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Removing Escape Hatches from Your Classroom

Posted by on in Teaching with Rigor
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escape hatch

A common theme I get asked about during my workshops is student motivation, or student effort.

No matter what management techniques or systems you have in your classroom to maintain behavior, instilling a culture of working hard, or "grit" as some like to call it, is probably one of the most difficult things you can accomplish as a teacher.

A huge problem with traditional teacher-lead instruction is that the cycle of learning is "closed". You instruct, assess, grade, and move on. Students who don't want to do the work, simply don't try, turn in half empty papers, or don't study and fail. In the student's mind, it is easier to fail than to work hard for a short time and succeed (especially if they are used to this cycle and failing within it.)

By just stamping a grade on my students' papers, I was providing them with what I call an "Escape Hatch". For some students, it becomes normal to simply fail and "escape" hard work, so that is what they were inevitably doing in my classroom.

As I developed the current system I use in my classroom, I did my best to try and remove these hatches. There were several changes I implemented that have increased how much effort my students give me everyday.

I'm going to share those changes here.

1. Give multiple chances / hold students accountable for learning:

Have your students prove mastery before moving on from a lesson or task, based on an assessment.

Keep the bar high at 85% competency so they understand what you expect.

Provide supportive feedback between attempts

Utilize targeted intervention.

2. Make additional learning required after a failed attempt:

When a student fails, put intervention tasks in place so they can't go right back to the assignment.

Have students correct responses and further explain mis-understandings or why their answer was incorrect.

Provide each learner with a form that outlines the incorrect answers they gave and what they should have been before moving on.

3. Create ownership. Reward progress and work:

Provide students with rewards, like becoming a peer to peer tutor. (Avoid "bribery" based rewards, like giving them a piece of candy or a letting them out of a future assignment.)

Send a positive note home for work well done.

Always focus students on their choices and their learning to create ownership...avoid comparing them to others.

Have students write and share goals daily to increase accountability and ownership of learning.

Since implementing these changes in my classroom, my students fully understand that the easier path to success is getting things right and working hard the first time.

If they know not being able to show mastery on a task leads to more work, they will give you more effort the first time. This has truly changed my classroom and the "grit" my students show everyday.

If you try any of these, I would love to hear from you!  If you have any suggestions of your own or have tried things that work in your classroom to get learners working harder, I'd love to have you share your story with me!

And always remember:

Failure should always be harder than success for your learners.

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After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree In Biology, Chad Ostrowski or “Mr. O” as his students fondly call him, set his sights on education. He was chosen as one of only 50 individuals in the state of Ohio to be granted the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship through the Ohio STEM Learning Network.  Through this fellowship, he received his Master’s in Science Education and gained intensive training and expertise in STEM education, Problem Based Learning, Inquiry-based instruction as well as other cutting-edge educational research and modern pedagogical theory. 


Ostrowski has since presented research at the NSTA National Conference onProblem-Based Learning in the Gifted Classroom and Continues to develop and research modern innovative educational practices. Chad has been teaching  Middle School Science in a high needs urban district for 4 years. In that short time, due to his dedication to teaching, innovative teaching methods and educational leadership he has been named Science Department Chair within his building, Building Leadership Team member and District Co-chair of Middle School Science Curriculum. 


It is through these foundations that he has created and developed  the The Grid Method - Mastery Learning System in order to synthesize his knowledge of best practices in education into a system that allows ALL of his students to meet and exceed  their potential. 


Chad has now left the classroom to shre his innovative practices, techniques and strategies with educators all over the country. He does this through speaking at conferences, providng teacher development and workshops, as well as producing blogs, and videos.

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Guest Friday, 18 August 2017