A Saturday Reunion at Teacher’s College is very much like a revival meeting. We begin and end in a sacred space, majestic Riverside Cathedral, and spend the hours in between in fellowship and deep learning. We put aside our doubts and worries, and rekindle passion and faith in our profession. We leave joyful and renewed.
Two workshops, in particular, struck a chord for me because they addressed two of the issues I have been grappling with in my own classroom: building student agency, and creating teaching tools in a more efficient and long lasting way.
Cornelius Minor began his session by urging us to “embrace teacher tenacity” by asking ourselves how we can reposition our teaching practices to change the narrative in our classrooms from one of dependency to one of student agency. He asked us to consider our practices of remedial teaching versus pre-teaching by reminding us that:”pre-teaching empowers, and remediation takes away agency”. Rather than pulling small groups after a lesson just to reinforce the learning (which often also serves to reinforce a student’s feeling of “I am embarrassed, I didn’t get it”) we should redirect our energy to pulling small groups to preteach concepts. Cornelius made this point: “preteaching lets kids come to the lesson with something in their back pocket PLUS their self esteem” – and how crucial to the success of learning process is the very notion of a student’s self esteem?! Even as I was nodding in agreement, I was also thinking to myself that this is something that I really need to carve out time for.
In the same vein, Cornelius addressed the value of conferencing in practices, for they are the only opportunities we have to get to know our students outside of the whole class setting. “Get to know your kids – lives are saved in conferences” he advised us, and this was advice I took to heart; for it’s in those one-on-one moments with my kids as we discuss a writing move or a response to a book that they let me in to their deepest thoughts:concerns, dreams, and struggles.
Cornelius advised us to make conferences and small groups positive and “cool” experiences, so that our kids feel valued. Inviting small group work by student interests (“who would like to learn more about…?”), allows us not to stigmatize students, but to lend their small group work a more positive aura of a social club.
The bulk of our workshop time was spent practicing the strategies we embed into skill work, and putting these into kind friendly language which renders it visible to our students. This was hard work! We practiced making inferences, for example, which required reading the text and naming the specific steps we took to make inferences – the process by which we knew where to stop and problem solve in order to arrive at those inferences.
These practice exercises allowed us to see the value in doing the work ourselves before we invite our students to do the same. This work also allows us to present the lesson as invitation to watch and notice as we model the task at hand.
Cornelius emphasized how important it was to choose texts that will appeal to students: “select texts that have resonance to the kids in your class,” he cautioned, ” aim for texts that are specific to the kids and their particular interests.” This, again, involves an awareness on our parts about what our kids are interested in, and an investment of time in matching texts to specific classes. #dothework, which is what I scribbled into the margins of my notebook, extends to that, too!
#dothework was also the theme in Kate Roberts’ workshop on DIY Toolkit s Writing and Reading workshop. Kate began her session addressing three root issues we need to address to make learning “stick”:
Memory: there is just too much stuff for our kids to remember from unit to unit, let alone year to year, and we need to help our kids remember what was taught and how it can be applied. Most often, I find that my kids in fact DO remember, but need just a bit of a jiggle and a push of their memory.
Rigor: this relates to the rigor of the task itself, not the amount of work they need to put in so that the task can be accomplished. Kate reminded us of Kylene Beers’ matchless quote: “Rigor without relevance is simply hard. ”
Differentiation: how we match the curriculum to our kids – the actual factual kids in our classroom, not the fantasy kids of our lesson planning books and dreams.
Next, Kate presented teaching tools to address these root issues:
CHARTS! Which teacher doesn’t love charts?! I certainly do, but I don’t think in quite the brilliantly organized way as Kate, for her charts are divided into:
Repertoire Charts – a menu of “here’s what I’ve taught you already.” These charts display what we expect our kids to know but we still don’t hear or see evidence of them in conversations or their notebooks. Charts like these collect connected lessons, abbreviate them, and put them all in one place for quick consultation. Perfect!
Process charts- these collect skills that are taught over and over again – they are “recipes for how to do something”.
Lastly, Kate presented Demonstration Notebooks, and I pretty much thought I had died and been whisked away to teacher heaven. These are collections of lessons created to meet issues our students will be having through a unit of study, and can reside in a sketchbook or binder:
This notebook allows for demonstration or guided practice, and gives us a tool to both demonstrate a strategy as well as practice it. Here’s a quick sketch of the
Another idea shared by Kate was that of having our students create personalized book marks of things they want to hold on to and remember:
Of course, by the end of the session I was even more anxious than ever to receive my copy of Kate and Maggie’s new book, where these ideas are more fully explained and demonstrated:
So, that was a slice of my day at TC! In a way I am grateful that these Saturday Reunions occur only twice a year- so many great ideas and so little time to bring them into my classroom and watch them blossom! As I journeyed home to New Jersey at the end of the day, I thought about something Kate had said: “there is no ‘easy” in being an effective teacher”. That is true. But meaningful work such as shown to us by Cornelius and Kate prove that our work is rich, meaningful, and joyous.