Planning Puzzle: Moving from Teacher-Directed to Student-Engaged

Teacher directed to student in mind

There are two parts to this topic of teacher-directed vs. student-engaged, and we are only dealing with the planning part here.  The conferencing part is for another blog.

The graphic above is a portion of a slide projected at one of the many dynamic Great School Partnership/New England Secondary School Collaborative conferences I attended over the past 5 years.  This puzzle of moving away from the teacher to the student is foreign and terrifying to many educators — whether they are elementary, secondary, or post-secondary.  I see it daily.

I equate this puzzle with the person who has never traveled outside of the country:  You need a passport whether you are traveling to the EU, an African country, or a next door neighbor — Mexico and Canada. Seems easy enough to get the passport and all should be good to fly away.  But as many travelers know, a passport is only one travel puzzle piece.  Another piece is standing in line to clear Homeland Security.  The inexperienced traveler puzzles:  Why do some people get to go in that shorter line by showing that other card?  Why am I not in control?  Upon arrival as a visitor, I am coming to spend money and enjoy my time not stand in more lines to clear immigration and then another line for customs! The puzzle continues for the new international traveler.  Coming back to the USA, possibly running late for the plane, and once again there are those 2 lines:  One is short and quick to use that Global Traveler card — the other is endlessly long, possibly opening luggage, answering questions, and time is running out. Why don’t I have one of those cards; the puzzle pieces aren’t coming together. For those who have not traveled it is a puzzle.

Teachers don’t feel in control with the idea of their planning not running the lesson.  “Students need to suck-it-up. I have taught it this way forever, and kids got it!” Have you heard teachers respond this way? It is how some teachers react when I work with them to move the learning to the students.  More often I hear these frustrations when the instructor looks at low assessment results. “These kids don’t work hard enough.” “Why don’t they do their work?” “They don’t get it.”

It’s not a puzzle: That’s not how students learn.

Teacher directed to student in mind

Backward planning is essential.  What do the students ultimately need to know?  And only after fully answering that essential detailed questions, do we decide how to get our kids there through their engagement.  It is NOT about the teacher; it is about the student.  All of the pieces in between are the student-engagement puzzle pieces — not teacher-direction.  Yes, there will be the teacher’s mini lessons which lays foundations along the way.  Yes, the teacher is constantly involved, but the change in the puzzle of teaching is that the student is at the center — NOT the teacher.

With my backwards planning, I have to think through and carefully plan how my students are involved in their learning each day.  They are not passive: Those puzzle pieces don’t put themselves together without help.  If they are bored and not learning, the pieces won’t fit together.  We know from research, that forced pieces break or get bent and are no longer part of the educational puzzle — they drop out. Student engagement doesn’t mean just paying attention; it means they are involved in their learning.

One way to do this is through the Jigsaw instructional strategy.  According to John Hattie’s 2017 updated work, Jigsaw has an effect size of 1.2.  It is within the top 10 most powerful ways students learn.  Not surprising that this strategy is when students learn and are engaged with their peers. Ironically, jigsawing puts puzzle pieces together!

Are you moving students to the center of your classroom? Are you reflecting how engaged your students are? Did you plan the end first or did you plan what you were going to do?

Have you put your student puzzle together?

Socratic or Shared Inquiry: A misunderstood Puzzle

Just a moment ago I saw a TV  advertisement encouraging teachers to allow more student talking, and it reminded me of an experience this past spring in my 8th grade class. I don’t remember the company who was being advertised, but that’s not important.

My 8th graders were in a Tier 2 class because they read 1-2 grades below grade level.  They needed support, and I designed this class a few years ago to help the “whole child” as ASCD (Association for School Curriculum Development) encourages.  This is not just a reading class — it is much more and helps the kids become “students and grow as individuals”.  Working with each one of them individually, they learn how to help themselves support their learning as a whole — at home and at school.

On the day I am remembering, we had just read a nonfiction article from Scholastic’s SCOPE Magazine;  I don’t remember the article title. After reading, I told them I would not be asking questions —  they would have to ask each other although they had no advance notice.  Suddenly 16 earful eyes stared at me.  After a few moments, one boy asked if they could brainstorm some questions in advance.  The joy burst from my heart, and I gave them my signature triple pat on my heart along with my words, “It’s a proud moment!”

Looking at me for guidance — but with very little response — the kids came up with 3 questions they thought everyone should answer.  It was not a clear shot of creating the questions. They struggled multiple times. They wanted my validation, but I moved my seat back and kept reminding them, “What do you think?”

Eventually, the most verbal students agreed on three questions everyone should answer.  Although 5 out of the 3 students tried to get buy-in, the others were pretty much non-committal.  I recognized that I had taught them well  — that all members counted in our class — not just a few.  Another gratifying moment!

Now that the questions were established on the easel for all to see, I asked the students to re-read the article with the questions in mind.  After checking that all had finished their re-read, I encouraged them to go ahead.  Again, those 16 eyes stared at me.

“Take a chance.  Think back to what I said.  You created the questions.  Go for it.”  They could see I was not taking notes because that would have created undue pressure.

“Ok…ay…,” Edgar said. (My student’s names have been changed for obvious privacy issues.)  “Who is going to start?”  There was no response.  “Let’s go with questions number 2,” Edgar continued and  read the question.

Dan answered with an amazingly deep response that I had not heard from him in months!  Although he was not pointing to the text, his paraphrasing was excellent.

Soon Jane joined — she is usually off task and reading some other page on her computer rather that the assignment. But not today!  She was referencing the article with specific  pages and paragraphs.

Can you imagine the pounding of my heart? The puzzle was coming together! This was a SOCRATIC SEMINAR BECAUSE BECAUSE I WAS NOT INVOLVED. Hence, the misunderstood puzzle of student discourse.

Eventually 5 out of the 8 students discussed a 3 page SCOPE article for more than 30 minutes and wanted to stay after class to continue. Rarely was their repetition and when it occurred, one of the students called their peers back on task. That is a rarity on all counts.

The only thing I reminded was that not everyone was participating.  And as another proud flash occurred, Edgar, my self-appointed student leader asked each student what they thought.  Obviously he was paying attention not only to the questions as they went through them but also to the participants.

The puzzle of Socratic vs Shared Inquiry is when the teacher is involved, it is Shared Inquiry.  Socratic is student-led not teacher-driven nor teacher-participating.

It doesn’t have to be a puzzle:  Just a puzzle of terminology.

And then:  GIVE THE KIDS A CHANCE — THEY CAN PUT THE PIECES TOGETHER.

The Reading Thinking Writing Process Puzzle

THINKING:  We just don’t put enough time into it in the classroom.  So several years ago I created a poster to remind my students to think while they are writing. It worked for a while, and then like so many strategies after a while it went by the wayside.  Recently after conferencing with students and listening to teachers, I decided the instrument needed to come out again.

We teachers have been taught the writing process, but how often do you put that puzzle in front of your students?  Many instructors remind students to draft, rewrite, edit, and revise.  But the pieces don’t come together that easily — true reading and writing are more of a puzzle.  Hence, The Reading Thinking Writing Process was created.

My thinking below is detailed and can be shortened for quicker pieces of writing or responding.  But as I wrote out tasks for my 6th grade “Problem Solving and Design” class two weeks before school ended, I pulled out the Reading Thinking Writing Process. They were having problems with planning through their problem-solving journals as well as their daily reflections. The great thing about the Reading Thinking Writing Process is that it works with all lengths and types of assignments.

My kids were frustrated at the length. I heard the same statements from my sixth and seventh and eighth graders: “Why do we have to go through all of the steps? Just let me write it!” We teachers know they can’t write well without going past a first draft. And when we conference, slowly students come around so they see it too.

The big idea here is that getting the students to THINK during the writing process helps them proceed so much further in their understanding; therefore the kids progress as learners. Because thinking really is such a big part of the puzzle!

YOU THINK about it: If the kids don’t THINK before they revise, have they really captured the information they’ve been given in the conference whether the feedback was from the teacher or their peer? Was that revision conference worthy of the time or worthwhile in anyway if the writer doesn’t spend time thinking about the information they were given?

The big causal factor I venture to say — they are the four cornerstones of the puzzle as well as the centerpiece — is BEING PATIENT TO TAKE TIME TO THINK.

When we teach students to be PATIENT, we have begun to teach them a life-skill that is needed for every job. We have also taught them an essential need for reading and writing and THINKING! Then the puzzle pieces fall into place more easily.

The Reading Thinking Writing Process

Wait Time … We Need to Use It More

How much time is spent in your classroom spent THINKING?

When we give students time to THINK, then they can process their ideas.  So often, teachers rush to move on.  Students can’t always move that fast!  Many brains need time whether it is to answer a question,  THINK about a text or to THINK about a math equation.  I hate that I cannot remember where I found the graphic below because it is great!  I believe tells us so much. If you know, please leave a comment so I can give them credit.

If we think about ourselves, how frequently do we wish that we had THOUGHT before we spoke?  We need to give that same courtesy and teach that ability to our students.

This past week, I was reviewing assessment-taking strategies with 6th graders.  During two- 35 minute sessions, four students raised their hands before I had even said the main idea of my question.  We have indirectly trained our kids to answer right away.  And THINK about this puzzling question:  We wonder why students don’t put the pieces together in our content!  The simple answer is they can’t because they haven’t had time to THINK.

We do have to remind our students to pause to use their brains.  Like I wrote above — these boys and girls — were eager to participate even though they didn’t know the specifics of what they were going to have to answer.  For many years when I was carrying a full-load of 5 classes a day and 120-135 students, there were two signs in big bold letters:  Reading is THINKING.  Writing is THINKING.  The signs weren’t there for show; I used them as a frequent message.

Before asking a question, I  remind my students not to raise their hands until I ask them to THINK about my question or statement.  When hands are up, students already have an idea in their minds; they are not THINKING.  When hands are up, they believe they know the answer to the puzzle we are asking. They can’t put the pieces together because they haven’t THOUGHT.

I have believed in THINKING for a long time because I was one of those learners who could not answer right away. I was intimidated by questions.  And because of my auditory processing, lots of times I hadn’t even heard or had misheard the question being asked.  Therefore, how could I answer the question right away? I needed time to THINK!  Usually I had to figure out the puzzle of what had been asked and then put the pieces together. I wasn’t a strong student and was told that many times.  The longer I took to answer the more impatient my teachers became. The instructors didn’t give me time to THINK which I needed.

Don’t be that restless teacher that is eager for an immediate answer so you can move on.  In the long run, the information stays with the student when they have the opportunity to THINK.

So the next time you are in front of the class, whether you working with a small group, or conferencing one-on-one — give the student time to THINK.  It will take practice and retraining those arms and hands that want to pop into the air.  But it is worth it.  You will be amazed that although you might not see immediate improvement, over time, you will see great results.

IMG-1438

NO MORE FAKE READING book review

First, let me say that this book review is unsolicited. I have had the honor to work with author Berit Gordon, and it has been an enlightening two years!

I am lucky enough that my school district partnered with Berit, and I am looking forward to another year of being able to work with her. In fact, my assistant superintendent has made it possible so that I’ve personally been able to work with her to learn how to coach teachers regarding independent reading as well as reading workshop.

Her book, NO MORE FAKE READING, should be on every English teacher’s, literacy coach’s, and administrator’s reading list.

Berit Gordon is authentic. Lots of experts have not been in the field for a long time, but Berit has been. For example, when she goes into our classrooms she is willing to not only work with our students, but she works with our teachers and with our students too. She is a teacher. She was never just a consultant — it hasn’t been long since she was in the classroom. Berit is a teacher’s teacher.

So Berit has that experience that is so important to all of us. She is not an ivory tower person who claims to be an expert but has been too long out of the real day-to-day experience that we all face with our students learning to read and write.

This is not just a middle school teacher book nor just a high school teacher book. It spans the spectrum. That’s what I use it for since I work with grades six through 12.

As teachers we all face of variety of puzzle pieces every day. Whether it is the puzzle of our students minds or the puzzle of how we put together today’s lessons or the puzzle of how to get our students to understand a text — the puzzle pieces need to come together for us. This book helps with many of those pieces.

Berit repeatedly explains that book choice is what is going to entice our students to want to read and grab their interest. We have to give our students that time in the classroom to read. It is that volume of reading both at school and at home that will increase their comprehension as well as their desire to read. Berit endorses choice reading by far. However, she does acknowledge that the classics have a place in the classroom and is very clear about that in her text.

One of the things that Berit reminds us is that at the beginning of the year, modeling reading with our students is important. And then after a few weeks — the teacher needs to stop reading while the students continue. Students get used to the model of the moment they walk in the door, they begin reading. Perhaps, the teacher chooses to finish the last 20 minutes of class with independent reading. The problem with that is, as Berit explains, the last 20 minutes may not be there after all of the lessons and tasks of the day.

However, students reading in the classroom is an expectation they get used to! I’ve seen this happen in sixth grade, ninth grade, and AP classes! It’s amazing once the expectation stands: The kids are reading whether it is a regular classroom or my Tier 2 classes — the students read — and ask to read when the schedule is out of the norm — because the expectation has been set.

As Berit explains in her book, while students are reading, the teacher has the opportunity to pull students aside to have short conferences and rich conversations about their reading. Asking students about their interests and getting to know students more deeply because we get to find out about what the kids like tells us a lot about the students we work with. This is one of the points she clarifies in her book. Besides, as Berit explains, it opens the door to what our students understand and where we need to work with them individually to improve their comprehension.

This is a very usable text. Teachers don’t have time to read endless pages, and we want something we’re going to be able to turn around and use tomorrow in our classrooms. That’s what this book does for us. Whether it is the book buzzes, the resources at the end of the book, or how to set up a classroom library, there are a variety of immediate ideas to use. It doesn’t need to be read chapter by chapter because there are so many good ideas. The ideas flow from chapter to chapter and at the same time the pieces can be picked up at any point.

I also like that she actually gives real examples where she has worked in classrooms and shows ideas that teachers have shared with her or where she has used things that have worked. So these are not supposed ideas she is throwing out. They are concepts that really do work with our preteens and teens in the English language arts class.

To get the full concept of all of her ideas, you need to read her book. It’s from Corwin Press. I can’t express enough what a fabulous impact Berit Gordon has had on my teaching and the revelations she has created in so many educators I work with. Don’t lose this opportunity!