Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Work Ratio

Converting curriculum into instruction takes a lot of work. Designing learning from introduction to mastery can be a challenge, and the more diverse learners you have, the more diverse instruction is required. In every classroom a teacher plans for instruction, and we call that teacher work.  Students receive the information and respond to the instruction, student work. Some classrooms have instruction that makes a tremendous impact on students; therefore, the amount of student work is higher than the amount of teacher work. Conversely, in other classes, teachers are working much harder than the students and therefore, the instruction has minimal impact on students. In other words, instruction is negligible.

Why is that?

If you think about the very best teacher you ever had, you can quickly say that the teacher got the very best out of you. His or her effect on you was tremendous. The other thing that made this teacher tremendous may have been her ability to make learning meaningful by designing work that mattered to you. To sum it up, the student work was much greater than the teacher work. 

In a weak classroom, the amount of work on the teacher is always much greater than the amount of work on the student. No matter how hard the teacher teaches, or how much he tries to improve the effectiveness of his work, little will change as long as he ignores the work that students are expected to do. 

In all classrooms the key to learning is engagement. How we engage students in the the work of learning is critical. The focus on learning requires teachers to put the emphasis on increasing student work to a point that it exceeds the amount of teacher work.  To make student work transfer into learning, there exists five conditions that can negatively affect or positively impact the the student to teacher work ratio.

Relational Rituals 
When students enter the classroom, do they know how to interact with the classroom without the teacher's direction?  Do students feel like they are a welcomed member of the classroom?  Do they feel like the classroom procedures are designed specifically to make them more successful in learning?  
If we want students to be successful in the learning process, they have to know that the procedures of the classroom are designed to make them more successful in learning, not to make them more compliant to the teacher's rules.

Is the accountability for student learning  and behavior completely driven by the teacher?
Do students know the areas that they are weak in and areas that they are strong in, or is that completely determined by the teacher?

In a classroom that has a strong effect on students, accountability is shared by the student and by the teacher.  The more that students take personal ownership of their proficiencies and learning, the more they will take purposeful steps to own the work that will improve their learning. 

Time Optimization
Is time monitored closely by the teacher?
Do students have idle time when they complete tasks or assignments?
Are there periods of time where students daydream or get off task during instructional activities. 

Time management is completely dependent on the teacher's ability to perceive which tasks are optimizing time and which tasks are wasting time.   Wasted time will always cause the instructional impact to decrease substantially; therefore, teacher will increase because student work decreases. 

Is the instruction delivered in such a way that students can learn at their own pace and in their own unique modality? 
Are students forced to learn mostly in the same manner, pace and modality?

When the instruction is predominantly in the whole group mode, the student will never exceed the teacher in the work ratio. When the class has to learn content in the same format at the same speed and in the same way, there is no way that students can work harder than the teacher. That is because the teacher has to control the time each activity takes, the speed all students must learn and the method that students are required to learn. Students need individual time to apply their learning in ways that work best for the learner not the teacher. 

This question is pretty simple. Who owns the learning, the student or the teacher?  If the student learning has to move at the same rate as the teacher's instruction, the ownership cannot possibly belong to the student. At the same time if the instruction is not designed in a way to put the student in the driver's seat of how they acquire the learning, there is no way the student can own the learning. Ownership can only occur when the student is able to take the instruction that is provided and be given the opportunity to make meaning in their own unique way. Being able to create useful products and purposeful projects are surefire ways that students can fully possess their learning. 

So what's the Student to Teacher Work Ratio in your Class?

Are you working harder than the kids?  Are you taking more ownership of the learning than the kids are?  Are relationships weakening because the work is mundane to the kids?  Are kids in a position to conform their learning style to your teaching style?  If any of these questions identify with you, it may be time to reexamine the strategies that you are employing.  It may be time to find new ways not to get more work out of the kids but to get more meaningful work out of them. 

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