I came across the video below a few days ago and it totally blew my mind!
Watch the 34-second video in its entirety – you’ll miss EVERYTHING if you don’t watch ALL the way to the end!
I don’t know about you – but they totally got me! They had me fully believing that the guy throwing was an amazing shot! For the first 25 seconds, I was wondering, “How many times did they try this before he was able to get that many all in a row?” I was marveling at the size of the opening and that he was getting the markers at just the right angle to go in perfectly… and then… the reveal!
After laughing, feeling totally fooled, and watching this video at least 3 more times, I started thinking about how this reminds me of how we, as educators, tend to look at our students at the beginning of the year. We are often only provided with one viewpoint to look through to get to know our students. Our beginning of year angle starts through the lens of school-collected data. We sort through the data we have on file about our students – their benchmarks, state testing results, and the documents collected in their cumulative folders – but just like when the angle and viewpoint changed in the video above, and we saw that there was really something completely different going on than what we thought based on our original viewpoint – we must remember that what we know about our students based on school-collected data is only one piece of who they are.
We must remember that what we know about our students based on school-collected data is only one piece of who they are.
Grades, behavior marks, and scores on state tests or benchmarks don’t tell us anything about a student’s strengths, the specific skills they need to master, their home life, their hobbies, why they might act out, and so much more.
If we choose to only look through the lens of school-provided data, it’s almost as if we are stopping that student’s video at 25 seconds and turning a blind eye to the wider-angle view. How can we get that wider angle?? Here are three ways to get a wider-angle on your students:
Ask students about their personal lives – their hobbies, what brings them joy, their pet peeves. Try a check-in system like this one to find how students are doing and give them the opportunity to share with you on a consistent basis – the more comfortable they feel with you, the more they’ll share.
Ask students about what they see as their strengths in your subject area and where they think they need to improve. Ask them what goals they have for your subject. For example, “What do you want to get out of this class?” “What do you hope to be better at by the end of 4th grade math?”
Ask parents to share all about their child! Ask them what their child loves, hates, is good at, and needs helps with. Ask social, emotional, and academic questions (but don’t ask too many questions or your parents may not take the time to fill it out).
Ask parents what they hope their child gets better at by the end of your class. Ask them what they think you need to know to be the best teacher for their child.
Finally, ask them something very open-ended like, “Is there anything else you’d like me to know about you or your child so that I can help your child grow and learn to their full potential this year?” This gives parents an opportunity to share concerns, private matters, their hopes and dreams, and much more which will again widen your lens and help you see the child at a different angle.
Create pre-assessments to give to students prior to beginning units with questions about what they already need to know in order to be successful in this unit. This will help you know who to pull aside in a small group to pre-teach, reteach, work closely with, offer to tutor, or even begin an intervention right away. The results of this pre-assessment will let you know exactly what the students need help with in order to be successful for THIS unit. It will widen your viewpoint on some students to see, for example, how they may have gotten by with good grades, but still don’t understand this concept or that one. It may give you the root cause of why a student has low grades because they still lack a specific pre-requisite skill. Most importantly, for each student, a pre-assessment will give you their specific starting place. It prevents you from teaching to the middle and provides you with the information needed to meet each student where they are right from the start.
I want to challenge and encourage you to find ways to broaden your lens as you work to learn more about your students. Ask students questions about themselves – both personally and academically. Ask parents about their children – where they need to work and what they see as their strengths. Look for ways to pre-assess skills needed so that you can fill in gaps now before they widen.
Take one more look at the video with all we’ve just considered in mind:
one more thought before you go…
Now that you are making plans to widen your own lens and look for ways you can research beyond the information that is at your fingertips, how might you use this same video and metaphor to teach your students?
Your students need to know that very often in our world we are only shown parts of the truth and we must look deeply to find the whole story.