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Saturday, November 2, 2013

What Great Students Do Differently: Utilize Resources

I am currently leading a small group of faculty members in a book study of Todd Whitaker's What Great Teachers Do Differently. The goal is for us to sit down and have a meaningful discussion of what great teachers do differently than those who are not so great. We are about halfway through the book, and I have to say that while the concepts aren't groundbreaking, the discussions have been a great reflective exercise for myself and my colleagues. I think that is usually the case with trying to become great at something, though. When we look at people who are really good at what they do, we generally find that they aren't doing anything overly complicated or beyond the reach of anyone else. They are just very good at doing the simple things, and they do them consistently. With that in mind, I would like to start a blog series on here outlining some things that great students do differently. Todd Whitaker started out with fourteen things that matter most for teachers, but over the years, that number has grown to seventeen as the book has come out with new editions. I don't know how many I will come up with for students, and I am going to try to bring in some of my colleagues as guest bloggers to share some of their insights into what makes great students so effective. I don't believe anything we have to share is going to be earth-shattering, but perhaps it will allow for a discussion in the comments section and some reflection on your part. As you read these, ask yourself how well you do these things, and if you do them well, how consistently are you doing it.

Utilize Resources
On a weekly basis, I deal with students who are struggling in a class. Often times, the class they are struggling with is mine, but since I supervise a study hall and help my homeroom students, I also see students struggling in other classes. In almost every case, the answer to these struggles is to utilize the resources available within the school. I'll give you an example. Suzy is really struggling in her English class. She pays attention during daily grammar instruction and she tries really hard to figure out the parts of speech and the sentence parts and even that maniacal diagram, but the concepts just aren't solidifying for her. As a result, she struggles on grammar quiz after grammar quiz. She is frustrated because she has always like English class because she loves to read and even writes stories in her spare time; she wants to be a writer someday. Now she is getting a D in English and worries that she has been wrong about her career aspirations. She is ready to give up. This scenario could apply to any number of students sitting in any classroom in the school, and on the surface, it would seem that Suzy is doing everything right. She is paying attention, doing all of her work, and trying really hard to learn, but Suzy is making a common mistake. Suzy is operating under the assumption that she is in this battle alone.

Asking for help is hard. We worry that the people we are asking are annoyed or inconvenienced by our requests for support, but if we really think about it, the people we are afraid to ask have purposely put themselves in a position to help. Helping us is their job. School is set up in such a way that each progressing year builds on concepts from the year before. It stands to reason, then, that even a good student is eventually going to reach a level where the work becomes more difficult than they can manage on their own. This does not mean they are dumb or lazy. It does mean that they are going to have to change their approach. Every teacher in the building went through a difficult road to be standing at the front of that classroom, and they all did it because they wanted to. None of us are here against our will. One of the most frustrating things I encounter as a teacher is having a student fail knowing that they could've been successful if they had asked for help from me or anyone else.

Let's go back to Suzy. Suzy's mother is also concerned about Suzy's grade and the fact that Suzy is no longer as excited about school as she used to be. Suzy's mother contacts her English teacher to find out why Suzy is doing so poorly. The teacher reports that Suzy is paying attention in class, doing all of her work, and appears to be really trying to master the concepts, but she just isn't making much progress. The teacher also reports that Suzy never asks questions in class when the concepts are being covered. This is not uncommon. A majority of students are afraid to ask questions in class because they all feel like they are the only person who doesn't understand. As the guy who keeps the gradebook, let me put that to rest right now. In just about any class, there are a number of students who are struggling. Again, that is part of the process. If everyone has mastered the concepts being covered, what would be the point of the class. Suzy's mother tells the teacher that Suzy is shy, and getting her to ask questions in class is going to be more painful than pulling wisdom teeth with no anesthetic. For many students, this is where the throw in the towel, but great students realize that there are resources at their disposal. In Suzy's case, it is that English teacher. The teacher tells Suzy's mother that she is available to help Suzy one-on-one before school, after school, at lunch, or even during her prep period if necessary. Suzy's mother lets the teacher know that Suzy will be there after school the next day for tutoring. The teacher is excited to see Suzy's mother helping Suzy get the help she needs. The next day, Suzy shows up, and instead of being angry at the imposition, the teacher is happy to see Suzy taking the initiative to show up and get help. They work together for about twenty minutes after school and are able to identify the concepts that are causing confusion for Suzy. After a couple of these short, after-school sessions, Suzy is feeling much more confident in her grasp of the concepts. On the upcoming grammar quiz, Suzy goes from getting a failing grade to getting one of the highest grades in the course.

This scenario outlines two resources that students have at their disposal, but that only the really effective students use consistently: their parents and their teachers. Suzy did a great job of communicating with her mother about her frustrations in English class. Because of that communication, Suzy's mother was able to take action and contact the teacher for some insight into Suzy's problem. This communication led to Suzy finding out that the teacher is another great resource for her use. She learned that the teacher is there to help her learn; that is what teachers do.

This seems like such a simple concept, but so few students use these resources. When I have conversations with students and parents, I find that many students try to hide their learning problems from their parents and avoid asking their teachers for help. This is madness. Parents want what is best for their children, and teachers want their students to learn. I've never met a teacher who entered the profession to hinder student learning or because they like to see people fail. Great students understand this, and use these resources as a first instinct when they encounter problems.

Another human resource that is available to students but rarely used is the the tutoring program offered through the National Honor Society. Every day at lunch, there are two or three NHS students sitting in the library just waiting to help students with the subjects in which they are highly proficient. These students are almost never utilized. It isn't a sign of weakness to take a draft of an essay to a peer who is highly proficient in English class in order to have it proofread and get feedback for improvements or to seek help from someone in an advanced math class in order to prepare for an upcoming exam in Algebra I. It is a sign of maturity and resourcefulness: two skills that make for successful adults.

Not all resources are human resources. This year, we became a Google Apps school. I have been really stunned by how little students are utilizing this resource. Google Apps allows students to have more access to their teachers than ever before. Our email addresses are pre-loaded into your address book. You can add us to your Google Hangouts (instant messenger) contact list using that same email address. Google Drive allows you to share drafts with your teachers and peers for feedback before submission. Drive also allows you to save your assignments to the cloud, which means you never have to worry about losing your work to a crashed computer or saving it in the wrong drive on the school network never to be found again. Since many teachers also use Turnitin.com, it alleviates compatibility issues since Turnitin.com now has the ability to instantly upload a Google Drive document.

Thomas Edison once said, "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this- You haven't." I can't think of any better way to sum up what great students do differently. When they run into problems in a class, instead of giving up, they start looking to all of the resources they have available to them.

30 comments:

  1. This is very true. I use to be that student who would ask for help and would give up just because I was afraid of being judged as the stupid kid who didn't know what she was doing. Then I got into high school and realized if I didn't keep trying and just ask, I wouldn't make good grades and would have a hard time when it came to getting into college. Now that I actually use my resources, essays, homework, or lab reports are much easier. Everything really is better if you just ask for help.
    ~ That One Beardist Briana Watters

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  2. I'm glad you came around and have started reaching out to those who want to help you. Life is so much easier when we use all we have available to us.

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  3. Love it! Can you sent this blog to student email in mass form? I would like to discuss it in mentoring, as well as in class. It might make an excellent journal response too.

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    1. I assume that is possible. I don't know if they have created a student group like they did for staff, but I'm sure Mr. Meister could make that happen.

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  4. You weren't kidding when you said this was a long post!
    (What really makes me really mad is that I already wrote this and have to re-do it because my computer is stupid.)
    Anyway, I completely agree. Instead of students evaluating their teachers, they need to stand back and evaluate themselves.
    For example, at an FFA convention a couple years back, we did an exercise to show how people react to different audiences. Three random people were selected (one of which was Meredith Penczek) and they were told to tell a story, of their choice, to an audience of 150 of their peers. When they were pulled out of the room, our presenter told us to act three different ways to the three different people. For the first person, we were to talk and goof off and not even listen. For the second (being Meredith), we were to sit perfectly quiet and not react at all, even though her story was disgusting. You should ask her about it sometime. Anyway, and for the third person, we were supposed to act like freaking Justin Bieber walked though the door and we were graced by his presence. Needless to say, the third person seemed to care much more about what they were saying than the other two.
    Now, back to the student/teacher bit, it's the same deal. Sitting in class, not asking for help or asking questions, makes the teacher feel as if you don't care about what is being taught - which makes them much less enthusiastic. How we act really influences the way you teach (maybe a future blog topic?? :D )
    Anyway, I completely agree - students need to be just as critical of themselves as they are of their teachers. Instead of asking "What more their teacher can do for them," they need to ask "What they can do for their teacher" (history pun = extra bonus? ;D)

    --- Alyssa Kispert

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    1. You've nailed it with this response. I am pretty fortunate to teach something that I can at least get a portion of the class into most days, but for my friends who teach other subjects that aren't as easily engaging, I know it this is especially true. I've described it as feeling like you're in a band playing for a bunch of people who hate your music but having to keep playing anyway. Sure, you'd still like your music, but it really takes a lot of the energy and enjoyment out of it.

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  5. I never thought to look at this from the view that you did. After reading this I completely agree with you. I think that students need to start evualtating themselves instead of the teachers like we do most of the time. Im sure it gets frusturating because you try your hardest to help them out but we are so hard headed that we do not want to listen to what teachers have to say most of the time. I think that the students should look at it from a teachers view instead of a student view from now on.
    Jessica Jones

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    1. I'm glad you took something from it. Now, what are you going to do about it?

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  6. I never realized how differently a teacher view is from a student view. I do agree with what you're saying because you do try your hardest for us and we tend to continuously blow you off. We need to change our aspect of things and start looking at them a different way.
    Mariah

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  7. We really need to start using the resources and stop blaming the teacher because we didn't use our resources. The teachers do everything they can to help us have everything we need to complete our assignments the proper way, but we never listen and just blame others.
    Jacob Buntain

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  8. i have had alot of bumps in my high school career in some classes i didnt do so hot and it hurt me but reading these comments and seeing what people and you say has showed me to not blame the teachers for my mistakes in class if i didnt turn something in or need help and blame it on them when not getting the help i needed is stupid you are in charge of you no one else dont blame your problems in school or life on a teacher or your peers because it wont solve anything it will only make it worse in the long run ive learned alot through high school and i have also grown up alot

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  9. Resources are very vital in school work. Teachers like you give us these resources and no one tends to use them. People need to realize that resources are helpful and they need to be used. Students just kind of ignore the facts and do not use them. Students need to take advantage of these right away.
    Garrett Aitken

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  10. I think what great students do is kind of like what great people do. What I mean by this is they go out of their way to be great at that one thing.

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  11. I don't really like to blame my teachers for my mistakes. If I choose to be lazy and not do my work, I believe that is my fault. I hope that in the future I will no longer blame my teachers for the mistakes I make and the things that I don't do.
    Marissa Langworthy - Creative Writing and Composition (2nd & 3rd hour)

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  12. I really like these blogs based off of those steps from the book you're reading. Going for help is something that really can be a struggle, asking for help as well. Parents as a resource IS something some kids have, but I don't really think that that's a resource that should be expected for someone to have. I'd really like to be able to start using my teachers and/or future professors as a powerful tool in things that I have trouble learning.

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  13. I see this Suzy case a lot at the high school. I am very thankful for teachers like you who actually care about their students, and give us resources for getting help if needed. Many students don't use the resources because they are too lazy or "don't feel like it" and blame it on the teacher because they are failing/ getting bad grades. They tend to turn it around to their parents, tell others, and post it on social media blaming the teachers. My opinion is that it is their fault for not paying attention the first time and getting the additional help.

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  14. "Helping us is their job" i think that may be the best 5 words i have ever heard a teacher say. Its great having a teacher like you because you are one of the only ones that has understanding for people who have a good excuse for turning their stuff in late. However, i usually do not have a valid excuse and i take 100% blame for that. On the other hand, their are some people that have a hard time turning things in because they have things going on, or they are involved in other things. In some sports even the athletic coach is to blame because they may say "School before Sports" but they also may penalize you and not let you play because you miss a practice or a game in order to get your grades up. I haven't had this happen with a coach but have seen it many time. The teachers who go above and beyond are far more respectable than those that don't and as a student if you have respect for someone you always feel more apt to work harder.
    -Dawson Myers

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  15. using resources helps you out in the long run because if you learn to actually look at something and connect it with something else you are most likely going to remember that the next time you are wondering about the same subject.

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  16. I am so glad to have you as a teacher. You always help students use their rescources. Many teachers act as if they couldn't care less if their students were failing but you are always there before and after school to answer questions. I think that some students are just too lazy and they don't care about their grades or their future and that is why they don't try and utilize their rescources.
    -Samantha Moore 8th Hour

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  17. Students all the time are blaming the teachers for everything. I now see your point of view towards this. Students are just too lazy to do anything and they think they can get away with it by telling their parents that it is always the teachers fault.

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  18. I actually like the way that your teach showing us to put fourth the effort and to sort of challenge ourselves. Its actually a good motto. I think that everyone needs to be able to use their resources because it actually does truly help out. I see where teachers do get way stressed out, there once was a teacher that had cryed to me because of how rude some kids were to her about the way that she had taught and its just so horrible.

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  19. In my opinion, I think that teachers should ask the students, more personally, if they have questions at the end of class. For example, in the last ten minutes of class, while students are working on assignments, I would like if a teacher asked if I had questions, because sometimes I find that I don't ask questions if I feel that every other person is understanding the concept which is being taught.

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  20. I like how you have never(at least what I have seen) given up on a student before. You try to see the good and their potential inside of them. You are one of the most thoughtful teachers PCHS has, in my opinion. It often seems like most teachers couldn't care less if their student fails. Thank you for doing what you do!šŸ˜ƒ

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  21. One thing that I have noticed that sets you apart from other teachers at PCHS is that you refuse to give up on your students. I have watched time and time again a student that simply refuses to do their work and you pushed them to their limits and got them to pass. I, as a student, appreciate this.

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    1. -Blake German, 5th Hour.

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  22. I like the quote you added at the end and all in all I think this is a pretty great blog. You have a lot of really great points.

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  23. I often feel that if I ask for help I will be looked at as if I am dumb and I worry s me but its something I need to work through and need to realize that I don't know everything and need to get help from time to time

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  24. I like and appreciate how you never gave up on me! You always put in your full effort even when I didnt put my own in. I really appreciate what youve done for me this year.

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  25. I used to be a lot like Suzy. I was always too scared to ask questions on the things I didn't understand. I was always secretly hoping that other students would ask the questions so that I wouldn't have to. I finally realized, though, that to understand the things I am confused on, I need to be the one to ask the questions. I need to be the one to work to get a better grade in my classes and to understand the more confusing concepts being taught.
    -Lindsey Pitts, 6th Hour

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  26. I am not really scared to ask questions but sometimes I worry that people or the teacher might think I'm stupid. I know this is an excuse I am working on this. I need to learn to ask questions how else can I learn. I do want to succeed and I know to do so I must except help.

    Austin Fullerton 2nd Hour

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