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You guys. I used to SKIP TEACHING WRITING ALL OF THE TIME because I didn’t know how to do it well. It was like, “Oh, we have an assembly in 20 days from now…I better now teach writing today.” (I’m exaggerating only a little.)
No one wants to teach what they don’t know how to teach well.
And it even cropped up in my training work because teachers had a lot of questions about teaching writing, but I side-stepped them when I was really wishing I felt confident enough to help them on a real practical level. Well that all changed for me when the Common Core Standards came to be (love ’em or hate ’em, those standards forced me to learn a lot about things I should’ve already known!).
I did some digging on the writing research and how much writing instruction needed to change. Spoiler alert: how I was taught to teach writing in college (however minimal) isn’t going to serve our students well.
So…I did a lot of work to figure out an alternative! that would literally double the impact of my writing instruction. I hope this helps you as much as it has freed me!
If you’re looking for practical resources related to doubling your writing impact, then this ought to help!
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
I am going to teach you to determine which type of figurative you’ve found
I’m going to teach you how to use figurative language for comprehension
But the BIG “DUH!?” MOMENT FOR ME?
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.
If you found this practical thinking article the least bit helpful, then you’ll probably like this too.
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!
So what was the big a-ha? For me it was these three things:
- Behavior management is for some kids while classroom management is for all kids.
- Classroom management has to do with management of the instruction, while behavior management might have nothing to do with instruction, per se.
- 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?
Question: What kind of teaching work do you do on the weekends?
Answer: Truth be told, I carried work home with me, set it by the front door and then never touched it until I picked it up early Monday morning to cart it back to school! Note: See #3 in this series for more on this!
If I did take something home to work on during the weekend, I made sure it was something that was creative and mindless…something I could do while I watched TV or chilled out on the coach. Maybe something that I wouldn’t normally take a ton of time on during the week like prepping an art project, looking online for ideas for an upcoming unit, sorting papers or cleaning up my files.
I just realized really quickly that a teacher who had worked all weekend was a crabbier teacher on Monday.
We need our breaks…and I take breaks pretty seriously!
Question: What do you do when you know a lesson is tanking?
Answer: Well, this happens to all of us for different reasons. Sometimes a lesson tanks because I haven’t prepped properly, sometimes because I thought they knew something that the needed to know and they really didn’t or…well…because it’s a full freaking moon! You know how that goes!
I have been given really good advice in my life that totally applies to a tanking lesson: When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
Yep. When I notice a lesson isn’t going well and my attempts to fix it are falling flat, I just say to the kids something like, “You know what? We’re having trouble here and we need to start over again.” And then I start over.
Usually the kids look at me like, “Yeah, it wasn’t really going well!” It’s not a mystery when a lesson is struggling!
I also thinks that hitting that ‘start over’ button is a really good model of resilience.
I recently facilitated a pretty tough conversation between a principal, coach and the staff. Before they talked with the staff about how they were going to ‘right’ the coaching ship, we scripted what they were going to say and then practiced it a bunch of times.
Here was the basic outline of what the principal and coach shared with the staff:
“Staff, I want to take a few minutes to talk about our coaching plan. First off, I want to acknowledge that I have done a pretty weak job in the past at setting up the coaching role.
Our greatest asset on campus is our team of teachers and in order for us to increase how well and how effectively we teach, we need to continue to hone our craft. This is where Bonnie comes in. Bonnie was hired as our coach three years ago. At first, I don’t think any of us had a clue what to do with her! I know Bonnie would agree!
When I first rolled out to you the idea that we were going to have a coach, I realized that some of you were less-than-excited and instead of explaining what the coaching would look like, I assumed (incorrectly) that when Bonnie showed up, everyone would be on board.
So, in her first few weeks she visited classes and got to know your kids and you a bit better. Soon after, we pulled her from her coaching roll often to cover for teachers when we couldn’t find subs – I remember even asking her to cover the phones when we were short on office staff.
Obviously, this is not what the role of the coach is designed for. The longer time went on, the more Bonnie would try to get into your classrooms, but it was difficult for her because it appeared that you were not open to coaching. Let me be very clear: I am not surprised that you appeared disinterested or resistant to the coaching. After all, I gave you absolutely no context for what was expected of you…and Bonnie.
I want to apologize for handling coaching poorly…and for letting it go on so long. I also must apologize to Bonnie, as I was not supportive of her in the way that I need to be in order to get the results from coaching that we are expecting.
So, I ask you to allow me to hit the ‘reset’ button on our coaching process. Our scores have shown that we are doing a lot of things really well for our kids instructionally. Recent data has shown that our struggling students in Reading and Math are continuing to struggle – we are having difficulty moving that group of students. I see this as a very important focus area for our coaching from this point out.
Over the next two staff meetings, I have asked Bonnie to share with you the role of the coach, the flow of the coaching, the timeline for coaching and what she sees as a logical place to start with each of you. Please know that I have asked and do expect Bonnie to be working with each of you regularly.
Some teachers might meet with Bonnie more often and some less often, but everyone on our campus will receive coaching from Bonnie. How you are coached will be up to Bonnie and you – she has a structure for how to do this.
I appreciate your taking all of this information into consideration and allowing us to start fresh with our coaching work. We know that the most powerful form of professional development is coaching – and we want to be using our coach in ways that have the greatest impact.
While coaching might not be easy and it might require additional time from you, it is a major tool that we will use to continue to improve our service to our kids.”
What do you think? Is there a principal on your team who needs a do-over?
If you liked this, I bet you’d want to check this out!