It is that time of year…apathy is rearing its ugly head and trying to settle in. The weather is finally improving, and kids (and teachers for that matter) can be wearing down as the school year approaches its close. Minds are drifting toward summer and time off. It is this time of the year that we need to dig deep as educators.
A few weeks ago I was looking through my students’ proficiency levels and summative scores for the semester and knew I had to do something. I allow and encourage my students to complete additional practice and reassess on any standard that is below proficient or that they simply want to improve. But this semester (and especially in the past few weeks) I had many less students taking advantage of this opportunity. I started to reflect and try to figure out why. For many of them, one standard below proficient was not something they were worried about. Overall, their progress report was positive and they were happy with that. Others may have started to feel like they were digging an insurmountable hole with no way out. No matter how often I reminded them and gave them support over the last few weeks, I was not seeing the growth and improvement that I wanted. The growth and improvement that they needed. How could I get them back? What could I do to inspire?
Funny that I was thinking about all this when Danny Hill (@hilldw61) contacted me. He is the author of Power of ICU and had completed a new book Brick House. He offered to send me a copy and I was eager to see what his new book had to offer. Little did I know how timely this book read would be. I believe things happen for a reason, and this is one of those occasions when it became very plain to see!
After reading Brick House, I knew the answers to my questions were clear. I had to declare war on apathy and let my students know we are battling together. It is not me against them, it is us against apathy for the sake of their learning. I had to let them know that apathetic behavior was unacceptable and we weren’t going to allow it in my room anymore.
In the book, Mr. Hill talks about bill collectors and how they are masters of defeating apathy. I used this analogy to explain to my class that I was now the bill collector of their learning. They owed me learning. More importantly, they owed themselves learning. They also owed it to themselves to feel completely prepared for the next level of Spanish the following school year. We were going to build a Brick House culture where every student is consistently working towards proficiency and mastery of standards. We would not leave holes in our houses of learning that would lead to failure in the years to come. We were going to support each other along this journey and work together until summer vacation calls us away from school.
As Mr. Hill states in his book, the way to defeat student apathy is to “NEVER LEAVE THEM ALONE.” I vowed to my students that they would never be alone in their learning. I was going to demand, not just suggest, that they practice and reassess on standards that are below proficient. I would be relentless with them until every standard was proficient or we ran out of time. I informed them that there was no other alternative.
I made my list, what Mr. Hill refers to as an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) list. I told my students that some of their learning needed intensive care. The list includes every student who has at least one standard below proficient. I let my students in each class know if they were on the list and if so, exactly which standards needed improvement. I charged them to make a plan to get off the ICU list and then to share that plan with me. I wanted to know what they were going to do about their learning in relation to these standards and when they thought would feel ready for reassessment.
The response was overwhelming. In our first week of the ICU list, I have had over 50 students come in during their homerooms or before school to work on Spanish. Some of my students reassessed or completed missing assessments, so I have had 34 standards move to up the level of proficient or distinguished. I have had 9 students remove themselves from the ICU list. My students are supporting each other and finding the time for their learning. I have redefined the relentless pursuit of knowledge and skills in my classroom.
What an immense turn around in such a short period of time. I am excited to see what the rest of the school year holds for my students and their learning. Who knows, maybe we can get the list down to zero!