I’m a big fan of doing the minimum…and the maximum. The key is understanding at which point doing “the minimum” is better than doing “the maximum” and when doing “the maximum” is absolutely necessary.
Here are two examples:
Do the minimum when you write your lesson plans. I’m not saying don’t plan, and I am not saying to walk in without a plan whatsoever. What I mean is that doing “the minimum” when it comes to lesson planning opens your classroom up to more learning than when doing “the maximum”. Sitting around and trying to script what is going to happen is a dumb way to teach, and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t care about student learning. Doing “the minimum” means that kids have the opportunity to ask questions, be curious, and investigate. Doing “the maximum” means that YOU ask questions.
Do “the maximum” when it comes to listening to your kids. Converse with them on a formal and informal basis, and be sure to work diligently to answer all of their questions while continually prodding them with new ones. Try and uncover their passions and make sure that you talk about them once and a while in class. Understand that all people are complex individuals and trying to break them down to likes and dislikes simply won’t happen.
If you sit long enough and just think, you can come up with all sorts of ways to understand when it is best to do the minimum or the maximum. Too often, people think that more, more, more is better than slow and steady with deeper understanding and thinking.
So let’s talk about this concept in the context of standardized testing. I’m going to be blatantly honest and say that I don’t believe any standardized test to be that difficult. I also don’t believe that any of them are basic skills tests either. I find fault with their purpose, method, and repercussions as all educators do, but I also think that the rationale behind them has merit. Pushing to ensure a high level of proficiency, despite their pathetic means of implementation, is something that all educators should be shooting for regardless of how they feel about standardized testing.
Let me be clear: it doesn’t matter if you hate standardized testing or not; everyone should be shooting for “the maximum” amount of learning in their class.
So I sit and ask a question: if we know that learning is organic and can only be meaningful and sustainable then does doing the maximum or the minimum make more sense? Does giving students benchmarks on a monthly or quarterly basis guarantee that all students will be “advanced proficient” on a test? Does using a scripted curriculum guarantee that every student will pass a test? Does doing practice exam after practice exam after practice exam from workbook after workbook after workbook with worksheet after worksheet after worksheet guarantee success?
In fact, I would argue that there are some kids who would not pass the test even if they had the greatest teacher in the world with unlimited resources. Why? Because not all people can demonstrate their knowledge by filling in circles, not all people can sit for four hours and read passages on “Jimbo The Whale,” and not all people can concentrate on the same oasis picture and write a narrative about it for forty-five minutes.
It baffles me that all politicians, educational administrators, and teachers stand up and scream to the heavens about the importance of acknowledging every child’s individual differences yet we still give every kid the same, damned test.
I subvert the curriculum every day. It’s a little easier in my subject since I don’t have to worry about some bogus test at the end of the year, but like everyone else, I have a curriculum I am paid to teach.
Note my language here: I have a curriculum I am paid to teach. This means that so long as I teach the curriculum (the minimum), I am in the clear to elaborate on the different topics, the teachable moments, and the engaging conversations as I see fit.
Take a look at your curriculum guide. I mean really take a look at it. Why are you spending a week on a topic if it only consists of two bullets? Why not spend a day on those two bullets and use those other four days to cover things that really matter? Why not allow kids to wander off into new fields of interest that spark their curiosity? Why not throw out your multiple-choice tests, and let kids make portfolios and then show YOU what they have learned?
Let’s go back to those benchmarks we talked about previously. If you give benchmarks that mirror the standardized tests at the end of the year, why are you bothering to give multiple-choice tests? To prepare for the benchmarks? Are you having kids practice for the practice? Do you see the problem with this ill-fated logic?
So here is my answer to the macro question: start assessing when you should be doing the minimum and the maximum. You will liberate yourself from unnecessary demands that exist only because everyone else is doing it. I laugh at teachers who say they are bogged down with an over-stuffed curriculum. Even a curriculum as arbitrary and meaningless as AP US History can be cut, sliced, and diced to a skeleton to buy you more time for meaningful learning (trust me, I’ve done it).
I care about my kids, and so do you. At some point, we will all realize how important it is to know when to do the minimum…and the maximum.