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April 14, 2016

When Good Lessons Go Bad: A Rescue Strategy

By Meghan Everette
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Every once in a while I think I’ve got a killer idea that the kids will love and learn from that somehow totally flops. This week was no exception, when I tried to engage and motivate students with a fun little project after test prep and standardized testing. Everyone has those lessons where students didn’t see your vision or somehow the point was lost. In my case, students were over-excited about the product and couldn’t focus on the important parts. What do you do when a good lesson goes bad? Here’s a rescue strategy.

     

    The LessonGirls in group work

    I found some adorable poems complete with easy sight words, reading questions, and writing prompts on Scholastic Printables. I thought my kids would really enjoy the funny poems, and the entire lesson was already written! I selected "My Funny Octopus" and "Fish’s Wish" because they are silly and fun, and feature sea animals.

    Each spring, our kindergarten does a unit on the ocean. Because the reading was a little too easy for my students as a lesson, I thought they would enjoy partnering with a kindergarten or first grade class for the purpose of instructing other students.

    I showed my class what resources were available and told them that they needed to create a lesson, either building background knowledge, teaching the sight words, or encouraging repeated readings. They had the option to complete a craft with the students as well. I gave some examples of creating games, making plays or puppet shows, or using digital movie trailers to build background.

     

    The Problem

    Students loved this idea — maybe a little too much. They jumped right into creation mode with no real planning. In no time, they were looking up octopus images to cut and create without ever having a true plan in place. Other students told me they would be teaching “sparkle,” a favorite spelling review game used in our grade. They were imagining themselves done with the lesson planning in 30 seconds. I tried to point out that you cannot play a spelling review game if you never teach the words initially. Once one group decided to use their computers to record themselves giving direct instruction, others followed suit. The result was half-completed octopus crafts and several videos of third graders reciting how to spell simple words; not the thoughtful background building lessons I hoped for.

    What went wrong?

    Boys working Girls working together Girls working

    Choice

    We want students to have choice in their lessons and products so that they feel empowered and engaged in the learning. A little choice goes a long way. My students couldn’t focus on one good idea or what might be best because they wanted to cut and paste, use the computer, find googly eyes, and play games. Limited choices, especially at young age, can help the decision-making process. Once students broke off and it was clear that they weren’t focused, I should have brought them back together and said you can start by doing this choice or that choice. Once that was done, I could have offered two more choices. Choice doesn’t mean a free-for-all.

     

    Planning

    Students want to jump into the doing. A simple fix here would have been to require a paper plan with specific criteria before students could create. I had students verbally tell me their ideas, but next time I would have them complete a short lesson plan format. What is their objective? How will they explicitly teach the lesson? How will they engage students with technology? Requiring simple planning for any type of activity helps students focus and stay on track throughout the lesson. This is especially important when students are given lots of choice and freedom in their materials. A quick paper plan, sketch, or outline keeps the focus.

     

    Explaining the plan Explaining girls

    Monitoring

    In this case, I did monitor my students, but they were all on task. That’s not where the lesson failed. Monitoring is important though. Gone are the days of assign-and-sit. You cannot toss a lesson out and let the kids roll without being up, moving, and interacting with them. It seems obvious, but if you’re honest, there are all times when we need to sit and get something done for 10 minutes. Isn’t that the 10 minutes when things go woefully off track? My students were engaged, working, happy, and seemed to be doing well. I could have interacted more. I should have listened more closely to their discussions and asked probing questions. Could have . . . should have . . . would have . . . 

     

    Peer Review

    One of the quickest ways for students to realize their mistakes and self-correct is when they see others present their work. When Working togetherone group shows what they have done, you can see the whispers and attempts to quickly not make the same mistakes in their own work. Students realize, in talking through their lessons, what they are missing and how they need to improve. If you’ve built a safe classroom environment, taking this risk to share and modify isn’t going to ruin anyone’s confidence. Rather, it’s a chance for students to make a change without you ever having to direct it.

     

    The Learning

    The lesson didn’t work as planned, and honestly, is taking longer than I imagined. Students are still not ready to work with the kindergarten class. Does that mean we had a total failure? No. I’ve heard that FAIL is a First Attempt In Learning, but I wouldn’t even call this a failure at all. What we learn is far less important than how we learn; the learning about learning is where the brain makes connections and truly develops. In that way, this lesson is a total win. And the best part is, I learned something too.

     

    What are your greatest lesson flops and how did you save them?

    Every once in a while I think I’ve got a killer idea that the kids will love and learn from that somehow totally flops. This week was no exception, when I tried to engage and motivate students with a fun little project after test prep and standardized testing. Everyone has those lessons where students didn’t see your vision or somehow the point was lost. In my case, students were over-excited about the product and couldn’t focus on the important parts. What do you do when a good lesson goes bad? Here’s a rescue strategy.

     

    The LessonGirls in group work

    I found some adorable poems complete with easy sight words, reading questions, and writing prompts on Scholastic Printables. I thought my kids would really enjoy the funny poems, and the entire lesson was already written! I selected "My Funny Octopus" and "Fish’s Wish" because they are silly and fun, and feature sea animals.

    Each spring, our kindergarten does a unit on the ocean. Because the reading was a little too easy for my students as a lesson, I thought they would enjoy partnering with a kindergarten or first grade class for the purpose of instructing other students.

    I showed my class what resources were available and told them that they needed to create a lesson, either building background knowledge, teaching the sight words, or encouraging repeated readings. They had the option to complete a craft with the students as well. I gave some examples of creating games, making plays or puppet shows, or using digital movie trailers to build background.

     

    The Problem

    Students loved this idea — maybe a little too much. They jumped right into creation mode with no real planning. In no time, they were looking up octopus images to cut and create without ever having a true plan in place. Other students told me they would be teaching “sparkle,” a favorite spelling review game used in our grade. They were imagining themselves done with the lesson planning in 30 seconds. I tried to point out that you cannot play a spelling review game if you never teach the words initially. Once one group decided to use their computers to record themselves giving direct instruction, others followed suit. The result was half-completed octopus crafts and several videos of third graders reciting how to spell simple words; not the thoughtful background building lessons I hoped for.

    What went wrong?

    Boys working Girls working together Girls working

    Choice

    We want students to have choice in their lessons and products so that they feel empowered and engaged in the learning. A little choice goes a long way. My students couldn’t focus on one good idea or what might be best because they wanted to cut and paste, use the computer, find googly eyes, and play games. Limited choices, especially at young age, can help the decision-making process. Once students broke off and it was clear that they weren’t focused, I should have brought them back together and said you can start by doing this choice or that choice. Once that was done, I could have offered two more choices. Choice doesn’t mean a free-for-all.

     

    Planning

    Students want to jump into the doing. A simple fix here would have been to require a paper plan with specific criteria before students could create. I had students verbally tell me their ideas, but next time I would have them complete a short lesson plan format. What is their objective? How will they explicitly teach the lesson? How will they engage students with technology? Requiring simple planning for any type of activity helps students focus and stay on track throughout the lesson. This is especially important when students are given lots of choice and freedom in their materials. A quick paper plan, sketch, or outline keeps the focus.

     

    Explaining the plan Explaining girls

    Monitoring

    In this case, I did monitor my students, but they were all on task. That’s not where the lesson failed. Monitoring is important though. Gone are the days of assign-and-sit. You cannot toss a lesson out and let the kids roll without being up, moving, and interacting with them. It seems obvious, but if you’re honest, there are all times when we need to sit and get something done for 10 minutes. Isn’t that the 10 minutes when things go woefully off track? My students were engaged, working, happy, and seemed to be doing well. I could have interacted more. I should have listened more closely to their discussions and asked probing questions. Could have . . . should have . . . would have . . . 

     

    Peer Review

    One of the quickest ways for students to realize their mistakes and self-correct is when they see others present their work. When Working togetherone group shows what they have done, you can see the whispers and attempts to quickly not make the same mistakes in their own work. Students realize, in talking through their lessons, what they are missing and how they need to improve. If you’ve built a safe classroom environment, taking this risk to share and modify isn’t going to ruin anyone’s confidence. Rather, it’s a chance for students to make a change without you ever having to direct it.

     

    The Learning

    The lesson didn’t work as planned, and honestly, is taking longer than I imagined. Students are still not ready to work with the kindergarten class. Does that mean we had a total failure? No. I’ve heard that FAIL is a First Attempt In Learning, but I wouldn’t even call this a failure at all. What we learn is far less important than how we learn; the learning about learning is where the brain makes connections and truly develops. In that way, this lesson is a total win. And the best part is, I learned something too.

     

    What are your greatest lesson flops and how did you save them?

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