Recognize that wrong answers came from somewhere. Dig deeper to find out where they came from. Teachers feel there’s never enough time to remediate for students when they struggle. But, if we can learn to understand the difference between a mistake (when pointed out, a learner knows what to do next) and an error (when pointed out, the learner has no idea what to do next, thus requiring reteaching), then we can spend precious instructional time where it’s most needed. Did a student simply forget to capitalize the first word of the sentence? Or does that student truly not understand punctuation rules? Teachers can maximize their student interaction time when they spend some time analyzing student responses.
Ask students what they are learning, not what they are doing. This seemingly small change in questioning allows a shift in focus that can help teachers better gauge students’ understanding of content. Rather than asking students what they are doing—that is, asking them to explain a task—teachers should ask students what they are learning—that is, asking students to explain the purpose of a task and how they are learning from it. At Health Sciences High and Middle College, where Fisher and Frey teach, staff—and even visitors—regularly ask about learning rather than doing. Try this change in your classroom to see how it shifts the conversation and helps you to better determine your students’ levels of understanding.
Separate compliance from competence.
This has huge ramifications for grading practices. Why do we grade every worksheet, homework, or quiz that students turn in? If we grade everything, we are asking students to be compliant (that is, keep up with the work and you’ll get more points). If we focus on students’ mastery of concepts, however, we’ll send an important message: I’m here to help you learn and will only give you a grade when you appropriately demonstrate your competence in this subject.
Automate responses to recurring events. Principals are faced with daily demands that take away from the time they can spend in classrooms focusing on the teachers and students. More and more, principals are asking the question, “How can I spend more time focusing on instruction in my building?” The answer is to analyze the systems within your school and create automated responses to recurring events. Buses arriving late? Have a response team ready with a standardized checklist of action items. Cafeteria won’t be open for lunch on time? Plan out the response in terms of personnel and schedule revision. Planning for automaticity in a system means that principals can have more time in the classrooms focusing on the most important aspect of their job: instructional leadership.
Establish the purpose of a lesson. Determine what students should learn and why they should learn it. One of the most important ways we motivate learners is by establishing a good reason for the learning to take place. Without a clear goal, students rightly perceive their work in school as artificial, and this may lead to compliance or even defiance. If we instruct without a purpose—or fail to convey that purpose to our students—then we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t meet the learning target.
Get kids to produce language, not just hear it. Encourage collaborative work using academic vocabulary. Teachers need to scaffold and assess language needs so students can better access content. The Common Core, in fact, asks for students to use rich academic vocabulary. One of the keys ways to support students in learning language and using academic vocabulary is to ask students to produce and practice using language more. Collaborative work time should be used to have students speak and use academic vocabulary. Fisher and Frey recommend that teachers aim to set aside 50 percent of a lesson for collaborative work. While this will not always happen, teachers should always keep in mind that collaborative work, where students are encouraged to communicate and interact, will help students build language skills and increase academic vocabulary usage.
Remember that the gradual release of responsibility does not have to be linear. Many are familiar with the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework, which articulates how responsibility should be turned over from the teacher to the student. Focus lessons (“I do”) and guided lessons (“we do”) place the responsibility on the instructor, while collaborative work (“you do it together”) and independent work (“you do it alone”) put most of the responsibility on the student. There is a common misconception, however, that this framework is linear—that is, that the different types of instruction have to go in order. In fact, good teachers use formative assessment to pick which element of GRR is needed for individual students and differentiate accordingly. Here is an example from Fisher and Frey’s YouTube channel that shows that the GRR framework does not have to be implemented linearly.
As all of these different take-aways show, participants at the FIT Teaching Academy were able to dig into the FIT Teaching model and consider how it resonates with them. The Academy was a full three days of amazing conversations about current practices and how FIT Teaching can provide an integrated and streamlined approach to make teaching more responsive to student needs. Participants left energized, motivated, and encouraged.
Cross-posted at ASCD In-Service.