Adjust Your Zoom

There are times in education when we need to "zoom in," look at the details and the fine points. There are other times that a more global view is appropriate. We need to "zoom out" and look at the big picture. In my coaching conversations, I have noticed that many times when teachers or teams are frustrated, we need to adjust our zoom.

ZOOM OUT Scenario 1
A team is working on common plans for math. I walk in and teachers are talking about the number talk for the second lesson, then jump to the stations planning for next week, another teacher mentions that they need to make a formative assessment to use, too. Then they all look at me, "this is hard and overwhelming!" they say, "how can we make this planning easier?"

This is a situation where we need to zoom out. Focusing on the details of lesson plans before the big picture is mapped out results in frustration and lack of focus. There are so many tiny details of a unit plan. While it is easy to get caught up in those details and ideas, those are really the last step of planning. First, you need to think about the progression of the unit. What are the standards and goals? Once you know that you can backwards plan and work your way back to the lessons and details.

ZOOM OUT Scenario 2
Students have taken a standardized assessment. Results are available on a teacher dashboard with about 20 different types of reports and graphs. You can look at the school, grade level, teacher, class period, and individual student with a click of a button.

This situation might not seem like a problem, but it can be. Standardized test results are easy to zoom in quickly. We need to zoom out. Consider this, these types of assessments are good for giving us some information about a large group but not good at giving a lot of information about individuals. This Ted-Ed video helps explain:

I get some push-back on this by educators that say, "but we need to look at the test data! That is the reality right now in education." I agree! Let's look at the test data, but be realistic about what test data can tell us. Looking at a student's data over time is effective, zooming into one test and using that to plan for instruction is not. Looking at a teacher's data over time is helpful, looking at one class, group, or even class period is not. We all want the test data to TELL US WHAT TO DO! Unfortunately, the test is just a measurement tool. If you want test scores to go up, we need to focus on good teaching and learning.

ZOOM IN Scenario 1
I sit down to plan with a teacher and the plans for the next week are in front of us. I ask, "how did the lesson go today?" The teacher replies,"Fine. We got through it!" 

This is an example of needing to zoom in. I get it, as teachers we have a lot going on and the last thing we need to do is change our lesson plans! However, sometimes we focus on what we are teaching instead of focusing in on what students are doing. This reminds me of the quote, "just because you teach it doesn't mean they learned it!"

We need to zoom in. Listen to students as they are working, look at their work, take notes or pictures, reflect on the lesson. These are informal formative assessments that you need to inform your instruction. It might feel more efficient to go through your lessons in the interest of covering all the material, but in the end it leads to lots of frustration for kids and for you. No one likes the feeling of teaching something one unit only to have students retain little of the understanding later. We need to teach at the pace of learning.

ZOOM IN Scenario 2
A teacher is looking for help, "My students don't like math! They don't try and they get frustrated. I know it's kind of boring, but we need to do it! I have to get them ready for the standardized test!"

Here's another situation to zoom in. Let's look at what we are asking students to do? If it's a bunch of "skill practice" with not much context, things get boring quickly. Do your students see math as a bunch on unrelated, unconnected procedures? How can we help them make connections? Give them interesting math to do! I'm not saying you need to put on a show, and please don't just add coloring to the same boring problems. We don't need an unrelated craft project (sorry, Pinterest), we need interesting math!
Need ideas?
Open Middle Problems
3 Act Tasks (6-12)
3 Act Tasks (elementary)
Numberless Word Problems
Formative Assessment Lessons (6-12)


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