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September 21, 2009


Preparing for game time

by Chris Lindholm

One of the joys of being a principal is walking the halls and listening in on classrooms each day.  During one of my recent strolls I was intrigued by the fact that nearly every classroom I walked by had a teacher in it talking at students.  Some may not think twice about this piece of trivia, however this simple mind can't reconcile the misalignment of our school goals and these actions…

Our main school goal is focused squarely on increasing student achievement.  It indicates that the ACT Explore test is the tool for measuring achievement, however we clearly pay attention to the MN MCA tests, the NWEA MAP tests, common local assessments and student grades also.  The vast majority of these assessments test the ability of students to think, write, apply, make decisions, and solve problems.  Not one of the assessments tests our students' ability to sit and listen or to take notes.  Does the contradiction between what we ask students to do each day and what they must do on these assessments raise a red flag for anyone else?

Certainly some who are reading this post are already crying "over simplification" or "yeah, but students need content with which to do those activities."  No doubt – but the goal here is to honestly reflect on what we do with students each day during the 7 hours that we have them – and to figure out how to get better results at game time.  I have often reflected on how working as a soccer coach helped me enormously as a classroom teacher.  As a coach it was easy to connect game time (the assessment) to  what I taught and had students do in practice.  It felt so natural to reflect on the last game with the students, to watch film, to discuss mistakes and missed opportunities, and then to translate that into "curriculum" to teach and drills to practice before the next game.  As a teacher, I taught and taught and taught and wondered why they didn't get it.  There was no film, no dialogue with them about what needed to be learned or practiced, no structured reflection on how to learn the material, and certainly no dialogue about the upcoming game… or assessment.  That would be like giving away the answers! 

So…  what do those tests actually assess?  How much do we practice what we expect at game time?  What percentage of a student's day should be spent practicing – actually doing the cognitive activities we require on those assessments?  In education circles we like to gripe about "teaching to the test" and how bad that is.  Interestingly, it seems we do just that in most other areas of life.  We practice for the assessment, the game, the performance, the challenge.   To this soccer coach it seems crazy NOT to teach to and practice for the test.  In fact, we coaches even scout the upcoming team on our schedule hoping to fine tune our strategies and increase our chances of a strong performance!!  What if we did the same in the classroom?  Maybe we should scout the MCA game, the NWEA game, and the ACT game!  What if, like good coaches, we spent more time practicing in classrooms and less time giving direct instruction?  Coaches know that players in line for a drill is a waste of precious practice time.  Players must all be doing all of the time (well executed drills don't require waiting in line).  What if we eliminated "waiting in line" in the classroom?  What if we used film, writing, blogs, pictures, and other strategies to facilitate more reflection on the process with students?  What if we invited students into the conversation about what good performance looks like, how to handle mistakes, and how to take advantage of opportunities?  What if we were coaches in the classroom, using formative assessments to drive our curriculum and practices ultimately shooting for a strong performance in the playoffs (summative assessment)?  

I'm hopeful that my strolls later in the year will be full of students reading, debating, thinking, writing, speaking, discussing, and problem solving.  If I remember right, those were on the last scouting report I looked at…

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Susan Marsh
    Sep 21 2009

    Nice analogies Chris.
    Although I was lucky enough that day to have let the kids be doing the teaching, may I also say that I feel that the first two weeks are also about establishing who’s the boss in the classroom. Allowing the disorder of group work cannot happen until order is established. While the rule of thumb used to be never smile until Halloween, I never made it passed 1st hour. But order, in my militaristic style of teaching needs to come first.
    Stirring the pot counter clockwise… :()

    Sep 22 2009

    Interesting food for thought. Makes sense, now I just have to figure out how to let go. Letting go successfully requires planning on where they’ll land, setting up more labs, getting more literature, having more lab time, more discussions. I don’t yet know how I’m going to ‘coach’ these kids, but it’s worth working on and figuring out.


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