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.