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Low and Slow

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I’m no golfer. But once when I was taking a couple cuts at a kid’s birthday party at Top Golf, a dad who is gave me some good advice: “Low and slow,” he said, meaning that one should draw back the club head in a deliberate way before hitting the ball. Since then, that phrase pops back into my head every time I pick up a club.

I’ve been trying to apply the mnemonic to my teaching too. Take the summer assignment my 8th graders brought to class on the second day. Inherited from last year’s teacher, the hefty requirement included doing response logs on three assigned books, preparing an oral presentation on another choice book, and writing a five-paragraph essay on what it feels like to be homeless (in response to Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed.) That’s a lot to have teed up right from the start, which means I need to think carefully about my swing.

In the past, I might have dutifully collected all the work at once and tried to grade it as the rest of the quarter unfolded around me (generating lots more new work to grade each week). Maybe I would have waded through its various elements by the time interims rolled around, having a big grade to show for it and a bunch of stale work to return to kids who barely remembered reading the books in the first place.

Taking a more balanced approach honors the time and effort kids put into their work, and also gives us a chance to reinforce important skills and content. In the spirit of low and slow, here’s how I’m handling the summer assignment.

To start, we did a “Got it?” activity on the first day to make sure everyone had the required elements on time and in the correct format. A simple completion grade accounts for about a fifth of the credit. If a student realized while sharing that something wasn’t quite right, he wrote a comment on the rubric to explain where the work fell short. Responsibility for this quick, clerical check was shifted from me to the students.

For homework, I asked students to color code their reader response logs in the margins: yellow for summary, green for discussion; blue for personal connections, and red for critical thinking (including a recommendation). The next day, kids entered the classroom saying things like, “I didn’t have any red,” or, “Is it okay that I had blue and green together in the same paragraph?” By engaging in this metacognitive activity, students could see for themselves how and how well they’d used their “readers’ toolbox.”

As to the oral presentations, instead of listening to a mind-numbing string of them, they’re sprinkled through the week, a few per day. I’m asking kids to take notes each time on a graphic organizer where they record three key ideas, feedback for the presenter (one “plus” and one “to improve”), and rate whether or not they would read the book themselves.

Taking notes makes them listen well and practice the invaluable skill; evaluating the presenter let’s them see what works and what doesn’t (which may help their own presentation). When we’re done, I’ll ask each kid to choose one of the new books to read based on those personal rankings. As an added bonus, we’re freewriting for a few minutes after each book talk, introducing a practice that kids will use a lot in my class to generate ideas and promote fluency.

Let’s not forget the dreaded 5-paragraph essays. I attached a kid-friendly 6 Trait guide to each, and for homework, students had to read and rubric a partner’s paper, then pen a 7-sentence letter of feedback. There’s one sentence for each trait; the seventh can be a question, a stroke, or anything else constructive (“Thanks for not hitting me in the head with that kickball at recess…”). With the feedback, kids revise once more before handing in the paper.

I admit I’ll never know what it feels like to crush a golf ball three hundred year straight down the fairway. But because my approach to the summer assignment was “low and slow,” when we’re ready to move to a new unit together as a class, we will have reactivated prior knowledge (What makes a good reader response or oral presentation?) and established norms (All work should be neat, complete and on time; Writers revise based on peer feedback).

Most important, using a feedback loop and implementing metacognitive strategies right from the start sends the message that that this class helps kids learn how to learn. For us teachers, that’s hitting the sweet spot.

10 Comments

I agree that "using a feedback loop and implementing metacognitive strategies right from the start sends the message that that this class helps kids learn how to learn" and should be done with all assessments. What I have great difficulty with is the idea that a summer project would be scored and included in grades. To do so is illogical and completely unfair to students. We cannot hold students responsible for things before instruction - assessment of any such 'work' is diagnostic and has NO place in grades. The only assessment that should be included in grades is summative assessment.

The color coding of response notes is a brilliant idea. This is the first time outside of my own work with this that I have heard of any other teacher doing it. The graphic organizer note taking is also state of the art. If the teacher contacts me, I will help him push the idea into a further realm of metacognition. Google Thinktrix for the basic idea. Frank Lyman

I totally agree that it's important not to penalize a student for early efforts. At the same time, SUMMATIVE assessment is not the ONLY assessment that is important. FORMATIVE assessment ensures that students are continually responsible for keeping a consistent effort in the classroom. In my class, when students demonstrate that they are able to write a certain type of assignment (narration, exposition, description...) at a new level, I go back and REPLACE earlier marks with newer ones, one for one...but those marks ARE there to be replaced later. It's the old carrot and stick, and it works. Yes, I have given A students an N (needs improvement) for effort, if they're cruising...

I also LOVE six traits, and our high school is fully on board with it as an assessment tool and instructional framework. I'm pleased to see others using it in the teaching of writing as well.

Chuck Baker at Dr. Charles Best Secondary, Coquitlam, BC, CANADA

I was struck by the following comment "they’re (oral presentations) sprinkled through the week, a few per day"

This works with many aspects of a classroom. Students, just like teachers, tired of the same thing in and out. Knowing that there is a week's worth of presentations, ouch!

This same theory can be used for teaching concepts. For example, if I teach a comma rule and we practice it, I will bring up that comma rule again in a few days and weave it into the lesson, thereby making he learning of something cyclical--more opportunities for mastery and practice.

I love the golf metaphor. I will be following your posts. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you so much for writing this blog (not just this post). It is so hard for teachers to find the time to be so reflective about our practices, but reading your blog draws us into that mode instantly. Sometimes we just need to hear that even something as chronically problematic as those incoming summer reading assignments can be transformed into meaningful learning experiences if we don't lose our focus on the students right in front of us and what we want to teach them, and you always give us a lift and a push at the same time.

I remember back in fifth grade, Coach Prete, our P.E. coach, brought to school his golf equipment. He told us, as you probably guessed, that our unit for the next week would be golf. I had never played golf, nor picked up a golf club. I have played miniature golf, but that’s different. When Coach Prete taught us how to swing a golf club, he told us to not try to kill the ball, but swing so that you would hit the ball. Apparently when you hit a golf ball as hard as you can, it doesn’t go as far as you would like. So, I listened to his advice, but it didn’t exactly work out as planned. I am a big time baseball player. I mean, to me baseball is life, and it is a very exciting sport. When I picked up that golf club for the first time, I thought my baseball swing would help me because I thought that swinging a golf club was the same exact motion. I was wrong. Swinging a golf club is an art. Tiger Woods makes it look so easy to do, but in my opinion I’d stick to the baseball bat myself. Even though I thought that swinging a golf club would be an art that I would never be able to master, I finally got the golf ball to get some air.

We sincerely enjoyed your article. It looks like you have placed a lot of effort into your blog and I need more of these on the net these days. I do not really have a large amount to say in reply, I only wanted to sign up to say great work.

When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

Low and slow, i think this is not all the time like this, sometimes when we do something pation ,Discount Mizuno Golf we need slow, when we begin do one thing, we need make your start from low ,then step by step. But sometimes when you need quick doing something, you need to forget slow , when you are already in a level, you didnt remember high step but not low.

Low and slow, i think this is not all the time like this, sometimes when we do something pation ,Discount Mizuno Golf we need slow, when we begin do one thing, we need make your start from low ,then step by step. But sometimes when you need quick doing something, you need to forget slow , when you are already in a level, you didnt remember high step but not low.

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