As a teacher, we take on many roles for our students. This year, I was a high school varsity boys basketball coach. Our team was small, in more ways than one. I only had seven high school players, and I was taller than all of them—though, in all fairness, I am a tall girl but an average-sized boy. In the previous year, they had only won four games. This winning percentage was not acceptable to me. I had an almost perfect lifetime winning percentage, spent two years undefeated, and another 4 years where I lost no more than five games. Needless to say, losing was not an option in my eyes.
In my first week as head coach, the boys learned how to pass and how to dribble. We developed a routine that focused the first 30 minutes of every practice on basketball fundamentals. This focus on fundamentals continued all season. An average practice included 30 minutes on fundamentals, 30 minutes on play practice, and 15 minutes on conditioning. The players moved all their shooting goals to high percentage shots, so there was no more just shooting because they were open. Instead, they had to work the ball around until they were open in a high percentage area. In the end, it worked! Okay, they were not undefeated, but they had won more games than they lost that year! To me, that was just as good as a state championship. I know it felt just as good to those guys.
How does this relate the classroom? Well, it directly relates because I refocused the practices. We spent time in practice on things that would directly impact their ability to win. Just practicing plays over and over does not make one a better player. I was once told, practice does not make perfect; instead, it is perfect practice that creates perfection.
Yet, we do this in our classrooms. Teachers spend time running lessons without focusing the lessons on the standards. In Texas, teaching moon phases is a good example of this lack of standards focus. Teachers in classrooms all over the state have students learning the names of the phases of the moon, but that is nowhere in the TEKS. What is in the TEKS?
In other words:
5.8A – long-term vs. short-term weather
5.8B – the sun powers the water cycle
5.8C – earth’s rotation is 24 hours; to us, it looks like the Sun is moving across our sky but it is actually the earth’s movement creating the illusion.
5.8D – the sun is hot gas and cannot support life; the moon has little to no water or atmosphere and cannot support life; Earth has water, a protective atmosphere, and can support life.
There is no place for identifying the layers of the sun or the earth—although I would not say it is not aligned to the TEKS—but I especially do not see any place for students to learn the names of the phases of the moon.
If we want our students to win in the classroom, we need to focus our practice on those standards that our students will be tested on at the end of the year. Can we go above and beyond? Absolutely! However, kind of like my basketball boys learning how to full court press, it’s a great skill but kind of pointless when they can’t dribble, pass, or shoot.