Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

What We Get Wrong

Kids forever have asked “When will we ever have to use this?” and teachers’ responses vary. That’s where we get it wrong–not in the answer, but in our actions. We build our classroom work around teaching skills–and many times those skills are taught or worked on by kids in isolation–not in a real context. The work kids do should always have a purpose for THEM, not for us. It should make a difference in their lives.

Last year I used a real example from my life in my math class when we were studying fractions, decimals, and percents, and the kids absolutely loved it. (See the 5th grade posts here about the grocery store problem.) They worked on this problem for days, doing it not only during math time, but also during their free time.  Many even came to ask for help during our “Mastery Extension” time, a 45 minute time period where individualized work occurs. The bottom line is that the kids knew this was real, and that they had to know how to use these skills for THEIR future.

The Washington Post recently published an article on Rafe Esquith’s new book, Real Talk for Real Teachers, where he was interviewed in the article.


One of his responses was the following paragraph:

I have a chapter called ‘Keeping it Real.’ If you ask most kids in school who are doing an assignment, why they are doing it, they will say, ‘Because my teacher told me to.’ In my class, if you ask a student, ‘Why are you writing this essay or doing this problem,’ they will say, ‘Because I will learn a skill and my life will be better.’… I tell my students, ‘Of course I want you to do well on the test at the end of the year, but the real test is what you are doing in 10 years.’  My students aren’t doing anything for me. Their values are inside. They are doing it for themselves.

Rafe has it right. We need to help kids learn to do it for themselves- not grades, or our or parental approval, but for themselves. Those inside values are so much more important than our agendas. We get it wrong when we force our ways on them. Student work needs to be based in reality and matter to the kids.

Amplifying minds to delve deeper and keep it real…that’s my goal this year.

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2 thoughts on “What We Get Wrong

  1. Karen Marcus on said:

    We always need a reminder of this at the beginning of the year,

  2. Hollins Mills on said:

    I always ask myself, “would this work exist anywhere but school?’ and if the answer is no – it needs to go.

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