Monday, July 4, 2016
Letters to New English Teachers Post #2- How to Teach
Hello New English Teachers,
Welcome to letter #2. Today I want to talk about the how of teaching. When you plan your lessons, it is very important to think about your lesson objective and how you are going to assess if the students met the objective. There are many methods of teaching. The classic "lecture" usually doesn't work in middle school. Generally students need more direct instruction to, say, write an effective paragraph about literature. The reality is that your daily lessons will usually include numerous methods of teaching. To keep the students engaged, you want to have some discussion, collaboration, inquiry, but you also need to make sure that they can meet the objective independently.
So in this post, I'd like to talk primarily about direct instruction. This past year I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and I realized very quickly that if I did not follow the "I do, we do, you do" lesson format (especially with the sixth graders), the students did not produce quality work. This lesson format is pretty much exactly how it sounds.
1. "I do"-------Model for the students-
Typically this will involve a think aloud showing the students how you arrived at the end point (the objective). When you are modeling for the students, I would recommend going through the steps before hand, and even making a script to ensure you are well prepared. It seems that with most objectives, I want the students to write paragraphs to show they have mastered the skill. This works for so many English skills: making inferences, identifying and analyzing conflicts, determining theme or irony, etc. Students need to write out their ideas to show they understand the literature and the concept as it relates to the literature. So when I do a think aloud, I often have what I want to write in my paragraph already typed. Then, even though I will re-type or hand write it in front of the students, I have literally done the work already and there are no surprises.
2. "We do"-------Provide the students with guided practice-
During this step, you can either work through the lesson steps as a class or have the students work in small groups to reach the end goal. They should be practicing what they just saw you, the teacher, do. They are either being guided by you or their peers. If you choose to do small groups, then the students are helping each other grow in the lesson objective. In this step it is okay that they are still continuing to figure out how to determine conflict, theme, irony, etc. That is why they have support, and of course they are also able to look back at the exemplary example from the "I do" step of the lesson.
3. "You do"------Provide the students with independent practice-
This time, students should be able to show they can meet the objective alone. They have now watched the teacher do the lesson, practiced the same steps with their peers or as a class, and now they are responsible for the learning. They are still able to look back on the earlier steps of the lesson for support, but they should be coming up with something new to meet the objective.
Let's look at an example...
With my sixth graders this year we read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. One of my lessons was for the students to show how Percy Jackson was on a hero's journey. I did a lot of scaffolding with the lesson, and it was a multi-day lesson as well. I started with quotations that would connect to Percy being on a hero's journey. I wrote a paragraph for them which included a topic sentence, proof from the text, and my own explanations to show how the quotes prove that Percy is on a hero's journey. Then students worked with a different chapter of the book and wrote a partner paragraph. The students had a rubric and step-by-step directions that would help them. They could look at my example from the previous day and use the support of their partner to write one paragraph together. After I graded the paragraph and provided feedback to the partnerships, they needed to do the process one more time independently. That was the one that would be a writing grade and would assess if they understood the main character in the novel and if they understood how to write a paragraph with text details and their own explanations. After all three steps, if students did not meet the objective effectively, then I went back to re-teach according to need.
1. When deciding how you are going to teach your lesson, include a lot of variety. You want to meet the needs of all of your learners. In the beginning of the year, I like to do a learning styles inventory quiz with my students. It is very informative for them and for me. Yet, even knowing where my learners fall on the inventory, I still usually choose to use audio, visual, and tactile methods in many of my lessons.
2. Make sure to use the data from "you do" lesson step and re-teach if necessary. It is easy to fall into this pattern of "I do, we do, you do," and assume that the students are "getting it." Sometimes these three steps aren't enough. Maybe some students will need the "we do" step of the lesson multiple times before being able to meet the objective independently. Remember to stay flexible for your students.
3. This final thought dawned on me when I started this post, although it really fits better in the first letter of "what you're teaching." As I have mentioned, I am coming from a position with a lot of flexibility. Despite this freedom, I found it very helpful to refer to the Common Core Standards. These standards were created with the purpose of students becoming college and career ready. It might be worth looking these objectives, even if your school also offers you a lot of flexibility. I think they are GREAT!
That's all for today. Seasoned teachers, what do you do to ensure how you're teaching is on point? New teachers, what questions do you have? Join the conversation by commenting below.
And...Happy July 4th!