They Can't All Be Great

Thursday, September 5, 2013
frustratingly brought to you by Lori

The best laid plans, folks...the best laid plans. Today I experienced the lesson plan flop that every teacher feels at some point in time. By the time this post is scheduled to publish, the sting of my 10-minute defeat will have subsided, but right now that 10 minutes still feels pretty defeating. 

Let me begin by telling you that the plan itself was great, and I'm still not entirely sure what went wrong, but I have a hunch. If given the opportunity, I would probably go for it all over again because I still believe in the value of the activity, but it was so frustratingly ineffective today. And it wasn't the entire lesson plan that flopped; it was just this one activity. Thank goodness for that.

If you've ever done Affinity Mapping, you'll know that it can be great for engaging all learners and holding them all responsible for their own thinking. When done well [ouch...that hurt a bit], students are not really able to opt out of the activity. Here's the setup: we were entering a play today with a theme of loyalty, so I wanted to pre-teach the concept of loyalty. Here's what I did:

  1. I posted the question: Where does your loyalty lie? I offered four choices--faith, family, friends, and self. [Where's another good f-word when you need it?]
  2. Each student had a post-it and was asked to answer the question and write on their post-it for 3 minutes. My loyalty lies with _ because...
  3. Around the room, there are four corresponding posters. After the 3 minutes is up, students silently get up and place their post-it on the appropriate poster. 
  4. Quietly, students are supposed to read all post-its and then silently begin to categorize the responses. It's important that they are quiet because it is encourages them to focus and evaluate their peers' responses.
  5. Then, students are supposed to discuss and label the categories.
The end-result should have been different ideas that influence loyalty...categories like trust, support, honor, etc. I would say that this activity yielded about a 25% return of the intended result. That small percentage was lovely. About 60% sounded a lot like this:
  • Category?! What do you mean...category?!
  • We all said the same thing.
  • We're loyal to our family because they're family. [Really. That's earth-shattering]
And another unfortunate 15% looked like this:
  • Kids not reading the post-its and staring at the ceiling, their shoe, or...nothing.
  • Kids looking at me like they didn't know what to do.
  • Kids fighting over a marker. [I'm just being honest]
Here's why I think it flopped, and this is just kind of a cruelly ironic true story. One day Suzanne and I were sitting around talking about levels of Bloom's [because we're just that nerdy]. We actually said these words:
  • How is evaluate considered such a high-level verb? You just say if something is good or if something is bad and then tell why. 
I know...ridiculous. Naive. Smacking my head. I think that now after living through lots of acceleration and really working to increase the rigor of our lessons, we've learned that that's not at all what it means to evaluate. I asked my kids to evaluate their peers' thinking today. I asked them to evaluate an abstract concept.

The ground shook beneath their feet and they revolted against the high level task in their own teenaged way.

1 comment

  1. Julius Caesar?
    Sounds like a great way to start off!