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Learning at its Best

What Should We Cut?

Someone asked me recently how I am able to respond to all student blogs, leave feedback for each child on the Google Docs and analyze which standards students are mastering. It sounds impressive on paper, but here’s a little secret: I’ve made cuts. Huge cuts. Massive cutbacks in what I do as a teacher.

I don’t prep for lectures anymore. Instead, I think about how I will make lessons meaningful for students. I don’t input grades into the computer. Instead, I meet with students and we fill out our assessment grid together. I don’t have stacks of papers when students are working on in-depth projects. I don’t feel the need to do so much differentiated instruction when students are customizing their learning according to identity, interests and level of mastery.

I’m still on this journey of making cuts, but here are a few things I have managed to cut from my own classroom:

  • Administrative jobs: If it’s important enough to do, groups of students can manage it
  • Grading: We’re doing ongoing assessment using feedback instead
  • Homework: I don’t have to mess with it when I don’t think it’s helpful for children
  • Discipline: I deal with discipline through class rituals and personal conversations, along with engaging lessons where students are less likely to act out in boredom
  • Making copies: I spend a lot less time in front of the copy machine, because students are more often creators than consumers. We’re also more like to go the tech-route than the paper-route.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


10 thoughts on “What Should We Cut?

  1. Student control and educator mentoring at its best! Hope you have colleagues in your school system as well as attendees at presentations you make that have begun also to reflect on and revise their pedagogy. Bet your students do relatively well on those mindless standardized tests also.

    Why don’t we read commentaries such as this more frequently? Lots of teachers such as you out there … I guess maybe its analogous to the local news on TV. Too many people wanting confirmation that education is in a bad place (on TV, too many crimes, horrible accidents, … to report on).

    Just curious: what would the administrators, politicians, and unions reponses to such effective education be?

    Posted by John Bennett | May 25, 2012, 9:02 am
    • Thank you for the kind words. I’m still on this journey and honestly it’s been challenging. I get scared. I worry that it won’t work. However, you’re right. The mindless standardized tests become easy.

      So far, administrators have been great, so long as it works. I’m not sure how politicians or unions would respond to this. I get the sense that unions are mostly battling issues of pay and fighting off issues like merit pay or value-added scores. However, I imagine that if politicians “got it” they wouldn’t listen well. They’ve been trained to talk incessently.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | May 25, 2012, 10:34 am
  2. I would love to hear some specific examples,, especially in regards to classroom rituals and to what administrativie duties you hand off. Also,, what grade and how long per day do you have your students? I am excited by some of your ideas (some I already use), but wonder about time management with my 100+ students.

    Posted by SngrLittle | May 25, 2012, 11:23 am
    • I have 100+ students and teach exactly as John does. I’ve written a book on the subject, called ROLE Reversal. It will be published by ASCD in February. I provide plenty of examples of feedback and replacing traditional methods with the student-centered activities and projects that make learning more in tune to the 21st century. Hope it helps you make this sort of transformation in your own class.

      Posted by Mark Barnes | June 1, 2012, 4:46 pm
  3. I am a college student, and I am very much still learning a lot about every aspect of teaching. If you found the time could you go a little bit more in depth about how you cut out administrative jobs, homework (future math teacher), and making copies

    Posted by Gabe Barnhart (@GabeBarnhart) | May 25, 2012, 4:42 pm
  4. Going through the same process..students self assessing and formative cleans out the need for taking truckloads of marking home.. Liking teaching by blogging .. Has just taken some time to mentally switch over.. Cheers encouraging to see war being won on Ed admin

    Posted by Jon | May 25, 2012, 5:24 pm
  5. Great post. When I continually conference with students (projects and workshops), I tend to know the quality of students’ products without them turning in the final work. I grade only so that parents know how their chidren are doing.

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | May 27, 2012, 6:07 am
  6. …”I don’t prep for lectures anymore. Instead, I think about how I will make lessons meaningful for students.”

    I’m glad you do the “real” prep work…

    Posted by Brent Snavely | May 27, 2012, 7:30 am
  7. What grade(s) do you teach, John?

    Posted by alanthefriesen | May 28, 2012, 12:57 pm

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