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So one of the things I’m particularly worried about recently is that we’re getting confused on the difference between a skill and an activity.

Let me explain what I’m talking about…

I am seeing a ton of curriculum maps, new curriculum and lessons that are having teachers teach chapters in books, informational text and literature and outlining the questions that they should ask while they’re teaching the chapters.  I’m seeing units of study that are focused on having teachers do charting, sorting and outlining activities with kids designed to have them figure out what the text is saying.  They are filling out worksheets and creating vocabulary flash cards.

The problem with a lot of this?  It’s not transferable.  Kids can do the task in the moment, but there is little to no enduring skill that they take to the next text.

What’s the alternative?

Focus on skill building.  Here’s how I explain this to teachers:  You’re not teaching “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” you’re USING “Island of the Blue Dolphins” to teach students how, during a second read, they’re going to look for how the author organized the text.  And how the ability to dig into the text helps kids more deeply understand the author’s message or information.

When you use the text as a TOOL to teach the skill, the skill can be applied to another text and another and, well, you get the point.  Activities are finite – you engage in them for a period of time and then you’re done.  With skill-building, you’re never done.  It’s applied over and over again.

When you put the skill at the front of the lesson, you are ensuring that your kids will not just “finish” the lesson, but that you have made a deposit on a long-lasting skill that they’ll use across multiple pieces of text.

You see, our job is to help kids become INDEPENDENT.  They become independent by learning a core group of transferable skills that they can apply broadly and widely when they’re in school, doing homework or on the job.

So what do we do with this information?

I think it starts in lesson planning where we ask ourselves the questions:

  • What skill am I building as I teach my lessons today?
  • Does this skill have application well beyond the work we’ll do today?
  • How will I show kids that they can apply this skill outside of this lesson?