Okay, so I’m obsessed. (Not an unusual thing, but we’ll get to that later…much much later…)
I heard Michael Kamil speak at a conference last year and what he said was “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things”.
I can’t stop thinking about this and the impact that it has on what we do in the classrooms everyday – especially with those kids who struggle to read.
It’s been about 9 months since I wrote “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things” in my notes. I keep referring back to what this means for us – and for our kids.
Here’s what I’ve got rolling around in my brain about this:
- As teachers, we cannot shy away from giving kids tasks that they struggle with – – – I mean after all, if they knew everything from the get-go, wouldn’t that eliminate the need for school?
- As teachers, we need to teach persistence and stick-to-it-ive-ness (which is a HUGE life skill!). How do we do it? By giving kids the tools and support and encouragement that they need when they encounter tough skills. When they fail or struggle with a task, we stand alongside them and SHOW them how to take another step.
- As teachers of reading, we need to not immediately solve a decoding or comprehension struggle by giving kids lower-leveled text. When we quickly default to the below-level text, that’s what we get kids used to: below-level text. It’s actually a set-up for future struggle, I believe!
- As teachers of reading, we need not always pair kids with an “able” counter-part – – – this is enabling for a lot of kids and we KNOW that many on-level kids have little to no patience for supporting a struggling partner and they end up doing most of the work anyway.
- As teachers of reading, we need to focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing tough spots with kids who struggle or who give up easily. I have found that rehearsing answers or responses is a great intervention actually! It’s worth checking into.
But the bottom line of it all? As teachers, we need to switch our perspective from “Oh no! They’re not getting it! I must be a bad teacher! I better simplify this task…STAT!”
“Yes! They’re struggling a bit with this – what a great opportunity for me to provide on-the-ground guided support for my kids AND build their stick-to-it-ive-ness at the same time!”
The confidence-building of learners is in the doing of difficult things…and living to tell the tale!
It is very common in my work that teachers know exactly which kids might need extra support through differentiated instruction, but what frustrates them most is this: how do I know exactly what they need and then what the heck do I do about it?
One of the things I LOVE most about helping educators is taking something that’s really difficult or complicated and simplifying it – it’s very satisfying to see excellent teachers carry out important instructional work with the kids in a way that they haven’t before.
For starters, let’s define ‘differentiated instruction’ – for our purposes let’s say this: differentiating instruction provides more and different instructional time and materials for specific students in order to close the skill gap between these students and their grade level performing peers.
Simply put? Kids have skill gaps and we need to fill them so that they can perform at grade level.
Here are the 4 Ds for Differentiating Instruction successfully:
Use a simple but to-the-point reading skill diagnostic assessment that is given one-on-one. I recommend CORE’s Phonic Survey or Houghton Mifflin’s Phonics Decoding Screening Test.
When you give this diagnostic you’ll easily find out the kids’ weak spots/skill gaps because they will ‘fail’ this portion of the test. You’ll find the spots on the assessment that the students master (because they ‘pass’ it), then you know where they start.
Figure out which kids have the same skill needs (they typically group together naturally, which makes grouping simpler!) and they become your targeted small group.
Lots of questions arise about ideal group size – I say no more than 7-8, but more importantly I’m concerned with getting kids in a group with like skill needs. If we have the wrong kids in the groups, then we’re wasting everyone’s time.
Start with 1-2 target skills at their lowest point of performance. I call this “sweeping under the rug” – making sure that we get to the lowest skill need so that we don’t have to go back and re-sweep in the future.
Map out the missing skills over 2 week chunks. So, if I found out that my kids in a small group needed 3 concepts taught to them, I’d map out 6 weeks of small group instruction.
Each lesson should have DIRECT INSTRUCTION as part of the teaching. The lesson should be explicit (teach, model, practice, feedback, feedback, feedback, apply, feedback, feedback, feedback…you get the point!) in nature and should not leave ANY room for interpretation or lack of clarity.
Remember, these are kids who are frustrated, confused and struggling already – we want to clear the water, not overwhelm with implicit language or lessons!
The delivery of the lesson is critical to the students’ mastery of the missing skills!
Lessons should be highly structured (for behaviors and instruction), there should be lots of academically oriented feedback (“Wow Justin! Awesome answer…I can tell that you worked hard to decode that word using the long /o/ sound!”), multiple repetitions on the same concepts until students are mastered on that skill (this ensures long-term storage), much review built into each lesson (some say 80% review/20% new) and lavish amounts of encouragement from the teacher.
Each week, at least, should end with a check-out – an informal quick test for each student designed by the small group teacher. This quick-test will show the teacher whether the concept for that week’s small group instruction has been mastered or if the kids need more time.
Here’s the really good news…you don’t have to be perfect to deliver a slam dunk lesson! Whew! If you work to be consistent and well-planned than you have a better shot at closing the skill gaps while differentiating instruction.
So, where do you start? Start by getting your hands on a really good diagnostic and assess at least 1 child and see what you find.
I LOVE talking about how to differentiate instruction! (Yes, I’m a true reading geek)…so….leave your questions below or come on over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting) and let’s talk about this!
There is no doubt that if I could create time for coaches I would be a very rich woman.
And if I were very wealthy, I probably would be writing this blog from Bora Bora, taking excessive amounts of breaks to jump off the hut into the water and grab a shell that would contain a 1 pound black pearl that the man who fans me with palm fronds would string onto a necklace…WAIT!
Let me start again here.
Well good morning, fine educators! I am so pleased that you have chosen to join me here on this fine morning/afternoon/evening as we delve into the art of instructional coaching and how to mentor.
Okay. So that’s a little overboard, too. I’m a gal of extremes…so sue me!
Really what I’d like to share with you is how to create more time instructional coaching by prioritizing your calendar and the work that you do. It really will help you grasp how you will spend quality time with the teachers who need most support.
So, here are some powerful but easy-to-implement actions in prioritizing the instructional coaching role. I’m excited for you to make every moment with your teachers count – for them and for you.
Tip One: Privately organize (so as to not be evaluative) the teachers in your coaching cadre by intensive, strategic and benchmark in relation to how they’re performing in relation to your school’s instruction focus areas.
Directly coach and have contact with the intensive teachers once a week, the strategic teachers at least once every 2 weeks and the benchmark/advanced teachers at least once a month.
Tip Two: Create a coaching calendar to give focus to your instructional coaching.
You are less likely to be pulled to substitute at the last minute for an absent teacher, attend a meeting on behalf of the principal or be pulled to fix the copier (ha!) when you are moving around your school with purpose.
If people ask you to do something that might be outside of your position, you can say, “I would love to help – but I’m booked in classrooms until 9:30, I’ll check back with you then and I’d be glad to help!”
What you’ll find is that they will have long moved on by the time you check back.
Tip Three: Schedule the debriefing of the coaching cycle during the pre-conference. You will spend much less time chasing down the teacher in the end. When you honor the teacher’s time, too, you strengthen the relationship!
Tip Four: Listen. Really listen. Oftentimes, you’ll be able to have “coach-able moments” with a teacher that will lead you more informally into the instructional coaching cycle.
Use these times to pre-conference and before you know it, you’re right back into the coaching cycle and getting that teacher feedback and notes.
Look for natural extensions of coaching in less formal settings – they can be your most fertile coaching locations!
What do you think? Can you see how these little tips all add up to more coaching time? I certainly hope you can see it, because I have so much evidence from the field that they DO work!
So, tell me which tip you’ll implement first…leave a comment! I love to hear about YOUR next steps and encourage along the way!
If you know me, you know that I’m a hopeful romantic, I love lovey-dovey stuff and romantic comedies and against-all-odds love stories. (Note to reader: For the men or non-romantics reading this, you can open your eyes now…)
One of my most favorite movies is Father of the Bride – not because of its deep, romantic ties or the fact that it was filmed in my hometown (true!), but because it shows the great parts of getting ready to get married and also the not-so-great parts of it, too.
In the final analysis, the couple gets married and because they have made a good choice in who they’d marry and also worked through a lot of their family, job, money issues throughout their engagement, I think they probably had a good life together. (And they seemed to be doing well when I last checked in with them in Father of the Bride II!)
When I think of that engagement time, I think of how important it is to work out the kinks and really get down to the nitty-gritty of what you want your life together to be – in fact, I read once that engagement is all about figuring out if you’re ready to marry each other and to make a formal commitment to finding out IF marriage is the next step.
These days, within 2.333 hours of announcing engagement, we’ve practically booked the venue, briefed the wedding party, chosen the favors, forwarded the honeymoon itinerary and chosen the monogram for the first born!
My thought is HOLD UP A MINUTE!
The REAL story of engagement is often this: woman tells man where he has to show up, what he has to wear and briefs him regularly on that weird aunt’s name so that he doesn’t forget it. The woman is fawned over by her friends and other ladies while the man basically gets a boot camp-style briefing of the activities for the week. He is merely a FIGURE in the whole scheme. He is an observer and occasional interloper!
I’ve often heard of guys rolling their eyes over all of the wedding fussiness -they’re simply trying to ENDURE it and get to the happily ever after part.
Now, I’m not trying to act like ALL guys are like this or ALL gals are like this but do you admit it is more common than not?
What I think we ought to explore is the connection between these wedding shenanigans and our teaching. Huh?
Hear me out…
We have gotten a little glad-handy with our use of engagement techniques (much like brides with their 57 pre-wedding activities) – we have fallen for the idea that if we are using an engagement technique that kids must be engaged – or at least more engaged than if we didn’t use the technique.
We do not have a shortage of engagement ideas, technique, tricks-of-the-trade or training opportunities, so why is it that kids are still ENDURING instruction and not ENGAGING IN IT?
Really good kids are sitting in classrooms much too often just listening to the teacher do the work – or watching other kids do the work. It has to be terribly boring. I can tell you for sure, it’s boring to watch!
Kids are acting like they’re the bystanding groom to the teacher’s bride antics – engagement techniques are sometimes used and sometimes not, but the engagement level is still low all around.
I don’t have to point out that students are not going to master content, receive high levels of direct teaching and academic-based feedback in these classrooms, do I?
So, how do we turn standing-by, enduring kind of classrooms or lessons into full blown engaged ones? I have a couple of ideas…they aren’t fancy, but they will work if you work ‘em:
Enduring to Engaging Idea #1: Make sure that the content that you want to have students engage in is worthy of engagement
Not everything is worth teaching – some things are worth just telling kids. What’s the difference?
When I’m teaching something new, I go through the whole teach/model/practice/feedback/apply format. It’s during the practice/feedback/apply part that I should be planning for high-levels of active engagement from students. However, I have seen many times that teachers are having students use techniques like “think pair share” or “partner teams” for times when the content is minor or inconsequential to the mastery of the subject area.
When something is inconsequential or just minor to the big content picture, we can just say, “Ladies and gents, this means ______” or “What that refers to is like when__________” and move on.
The techniques that we use to increase engagement should be used to enhance and improve the mastery of super important, really high impact skills! I so often hear “I would love to do more engagement activities, but they’re so time consuming!” – well, they ARE time consuming especially when you’re using them for inconsequential information.
Enduring to Engaging Idea #2: Make sure that you’re obsessed with checking-in with students during high-engagement times
There are two really big points of engagement: to give kids lots of practice on important skills in order to build mastery and to give kids lots of opportunity to show what they know, what they don’t know and what they kind of know so that the teacher can provide lots of direction, correction and re-direction. Without engagement, we have no idea what’s going on in the kids’ heads!
What is common (and I’m guilty of these sometimes, too) is that while students are think/pair/sharing, teachers are getting set up for the next part of the lesson, are getting stuck at one group re-doing the lesson, are proctoring learning rather than engaging with kids in it and generally missing all of the good thinking and talking and interaction around the important content!
When students are talking with one another, it’s the PERFECT TIME to get in there and hear what they’re saying and commenting, redirecting, making a note to clear something up with the whole class, asking them to extend responses, redirect their conversation or work or generally set them straight on something they have mis-learned!
Engagement is not about the kids and kids alone. It’s around the TEACHER engaging with the KIDS and the CONTENT.
So what is the take-away from this, in my book? That we refine our definition of engagement from that of “using engagement techniques during teaching” to “setting up meaningful opportunities for students to work with, talk about, write about, think about the most important information that they’re required to learn”.
You’ve got everything you need to do this now…where will you start?
Come on over to www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting to talk – I’m waiting just for YOU!
Time management in the classroom. It’s the bane of our existence when it doesn’t work and it’s the reason why things move smoothly when they do work!
A sub-question of “How do I work to get my kids to do what I want them to do?” is “I keep running out of time…if you could give me more time, I could ‘fit it all in'”.
I would be a gagillionaire if I could give you more time, but I can’t. And I REALLY wish I could, because being a gagillionaire sounds like it’d be GREAT! I mean, all that cashola just hanging around…purses, trips, shoes, lip gloss, etc……what, what was I talking about again?
Oh that’s right…time management…
The first place to start is by asking a few questions to see where the problem is. I shared these questions recently with a coach client of ours who was struggling to support her teachers in hitting the time management marks.
- Are you seeing them taking longer than they should in places? Which places are these?
- I wonder are they doing lots of worksheets (those are optional and shouldn’t be used as time fillers)?
- Are they teaching the whole time?
- Are there management issues that are taking up instructional time?
- Are they starting on time/ending early?
- What parts are they getting bogged down on?
- Have they timed how long it takes each band of instruction so that you can look at the data of what you find in the classroom, not just the “feeling” that the teacher has?
- Do they have a swift pace?
- Are they adding additional things to the block from outside of the program?
- Are they taking drink/bathroom breaks during the block? (I certainly hope not)
The great thing is, when you figure out where the “sticking point” is, you can fix it! Yep, just like that.
Fix it by keeping a timer and moving yourself along when you’re running slow.
Pick up additional instructional minutes by shortening the “morning routines” or the “after lunch routines”.
Plan ahead for what your direct teaching time will be and what time will be student practice and then opportunities for feedback.
Figure out if you’re adding “would be nice” content – that content that would be nice, but is not necessary.
The bottom line? You can control. You can fix it. BUT you have to begin by isolating WHERE the problem of time management is coming from!
Leave a comment below to tell me WHAT IS YOUR MOST COMMON TIME MANAGEMENT PROBLEM?