Thursday, October 31, 2013

from good to great

I've been reading Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters by Mary Howard. She wrote this text to help teachers identify time and tasks that support learning, as well as identify time and tasks that could be eliminated.

She opens her book asking readers to imagine a time we were engaged in a fulfilling learning experience and to use as many descriptive words as possible to characterize that experience. She guesses at the words or experiences that were not on our list: no worksheets showed up, no round-robin reading, no boring or frustrating texts or tasks, no embarrassment.

What are some other examples of negative practices?
  • failure to incorporate adequate modeling
  • lack of guided practice and scaffolding (round-robin reading)
  • skill and drill without application (fill in the blank, circle, underline; passive worksheets)
  • assigning over teaching (as well as teachers at desks while students are working)
  • rigid adherence to scripts or guides without considering student learning needs
  • busy tasks without connection to learning targets (crosswords, search-and-find)
What are some descriptors and examples then, of good and great work?
  • active engagement in learning tasks (interactive read alouds, work with manipulatives, creative thinking tasks)
  • access to high-quality and high-success texts (texts that are purposively selected for student needs and interests; building a rich school and classroom library)
  • gradual release of teacher support
  • flexible grouping (guided reading, writing and math groups, with changes according to student need)
  • less time on whole-group work (so no round robin reading of textbooks or other texts - opting for independent reading or peer reading if necessary)
  • peer collaboration opportunities
  • ongoing independent application with formative feedback
  • problem-solving opportunities
  • interdisciplinary lessons
  • focus on strategic thinking
She recommends watching a video of yourself teaching (or, better yet) working with an instructional coach to see what happens in your classroom that could be eliminated to make room for more effective practices. I recently videotaped my own teaching and looked for bad and for good practices. It was a very humbling and thought-provoking exercise, to reflect on ways that I could improve my teaching. Her point is not to add more, but to adapt current practices to be more effective.

The book is chock full of examples from real teachers' classrooms in order to illustrate the changes that can happen to make teaching and learning richer for students. Might be a good book to add to your wish list!


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