Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grappling with Changes in Education

Grappling with the Changes in Education

It has been quite some time since I have taken to blogging about education.  I remember thinking and saying that I would have more time after the November 4, 2014 levy campaign ended, but here it is December 16th and I am just now getting random thoughts onto “paper”.  For those of you in the moment with me, you can identify with the speed at which time has passed.

This entry is centered around grapplers - otherwise known as wrestlers.  I have recently been introduced to wrestling with my youngest child.   He is the one I referred to in an earlier blog as a mix of Pig-Pen and Denise the Menace.  Brennan has been “grappling” for just a few weeks now.  He is learning a progression of moves, starting with neutral position and building to several other moves of which I don’t know the technical name.  So why does my son’s grappling really matter?  There are several connections to education that I want to share.

In his quest to become a grappler, Brennan has been scaffolded in the learning process.  He did not go to practice on the first day and get tossed to the ground, face shoved to the mat by a fellow wrestler.  He is being taught step by step how to approach wrestling, learning one small move at time.  Boy did it seem like an eternity to get him to understand that grapplers don’t stand tall, they have to get low!  From there they worked on making a move and wrapping low around the opponent's legs.  It goes on and on until last night when they finally sequenced a series of smaller moves introduced over time.  

As Ohio’s new learning standards face off with our students in the circle, we as their coaches scaffold their learning as they grapple with the new content, strategies, and methods entwined in the new standards.  We as educators have to plan for that teaching, plan how we will introduce the hierarchy of content and have a vision for what it looks like as a final product.  This takes time and experience, which we will all gain together as the years go on.  In the meantime, we have to show ourselves some grace, make decisions based on what we know right now, and be willing to continue to grow our knowledge base as we move forward.  

Brennan’s experience as a grappler is supported by several knowledgeable wrestling coaches, student models, as well as many helpful parents.  Each session, wrestlers watch as moves are demonstrated in the center of the circle by older wrestlers in the Marysville program.  They are then asked to practice those moves around the circle under the watchful eyes of the coaches. After several attempts, reteaching, and more modeling, the boys are sent off to grapple with the new move.  The coaches, parents, and older wrestlers actively monitor the practice and give individual feedback to boys as needed.  At the end of practice, Brennan leaves there knowing exactly what he was suppose to learn that night because he can reproduce the moves when showing and explaining it to his siblings.  

As I watch practice after practice, it is like I am smack dab in the middle of any classroom in Mechanicsburg.  We have worked so hard to master the notion of gradual release in the learning process.  Teachers begin each lesson with an “I can statement” to anchor the learning for the day.  From there, teachers introduce content, model, practice, reteach, and provide feedback to students.  These best practices are evident in the weekly lesson plans we review as an administrative team.  Principals are reinforcing these practices during OTES evaluations.  It is the expectation not the exception that students leave class being able to explain the daily learning target(s).  

Last week, Brennan must have been tossed to the ground 20 times.  Each time, I winced at his 45 pound little body bouncing off the mat.  But on the ride home, we talked about his partner and the mismatch in size (probably a good 15 lbs).  Rather than looking at the situation as a no win match, we talked about what he could have done to prolong the eventual toss to the mat.  Brennan came up with the solutions, not of all which would be legal I’m sure!  Doesn’t matter.  He was learning as a result.  

With our students facing online testing and new state standards, we must model for them the reflective process.  Students need the opportunity to discuss what they are learning about themselves, to problem solve, and to experiment with their strategies for learning.  This requires us to intentionally provide them opportunities for testing online and then time afterwards to share what worked, what didn’t, and what can be done differently next time.  Online assessments (online anything) are the platform that our students will soon know as customary.  We must decide what can we do to make the customary comfortable in the limited time we have with them each day.  We have to allow them to grapple with the unknown now, in order to get them to that level of success later.

Many of the “moves” in education this school year are new.  As educators, teaching teams, and buildings we must commit to “grappling”, scaffolding the learning of these new educational “moves” and gradually releasing teachers and students to learn, problem solve, and reflect.  

I love to learn from others, so if something strikes a chord with you, please share!

Danielle Prohaska
Superintendent of Schools
Mechanicsburg EVSD

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