Sometimes You Have to Punt

I am the most effective in the classroom when I remember to always be alert, to be ready to adapt and shift on a moment’s notice. Sometimes the plans work and the goals are smoothly met. The students tackle each task and grasp the new concepts and skills. Then there are those other days, the ones where it should be working, it worked before, but it just isn’t now. Those are the times when we have to punt, to simply throw the old plan out the window and modify the lesson to meet the kids.

Yesterday I gave a pop quiz on maps and globes. It was material that we had worked on for three days. I had showed a variety of maps and compared them to globes. We acted out the globe and different map projections. For being a globe, the students stood and with their arms over their heads, curved forward.

For the Mercator map, they stood straight with their arms spread wide, to show the lines of longitude that run straight from top to bottom of the map. Their mouths were wide open to indicate how large Greenland is on the map, in comparison to its size on the globe.

Their favorite was to come up with a way to show an interrupted projection, which had them standing like storks or Egyptian Pyramid-style dancers.

They had then copied notes from the board, while we had a conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Their homework had been to type up the notes on their new laptops, to help them see if that helped them learn the information. The next day in class, they all said that the combination of handwriting and then typing made them feel like they knew the information. Their homework had been to study their notes. It felt like a varied approach, and the class had been engaged and interested in how cartographers impact the maps that they make.

The next day, I wanted to see how much they had retained of the information, so I started class with a quick quiz. I expected that it would be an experience of success for them. For the first section, early in the morning, the students reacted with confidence, reading over the worksheet and quickly filling in the worksheet, especially the one where a penguin looks at an upside-down globe and smiles.

My second section came in after lunch. They took one look at the worksheet and became deflated. Some began writing, but many of them picked up their pens and simply stared into space after writing their names. Some began to become visibly disturbed. After a few minutes, I realized that this was not accomplishing anything that I wanted. I had no desire to make them feel like they didn’t understand the material.

I stopped the quiz and quickly changed the homework. It became to study the quiz that they had in their hands and to be ready to take it again the next day. I told them that I would collect both quizzes, so that those who had been doing really well could be able to show me that, but that those who were finding it too difficult would have time to review the material. The next morning, when they came in, it was a totally different feel. They were ready and eager to show what they knew.

Sometimes how a lesson goes isn’t about teaching strategies or planning. Sometimes it is simply about the kids. Where are they at that moment? What has happened in their day? They are each unique individuals who form unique and ever-mutating groups. No two classes are ever alike. It may be my job to cover certain skills, but to be effective, I have to stay attuned to how each group tackles the work and adapt on an almost moment-to-moment basis. And the final lesson, after lunch should never be the time to give a quiz. The brain has a hard time thinking when the stomach has top priority.

Photos all found on

3 responses to “Sometimes You Have to Punt

  1. I agree with this approach in some cases; however the students also need to learn to adapt to circumstances that are sometimes out of their control. If they weren’t ready to take the quiz they need to figure out why and learn from their mistakes. Failure is not a bad thing as long as we learn from it. Life won’t always wait for us to be ready.

    • I totally agree, Clay! My goal was to take some of the fear of failure away, while setting up a situation where they could think about how they and learned and then practice it again. This early in the year, I want them to be focusing on how they learn and on why something didn’t stick. I don’t want them to become discouraged and disengage, but rather see each experience as one where they are both working with information and also discovering more about themselves.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hello!
    I loved this post! As a future teacher it is nice to read the TRUTH about what goes on in classrooms. It is very beneficial for me to know that my lessons may not always work, but that it is not necessarily something that I have done wrong. I think that it is very important for teacher to adapt to their students. I loved the way you said this…”sometimes you have to punt”. I love football, so this was a very easy analogy for me to understand!
    Thank you,
    Mattie Bearden

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