Why we teach comprehension skills/strategies…DUH!?!

Why we teach comprehension skills/strategies…DUH!?!

For those of you who have heard me speak in person, you know that I come from a complete place of humility about teaching.  Throughout my speaking gigs, I say, “I didn’t have a clue about this when I taught!” or “All of my former students are probably in prison because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing!”  (And I kind of mean it!)

One of the things that I realize now is that I taught stuff because it was on the curriculum map. I taught stuff because it was in the curriculum.  I taught stuff because my colleagues were teaching that same stuff.

What I missed (nearly completely, I think!) was to teach kids the WHY behind what I was teaching them.

I think we’re missing a MAJOR why as we teach kids to think deeply about what they’ve read…let me give you an example.  (For this example I’m using figurative language but you can substitute ANY comprehension strategy/skill and you’ll get the idea!)

Level 1 (I’m calling these levels, but it’s just something I made up so don’t go googling it – it’s not a “thing”)

I am going to teach you how to find figurative language in the text

Level 2

I am going to teach you to determine which type of figurative you’ve found

Level 3

I’m going to teach you how to use figurative language for comprehension

But the BIG “DUH!?” MOMENT FOR ME?

Level 4

I’m going to teach you why an author uses figurative language and that reason is because the use of figurative language helps highlight the most important points in the text.  In other words, the devices the author uses are like big red flags that say, “Pay attention to what I wrote here!” or “Watch this – this is really important information!’

So…..I didn’t do that when I taught.  I didn’t know how to teach kids to think, ‘Hey – the author used figurative language to highlight some important information here…I better pay attention.”

The structure of the text, the language the author uses, the features of the text…all of those things and many more are TOOLS that the author uses to help the read organize their thoughts and content and pay attention to the information that matters.

Well – oh my gosh.  We’ve got a whole bunch of kids running around who are able to identify figurative language but who have no idea HOW to use figurative language to understand what the author is trying to say at that point in the text.

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If you found this practical thinking article the least bit helpful, then you’ll probably like this too.

“Get Back On Track” Questions for school leaders (and an example)

“Get Back On Track” Questions for school leaders (and an example)

I suffer from good-idea-itis.  I have trouble sorting out the good ideas from the good ideas that are right for my organization.  Can you relate?  When we work with schools, we see a bunch of hugely motivated people often working on the wrong thing.  Or at least the wrong thing for them.  I find that this is a great time to stop and take stock so we don’t spin our wheels all year long and wonder how on earth it happened!

Here are my most helpful “taking stock” questions:

Question 1:  What are you willing to “go big” on?

What is it that is so important, instructionally, that if every teacher improved it just a little bit would make a huge impact on student achievement?

Question 2:  What will you have to do to “go big” on that thing?

  • What will the people need to do?
  • What will you need to do?
  • What will your leadership team have to do?
  • How will teacher teams need to work on this?
  • What materials do you have to get this done?

Question 3: What good ideas will you have to leave behind?

Good ideas WILL need to be left on the table to make room for the really great, important ones.  What are good ideas that you don’t want to give up, but need to, so that you can move forward on the excellent stuff?

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Here’s an example of what that might look like in real life!

Question 1:  What are you willing to “go big” on?

We are willing to go big on using instructional aides to teach important skills to the most struggling students during language arts instruction for 40 minutes daily instead of pulling students out to work outside of the classroom teacher’s control.

Question 2:  What will you have to do to “go big” on that thing?

  • We will have to look at the data to determine which grades need the most instructional time with aides right now
  • We will have to adjust schedules in all grade levels
  • We will have to stop using aides to cover classes or duties as needed – will need a permanent solutions to how they “fill in”
  • We will have to find co-planning time with aides and classroom teachers
  • We will have to train instructional aides on very specific techniques for intervening on the foundational skills with the lowest performers
  • We will have to design routines for the aide entering the classroom and getting kids to the right spot so we don’t lose instructional time
  • We will plan to reassess this plan every six weeks and make adjustments

Question 3: What good ideas will you have to leave behind?

  • That our new program will solve every problem we currently have in bringing kids to benchmark in LA
  • That lowering class size/group size is our #1 priority and will make the biggest difference
  • That centers are the answer to grouping kids and providing targeted instruction
  • That by isolating students outside of the classroom in small groups makes them focus even more than if they were peeled off within the classroom

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If you found this post helpful, you’ll probably really find this and this helpful, too!

My A-ha on Classroom Management/Behavior Management!

My A-ha on Classroom Management/Behavior Management!

I had a huge a-ha today while I was working on a new conference presentation: I was using the terms “classroom management” and “behavior management” interchangeably.  I think I knew they were slightly different, but it dawned on me today that they are VERY different.

Here’s a graphic from my presentation, detailing the differences between Classroom Management and Behavior Management…I’m practically saying, “DUH!” to myself as I type this!

classroom verses behavior management

So what was the big a-ha?  For me it was these three things:

  1. Behavior management is for some kids while classroom management is for all kids.
  2. Classroom management has to do with management of the instruction, while behavior management might have nothing to do with instruction, per se.
  3. My biggest a-ha is that both classroom management and behavior management are preventive: they are preventing different things, but when they are carried out well they are preventing things from happening, nonetheless!

Was this ONLY a new concept for me?  What do you think?

6 Questions You Have to Answer Before Scheduling PD

6 Questions You Have to Answer Before Scheduling PD

You know how you learn something that is so important that you wish that you could go back to the past so that you can do them right?

Well, I feel that way about planning professional development.  My approach has always been that ‘more is more’ and that in order for a teacher to learn to do whatever it is that I am trying to teach them, they have to know EVERYTHING and EVERY NUANCE of that thing.

What I’ve come to realize (and it’s taken me, ummm…oh, just 20 years to realize it!) is that I need to give teachers the least amount of information that I can get away with so that they can quickly carry things back to the classroom and get started.

I know it sounds weird and I’m not going to say “less is more” because I don’t mean that.  It’s not just about doing less, it’s about working on the RIGHT STUFF.  We are plagued not by inaction these days in our schools, but by too much action.  And we have to think about this as we coach.

Here are the six questions I now ask myself when I am teaching anything to any educator.  These questions help me trim the fat and give them just what they’ll need and not much more:

  1. What will trip people up? (Spend extra time on this)
  2. What are the [five] parts of the thing I’m teaching that they absolutely have to learn? (And dump the other content)
  3. What is the order that the things in #2 above should logically be taught and learned in? (So that it flows and can be easily remembered)
  4. What is the best way to learn each of the steps? Should we read about it? Model it? Practice in the training room? Watch a video? (Not every piece of content is the best fit for a stand-and-deliver training)
  5. What is the least amount of training that we can provide or get away with? (Again…cut, cut, cut!)
  6. What skills have teachers already developed that we can hook this new thing to so it doesn’t feel brand new? (Helps folks feel like it’s always something new…but an advancement in something they’re already doing)

What do you think?  How might this info help your instructional coaching team?

Quick Heads Up!

(And I get that this is quite ironic that I’m inviting you to more training after the above writing,

but you can confidently file this under “the right thing” training…see you in September!

How to Effortlessly Coach Teachers without Being Eaten Alive

How to Effortlessly Coach Teachers without Being Eaten Alive

So, let’s help our instructional leaders and coaches get over their fear of how to talk to teachers about their instruction.

I mean, our teachers are pretty reasonable and mostly on-board with the coaching work, but sometimes principals and instructional coaches tip-toe around the first conversation that jumpstarts the coaching relationship.

Here are four really simple lead-ins your team can use right now to approach any teacher.

  • “You know, as I was reviewing our school data I noticed that your department was struggling with helping the kids master the vocabulary portion of the weekly assessment.  Talk to me about that.  Did you notice that?  Why do you think that is, where can we start to work on that?”
  • “Tell me, what are the things you said you picked up from our math training on Thursday?  How can I support you in getting started on that?”
  • “I was working with the seventh grade English teachers on getting students to respond in writing to an open-ended prompt – would that be something we could work on in your English class?”
  • “Hey, I wanted to follow up with you on our last team meeting.  How is your pre-teaching of the vocabulary to the English Language Learners going?  Are you seeing improvement in their comprehension of the text?”

Notice, we aren’t being weird or springing a weird convo on a teacher like a stranger jumping out of a bush (ha!)…we’re tying it to something we’re already doing, which keeps things feeling really natural…a key to getting teachers into the idea of coaching.

What do you think?  How might this info help your instructional coaching team?

If you liked this blog post, you might like this!

The Most Expensive Instructional Coaching Mistake

The Most Expensive Instructional Coaching Mistake

Do you remember that Ron Popeil infomercial from a long time ago?  He demonstrated how you could put a chicken in this contraption that sat on your countertop and just “Set it and forget it?”

Well…ol’ Ron Popeil and his chicken contraption were wrong.

The reality in our curriculum and instruction world?  I see us throwing away valuable training, time and relationship away because we haven’t done a very simple button-up.  And we pay the ultimate price for it: wasting time.

So here’s my simple answer when I’m asked: What do I do when a teacher has been coached in a skill and yet when I get back into the classroom, they’ve stopped using the skill?

I think that sometimes coaches take this personally – after all, everyone has put a lot of time in effort in coaching and learning a new/updated skill!  But, I find that when I ask myself these three questions, I can usually get to the root of why that’s happened…and, more importantly, I can fix it with the teacher:

  1. Did I break the steps of the skill down to the –nth degree or was the skills we were working on really like five skills rolled up into one?
  2. Did the teacher understand what I wanted him to do? (And a nod of the head isn’t a confirmation…the teacher should be able to fully explain what you want him to do in his own words – make sure to weave this into your debriefing each time!)
  3. Did the teacher simply forget to keep doing it and do we need to add some sort of note on his desk or in his lesson plan book so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle any longer? (Teachers have lots to remember and can simply forget. It happens to all of us!)

These three questions are the antidote to forgetting a coached skill or falling back into old practice.  And they really help to get the coaching and teaching back on track.

The most important thing is to avoid going straight to the line of the thinking that the teacher is stopping the practice on purpose.  By digging just a bit deeper through the questions, you’ll find an even more efficient way to work with a teacher…and it doesn’t have to affect your relationship one bit!

What do you think?  How might this info help your instructional coaching team?

If you liked this blog post, then I bet you’d like this!