Riding the Small Waves, Surfing the Big Ones: Remediation and Enrichment Circles

The Ripples Begin

"Spit it out, it won't taste so bad." I love to say this to my students. After a few weeks, I hear them saying it to each other. Like the salt water that enters your nostrils and throat after a wipe out, you need to spit out the failure quickly. Being from California, I use a lot of surfer slang, “Totally rad or Epic dude.” It becomes a part of the classroom vernacular. It is all about failing fast and reinventing your ideas to keep the flow. The bedrock of our student-centered classroom is flow: if it becomes stagnate, learning ceases. If the atmosphere is too tumultuous, it creates a sense of discontentment and upheaval. It is important, with any 'Goldilocks' design, for everything to be balanced, not to fast-paced, not to mundane.

The first day they enter our classroom, we talk openly about failure and mastery. We discuss how during both journeys, we may find ourselves struggling or excelling from day to day. Some topics are easy while others just don't make sense at first. For all of us to ride the small waves and surf the big ones we need to work together. Surfing is all about skill, balance, patience and fortitude. Some waves, powerful and dynamic knock us down into the current, while others create a tube of stability that we can ride with ease. Either way, surfing is all about observing others and learning from our mistakes.

The best way to make sure that students feel in charge and connected to their learning is by unpacking the standards (TEKS) and letting them know unequivocally, the objectives and mission for the week. I am as specific in this regard as possible. I do not tell my students how to get there, merely, what they need to know once they arrive. As a class, we talk about the content related expectations. What it is exactly that they need to master. Then students discuss the topics together, design a plan, and throughout the week conduct activities to learn the material. I often have some mini-lessons on complicated concepts, but most of the investigation and discovery is in their hands.

The Waves Form

Our classroom, 1161, like my Twitter, You Tube and Class blog handles, is collidingwithscience. Yes, one word, like a collision.  This is the theme of our learning environment: constant bombardments between strategy, content, conversation. A synergy of science, writing and self-expression. Turbulence keeps momentum and an open-mind. Independence does not isolate students, they are not out on the open ocean, but rather, they are in a cluster of surfers and swimmers, where every member of the community has a role to play. One week a student might grasp the topic and feel enlightened to guide others- be a tutor of the group. They take the responsibility of helping others find their way through the obstacles of ocean tides. The next week this same student may struggle a little, we all have busy lives and maybe they just got lost along the way, the next week they may need help.

If the waves aren't there, they aren't there. You are in a holding pattern, sitting on your board, just waiting for the next one to arrive. The cool water, circling around you. You must have the foresight to wait for the wave to come to you, it always does. Like learning, we must stay patient, diligent and let knowledge find us. However, we may need someone to help prepare us for the ride, help stabilize our footing. Therefore, in our classroom, we have remediation and enrichment circles. Every Friday for 20 minutes, students focus on their strengths and weaknesses and search for their next wave.

Riding the Wave, Surf’s Up

Step one, students find their spot at the perspective table and the collaboration begins.
No one knows where they fit into the fold better than students themselves. We talk during one-minute check-ins and they ask me questions, but come Friday they know if they need to sit at the swimmers, remediation circle, or the surfers, enrichment circle. Generally, they choose wisely, however, I have been known to nudge them in the right direction if they lose sight of their mission. I make eye contact and give them an inquisitive look, this usually does the trick. After a few sessions though this quiet urging is no longer needed. They quickly see the impact of this model and growth becomes exponential.

Everyone gets a chance to be the leader of the group. At first there are only a few who are brave enough to dive into deep waters, but over time even the quietest of students finds the confidence to take the lead. The remediation circle generally is focused on reviewing the vocabulary, talking through assignments and activities from the week and helping those who may not have caught the wave yet, to at least jump up on the board. It is awesome to hear them talk things through. They understand what it means to be confused and ‘off your game’ so they are well-equipped to help one another. After 15 minutes, they choose three “light-bulb” moments to share with the class.

At the same time, there is an enrichment circle taking place, this takes a little more preparation on the participants parts, they must come to class with something tangible to present. Usually it is the form of a short-video (related to the topic) or an article they found. They share their ideas and make connections back to the weeks learning objectives. At the end of the 15 minutes the remediation group will agree on three successes of the circle, three things they discovered about the content they didn't know before. This gives students a way to reconnect and find purpose for this activity. Finally, both circles will share their discoveries with the class, helping to make connections others may have missed. A total of 20 minutes including share time. It may seem like a waste of time for some teachers, but I promise you it is not. It is a necessary time for students to learn from each other, reflect and grow as a community. To build the trust and respect needed for a student-centered classroom to be successful.

Paddling Back Out

If students feel safe to try new things they will take-risks and surf even the largest of waves. Having the opportunity to just talk and figure things out makes all the difference. No judgement, just strategy and support. When they are comfortable crashing into the current and are willing to jump back up on the board quickly they will become novice surfers, quickly. This skill of stealth and agility comes from collaboration and trust. Believing in yourself and finding strength in numbers because when we solve problems as a community, it benefits future endeavors. It solidifies the pack, the flock, the pride.

When students can see the shoreline, and recognize the importance of trial and error and observing and modeling then these circles of trust will only enhance their ride. These hives of hope create a reliance and camaraderie like nothing else. Students want to catch the wave. They just want to know someone has their back. All we should do, as teachers, is provide the board. They will seek out the surge and watch for the ripple and vibration, if we let them take it all in. Once they have confidence and faith in each other they will lose any reluctance to just ‘waste it completely out there.’ Instead they will look for opportunities to become better surfers. Let them sit for a moment on calm waters and reflect and to enter the crest at their own pace. They will in turn, hold their own against the swells and curls. If we point them toward the beach they will break the waves at their own speed. It is all about timing.

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