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Elusive Academic Progress Frustrates Our Team! What Can We Do?

Sometimes, despite our hard work, we are disappointed by the lack of academic progress of our students. It’s easy to fall into the blame game. Our students would be doing better if only…

  • there was more support from home
  • we had more computers
  • our students were more motivated
  • our administration provided more resources.

However, deep down, we realize the only behavior we have any control over is our own; the solutions have to come from us.  The power of the middle school team is that it is a microcosm within the large community of a school that can directly affect the learning of its students.  Therefore a team can create solutions when they work in a thoughtful, collaborative manner.  Using common planning time to search out how other educators have successfully tackled lack of academic progress provides a starting place for taking a fresh look at the team’s instructional practices:

  1. What are we doing that shows evidence of being effective?  Let’s keep on doing these things!
  2. What specific practices have worked elsewhere?  How might we adapt them?
  3. What’s our plan? Our first step? How will we know if our changes in teaching practice are making a difference?

Edutopia has a short video entitled How to Engage Underperforming Students.  It was filmed at  Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s (North Carolina) Cochrane Collegiate Academy where every teacher is adept at incorporating these four instructional strategies into their classroom practice:

  1. Using a question to focus the work of the day
  2. Incorporating activators to engage and motivate the students
  3. Limiting their lectures to 10-15 minutes and then actively involving students in the lesson
  4. Teaching students to use graphic organizers for note taking

It is easy to watch this video and say, “Well we can’t do that–look at all of the professional development they have! And they have an academic facilitator/coach.” That may all be true, however middle grades teams have each other for support. Teams can learn and change practice together.

  1. Start by watching this video or another as a team.
  2. Use an informal protocol to guide discussion to stay focused on possibilities instead of “yeah, but!”  Here’s one–What we thought were positives, What we thought were minuses, and What we want to know more about.
  3. Decide to try one new instructional practice as a team for a set amount of time. Commit to using activators or limit teacher-talk time to 10 minutes and then actively involve every student in the lesson.
  4. Collect evidence of how the change is positively impacting students.
  5. Build on your successes.

Recognizing that our best efforts are not producing the results we desire is a painful process that strikes at our professional images of ourselves.  Taking steps to change our instructional approaches involves a lot of courage and hard workWorking as a team improves the prospects of success.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.” – Buddhist proverb

Below are some good resources related to the topics in the video:

Everyone’s Invited! Interactive Strategies That Engage Young Adolescents

Glossary of Instructional Strategies

Graphic Organizers

Additional Graphic Organizers


Additional Activators

Interactive Lectures

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