These are the best of times for me, because in all my years of teaching I have always attempted to measure my success as a teacher. I am happy to see “science” has been added to the “art” of teaching, and I believe the two can be combined nicely.
In this blog, I want to talk about how we unlock all of that success. After motivating the students, providing a safe disciplinary environment, and organizing the classroom, we get down to the “meat” of our purpose. I’ll offer scenarios and anecdotes of things that have worked for me.
Thirty years ago we may have used different jargon, but many of those teaching methods still work. Due to brain research we know scientifically why some methods work better than others. We know we need to differentiate and to offer tiered assessments. We know we have to work more with technology and concentrate on the mastery of learning.
For example, most teachers have had the more advanced students read to the lower readers, or work on fractions with them. We believed it helped both students. Now, it’s called peer teaching and we know that teaching others is one of the best ways to learn. We’ve taught students to compare and contrast; now we know it’s at the top of the list when it comes to important learning skills. It has become easier to prepare lessons based on what is known to work, rather than simply trial and error.
Measurement skills can be efficiently tested with tiered assessments. I had never heard the term “tiered assessment” until recently. That’s one of those methods I have used over the years but now find there’s a new, “official” name for it. Many of my students have a very difficult time with measurements, so the goal was for all to learn to measure with accuracy to a quarter-inch. They were given a chart pre-developed by me, listing ten items in the room that were to be measured. They were offered a choice of three ways to complete the assignment.
I set out all the necessary materials, and posted instructions for three different ways to demonstrate at least 80% mastery. One choice was to simply measure the ten items to the nearest quarter of an inch, and then to write those measurements next to each item on their answer sheet. The second option was to make a chart themselves, and record their measurements. The third choice was to make a scale drawing, to place the measurements on the scale drawing, and to orally describe the results to the class.
That last option allowed them to use colored pencils, and you would have thought I gave them the moon!
The smartest man in the room chose the easiest assignment. And that’s okay, although it annoyed me that he took the easy way out. I can’t say he was lazy, though, because he got it done really fast, and then completed a social studies assignment he wanted to finish.
Every other man picked the hardest assignment. I think part of it was because they take pride in picking a more difficult task. I also think they liked the idea of working as a team, of having colored pencils and drawing out the picture. Some of them were from a construction background, so it was their way of showing their skills. I try to highlight their strengths and skills whenever possible.
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at .