Can you imagine if learning to snowboard was taught in school the way we teach math? Where I was forced to learn how to land complex maneuvers though I still couldn’t properly stop!
I once took a group of high school students snowboarding in North Carolina (we lived in Florida – and I still do). I was amazed at how fast they all learned the skill. By the end of the first day, they were all as good as me (if not better). It took me over 20 days of snowboarding before I was descent, and these freshman mastered it in one!
I am a slow learner at these type of sports: skateboarding, surfing, roller-skating, etc. I need more practice than most to become proficient. This doesn’t mean I’m dumb. My brain just doesn’t work the same way others’ do, so I require more repetitions.
Could you imagine if snowboarding was a class in school that I had to attend?
Day 1 the instructor would teach everyone how to stand and balance. While most of the students were successful by the end of the day, I was a miserable failure, and given a D in the gradebook.
On day 2, the instructor would begin teaching students how to slowly go forward and then stop. While other students eventually made their way down the bunny slope, occasionally falling on their rear end as they progressed towards the goal, I remained at the top, continuously falling down every time I tried to stand. I never got an opportunity to stop the board or turn it downhill because I still couldn’t balance or stand.
Eventually the teacher would come yell at me for not paying attention, before helping me by holding me up as we did the skill together, as he frustratingly announced how easy it was. Embarrassed, I would try not to make eye contact with anyone due to my inefficiency at a skill he told me was important for me to learn so I could be a successful doctor one day.
By the end of the week the class would be learning how to turn, yet I would just be mastering how to stand up on the board and balance. Unfortunately, I do not get to celebrate this hard earned success because I am supposed to be going down the slope weaving around cones. Of course, I cannot slow down, because I never learned how. So I constantly fail at this as well, and go speeding of the course repeatedly, crashing into trees and other painful reminders of my slow learning.
The instructor would again take time out of his busy day to berate my inefficiency, and let me know a phone call home would be coming. I would spend the rest of the day trying my best to learn how to weave in and out of the cones, and failing, because I should be learning how to brake. Frustrated with what appears to be me not paying attention, the instructor would eventually give me a detention. But at my detention, instead of giving me the individual attention I need to become successful, I must sit quietly in a room and write sentences while he grades papers.
By the end of the year, I would hate snowboarding, and think my instructor is mean. I would be labeled a D student; yet miraculously be advanced to the next class.
Imagine how my frustration would grow year after year of being forced to do something I don’t enjoy and am not good at. Consider what behaviors I might engage in to mask my humiliation from my inefficiencies.
Then consider what might happen if one day, while I am in an upper level snowboarding class, feeling completely dejected and hopeless as a snowboarder who can barely turn and stop, my instructor recognized that my struggles in these advanced topics was due to a lack of foundational skills.
So the first day of class he takes me to the bunny slope, gives me some pointers, and allows me to learn to stop, the right way. And he gives me all day to practice it, with technology that helps me recognize when I’m doing something right and wrong. And by the end of the day, I’m still no good, but by the end of the week I’ve mastered it, and earn my first ever A.
And the next week he starts teaching me to turn. He never tells me, “this is 2nd grade work, and your 15 years old, you should know how to do this.” He just progresses me through the skills, one at a time, allowing me the extra practice I need, and teaching me the correct form. All the while, the rest of the class is working on skills they need to work on.
By the end of the year, I will have grown as a snowboarder. And though I will not be considered “proficient” or “on grade level” with the other 15 year olds on the state diagnostic; I will have shown ‘measurable growth.’
This is called a “learning gain.”
The above flawed analogy shows why almost ½ of the students in the state do not show learning gains on the diagnostic, and why over 80% of my students, every year do.
I simply work with each student, where they are, and then progress them through all the prerequisite skills that they need to master to be able to do the grade level work.
I call it: Whole Class Differentiation
For a quick glance at how teaching can be effective for everyone, read this blog:
For a short video that correlates this blog to the classroom, click here:
Some of my favorite math resources: