Last week I was working with some educators on a little project. I needed educators to take some time and write-up strategies that we could share with others as “Best Practices” for instruction. (I really hate the term BEST practice, but that’s a different blog.) I provided a FOCUS LESSON by explaining what it is that I wanted them to do and the components they would need to include in their writing. I even showed them models, or samples, of what I wanted them to write, and we deconstructed them in order to analyze the style of writing. I then sent these educators on their way to COLLABORATE with the others at their table before they would INDEPENDENTLY write their own submission. The next day, when I went back to look over what the educators had written, I noticed a seemingly hodgepodge assortment of entries. (I need to preface that none of the entries were bad or horrible; in fact, I discovered that I have many educators who are excellent writers. It is just that some of the entries aren’t quite what I expected.) I guess I could more descriptively say–they didn’t follow the model that I had provided.
I spent much of the remainder of the week observing in classrooms, noticing similar lessons. A teacher would teach something, but then what the students produced on their papers wasn’t quite what the teacher was talking about. I kept thinking:
How can educators better connect the instruction with the desired results in a student’s finished product?
Or in my case:
How does an educator effectively communicate a vision
for a specific desired result?
In chasing this rabbit, I started thinking about how we learn how to ride a bike. Think back to when you first learned to ride. Too long ago? What about when you taught a child to ride a bike. How did you start? Was your first attempt successful? I can remember WATCHING the older kids on the block cruising around, and I remember being jealous because they could go places so much faster than I could on foot. I also remember riding along WITH my dad on the back of his bike in a little seat. As we rode TOGETHER he would like to play tricks on me by leaning his weight to one side or the other, and thought I was going to fall out, but as he leaned he would EXPLAIN how leaning to one side or the other would help me make the turn. Riding along with my dad was great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a piece of the action for myself. I remember harassing my father, “But dad, I want to ride my own bike!” When my father finally took me out to teach me how to ride on my own, I have to be honest, I was a little disappointed. He had added these baby wheels to the back of my bike. Can you believe it?! How on earth was I supposed to look cool cruising like the other kids when I had this dead weight to drag around? What’s worse is that my dad didn’t just let me get on and go, he wasted my time EXPLAINING things –like how to brake. To make matters worse, my dad even held on to the back of the seat and FOLLOWED me on my first ride out. I was so annoyed–until I fell over that is . . . then, of course, I was grateful he was right there to help GUIDE me back up. Eventually, with more of my dad’s ASSISTANCE I was able to take a ride on my own, but it certainly wasn’t without a lot of his help in the beginning.
What I’m finding as I work to help improve instruction is that many educators, including myself, are missing a critical component of a basic model.
I’m sure you have seen it before–the Gradual Release Model is nothing new. I remember my professors talking about it in college. While the idea is very simple, it provides a structure that helps educators assist students in taking ownership of their own work–and communicate the desired results of the learning more effectively.
Look back at how I explained what my dad did when he taught me how to ride a bike. I made understanding easy for you and put the key words in bold. I’m sure my dad didn’t know it, but in teaching me how to ride my bike he actually followed the Gradual Release Model pretty closely. I watched him and others ride their bikes. We went on rides together. He was by my side, guiding me as I rode my bike. Then I eventually took full ownership and rode alone, having learned the things he taught me.
Now look back at how I explained what I did with educators last week. I provided them instruction. I allowed them to collaborate with peers, and then I let them do it on their own. Notice what I missed?
Shared Instruction = the Missing Link
I failed to take the time to model with the educators. I missed out on the “We do it together” part. In one chart I saw, it listed the facilitator’s responsibility during the Shared Instruction time as:
- Works with students
- Checks, prompts, clues
- Provides additional modeling
- Meets with needs-based groups
If I had included this shared instruction step as part of my instruction process, I would have provided the time for whole group collaborative writing as a way to create shared meaning of my expectations. The educators as students would have, “completing the process alongside others,” which would resulted in a more aligned finished product.
Thinking back to my time in my own classroom, I am able to pin point many times when I skipped this important step because of time. I rushed to give kids enough information so that I could get them into their own writing. In reality though, I short-changed the instructional process and did not allow my students to deepen their understanding of the task before I expected them to do it independently.
I wonder, if I had devoted more time to this shared meaning step, might I have had to spend less time on corrections and redos?
Take a minute to think about it for yourself. How much time in any given lesson do you spend on creating shared meaning, working alongside your students to ensure they understand before letting them go on their own way? How might making a little more room for this step save you time in the end?