Cost-Benefit Analysis

It’s the start of a new school year and one of my personal goals this year is to get back into blogging. Reflection is a key part of my pedagogical practice and this blog serves that purpose. Another reason is that we are in the beginning stages of a research project in which blogging and journaling will be part of the data collection process. So I’m following the advice of my good friend, Carl Oliver, and just pushing send.

Well not quite yet, I will at the end of the post. I promise. But, before I do push send, I wanted to discuss one of the most vulgar, wicked, fiendish, and ear-splittingly foul four letter words in the educational lexicon, time. Teachers and students are constantly asking for more time for a variety of things. How often have we heard things like: “I need more time to finish the problem.” “I need more time to assess the students.” “I need more time for self-care.” Time is at a premium in education and everyone is looking for how to maximize it.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to share a story. This year I am working with a new assistant teacher and she has just begun her educational career. We began the year by using John Stevens’ Would You Rather instructional routine. Our plan was to use this routine as a warm-up and then move on to another activity, however the lesson she had created was going so well that we decided to continue it with an extension that asked the students to create their own Would You Rather prompts. Afterwards, she asked me why we didn’t move onto the next activity as planned and the only phrase that I could think of was, “Cost Benefit Analysis.” In our classroom to support students with a variety of disabilities, we try to focus solely on the goal of the lesson. The goals of this lesson were for students to think critically, explain, justify, and express themselves. Teachers make an average of 4 instructional decisions every minute and each of those choices should be in service of the instructional goal of the lesson. So each decision is analyzing the cost of time with the potential benefit towards the instructional goal. This instructional routine was allowing students to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others while also providing us, the teachers, with some valuable formative assessment of their mathematical skills and levels of thinking. The benefits far outweighed the cost of scrapping the other planned activity. (Sorry Dan!)

I am also often asked about levels of prompting and how much support teachers should provide students with disabilities. The answer is another cost-benefit analysis. Factors to consider in your cost-benefit analysis are the needs of the student, the cost of independence and the potential benefit towards the instructional goal of the lesson.

Our speech & language therapists facilitated a professional development session on how the levels of prompting relate to language input and output. They created and shared this graphic that everyone found very useful.

To alleviate the gravity of each of these cost-benefit analyzed instructional decisions, we implement instructional routines as a way to “temporarily hold some things [in the classroom] constant while working on others.” So of the 270,000 decisions that my assistant teacher and I will make this year hopefully, as David Wees states, instructional routines allow us to focus our decision-making on the most important things, the students and the math.


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