“What You Are Really Teaching Them Is Comprehension.”

This last unit, I did a lot of things differently with my AP Euro students. Concerned over a lack of reading and understanding along with difficulty applying knowledge on the part of the students, I knew that, if the class was to be successful moving forward, I had to make some adjustments. I could ignore the signs or wish for things to be different, but come May, the results would speak for themselves.

We spent the unit reading and responding to the readings together, with me walking them through the process more than I might like (or more than I think I should have to do) with an AP class. We spent time talking about how to read, how to take notes, how to decipher what is most important. In short, we went “old school” with a focus on reading, writing, and good old-fashioned thinking. On Friday, with the test scheduled for Monday (today), I had the students do an activity in which they connected every piece of the unit to every other piece via a gigantic web of identifications and terms from our study. When I recounted this last activity to my school’s resource specialist as an effective method of study, she said, “Yes, you are teaching them how to study, but what you are really teaching them is comprehension.” I had not really thought of it that way until she said it, but I think she’s right. Many of the students had not realized that all they were learning was truly connected, often in more ways than one. They understood that some of it was connected, but all of it? That had escaped them entirely. When I helped them see that, they could understand the material better. Comprehension skyrocketed.

You don’t have to just take my word for it either. The test scores skyrocketed as a result. Most students saw a 10- to 15- point jump in their scores. (While I curved their last test for a number of reasons, I did not scale this latest test at all. So even those students who scored the same actually did much, much better than previously.) One student near tears two weeks ago and frustrated beyond measure scored the highest out of everyone.

Why am I telling you this? In part, I had a good day, and I feel like sharing. 🙂 But more importantly because I still have many questions. For example, how do I convince my students that the hard work they did and the success they experienced was about more than just a grade? How do I convince them that if they do less well on the next assessment it’s not a crisis but an opportunity? And how do I convince parents of these same things?

I’ve written before about the perils of assuming too much when it comes to teaching and learning. (Click here.) This latest saga in AP Euro reminded me that I can’t assume my current students know how to do the same things my previous students did or my upcoming students will. It also reminded me that students generally want to do well and will more often than not rise to your expectations. Some of them may just need a little more help or a different kind of help along the way.

The icing on the cake for me today was the number of students I saw in the hallways or who emailed me who asked if they’d really earned the grade they saw online. Had they done it on their own, or did I give them some points back out of mercy? They wanted to know that they did it on their own. “Yes, you earned it. You did well,” I said time and again.

 

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1 Comment

  1. This is so encouraging. Intuitive teaching, trusting yourself and taking a risk to go “old school” paid off. I often hear my dad’s voice in my head in his slow Southern drawl speaking in idioms like, ” If you lay down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” In this case, I hear, ” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some things get to ‘old school’ status because they work. I gave a quiz to my CP students yesterday in which they divided a paper ( yes, a piece of paper) into 4 quadrants. I gave them 4 names or significant objects from the novel we are reading and asked them to draw a web ( cluster ) with as many details about that noun as they could remember. It worked beautifully for formative assessment for me. I know who read and who didn’t and it solidified comprehension for those that did. Keep following your instincts…” they’re mighty good,” my dad would say.

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