Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Special Columbia Edition of How To: Make Your Teaching Stickalicious

Have you ever taught a lesson that seems to hit the spot (it was explicit, the students were all engaged, everyone had ideas to share during pair-share)?  Then when you look at your students' work that skill or strategy is nowhere to be seen.  We often ask ourselves, what's the deal?!?  What happens in the short distance it takes them to move from the carpet to the table that prevents the teaching from sticking?  Why, with all amazing teaching, engagement, and participation, is the transference not there?

While attending the writing workshop at the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP), we had the opportunitiy to participate in an assortment of closing workshops that delved into the logistics of teaching young writers.  One of the workshops that caught our eye was geared towards making your teaching sticky: Making Your Teaching Stick:  Methods, Engagement, and Strategies to Lift the Level of Your Workshop Teaching.  Although the session and examples were focused around writing, we think the ideas presented hold true across curricula areas and wanted to share them with you in the event you've ever questioned the stickiness of your teaching.

P.S.  These steps are based on the learning principles in Shanna Schwartz's book, A Quick Guide to Making your Teaching Stick.

P.S.S.  You're welcome for the cliffnotes of the presenter's (Jennifer DeSutter) cliff notes :)

So without further ado, here's how to make you teaching stickalicious:

Stickalicious Strategy 1:  Consider what you students are ready to learn.

This, we feel, is the most theoretical tenant of making your teaching stickalicious.  We have all heard about Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (the relationship between developmental readiness and instruction), but to super charge the stickiness, it's all about what you choose to do once you know where your students are.  Jennifer DeSutter shared different tips for identifying next steps.  The simplest tip is to look at what your students are using but confusing through observations, their work, and conversations you have with them in small group or during conferences.  Those areas show what they are already trying and areas where they are ready to receive instruction.  She also shared the strategy of considering the progression of complexity for any given skill or strategy.  When you see your student has gained proficency with a certain skill, you can add layers of complexity in baby steps.  For example, if you notice that a student is attempting to show order and transition with "and", "then", or the super combo "and then" throughout their writing to connect their ideas, the next baby step would be instruction around alternative signal words (i.e. first, after, etc.).  Not feeling confident about your grasp of learning progressions?  While you can find learning progressions for any subject online, Lucy Calkin's Writing Pathways book in her new units of study series makes this easy for writing because it has K-5 learning progressions laid out for each genre....just sayin'.

Stickalicious Strategy 2:  The power of movement on the mind.

Utlizing movement is a great way to not only make your teaching stick, but it can also be a powerful tool to help students recall instruction.  For example, you could have your students use acting as a tool for planning (What happened?  Then what happened next?) or revising (What was missing?  What part was confusing?) their ideas.  You could also use movement to approach your instruction in a different way, a way that creates a shared experience.  For example, when teaching about the elements of narrative structure, have your kids act out each element.  Both of these ideas make your teaching stick because they create an experience that serves as a hook for immediate recall you could reference to prompt your students while coaching ("Remember when we learned about a story's setting and we used out bodies to make the setting of The Three Little Pigs?  Every story has a setting.  What is the setting for this story?") or when they are trying to problem solve.

Stickalicious Strategy 3:  Make students famous.

It sounds strange, right?  But we are serious!  How many times have you found yourself on repeat (i.e. every sentence starts with a capital letter..).  But then, one day, John Boy says, "Hey, did you know that every sentence starts with a capital letter?"  You look at John Boy like YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!?!?!  But then you look out into the audience and you see a class full of minds blown.

From that moment forward everyone is capitalizing letters at the beginning of their sentences.  Kids listen to kids.  Instead of continuing to push rewind and play, change the tape.  Make a kid famous.  To make a kid famous, Jennifer DeSutter suggested telling stories that live inside your classroom.  Stories about John who tried a new strategy, or Jacob who went crazy and added speech bubbles to his pictures, or Jingleheimer Schmidt who helped a fellow student.  Get it?  John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt?!??  Excuse KM while she laughs hysterically...there may have been knee slaps involved.  KH looks on in shame, shaking her head over that nonsense.  

Anyway....anyone can be famous.  Students could be famous for showing their thinking in math, or for using science vocabulary, or telling a juicy story through pictures during writing.  It will make them crazy kinds of proud and confident AND make your point stick.  Who could you make famous in your classroom?

Stickalicious Strategy 4:  Chartopolis, much fancier than Chart City.

If you have every seen our classroom, you would quickly realize that we love charts.  It's a proverbial chartopolis.  Our charts are visual and usually color coded.  Our students learn and retain the most from out charts when we revisit them often and for different purposes.  To make charts more sticky, consider the amount of information you put on them.  Do you have charts that you literally have to sit there and reread because it's filled corner to corner with verbiage?  Be honest.....this is a judgement free zone....we have been guilty of that from time to time.  Our chart sage Jennifer DeSutter put things into perspective when she said you want your charts and tools to act as an ad for your teaching.  You want your charts aimed at your audience (you probably wouldn't have lots of words if you were making a chart for non-readers) and you want them to demonstrate the gist in a 10 second read.  Sometimes 10 seconds is all you get before they start staring off into the distance at some dust ball collecting in the corner.  Powerful charts can help you communicate you point and make it stick.
Excellent resource for making powerful charts.
They also have a website with charts that that will blow your mind.  

Simple process poster depicting the writing process.
Notice the illustrations that accompany each step?

This chart uses students work and key signage
to draw the reader's attention to particular areas of note.

Stickalicious Strategy 5: Rinse and Repeat.

This may be the easiest fix to making your teaching stick but it takes patience and persistence, little grasshoppers....Can't you imagine Mr. Miyagi saying something like that if he were training us to make our learning sticky?

Wax on, wax off ...
Ok....we can't stress the importance of repetition in making your teaching stick.  It takes somewhere between 7 to 15 or is it 1 and 100 exposures???....thanks for nothing google multiple exposures to something before you can internalize and apply the new learning.  That's not to say you have to brow beat them with the same lesson in the same way at the same time everyday.  We suggest using some fancy footwork.  Say you taught a lesson on self-questioning as a clarification strategy during Reader's Workshop (exposure 1), you might:  make a mini chart of it to use during small group (exposure 2), model it in a think aloud read aloud (exposure 3), confer with students in a small group or one - on - one (exposure 4), etc.  The possibilities are really endless, but the point is repetition is key.  Each repetition is another opportunity for your students to revisit, revise, and try.

In conclusion, the next time you question your sanity and feel your blood pressure rise when a student asks "so what's a connection?" after weeks of teaching making connections, take a step back and consider the stickiness of your teaching.  Remember Stickalicious Teaching:  identifies next (baby) steps, uses movement and powerful charts, makes students famous, and revisits concepts frequently to allow students to have the opportunity to revise and retry. Now go and get sticky with it!

From the limb,

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