Sunday, October 24, 2010

The wheelbarrow of learning

Today I decided to tidy up ‘the yard’ (it’s about  an acre and a half)  so I started out by grabbing the wheelbarrow and moving from spot to spot, picking up branches that I saw.  In no time I had finished the task and headed to put them in the limb pile.  After I finished the yard and dumped the wheelbarrow full of limbs, I noticed that I had missed a branch.  I set the wheelbarrow down and went to get it.  Upon close inspection, I realized I needed to redo the entire yard. This time though, instead of walking around with my wheelbarrow in hand, hoping to spot the fallen branches, I needed to periodically set the wheelbarrow down and go seek out the limbs that weren’t obvious at first glance.  I ended up re-doing the entire yard with this process and eventually filled another wheelbarrow full of limbs. 

This reminds me of how we teach.  We know we need to gather the students and take them to their destination (learning the outcomes/standards) so we walk along with our wheelbarrow gathering students as we go.  But the point isn’t for us, the teachers, to get to the destination.  The point is for the students to get there as we facilitate their journey.  Today, I could have grabbed the wheelbarrow and headed straight to the limb pile without looking for any limbs.  How often have we done that in class when we need to ‘cover’ a vast amount of material in a short amount of time? I’ve been guilty of that more than once so now, when I create my unit plans, I intentionally create times to re-teach/enrich big ideas.  I may not know exactly which topics this particular group of students will struggle with but I know that I need to build in the time because the point is for them to reach the destination, not me.

Today I wasn’t able to successfully notice all the limbs until I periodically set down the wheelbarrow and purposely sought out the less obvious limbs.  How often in a class are we setting down our lesson plans and actively seeking out those students that aren’t understanding? I know I’ve gotten better at that with experience, but I still need reminders so I embed ‘Check for Understanding’ questions within my notes in order I remember to set the wheelbarrow down and go gather more students.

Some of the branches were easy to pick up and some were entangled in undergrowth and took more ingenuity to get into the wheelbarrow.  Are we taking the time to coax out our students that are reluctant learners? Are we handling with care the ones that are entangled in misconceptions?  Differentiated instruction is a mindset. It’s those small thing we do on the fly to make sure we know which kids aren’t quite getting it and those quick course corrections in our lessons to facilitate their learning. It can be small group help, one extra guiding question, a word of encouragement.

Today would have been more efficient and enjoyable if I had taken the time to truly make sure that I was checking for all the fallen branches the first time instead of having to do the job again a second time.  Teaching is like that.  When we incorporate Assessment FOR Learning strategies into our teaching style and differentiation becomes our mindset, then we start to seek out the not-so-obvious students that are struggling to get into the wheelbarrow of learning.  The purpose is for all of our students to get to the destination of achieving the outcome/standard, not just the ones that are obvious at first glance.

What are some things that help you ensure all students are able to make it to the destination of achieving the outcome/standard?


  1. I really like this blogpost. It is something that ALL teachers need to think about. We need to build in time to work with the struggling students so that when they get to the summative assessment they will be able to "hit" the targets we are setting up for them.

    I look forward to many more good analogies. This blogpost made me think about my practices in my classroom. That is what a good blog post does.

    I plan to share this blog post with our staff. I will also be tweeting out your blog post so more people in my PLN start reading your posts.

  2. Thank you for the feedback Terry. I'm glad you were able to connect it to your classroom.

    Thank you for sharing it!