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No more ‘rob and rescue’; Schley sees students owning the learning


This is a weekly series of stories focusing on ways GIPS teachers are putting new skills in action to grow student achievement.

A group of three students is disagreeing about the solution. One student points out another has the answer incorrect. The next student begins to defend his answer.

“It’s 24 cents. A dime, a dime, a penny, a penny, a penny and another penny,” he says. “Ten plus ten plus one plus one plus one plus one.”

The first grade students in Amy Schley’s Gates Elementary classroom are working in teams to review content they worked on the week before. They are adding the total value of coins depicted on their worksheets.

“Check that one,” the first student says. She points to coins on the other student’s paper. “These aren’t dimes.”

“Oh, those are the backs of pennies,” he says. “Not dimes. It’s six cents.”

The others in the group confirm before moving to the next question. On this question, the boy has the correct answer, and two of the others are incorrect. Schley, the teacher, sits nearby and watches.

She never says a word as, once again, the group talks through the process of finding the correct answer.

Students work in teams in Amy Schley's Gates first grade classroom.

“They are going to learn from each other,” Schley said. “If a whole group is struggling, I may jump in and give a keyword. But I really let them figure it out on their own.”

Schley said this allows them to struggle and still find the answer.

“We don’t ‘rob and rescue’ as we call it,” she said.

Her principal, Julie Martin, describes it in more detail.

“We have spent a lot of time in professional learning on not ‘robbing and rescuing’ the learning,” Martin said. “If we save the day or lead them to the answer, the learning becomes fragile.”

She said it is hard for teachers because they care and love the students; it’s what led them to this profession. The misconception, Martin said, is that rescuing them is helping them.

“Let them do the learning,” she said. “Don’t learn for them. Don’t rob and rescue.”

Students work in teams in Amy Schley's Gates first grade classroom.

Schley agreed it is difficult.

“It’s hard to listen and not correct,” she said. “You want to save them, but you find they can save each other.”

In observing the students struggling and then finding the answer, even parents have been left impressed.

“We invited parents to come to instructional rounds,” Martin said. “They were in awe about what was going on in Amy’s classroom. When parents walk in and see this, when they listen to how students push each other to get the answers, they walk out with their mouths open. Those parents saw great things.”

What has impressed Martin is how Schley has grown as a teacher and as a leader this year.

“She was one of the first to jump in and take on student teaming,” Martin said. “She is stepping outside the box to try something totally different. We haven’t done teaming in elementary at this level, truly giving students ownership. She was brave enough to trust the process. She jumped out early and realized it works - if we trust the process. She saw it worked and soon was sharing the knowledge along the way.”

Schley said the students are great at both taking and giving constructive feedback and asking questions of each other to get to the solutions. This was one of the hardest parts in the process, she said.

“Getting the conversation started was difficult,” she said. Respectfully disagreeing is hard for adults, let alone first graders. “Getting kids to ask questions like ‘why do you disagree?’ … it’s fun to watch now, but it was hard in the beginning. They didn’t want to tell each other they were wrong. They are having the conversation respectfully now. The kids get along so well with each other. It carries on to other things, outside the classroom learning.”

Students work in teams in Amy Schley's Gates first grade classroom.

Schley went on a trip to observe at Jefferson Elementary and was encouraged by what she saw.

“It confirmed some things we are doing,” she said. “We are on the right track.”

Now, Martin said, teacher at Gates are stopping by Schley’s room to see how she’s doing it.

“It’s hard to get teachers to volunteer to try something new like this, but she volunteered early,” Martin said. ”She jumped into the learning. When our teachers came through her classroom, she was willing to let them in. Others started asking her about how it works. She became a leader in the building early and soon other teachers were coming to her for advice.”

Schley says it has been successful for her because she has seen it be successful for her students.

“The power of the kids taking ownership of the learning has been amazing to watch,” Schley said. “We can extend concepts with this group. We’re ahead of the other two rooms because I can extend their learning (in the teams). They can handle it. At first it was difficult and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Now, the results are changing my way of thinking.”

Students work in teams in Amy Schley's Gates first grade classroom.

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