Classroom Comparison with “The Substitute”
I decided that I wanted to spend some time this week doing some objective observation and comparison of the control class. The traditional class has gotten way less air time and Ms. Negash is a great teacher, so I felt like I should check in and see how they are progressing. This proved to be a very fruitful use of my time for two reasons. Firstly, I got to hear first hand how the students in the traditional classroom are dealing with the curriculum and the fact that they are in summer school. Secondly, Ms. Negash was out sick so I got to experience both classes with… a substitute.
Those readers who are in education know what I am getting at. Having a Sub is like throwing a day of instruction out the window. In very few cases are there Subs who have strong enough classroom management skills to hold it down, never mind enough instructional experience it keep the learning rolling. In this case the Sub is a veteran teacher of Envision Academy and is the summer school acting principal. So needless to say he is an amazing Sub.
The traditional classroom was loud. They were playing a game of jeopardy to review and practice learned concepts. About 60%-70% of the class was engaged, the others were using their white boards to draw. I sat next to one of the drawers and asked what they had learned today. The response was less than hopeful for both of us, they were unclear. After class I spoke with the Sub and he stated that he felt like the class had indeed been a bit out of control. He said that things are usually slightly better with Ms. Negash but in general this block has a hard time staying engaged.
The Blended Learning group was fascinating. The class ran smoothly as the students understood the procedures and the expectations. They busily tried to work their way through the modules that Ms. Negash identified for completion. The Sub asked me if he could help them, or how hands-on or hands-off he should be, but the students knew exactly what to do. The room was as focused as it is on any other day. The Sub did leave for a few minutes to take care of some principal tasks, leaving me in charge, and the students began to chat. I was floored that the talk was all math related and naturally died down long before the Sub returned.
Walking around the room I noticed that one student was taking a break. I went over to check in and I noticed that she was reviewing her data while eating a snack. I asked her to explain to me what the data was telling her, what information did she gain from looking at this. She promptly, and proudly showed me how she was able to track which modules she was proficient in and what badges she had attained that day. She described how this helped keep her focused and gave her a sense of accomplishment. This made me realize that Khan’s data tracking tools are not only useful to teacher as a means of tracking progress and planning targeted instruction, but they are also useful to students as a method of feedback that allows them to think strategically in planning their instructional time. In future implementations, I think it would be wise to show the students the data tools early and frequently.
As a final note, the Sub was pleased at how smoothly the second class went. He did not feel like the students in either group are more or less distractable as individuals during the school year (Reminder: the students in the two classes are randomly assigned). He also agreed that the traditional group responded as most classes do when there is a Sub, but the Blended Learning class seemed unfazed.
What does this say about how engaged the students are? What does this tell us about Ms. Negash’s ability to create structure and routine for her students?