Saturday, September 25, 2010

Being Bold in Our Teaching

A writer friend of mine recently shared a quote about having the guts to write. When I read it, I immediately flashed back to a small group discussion during a training session I had with some teachers a couple of years ago. The training was on effective minilessons, and her group had read a couple of excerpts from Lucy Caulkins and Carl Anderson about the part of the lesson where we tell students what we're going to teach them in that lesson.

"Wow--that's huge," she commented. "I don't think I've ever been that bold--bold enough to say, today I'm going to teach you to do something. I have the feeling I should though." There was silence around the table as the others considered this.

We are teachers after all. We know that it's our job to teach the kids. But somehow this idea that we'd actually state for them that we are going to teach them to ________ felt pretty big. And it is significant.

Some other colleagues were recently discussing a district initiative that included making sure students know what the current learning goals are and what they are learning to do during lessons. To many in our district, this seems to be a little much for our youngest students. Others had already done this in some areas of their teaching but weren't really sure why they weren't doing it in all areas.

So why the big push to tell kids up front what we are going to teach them?

“When we are explicit with our students about the purpose behind our teaching and give them a window into our thinking about how this will support their reading development, it helps set them up for learning. Students do not need to spend the first five minutes (which may exceed their attention span!) trying to figure out what a lesson is about. They need to be explicitly told so they can set their mind to the topic at hand, activate their schema on that topic, and ready themselves to accept new knowledge.” Landrigan and Mulligan, 2008

When you read that, it seems pretty clear, right? It makes sense that when we are bold enough to tell students this is what I'm going to teach you, they know what to listen for--and maybe something in their brains will trigger them to call up any knowledge they already have about that topic. I'm not sure, but it seems like maybe that would make those mental hooks a little stickier too.

If that's not enough, consider what Robert Marzano has to say:“When students know what they are learning, their performance, on average, has been show to be 27 percentile points
Higher than students who do not know what they are learning.”

Wow. It's a startling enough finding to make me think it's more than worth the few seconds it takes in a lesson to state for kids exactly what they are learning. In this age of high stakes accountability, can we afford not to do this?

In our district, we have a fairly high percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs). In the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) training provided for our teachers, we are taught that lesson objectives should not only be posted in kid-friendly language, but that the purpose of doing so is to both allow students to know the direction of the lesson and to remind us of the lesson focus.

Ah...for those teachers who sometimes end a lesson thinking, "hm, that's not really where I intended to go with that" or who follow the kids' comments off into unrelated content, this could be a very effective and very simple way to stay focused on the lesson.

But I also think that last part is what causes some teachers--who up until now are thinking this all sounds right on--to pause for a minute. Wait. If we are going to tell the students what we are going to teach them, then we have to know what we are teaching. And be able to state it. In a way the kids understand. But consider this: if we don't know and can't say it in a way kids understand, how can we expect them to learn it?

So be bold in your teaching. Tell the kids what you are going to teach them. And then do it. After all, we are teachers.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit it took me a minute to really focus because I kept smiling, thinking, "I'm a writer friend?" How cool! :)

    Great post & one I'd love to share with others. It's a simple concept, yet so powerful. I need to remeber to share it with teachers and ask them to look for it in my minilessons so I can be accountable for including it.

    Thanks for the post. Can't wait to read another one (this week!).

    the other ruth