Last time, I wrote about how our relationships with students are sure to break down. This is why I've added “Repair” to the CCP of teacher credibility that I wrote about in These 6 Things, Chapter 2: Care, Competence, and Passion. If you cannot identify and repair faltering student-teacher relationships, you're bound to be befuddled by the change in student motivation you'll witness when you unintentionally offend a student.
All right, fine, some of you said. I'll keep in mind repair. But Dave, what about those students that I can't for the life of me even begin a productive relationship with?
For this, we'll need to head back to the '80s — that magical time of excellent hair and amazing teaching strategies. Enter the observational research of Raymond Wlodkowski.
The 2×10 strategy is simple: for 10 class periods in a row, you speak to your hardest-to-reach student(s) for two minutes straight on a non-school topic of their choosing. This can happen before, during, or after class. If you're familiar with my work, this is basically a targeted, extended string of moments of genuine connection with the added requirement that they can't be about school.
I first heard about 2×10 from a high school teacher in Springfield, IL, when I was leading a workshop there, and this teacher in turn heard about 2×10 from a blog post by Angela Watson. Watson is the one who did the digging to find the origins of the strategy in the literature: the observational research of Raymond Wlodkowski.
According to Wlodkowski, when teachers used 2×10 with their toughest students, he observed “an 85-percent improvement in that one student's behavior.” And the improvement didn't stop there. He also found that in these classes, “the behavior of all the other students in the class improved” (here's the source at ASCD). This latter effect is likely due to the credibility gains that teachers experienced when they started having an easier time reaching the toughest-to-reach student in the class.
In this academic year, I've used 2×10 with four out of my 120 students. Sometimes these two-minute conversations have been awkward — especially on the first day or two when it's hard to elicit more than monosyllabic responses. Sometimes I've kept it undercover, not telling the targeted student that I'm trying to talk to them for ten days straight. Other times, I've said, “Hey, I'm curious about you. You're a mystery to me. If you could pick anything in the world to do, what would it be?”
But here's the consistent result: in all cases where I've completed a full 2×10 intervention, that student's behavior and motivation have improved. Where once relationships did not exist, now relationships do.
The point of 2×10 isn't for it to go perfectly. It's to:
- Do something about our hardest to reach students — very helpful when trying to leave work at work and slay teacher guilt.
- Avoid pouring an unsustainable time chunk into reaching our hardest to reach students — after all, there are ~30 on each of my rosters and I owe my work to all of them.
- Establish that I am a professional who works to care for all of my students, which helps build my credibility with the targeted student and with any bystanders.
- Make it more likely that my classroom will be a place for more learning and less stress — after all, my hardest to reach students are the ones most likely to cause disruptions or tensions that adversely affect them, me, and the rest of the class.
So when I say, “Who's your toughest-to-teach student?” who do you picture? Tomorrow, start 2×10 with them.
(And make sure you keep a tally someplace so you don't fall off the wagon midway!)