I’m Rolling Gutterballs

I’m in the middle of grading my latest unit assessment right now and the trends of student achievement are demoralizing, to say the very least.

Even objectives I have tutored extensively for have not “stuck” with my students.

I think there are several lessons I can learn from this process. The first is that I need to do a much better job of spiraling content and skills throughout the year. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I haven’t done the difficult work of actually making this part of my daily practice. Now, with achievement data pointing this out as a glaring need, I need to just really commit to making time for spiraled review in class (as well as making time to learn how to plan effective spiraled review).

The second is that I still have a lot to learn about how to uncover student understanding and how to guide them in the process of creating new knowledge and skills. I am convinced that I’m on the right path in terms of changing my classroom from one that was teacher led to one that is student led, from one that was didactic to one that is inquiry based, from one that made students remember disconnected facts to one that guides students to build enduring understandings for themselves. However, this shift has been painful. I don’t quite know what I’m doing every day, and even though I see evidence that I’m getting better at being this kind of teacher,* I’m still not at the point where I’m giving my students exactly what they need to be successful.

A recent experience gives me hope, though, that my skills as a teacher will eventually turn around.

On Thursday, my fellow fifth grad teachers and I took our students bowling as a end of the quarter trip. Most of them have never been bowling before in their lives. We taught them that it didn’t matter how well they bowled, it just mattered how much fun they were having and how much they improved. Joining in, I was able to bowl a 85 the first game, simply by standing at the line and rolling the bowling ball straight down the lane.

I didn’t know how to walk up to the line, though, or use my body’s motion to give the bowling ball the momentum needed to fly down the bowling lane, so as soon as I saw that DC (KIPP Academy’s awesome English teacher) was giving mini-lessons on how to bowl, I jumped at the opportunity to improve. The next time it was my turn to bowl, I took care to use the new techniques I learned and “Whoosh!”, there the bowling ball went, straight into the gutter. DC’s feedback was, “That’s expected. You’re probably going to roll a few more gutterballs, but that will happen anytime you try something new. What’s important is that your motion’s perfect, you just need to practice more to improve.”

Sure, I rolled a gutterball this time around in terms of student achievement on unit assessments, but, that will happen because I’m trying something new. My motion’s perfect, I just need to practice more to improve.


*A huge difference between this year’s class and last year’s class, my students LOVE coming to science class. They are filled with joy and questions and quite literally bouncing off the seats in their desire to participate.