How 1/12ths Maximize Learning & Joy


By Dave Levin, KIPP Co-Founder

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher asked me on Twitter how she could create a KIPP culture in her own classroom. In earlier posts I’ve written about the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching (KFET). KFET is designed to maximize student growth and achievement by uniting four essential elements of great teaching – self & others, classroom culture, teaching cycle, and knowledge – with our beliefs and character.

All of KFET’s twenty-six competencies and one hundred fifty-one observable behaviors are implementable by any teacher in any classroom in any type of school. Yet, if I had to pick a starting point, I’d start with what could be called, “A 1/12th mindset” — a recognition that small changes in the way we teach can result in remarkably positive improvements in the way our kids learn.

Let’s take a look.

The 1/12th Mindset

Willie Bloomquist

Willie Bloomquist

Do you recognize the athlete in the photo on the left? Unless you are an avid baseball fan, I’m guessing you do not. How about the one on the right? I am guessing you do. Derek Jeter is one of the most famous athletes of our time.

The baseball player on the left, Willie Bloomquist, has been a Major League baseball player for 13 years. His career batting average is a little better than .250. He gets a hit about one out of four times at bat. Mr. Jeter’s career batting average is slightly under .330. In other words, Mr. Jeter gets a hit just about one out of three at bats.

Mathematically speaking, the difference between being Derek Jeter and Willie Bloomquist is the difference between 1/3rd and 1/4th. In other words, the difference between these two athletes is 1/12th. Mr. Jeter gets just one more hit every twelve at bats than Willie Bloomquist. The difference between being a superstar and being an average player is 1/12th (or 8.3%). (For the baseball fans and math teachers among us, it’s probably worth noting that I chose the two players for illustrative purposes – their batting averages are close but not exactly one-third and one-fourth.)


How 1/12th relates to teaching

As teachers, we can apply the 1/12th mindset to our classrooms by recognizing that even relatively small details can dramatically impact student mastery. Of course this begs the next question, “Where do we start making changes?” After all there are 151 behaviors in KFET and it would be unrealistic to try making 1/12th improvements to all of them right away.


Regain time to maximize learning and joy

I’d start with an appreciation of the urgency of each minute of the day. 1/12th of a minute is five seconds, 1/12th of an hour is five minutes, and 1/12th of the average seven-hour public school day is 35 minutes.

Have a 1/12th mindset where you are absolutely committed to regaining these seconds and minutes by rethinking the efficiency and urgency or each of your routines and systems – from how your kids enter your room to how papers get passed out and collected.

Doug McCurry from Achievement First embodies this 1/12th mindset when he challenges teachers to ensure that passing out papers takes less than ten seconds each time. Interestingly, often the more fun we make these routines and systems the faster they become. Make these tasks challenges and kids of all ages are more motivated to do them.

If you have a 1/12th mindset, you can commit to regaining these seconds and minutes from off-task student behaviors and interruptions. The big teaching idea here (not a 1/12th), which I’ll explore in a future post, is to create a warm and demanding culture in which 100% of your students meet 100% of the expectations 100% of the time in order to maximize learning and joy. Do not accept 91.7%. (See below references for some how-to readings on 100%). By regaining these 35 minutes a day, you’ll regain just under three hours of instructional time a week. Not inspired? This translates into 15 full days of added instruction a year.

Now that you have nearly three weeks of more teaching time, where do you apply the 1/12th mindset next?


Vary ratio strategies to maximize learning and joy.

I explored this idea more fully in an earlier post. The main idea is to increase the thinking, talking and sustained, structured, rigorous independent practice done by the kids.

A 1/12th improvement for next week? End your guided practice at a set time (no matter what) to force yourself to have five more minutes every hour of independent practice (structured, of course, with feedback).

A second 1/12th to increase the work done by our kids – stop asking: “Are there any questions?” and ask: “What questions do you have?” Then count to yourself “One Good Teacher, Two Good Teacher, Three Good Teacher” to give kids time to think.

A third example of a 1/12th comes from Jeff Li, a remarkable eighth grade math teacher at KIPP Infinity in NYC. Jeff has his kids track the blunders he makes. He keeps a running tab visible on the side of his room. Every 50 blunders (he’s up to 193 in 123 school days this year), the kids get to vote on something they want him to do (usually something silly, like dressing up as his favorite cartoon character to teach class – see picture below).

Jeff shares:

Jeff Li dressing up like his favorite cartoon character

“I do this to accomplish 3 things. First, it frames mistakes as positive opportunities to learn, rather than something negative – it models that it’s ok to make mistakes, we all do, and we all need to accept feedback. Second, it also helps everyone lock in at all times – there is very little that eighth graders love more than finding adults’ mistakes :). Third, it pushes kids to “attend to precision” – a key practice from the Common Core standards – and positions students to push their teacher to do the same.”


Improve the quality of our daily and weekly assessments to maximize learning and joy.

A 1/12th improvement for next week? Use the additional five minutes of independent practice to “intervene in class.” Sit with one to two kids and assess their mastery of the lesson.

A second 1/12th? Structure your weekly assessment so that it is both scaffolded and spiraled – in other words, your assessment should increase in complexity as kids go along (scaffolding) and weave in previously learned material at various points (spiraling). This allows kids to build confidence as they go, helps you figure out exactly at what point kids start getting confused, and keeps them on their toes and accountable for previously taught material (of course, this also means you have to spiral while teaching as well – a big teaching idea 🙂 :)).

A third 1/12th assessment idea comes from Brent Maddin, Relay Graduate School of Education Provost and one of the most effective teachers I know. Brent suggests developing characters that make appearances in your assessment items. 

From Brent:

“In Louisiana, we had “Lurpy the Nutria Rat” who was always making silly mistakes in his chemistry problems and the students would need to suss out what mistakes he made on their assessments. Lurpy became part of our class culture. “Don’t be a Lurpy. Slow down. Check your work!”


Ensure the goal of class is about something the kids care about to maximize learning and joy

Goals need to be something that matters to students more than test scores or even ‘learning for its own sake.’

1/12th improvement for next week? Survey/talk with the kids about what they want for their futures or what they want to be when they grow up. Spend time over the next few weeks talking with them individually about this and making connections to your class. Please be as natural and as non-judgmental as possible about this and understand that this might be hard for a lot of our kids. Just starting the conversation is a solid 1/12th.


All 1/12ths should maximize learning and joy

As you can tell, all of the above ideas are in service of maximizing both learning and joy. One of the keys to great teaching is the recognition that joy is both a means and an end in education. Joy is a gateway to helping our kids embrace the challenges of rigorous academic work. Joyful classrooms and lessons are also a respite from the challenges too many kids face in their lives outside of school. If the students in our classrooms aren’t smiling and laughing at various times throughout a lesson and a day – find a 1/12th solution immediately (one that doesn’t involve sarcasm). A 1/12th improvement for next week? Smile more. A 1/12th mindset shift here includes the critical recognition that increasing joy is actually intricately interconnected with increasing the rigor of our instruction.

Speaking of 1/12ths – we’ve recently re-organized our blog to increase both its effectiveness and yes, hopefully, its joyfulness. We love hearing from you – email us the 1/12ths you try next week and topics you’d like us to cover on our blog.

Thanks for all you do to help our kids build a better tomorrow for themselves and us all.


One love,





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