Mr. Cramer’s seventh-grade world history students are struggling. Not only do they rarely complete their homework, they struggle to read the assigned chapters in class and they often fail to understand how the various historical events they are learning relate. So, for his next unit, he gives students an anticipation guide. He gives students six statements that challenge their thinking and they discuss the statements in class. Students get excited as they defend their opinions with their classmates. Then, he assigns a chapter of their textbook to read that night for homework with the idea that students are to look for evidence that will either support or challenge their responses to the statements. The next day, most of the class had read the chapter and were eager to continue the discussion armed with new support. By accelerating their thinking, Mr. Cramer not only got students more engaged, he was able to help them navigate the chapter and read with a purpose.
Mr. Foster is starting a new math unit next week but he’s worried. Although his fifth-graders should know their times tables, many still struggle. He doesn’t have time to spend weeks reteaching the times tables and yet, he is worried that his students can’t be successful with the unit without knowing them. So, he prints out times table charts and tapes them to each student’s desk. Then he uses a black marker to cross out the 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, 9’s, 10’s, and 11’s. Then he teaches students how to use the times table charts and allows them to use the charts to solve their practice problems. For the next few days, Mr. Foster reviews times tables during the warm up each day. Then, when the unit begins, he allows students to use the times table charts on their desks. At the end of the week, he gives a times table quiz and based on their results, students cross off the 3, 4, and 6 times tables. The next week, the warm ups are focused on the 7,8, and 12 times tables. By the end of the second week, students successfully pass a second quiz and remove the charts from their desks. By the end of the unit, they are not only successfully solving the problems taught during the unit, they also know their times tables.
Mrs. Tailor’s third graders are all reading between 1 and 3 grade levels behind. She’s nervous because this year, they will have to take state tests for the first time. Not only is she worried that students will struggle with the reading comprehension sections, she’s worried that they will struggle with the test itself. So, the Friday before each weekly unit, she previews the key vocabulary from the upcoming week using different vocabulary games and activities that involve non-linguistic representations. The next Monday, she reviews the key vocabulary during the morning meeting. Throughout the week, she teaches the vocabulary in the context of the lesson giving students multiple exposures to the words. She also includes academic vocabulary such as explain, retell, and compare so that students clearly know what to do when they see those words on a test. As a result, students’ reading comprehension increases, as does their test performance.
Shakespeare is tough even for the most ardent English students. Not only do they struggle with his archaic language, they often miss the larger themes and the subtle humor of the plays entirely. So, a few weeks before starting Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Drake has had his students grappling with the bigger themes of what constitutes true love in their daily journals. Some of the writing prompts have even been excerpts from the King James Bible, Letters written during Elizabethan period, and even excerpts from Shakespeare’s sonnets about love so that students can be exposed to the language of the time before encountering it in the play. He’s also begun to teach some of the more difficult vocabulary from the play out of context during the warm ups. Students have really enjoyed playing with the language and by the time he introduces the play, they dive in right away.
What do all three of these scenarios have in common? In every case, the teacher saw students struggling and provided support to help students KEEP up rather than waiting for students to struggle and then have to catch up. That’s the power of acceleration.
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