The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 15 2012

The Turtles are Not Persistent

Day 9: One of the most critical questions in teaching is pretty simple: “Did my kids actually learn what I wanted them to today?” There are a bunch of different ways you can figure out the answer: exit tickets, cold call checking for understanding, even waiting to see on a test. Sometimes, though, you get lucky, and your evidence is so good you can’t help but smile.

Today, it was more of the same lesson on malleable intelligence and persistence. I heard more good thinking, just like yesterday, and my kids’ self-constructed definitions of persistence were right on the money. But I knew the idea of persistence had really sunk in when Niki left the room saying, “Mr. Adler, the turtles (FYI, I have turtles) were definitely not persistent today, because they kept trying to climb up on the rock but then just gave up.”

I’m going to assume that Niki had seen this happen in passing, and hadn’t been focused on the turtles too much while I was teaching. Given that she earned herself a Science Star Ticket for her participation, I’m pretty sure that’s the case. Anyhow, in telling me this story with a big smile, I’m pretty sure Niki not only understood the word, but had also internalized that to show persistence was an important and exciting thing to do.

The other exciting piece of evidence came from a colleague. I am lucky this year to have a new colleague at school, an ELL coordinator, who is really on top of things. Science vocabulary can be really hard for students who do not speak English as a first language, so I’m very excited to have his support this year. He sought me out and asked if he could join today’s double period of Science to help out and see how the ELLs were doing. Two hours of malleable intelligence and persistence later, when I asked him for feedback, he told me, “You are an amazing teacher, and I’m so excited to work with you this year.” An hour after that, the K-6 literacy coordinator stopped me in the hallway and told me just how much this new ELL coordinator was gushing about me and my lesson.

I don’t write that previous paragraph as self-congratulation, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way. As soon as I heard this, my reaction was, “Am I an amazing teacher? And if yes, when the heck did that happen?” The best answer I can give comes from a student, whose attempt to use “persistence” in a sentence was: “Mr. Adler shows persistence by teaching us.” When I asked for more, she said, “Because Mr. Adler works hard to prepare our lessons and teach us the best he can.”

In short, I agree. I am working hard, and making the right changes to my instruction to create a strong classroom culture and help kids get excited about their learning. My only hope is that this persistence leads to a lot more amazing days.

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