Friday, November 6, 2015

Purposeful Lessons

This fall I'm reading and reflecting on the book Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller.

Chapter 5: Swimming with Sharks: Teaching for Understanding and Engagement

As I read this book, I keep saying, "Yes!" and "So that's why I felt uncomfortable with what I was doing (in my first/second grade classes)."

In this chapter, Debbie Miller writes about purposeful teaching. She notes that we as teachers should be thinking about where we've been with students, where we are now, and where we need to be going. Our focus should be on building lessons that help students move long and connect specifically with them and their lives. She gives an extended example on teaching kids to think about what they know and how to attach new learning to that prior knowledge. But I think this lesson is a good metaphor for what should be happening in the classroom.
  • We should help students think about what they know or what they think they know.
  • We should lead students to explore information and note things that are new ideas to them.
  • We should guide students to connect new learning to established concepts they already know.
  • We should encourage students to discard misconceptions and wrong knowledge.
  • We should provide students opportunities to express their learning and make it visible.
I think this connected learning is where we can run afoul of curriculum. At least that's what seemed to happen to me. As I tried to use the reading and math materials given to me, I struggled. It seemed that our reading series had so many different concepts and topics that we were throwing at students. In math, we would spend several lessons on concepts that kids mastered quickly; then we would move over other concepts so quickly. I did modify as needed, moving on when needed and slowing down when needed. But sometimes I felt like I wasn't "doing what I was supposed to do."

Debbie Miller has encouraged me to think about things more purposefully. I was trying to do that, but I was not strategic in my thinking. At least now, I see ways to do that better. I liked these questions that she gave to think about when analyzing lessons:
  • How does this lesson fit with what we are already doing? How will it take learning further?
  • Will it engage students? How are teacher and students positioned for teaching and learning? Is thinking valued and made visible? Is there student input?
  • What happens after the lesson? Will students be given time for practice and feedback? How else will they be supported? How will the teacher know they understand
  • What implications for learning in days/weeks to come?

Engaging, purposeful lessons that encourage students to build on their learning and take it further - that's the goal.

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