Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Focused Lesson Stuff

The information below is based off of the work of Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Doug Reeves and Mike Schmoker.

A focused lesson needs to start with identifying the "right stuff" to teach.  The right stuff is your enduring understandings or power standards.  Standards are identified as enduring if they fit into one of the three categories:
  1. Endurance - knowledge beyond a single test
  2. Leverage - knowledge and skills that of value in multiple disciplines
  3. Readiness for next level - knowledge and skills necessary to be successful at the next level

Along with the enduring understandings students need to see and know what the learning target is for that day.  They need to be clued into what they should be learning and what to look/listen for throughout the class.  Students are much more likely to learn something if they know what they are supposed to be learning.

The focused lesson is the beginning of the process of releasing the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student.  It is probably the most important step.  The better the focused lesson the fewer students there will be that need interventions.

The focused lesson is the time in class where the teacher is demonstrating and modeling, but the most important piece is that the teacher is also sharing their thinkingTransparency is critical to the focused lesson.  In order for students to acquire new knowledge they need to see a more knowledgeable (expert) person using the skill or applying the strategy.

Key features of focused lessons:
  • It should should establish a purpose for learning - students need to understand the purpose and the goal of the instruction
  • Modeling of thinking - explaining vs. telling - expert's thinking is transparent
  • Focus of lesson should be tight and brief - less is more
  • Pay attention to your own thinking as your design your lesson - write down your think processes
  • Find your authentic voice - think like you are the expert
  • "I" statements
What focused lessons are not:
  • A time when students ask questions - students should be focusing on listening to the think of the expert (the teacher) - not a time to guess what the teaching is thinking
  • A time to simply tell students things
  • A time when students simply read aloud to the rest of the class
In a math class the most common focused lesson will be modeling. Modeling is different than telling because it follows a pattern of:
  • Name the strategy/skill
  • State the purpose of the strategy/skill
  • Explain when the strategy/skill is used
  • Link to prior knowledge
  • Demonstrate how the strategy/skill is completed
  • Alert learners about errors to avoid
  • Assess the use of the strategy/skill
Formative assessment must be part of a focused lesson.  Students can turn to a partner and share/restate what they have learned, when they would use it, what to watch out for, and how to analyze it. 

Here are some phrases that can be used when modeling:
  • When I see a . . .  I remember . . .  (background knowledge)
  • I have read this problem twice and I know that there is information included that I don't need.
  • This problem says . . .  so I know that I'll have to  . . . (selecting correct operation/function)
  • The first thing that I will do is . . . because . . . (sequencing)
  • I predict . . .  because . . (estimation)
  • The problem has . . . so I know . . . (reasonableness of the answer)
Below are other questions that can help move students from cognition to metacognition:
  • What am I trying to accomplish?  Begin with the end in mind :)
  • What strategies as I using?
  • How well am I using the strategies?  Monitoring.  Students need to pause from time to time to see whether the strategy is working.
  • What else could I do?  This helps students to think flexibly.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tough Week

This past week has been one of the toughest in my professional life.  I was faced with a decision that was the best for me and my family, but one that I knew would create stress and anxiety for staff (and possibly students).  I was offered a position as an assistant principal at the high school in the district where my family lives.

The building I currently work at is one hour from my house.  This new position would allow me to be closer to my family and have some flexibility in attending my children's activities during the school day.  The conflict for me was the timing of the new position.  I would begin within the next two weeks - so I would be leaving the staff and students in the middle of the year.

The last week I have listed the pros and cons and what it really boiled down to was - what affect would this move have on my family versus the effect on staff and students?  I sat down with my family last Tuesday night and we talked about the possibility of me changing jobs - this would also affect my 9th grade son since he would be in the building I would be moving into.  I was a little surprised when he said it would be "cool" for me to be in his building.  A little later he even asked if we could ride to school together.  The solidified my decision.  It was clear to me that being closer was important to my family.

Now how to tell staff that I was leaving in the middle of the year.  We met as at staff and I broke the news Friday morning (thank goodness this was a work day).  The staff knew something was up (especially when the superintendent was there as well).  I am not a big meeting guy and only meet when we need to.  So when I asked them to meet they were suspicious, but I don't think they knew me leaving would be a possible topic.   I broke the news and the looks on their faces broke my heart.  Shock, disbelief, fear. 

Staff were awesome as I continued to talk about how I came about the decision to take the new position.  I had always supported their family needs and they knew this would be a very positive move for my family.   My main goal as an administrator was to support my staff so they could focus on student learning.  As I met with staff individually throughout the day my greatest fear had come true - I could not support them through their fears of "what next."  And and hated the feeling.

Over the weekend I have been able to reflect on my decision and I am at peace with it.  I know the staff and students will be ok because the staff are great people who focus on students.  My family will be better off. 

Never did anyone in my building  (or district) say anything to me if I needed to leave early to get back to one of my children's activities (as a matter of fact my secretary would get mad at me if she saw something on my calendar and I wasn't going to go), but I always felt guilty.  What if something happened?  It was my responsibility to be there and deal with it so staff could focus on student learning.  This is the conflict I believe all administrators feel.  I preached the importance of family with my staff - I guess this decision is me living it.

I want to thank my staff for the support Friday, and want to apologize because I will not be able to help much moving forward.  I know this was tough news for them because of how it will ultimately affect them.  I also want to thank the other administrators and superintendent who were very supportive as well.

I am sad to be closing one chapter of my administrative life - the staff, students, and families has been great to work with.  At the same time, I am excited to begin the next.  The next couple of weeks will be tough, but nothing compared to the last week.

Monday, November 26, 2012

This is on a poster in one of our rooms

Watch your thoughts
they become words
Watch your words
they become actions
Watch your actions
they become habits
Watch your habits
they become your character