The Power of One Good Thing

A million years ago, when I was in the midst of my coursework for my teaching degree, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in on an teacher in-service day. My supervising teacher for that field experience course insisted upon my attendance – he wanted me to see first-hand that part of teacherlife. As in-services go, it probably wasn’t horrible. I didn’t leave the building shouting from the rooftops, but I didn’t die of boredom either. Back in class, my methods teacher asked how things were going and I told her about participating in the PD session.  She told me something I remember vividly to this day: “Your goal in every professional development day is to find One Good Thing. If you can come back with one thing you can use out of the seven hours, you got what you needed from that in-service day.”

Sometimes that One Good Thing has been hard to find. But I’m a big fan of the concept. I’ve been told I’m an Optimistic Pessimist. That One Good Thing in class? I’ll hold onto it like the scent of the perfume of a loved one. I’m the guy who actually had a file folder of little notes from students that I kept on hand as a pick-me-up. Of course they disappeared in the move from Vegas back to the Region. But the thoughts my students took time to put into words are still there.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who thinks like this. There’s actually a One Good Thing blog, featuring real contributions from actual teachers. I might have first stumbled across it when Sam Shah mentioned it on his blog. Or maybe I’m just thinking it was him. He contributes there regularly. I don’t read it as often as a I should. Or contribute there at all.  Maybe I should work to change both of those deficits.

I teach sections of Algebra 1A for students who have previously failed the course, in some cases multiple times. Many of them hate math, hate school, and hate me. So we take baby steps. Sometimes starting from: can I just get everybody paying attention and at least have note-taking materials out? I have promised them we will never take a quiz without a review day first. And not just me standing at the board and doing math while they stare at me like I’m a trained seal. I mean them doing math, me circulating around the room, listening in while they help each other, offering some help when needed, formative-assessing myself senseless.

Wait… I thought you just said they hate math? And now you claim they do math math on their own while you float about the room?

I don’t blame you if you call BS. This is the magic of what I’ve come to call the Kate Nowak Style Of Review. Executive summary: all students are working, and the activity is self-checking, thus allowing teacher to target help to those most badly in need. A few weeks ago I wrote about an activity I created that bombed. (Hey, it’s a learning opportunity for me, right?). So this time around, back to the tried and true: Row Games. Here’s the docs:

Alg 1A Solve Inequalities Row Games Review Pt 2

Alg 1A Solve Inequalities Row Games Review Pt 1

See now, here’s the thing: Baby Steps aren’t just for students. I’m learning every day too. Sometimes, it just takes a little reminder. As a For Instance: after I told my students we had a quiz coming up, one of the students (who remembered the Speed Dating review from the last quiz) said, “Can we do more review like that? Because it really helped.”


Yes. Yes we can.

Then, once we finished the Row Games review, which was a smashing success, BTW, we started talking about ways to study at home for a next-day quiz. I mentioned using some of the previous homework assignments as a source of practice problems, and one of the little cherubs said, “Or, we could just do the other column from today’s work!”

One Good Thing.

I’d say “My work here is done”, but I think I’m really just getting started.



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