Teaching the Teachers

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Teaching the Teachers

Lauren Berta, Editor-in-Chief

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We expect our doctors to stay on top of the newest medical advances, our lawyers to know if there are new laws, but what about our teachers? Does somebody teach them?
Homestead was introduced to one person who does: Dr. Tom Guskey. Guskey came out with his book, On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting, in Aug. of 2014. Since its publication, the book has become nationally recognized, and has found its way into Southwest Allen County.
Shortly after the last few days of school for students, some teachers volunteered to participate in training in Guskey’s program, teaching them a different organization and aim in the classroom.
“It’s a pilot program where Guskey uses the elements of mastery learning that have been developed, researched [and] studied by Benjamin Bloom, who was Guskey’s professor and mentor,” Holly Wenning, instructional coach for teachers, said.
What this means for classrooms, is different techniques to push students to mastery and ensure that students learn the information.
“What’s different about mastery learning than what teachers normally do, is you grade (a) formative assessment and then you can go into one of two branches,” Wenning said. “One, is for the students who didn’t do well. They do test corrections and get a chance to re-test. But for the kids who did do well, who have mastered that information, they have an enrichment activity.”
This plan tries to ensure that all students are in the same place before the next lesson or unit. The Guskey pilot attempts to fill the gap of knowledge that happens when teachers move on and the students who never achieved mastery have an increasingly harder time as the teacher moves on to new material.
If students have not already heard about these details of the Guskey pilot program through their classes, they might have heard about it from their parents, who received news in the first weeks of school.
“Parents whose students are involved in that pilot program have received letters explaining . . . what is happening in the process,” Wenning said.
Between parents, students or teachers, there are a lot of different opinions circulating the community; but like or dislike the program, its shelf life is three units of course material. After three units, teachers can decide to keep going, or to discontinue the pilot program.
That being said, it’s early in the school year for teachers to decide how well the program is working.
“I think it will be very good,” Bekki Vail, biology teacher, said. “We’re all getting used to the program right now, so if you came back and asked me in another month or so, I might have some different answers, but at this point. . . it looks like something I’ll keep for the rest of the year at least, if not into the future.”
At this point in the changeup, it is not clear yet whether students are seeing success under the new program.
“It was a little bit of a mixed bag the first time,” Vail said. “My AP kids did much better the second time. It depends on the class and the level of investment that you give the re-teaching and the learning in the first case.”
Outside of the positives and negatives of the new structure, every teacher has to adjust to changes from what they have been doing in the past.
“All my notes are the same, I just don’t get the review day where you do a kahoot or a quizizz; that’s a change for me because I like to do those things,” Tisha Bowman-Ashby, math teacher, said. “Then also, right now it adds a day. We used to have a review day and then a quiz, and now its quiz, corrections, quiz.”
All in all, the teachers are hopeful that the program turns out to be a positive change for students.
“In the past, if you [teach] the content and lets say, 80% of the kids learn the information, next uint, those 20% that didn’t really learn it, they’re probably not going to learn the new information,” Vail said. “So as you build on content throughout the year, you have fewer and fewer people actually reaching mastery. In this program . . . hopefully we’ll get more students learning the first time, and then we’ll be able to build on that information.”

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