I expect a lot from my students and make sure to tell them that from day one. I am open and honest with them throughout the school year. Doing well takes great effort, perseverance, and hard work. It will not be easy. I want them to grow into the best possible version of themselves over the course of the academic year. I expect them to turn in work that is more than just legible. I expect them to be kind and caring citizens. I expect them to spend time working outside of the classroom. I expect them to do their best in and out of the classroom. While I set the bar high in the classroom, most of the students are able to jump over it by June. If I set the bar low and didn’t make them redo messy or incomplete work or didn’t talk to them about unkind acts, then I wonder how much progress they would really make over the course of the year. The students can only work towards what I expect. If I expect greatness, then they will work towards that. If I expect mediocrity, then they will work towards that. As teachers, we need to set high standards for our students. We can’t allow them to just do the bare minimum to get by. We need to push them to do more and be more.
The awesomeness that occurred in my Humanities class today was a direct result of the high standards I set for my students. In class today, the boys presented the final map they created for the Globe to Flat Map Project. Each and every group performed an amazing presentation that was rehearsed and well organized. They didn’t use cue cards or any sort of digital tools. They merely spoke to the class about their flat map and the process by which it was created. In the three years I’ve been doing this project in the sixth grade, today’s presentations were by far the best I’ve ever seen. The boys did a phenomenal job describing what their map showed, how they transformed their globe into a flat map, and how they overcame problems encountered throughout the process. The students were articulate and clear when they spoke. They were specific and detailed in their explanations, and every group kept to the allotted 3-minute time period. Wow! I was amazed and impressed, but not surprised.
Because I expect a lot from my students, they know that everything they do needs to showcase their best effort. They know to never turn in something that is just barely finished. They know to refine, revise, and redo their work until it is truly their best possible work. What happened in class today was no accident.
I began class today by explaining the three points I expected to be addressed in their presentations:
- Describe what your map shows so that your peers can make sense of what they are looking at.
- Explain the process by which you and your partner created your flat map.
- Describe and explain problems encountered and how you overcame those challenges.
I then asked the students to list what they should be doing during the 10-minute preparatory period that they would have in class to get ready for the final presentations. I wanted them to own their options and possibilities. I wanted them to brainstorm and problem solve how they will be able to do what is being asked of them. The students did a fine job brainstorming some great ideas. They then got right to work. And work they certainly did. Every group was focused and diligently working throughout the short chunk of time. They were discussing talking order, talking points, and time frame. Some of the boys also used the time to refine their maps and make sure they showcased their best effort while also meeting or exceeding the graded objectives. It was awesome to observe them in action. It was controlled chaos as students moved around the room, talked, and prepared. Then, finally, came the remarkable presentations. They were amazing.
Getting to this point in the year takes much time and deliberate effort. It starts with fostering a sense of community and family within the classroom. Our mantra is, “We are a family, and families take care of each other.” Teaching the boys how to apply this way of living takes much work, but pays off in the end when the students learn to care for each other, respect one another, and work together towards a common goal. Once the boys feel cared for, the rest falls into place very quickly. It boils down to structure and engagement. The students need to see the relevance in what they are learning or doing in the classroom. Creating activities and projects that allow the students to engage in the content in meaningful ways allows for this to happen. Then it comes down to the structure of the class. The students need to know and understand the routine. Everything that happens in the classroom needs to serve a purpose. Today’s lesson was all about that. I explained what they needed to do, while they brainstormed how it would take place. Then, they put everything into action. If I hadn’t provided the students with an opportunity to own the process today in class or described what the presentations needed to include, the outcome would certainly not have been as wonderful as it was. Creating high standards in the classroom takes much effort and hard work, but is totally worth it in the end. My students leave the sixth grade feeling confident and able through hard work, perseverance, and the use of a growth mindset. It doesn’t get much better than that.