Addressing the needs of students when they struggle haunts me. I am not only talking about students who may be working below grade, but any student who begins to stumble on a concept. At times even my best students have trouble on new topics. Currently, I use a Concepts Checklist, which is an altered version of SBG (Standards Based Grading) to identify this. However, I would ideally like to give additional support to students when they FIRST begin to have trouble, instead of trying to remediate when they are already behind or completely lost.
I read about using “red flags” in Robyn Jackson’s book “How To Support Struggling Students” while doing a book study with my amazing PLN (Professional Learning Network) of mathematics educators on Twitter. I immediately loved the idea of the red flag, but was worried about the negative connotation of a student receiving a “red flag”. I do not want the flag to be seen as a negative, a sign that a student is “not good” at math or “in trouble”. To give the flag a positive connotation, I decided to come up with a positive acronym for FLAG. Thanks to @fourkatie via Twitter, Fix Learning And Grow was born.
I do not plan to use FLAGs for purely academic reasons. I would like to give students a FLAG in any area where they can “Fix and Grow”. I plan on handing out flags for incomplete or missing homework, recurring misunderstandings in class, sloppy/incomplete notebooks, and excessive absences and tardies if they are having trouble making up the work.
UPDATE: I originally included disruptive behavior, but after some insightful comments, I rethought that and will NOT be including disruptive behavior in the FLAG system. I want to FLAG to focus on academics.
As teachers we do not have much time to implement an exhaustive new program. It must require low maintenance from me in order for it to be long-lasting. Thus, I am organizing the FLAG program to encourage independent learning. When I identify a need, I will place a flag on a students paper (or notebook). I will write the name of the FLAG on the flag. It is then the students responsibility to address their FLAG. The student will visit the FLAG page on our Wiki to read about their FLAG and see the steps they need to follow. The FLAGs are only temporary, and once they have addressed their need, their FLAG can be “waived”.
I think that this will save me time because a FLAG is quick and easy to write and hand out (post-it flags). I do not have to worry if an issue is serious enough to warrant a “talk” with a student or initiate a parent contact. I do not have to come up with “fixes” for the problem each time I do talk to a student. FLAG is a system that is already in place and ready to address many student needs, from the minor to the major.
I am still developing this idea and the overall FLAG system so I would LOVE any thoughts and feedback. Read more on my FLAG page on the wiki. Please help me make FLAGs better!
How do you join the Twitter PLN? I am interested in joining the next book study!!!
Are you on Twitter? If not, you need to join and then follow me at @jreulbach and send me a message. I’ll introduce you to all of the math education folks. We LOVE new teachers! Welcome!
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I can certainly see the rationale behind wanting to change a negative connotation into a positive, encouraging one. I’m curious, though, what the long-term impact will be on what initially starts out as positive reinforcement in terms of intent.
For example, socially, we mitigated the use of negative terms like “handicapped” or the even-worse “retarded” and replaced them with “physically *challenged*” or “mentally/emotionally *challenged*,” even going so far as to use the term “differently-abled.” However, as a society, we still understand instinctively a sort of social hierarchy, if you will, and over time, those words became associated with the same concept or visual cues that determine — however unfairly — the levels of superiority or inferiority, thus leading back to the same connotation.
“Physically challenged” still means “handicapped” in a semantic way, so while the original usage of “physically challenged” may have been intended as positive highlighting of abilities rather than disabilities, I’m wondering whether time has diluted that connotation and returned to the — for illustration’s sake — shaking-head-in-pity image…just using a different PHRASE than “handicapped,” while meaning the same thing.
In that vein, it seems that “challenged” is now just a euphemism for “handicapped,” with the same negative connotation simply due to time and usage. So my curiosity was piqued when you wrote about using FLAGs for other areas than just academics and also into behavioral issues.
So I guess my question then is how would you avoid the seemingly inevitable downward slide, so to speak, of the FLAG into that same realm of negative connotation over time? From a student’s perspective, if I observe and associate a concept with negative behavior (like a classmate constantly being a jerk), I may likely also react negatively to that concept despite its original intent to encourage alternate behavior rather than punishment.
@Jerome – Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You are accurate in your thinking. I am sure that even though I am putting a positive spin on the name of the FLAG that students will still view it as a negative and be disappointed when they receive them. I do expect this as getting a FLAG does indicate that they have a specific area that need improvement. I will talk to the students as they receive FLAGS and acknowledge that feeling. What I am hoping is that with the moniker Fix Learning and GROW that they will also see this as an opportunity to improve before their grade is negatively affected.
I initially did not have non-academic behaviors associated with FLAG. But since I teach middle school students, I would like to help them learn to improve in all areas so I decided to include them. Do you think that the FLAG system would be better if it only indicated academic struggling and did NOT include non-academic behaviors?
I can definitely understand wanting to incorporate something more than just academically, especially for that age! 🙂
Whenever I describe the various age groups to my non-education friends, I usually say that middle school kids are caught in a sort of hormonal/behavioral limbo where they still have the naive hyperactivity of elementary-age kids, but see themselves as grown-up like high school kids 🙂
Maybe a gradual introduction of the FLAG concept? Start with academic usage, and then gradually move it over to the non-academic realm? That might get the kids as well as yourself and your colleagues accustomed to how it works in practice and make adjustments as you progress.
I’d think that (at least in my info-tech hypothesis way of thinking) as the students start getting used to the notion that a FLAG is not a punishment, it could then gradually expand into the non-academic areas.
Jerome – I really appreciate your input. Since your first comment I have been doing a lot of thinking on this and have decided not to FLAG for non-academic reasons. We do have a system at my school and I don’t want to interfere with that or to reprimand a student twice for the same deed. I like your idea of the gradual inclusion and I’ll think more on that as well. Thank you for your insight!
I am intrigued by your FLAG idea and would be interested in incorporating something of this nature into my classroom. My question however is, what do you do with those students who refuse to participate in the process for the FLAGs? Do you punish the negative behavior in some way or reward the students who have done what is necessary to have their flag waived? How I want to handle this part of the process is stumping me.
@Krystal – If students do not make an effort to have their FLAG waved I will contact their parent. I don’t want to apply punishement to the FLAG system as I am trying to keep it positive. Contacting the parent will allow me to explain that FLAG is a support system designed to help students succeed. Thus, it is in the child’s best interest to seek help. I do not want to reward them for completing the FLAG, as I think that their grades should improve as they move through the FLAG system and that will be their reward. I am also trying to keep it as simple and low maintenance as possible, otherwise I’m afraid it will be too hard for ME to keep up with. 🙂