Sunday, August 25, 2013

Special Columbia Edition of How To: Create Teaching Points

There are few things we love in life:  cupcakes, antiquing, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Pinterest to name a few.  But one classroom fav. is a strong teaching point.  A teaching point is a few sentences that define what we want our students to learn from any particular lesson.  While writing her teaching points, Kristin prefers to start with good readers do X, good writers do Y, or good mathematicians do Z.  After the Columbia experience, Kristie now prefers to add thinking prompts to her teaching points.  Today's how to is all about our beloved teaching points.  We will address what they are and how to create them to guide your instruction.

Ok, people, class is in session.  Welcome to Teaching Point 101.
At the foundation of all mini lessons is the mighty and powerful....TEACHING POINT.  Teaching points anchor your lessons and give them purpose.  They tell your students what they will be learning, how to apply the new learning, and why it is important that they do.  They help your instruction stay focused and explicit.  Without a crystal clear teaching point, your lesson will just unravel in the wind.

Let's talk about the anatomy of a good teaching point.  One of our small group leaders at the Teacher's College of Columbia Reading and Writing Project (TCCRWP), Alison Porcelli, broke teaching points down into three basic parts:
  1. Skill - what you are teaching
  2. Strategy - how they will do it
  3. Value - why it is important
Here is an example of a teaching point used in one of Kristie's small group sessions with Alison. It focuses on teaching the elaboration technique of twin sentences when writing informational texts:  

Writers can write twin sentences by stating a fact and then asking themselves, "What more could I say?" and writing that down in the next sentence.  We do this so that the reader understands what we are trying to teach.  

Can you identify the three parts (skill, strategy, value) of that teaching point?  

Here is the answer key:
The skill is twin sentences.  
The strategy is stating a fact and then using self-questioning to add more information about the fact. 
The value is using this skill to elaborate in order to help the reader understand what it is you are trying to teach.  

Now that we've covered the what and why of teaching points, let's delve deeper into the how.  Wouldn't it be nice is there was a book called Teaching Points that listed every conceivable teaching point by curricular area and you could use it like a choose your own adventure guide?!?!?!  
Awww memories....
The bad news - consider your dreams dashed because one such magical tome does not exist.  The good news - you have everything you need to make your own teaching points!  Yay!  No?  Still smarting about the teaching point book bit?  Our bad....sorry about that. 

At Teacher Camp (aka TCCRWP), our camp counselors leaders shared tips for choosing teaching points.  Although their suggestions were centered around writing, the basic principles apply across curricular areas and can be used as a guide when developing your own teaching points in any subject area.  Without further ado, here are some ideas for sources you could use to create the skill aspect of your teaching point:
  • Consider your target audience's zone of proximal development.  Ask yourself "What are my students using, but confusing?"
  • Base it on student intention.  You might ask students what they want to do next when conferring with them.
  • Consider their level of independence on a skill or strategy and use learning progressions to determine next steps.
  • Examine student work for patterns.  You could look through the lens of extension or remediation. 
Now that we have reviewed possible sources for the skills aspect, we are ready to write the first part of a teaching point.  Here is the beginning portion of a teaching point that could be used in a mini lesson for beginning writers who are telling a story through pictures:

Writers can use illustrations to tell their stories by....

Next up is the strategy.  How are they going to perform the skill?  What thinking prompts could you give your students to help them use the skill independently?  Unfortunately, there aren't any short-cuts here.  This just takes some thinking on your part and use of strategies and routines from your own professional skill bank.  As we mentioned above, Kristie likes to add thinking prompts to her teaching points.  The addition of thinking prompts to a teaching point gives your students a question to ask themselves in order to remind them how to apply the skill.  A simple thinking prompt that you might use is to ask yourself what do your students need to do in order to apply the skill.  Let's go back to the example skill of conveying information through illustrations.  In order to do that, students need to read their pictures and think about what parts of the story the reader is seeing.  If that were to be added to our teaching point, we'd have:

Writers can use illustrations to tell their stories by reading their pictures, then asking themselves "What more could I add to help the reader see more of my story?" and then adding those details to their illustrations.  We do this.....

The most important part of the teaching point, the part that most often gets left out, is the why.  If we want students to apply the skills and strategies we teach, it is important to give them a reason why they should.  When thinking about the value of a particular skill you want to teach, the best way to determine the why is to ask yourself what value does this add to my students as independent readers, writers, thinkers, etc.  You could also think of it through a different perspective by asking yourself if they didn't do the particular skill in question, what would happen?  A "so what" question if you will.  If we were to consider the example skill of conveying information through illustrations, what would the value be in teaching that skill?  Why should students care about adding to their illustrations?  They might add to their illustrations to make their story clearer or to develop the characters in their story or to give more information than is conveyed by their text.  No one particular reason is more right than the other; it really just depends on the purpose of the lesson and what you are trying to get your students to do more of independently.  If we were to add the "so what" to complete our teaching point, it would read:

Writers can use illustrations to tell their stories by reading their pictures, then asking themselves "What more could I add to help the reader see more of my story?" and then adding those details to their illustrations.  We do this so that the reader can understand the whole story.  

This concludes Teaching Point 101.  The next time you sit down to plan a mini lesson or a small group lesson, think about what teaching point you will create to anchor your instruction.  

From the limb,

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