Tuesday, March 21, 2017

R, R, R - No Failure Classroom - An update

One of the things that Rachel and I really believe in is the No Failure Classroom. We've posted on this a few times and, today, it made an appearance in another blog that Rachel and I participate in. If you are interested, you can find these posts here:
  1. Everyone Needs a little R, R, and R
  2. Growing a Latin Program Part 2
  3. No Failure Classroom at Work
One of the things, mentioned in two of these posts, is the R, R, and R day. Since its first implementation last year, we have changed the way we do this somewhat. In this post, I'd like to discuss these changes. 

Basic Premise


Not much has changed from our last post in regards to the reasoning behind offering this day. Ultimately what it boils down to is:

Comprehensible
Compelling
Caring*

  1. We want our work to be comprehensible. Sometimes, students do poorly on an assessment because something was incomprehensible. This can be as simple as the instructions. It can also refer to the stress level, health, etc. of our students. A student who has a cold will often find things harder to understand. 
  2. We want our work to be compelling. Students may perform at a lower proficiency level because something isn't compelling. Having a day like this allows students to show their skills using something they feel is compelling. 
  3. We want our work to be caring. This speaks to both comprehensibility and compellingness and everything else under the sun. We want students to succeed. Having R, R, and R days allows our work to be caring in the ultimate way. Our classes aren't about a "gotcha" moment or "tricks". It is truly about acquisition and proficiency. 
* Credit to Rachel Ash for the three Cs

What We've Changed

Since last year, a few things have changed. Rachel and I are teaching upper level classes now, while our colleagues teacher the first years. Rachel's and my kids are now in their second year of R, R, and R. Our understanding of Comprehensible Input and the no fail classroom has improved and been updated. Knowing all that, a few things have changed. 

Latin I

In Latin I, much stays the same. Students are given particular activities to complete and meet about specific stories and activities. Latin I classes have R, R, and R days with less frequency than the upper levels, but we all reserve the right to have one whenever we feel we need one. 

Latin II+

In Latin II and above, we've decided that students should choose how they show their proficiency in the standards. This means they come up with their own way, rather than choosing from a list of assignments. I will be honest and say some kids have had a hard time struggling with this. When this comes up, I have a set of questions I start to walk through:
  • What does the standard say?
  • What do you think that means?
  • What ideas do you have that you think will show your proficiency level in this?
  • What have we done in class that has applied to this?
I also always allow them to redo or resubmit previous work. I will be honest and say most do not choose this option. Most students choose a different assignment that they want to do.

I did provide a FAQ for my students who were struggling with what to do on R, R, and R days*. What I have found, however, is that this kind of work requires students to rethink how they think of grades and class. This is good, but can be a process with ups and downs. Some days students seem to have a very good grasp of the process, and others they need a lot of guidance and sometimes get frustrated.

* Please note that these are based on our standards and may need editing for your use.

What's changed in general

One of the things that's changed in general is what we allow kids to do when they don't have work. I still stress that this should be community building, and most kids take advantage of that. I keep a box of activities ready for my classes. But, we also allow kids to work on other work or put their heads down. Here are the things I keep in my box. 
  • Minotaurus and other board games 
  • decks of cards
  • puzzles of varying difficulties

I do spend money on these, but not as much as one might think. I only bring games that I have at home already, or ones that I made (I'm currently working on checkers sets using old fabric, paint, and bottle tops). I get everything else in bulk (cards) or from the dollar store (puzzles). I do spend some money on plastic bins to keep my puzzles in good condition. The box itself was a gift. 

Other Considerations

If this is something you decide to implement, I'd take a few things into consideration. There is no one answer to these, but I've attempted to provide my own thoughts on each issue. 
  1. How often should I have a regular R, R, and R day? I honestly base this on the class. I have been giving one every other week this semester, but, given a few factors, we won't be having one until next week. It really depends on where you and your class are. 
  2. What about special R, R, and R days, for example if everyone fails a test? We operate on the 80% rule. If 80% of a class doesn't make 80% or better, we take the burden on ourselves, rather than putting a retake or remediation on the shoulders of the kids, and work with the entire class. We had one such incident last year, which you can read about here. 
  3. Can kids turn in work anytime? Or just on R, R, and R days? Personally, I don't offer work unless on an R, R, and R day. If a parent emails, I talk about these days as well. If a student comes to me, however, and asks specifically, I always take the work. This happens rarely, as most kids get the work done on the R, R, and R day. 
  4. What about kids who take poor advantage of the system? We've always maintained the right to lessen these in frequency or to not have them should a student or a class take advantage. One of the reasons I am not having one this week is due to this very reason. We will have one later, but I am lessening their frequency since students do not feel like they need to take good advantage of the time that often.

Final Thoughts

Of course, however, I always bear in mind that kids are kids. One of the big reasons many teachers do not accept late work or offer retakes is because of the argument, "but this isn't how the real world works". And yet... it is exactly how the real world works. We receive and lose opportunities based on what we do and how we do it. We offer this day to our kids to allow them to show us what they couldn't do, be it on account of sickness, emotion, absence, or lack of understanding. These days take pressures off of kids who already feel overwhelmed at school - just like when adults take a "mental health" day (for example). When we miss a payment, or we fall on hard times, often we get a grace period, a fee (and a second chance), or, if we can work it out, forgiveness. That's what really stands behind these days: a chance for students to learn how to, and demonstrate, better skills, and get the help they need, just like we might in the "real world".