I am currently working with a student that I have a difficult time understanding. He always appears to be focused and working but doesn’t actually complete any work. I started to meet with him to try and figure out why he wasn’t completing work. He concluded that it depends on how hard the assignments are so we talked about some strategies to try. The conversation left me feeling hopeful and I thought I would see a change. Another week passed and nothing changed. It didn’t seem like our conversations were getting us anyway.
I decided to take a different approach. I came up with 8 questions about how to prioritize work. The next day, I handed him the questions and all I said was, “Please complete this before you start other work.” After 5 minutes he brought it to me and went back to his seat. I checked on his progress 10 minutes later and he had already completed an assignment. I was surprised! I encouraged him and walked away. By the end of class that day he had finished 3 assignments. The previous month he was averaging 3 finished assignments in a week. Now he had just completed 3 assignments in 1 class period. I was blown away.
I thought it was a lucky coincidence. The questions I gave him were simply a place for me to start. I was using it as a pre-assessments to try and figure out what to teach him about prioritizing work. The next day he completed 2 more assignments. By the end of that week he was caught up on work.
As the next week started I realized he was back to his old habits. So I came up with a few more questions. This time they were about how to manage his time. I saw the same outcome! He was completing assignments everyday! There was something about these questions that were connecting with him. I’ve kept this up for 2 months now and his ability to manage time, prioritize his assignments, and complete work has improved!
Why I think this worked so well
- Self Assessments! The questions I came up with made him reflect on his own behaviors. He had to stop and think about how he was completing work and how he decided what to work on first. Since these questions were written down, instead of verbally asked, he was able to take his time and actually reflect. He knew how to do these skills, he just wasn’t. These questions reminded him what he already knew.
- This student has Autism which impacted his ability have sustained conversation. Even though I thought we were connecting while talking, we weren’t. Being able to put all social skills aside and just read the questions gave him the space to focus and reflect.
- Control. As teachers we get stuck in the pattern of telling students what to do. We are always giving directions and feedback. We are taking control of the student’s learning, not them. Give them back control! When students are NOT invested in their learning they will NOT learn. They are just going through the motions of assignments and following directions. In order for students to really learn, they need to be in control, motivated, and invested. These questions, or rather self-assessments, were my way of giving control back to the student.
So how do we have students “control” their learning?
- Self Assessments. Get students thinking about their own learning! Instead of waiting to hear what the teacher thinks, have students reflect on their abilities.
- Choices. Allow students to decide how they want to show their knowledge.
- Rubrics. As students are completing an assignment, give them a rubric so they can compare their work to the expectations.
- Goal Setting. Have students pick goals they want to work on. In addition to this, have them monitor their own progress. This way they can see if they are accomplishing their goal instead of just getting a grade.
- Project Based Learning. (link to Pinterest board). They get to direct their own learning during projects through planning, research, and collaboration! Projects are more student directed which gives them control of their learning.
- Growth Mindset Create a culture in your classroom that says, “I will try,” instead of, “I can’t.” Hanging up posters, decorating a bulletin board, reading books, and allowing space to try new things will help create this culture. Give students the tools to have a positive mindset about their learning.
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May our students continue to teach us how to teach better.
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