Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Observing a Colleague

Making good on my commitment to watching colleagues teach this year, I observed a math teacher today during my planning period. Math is something well out of my comfort zone and content area.

I found it refreshing to flush the content from my vision or hearing. The teaching was what mattered. Too often, we confuse content knowledge with the stuff that makes an effective teacher.

Effective teaching is about the conditions of your classroom as much as it is about the content...yet, the balance of attention and energy isn't always there. Curriculum, Common Core, Assessment, Tests, Scores, and Rankings share space at the adult table while the conditions of our classroom are often relegated to the unobserved little kids table.

Today, I got to see the balance and the best of both worlds at work.

It struck me that Glen used a technique English teacher's often lament that they don't do enough because we don't have the time--conferring. How can we find the time when we have so much curriculum to get to? You'll find that a shared sentiment across the nation.

Yet, even though a Math curriculum is just as intense and as bloated (and tested) as an English curriculum, I loved watching a teacher plan a lesson that included conferring time with many students.

Conferring was embedded in the natural technique. Nothing about it felt like it was a special arrangement because no "front" of the room existed. Glen is just so natural and good at it, but I know enough to realize that it is also very deliberate and intentional.

Additionally, I appreciated that when the students worked they were encouraged to talk to one another.

I know in the instruction of writing, turning and talking is often one of the best pre-writing tools we could encourage our students to use.

Glen has rapport with students, no doubt, but he also structured his class to encourage that rapport and the building of community. Starting the class with a warm-up designed from a pre-assessment of skills, the students selected one option from four choices.

As they worked on the "choose your own adventure" as Glen put it, he circulated around the room and made time to check-in with students. Sometimes he was by one's side for a minute or two, sometimes a bit longer.

When they moved on from the warm-up they collaborated on definitions for the tools and skills at play today. The class then dug deeper into some guided practice (same skills) and then transitioned to trying some problems on their own.

Throughout the class, I was reminded of the power of talking with our students...as opposed to talking at them. Well done, Glen. I understand the joy and energy on the faces of this kids in your room a little better now. Thank you for welcoming me today!


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Energy to Teach

Don Graves wrote quite a bit about teachers drawing their energy from students. I would like to add that the more we get to know our students, the greater the exchange of energy. 

We can energize our students just by our own attitudes and dispositions. 

We can energize our students when and if they see our passion for our subjects.

I asked my 8th grade students to complete an online questionnaire about their reading and writing life. I tried to ask questions that will help me learn more about them individually as well as a group. As the results accumulate, I feel energized.

For example, the last question reads, "I created a theme for the year for this class: 'Writing is a craft. Our classroom, a studio.' React to that in anyway you want. Tell me what strikes you about it, or what you may connect with, or even what questions come up for you about that statement."

Below are some of the student responses to my self-created theme for the year, Writing is a Craft. Our classroom, a studio:

This theme makes me feel confident in my writing because if the classroom is like a studio then no one is judging your writing. JF
It kind of reminds me of an art class. Like writing is the art we are working on and the art studio is our classroom. It makes me wonder what this year truly holds in creative writing for me. What art project will I create in the studio of writing. SL
I think you are saying that writing is something you have to do and work on and that your classroom is a place to build and perfect it. DB
Writing is counted as art, even though all what forms it is black lines stroked across a paper in certain patterns forming thoughts or ideas. I find that amazing because it basically means everything is an art since we express ourselves daily, even if not in writing. If so, wouldn't our classroom be only one part of the studio that makes up our lives? Or is writing only an art because it is made up of drawings / typing's? Or is it because we can strategically express ourselves through the words we place on the paper like the way a painter chooses the colors on her canvas? ST 
What strikes me mainly would be the idea that writing isn't just something people do for school. It's also a talent and a skill. It's a craft, as said in the theme. It is not just any skill either, it's a very important one that you use through your entire life. Saying that our classroom is a studio is, to me, a way of saying that the point of it is not to feel like you're writing for school, but that you have a studio where you can feel comfortable writing and sharing your writings with other people in the "studio". ET
 A simple exchange--a heartfelt and honest exchange--can be a great energizer for the start of the year. I am grateful that my students are taking the time respond to my theme for the year so thoughtfully.

And I am already looking forward to tomorrow to hear their thoughts about the rest of the results from the questionnaire.