our care for them through Relentless Vigilance. But what is that?
Imagine the kid who rushes a homework and hands in an incomplete mess, when normally he hands in good stuff. Do we let it go with just a low grade and brush it off as a ‘one-off’, or do we take more action?
How about the kid who consistently scores poorly on tests for no apparent reason? Do we just record the grades, spot any minimal progress the student might be making and leave it at that? Do we consign ourselves to the belief that “She’s just a low achiever”, and leave it there?
The answer to all of this is that student achievement should concern us so much that we simply cannot allow or accept poor achievement to take place at all.
Relentless Vigilance is when we follow everything up. That messy homework? – a one-on-one conversation and the chance to do it again is appropriate. If we allow the mess to happen once, then it’ll happen again.
The kid who consistently scores poorly on tests – set up an intervention strategy. Maybe get the student to keep a learning journal every week, so that he or she absolutely must revise for the tests. Set up a weekly meeting with him to record progress and discuss learning. Set differentiated work that matches the child’s learning style (but don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time on this). Find out what his or her learning style actually is. Explain the importance of regular revision. Get the student to e-mail a paragraph to you every day to describe what they’ve revised in their own time and at home.
Professional Intelligence and The Care Factor
I’ve written about professional intelligence before but I believe its power requires a second mention.
I’ll illustrate its use with a true story.
Just the other week one of my students came to see me to show me a video of her dancing in a local dance competition. She described the people there, how long she had trained and the upcoming competitions and her future goals. I asked her questions about the whole thing. I was genuinely interested.
Now you might be thinking “Okay, so what the hell does that have to do with her attainment in Chemistry”. Answer: everything!
- Why did she come to show me the video? – She saw me as an approachable teacher. She likes me. She wanted a sense of validation through praise from someone she respected (whether consciously or unconsciously). She wanted to share a life experience, and her goals for the future.
- How does this help with her attainment? – I have written her achievement in my Professional Intelligence Journal – a catalogue of all of the professional things I learn about my students. In a few weeks time I’ll ask her about her dancing, using vocabulary that is specific to her context. I may even be able to use her interest in dancing in a future science lesson (e.g. by delivering a lesson on forces and motion acting on a break-dancer).
What does this all boil-down to in the end?:
Students perform well in subjects in which they like their teachers, and in which the teachers genuinely like them and enjoy teaching them. Students respect a teacher who follows things up, provides regular feedback and is genuinely and profoundly concerned abut their future welfare and success.
Stories personal to me
Two tales that illustrate the above emboldened proverb (okay, that’s a generous self-appraisal ;-D ):
My mathematics teacher in high school – He was super strict and scared the living daylights out of anyone who dared to disrespect him. Excellent teacher. Gave clear and concise lessons each time, marked work quickly and spoke with you face-to-face if there was an issue. Most of his students got A’s and A*s.
Me at 22 years old – I was at a high school reunion and I boyishly wanted to tell my old teachers about my success in getting my degree and being accepted onto a PGCE course. Even in my early adulthood I was seeking validation from people who I knew would care, would listen, who I respected and, at least in my imagination, would be proud of me.