He sits in class quietly, fumbling through the pages of his end-of-topic test. He’s not used to achieving well academically. He tries to revise and study, but finds that distractions at home get in the way (e.g. online gaming). He receives validation and enjoyment from the superfluous, and has not yet learned to gain power from personal progress that is real and tangible, as opposed to intangible and virtual.
He leaves around 50% of the paper blank. I mark it, hand it back to him the next lesson, and he find out that he got a grade E. He’s not surprised. He’s used to this.
Then I decide that this simply cannot happen again. I decide to end the cycle of mediocrity.
I talk, at length, with Michael about what went wrong in his test. He tells me that he ran out of time. He tells me that he didn’t understand some of the questions (so we go though them, together). He tells me that he truthfully did not spend any time at home revising.
I tell him that he absolutely MUST get a grade D in his next test. Failure is not an option.
“What’s your target for your next text, Michael”
“A grade D, sir”
“Yes, and I know you can achieve that because I’ve seen your amazing work in class with me before” (I prime him – I tell him that I believe in him and, crucially, why I believe in him. And it’s not a lie I’ve made up. I mean it).
“What can you do to make sure you get that grade D”
“I can review the textbook questions on Google Classroom. Look at notes. Go through the BBC Bitesize material. Go through my past test again” (I make sure he knows what he can do to make this big change in his life – going from an E to a D)
His next test is not until 5 weeks time – perfect: this gives me the opportunity to work on his self-motivation, subtly (a process I call ‘subtle reinforcement‘).
I see him on the corridor infrequently, and I ask him “What’s your target for your next test, Michael”.
“A grade, D, sir”.
I see him in class as the 5 weeks pass by. I ask him “How’s your prep for the next test going”.
“I’m working on it”.
The test day comes. He gets a D (and is one mark off a C). He asks to see me at teh end of class. He can’t contain himself:
“This is the first time this has happened to me”, he says.
“You made it happen, Michael. We can all achieve what we aim for, if we do actually aim and work.”
For the first time in Michael’s life, he feels deeply (at an emotional level), what it means to make something happen.
We collect data, but do we use data?
My question to teachers this week is this: We’re all very good at collecting data, but do we actually use that data to enact massive change in our students? Do we use that data to initiate the momentum of self-actualization for our students?
Michael’s story is typical of hundreds of students I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past 15 years. When a teacher truly and genuinely believes in a student’s capabilities, and then uses the leverage that data provides, amazing things really can happen.