Two Elements That Must Exist in Your Teaching Practice

For K-12 educators, the spring semester is PACKED with state assessments, holidays, end-of-year field trips, benchmark or interim assessments (i.e., Common Assessments, NWEA, interims, STEP/Fountas & Pinnell/DRA), spring break, unit or module assessments, mid-module assessments, spring concerts or performances, and did I mention daily or final assessments? For many of us, simply reading this list is exhausting — imagine staying organized throughout the process! Due to the sheer amount of “goings-on” in the spring, in my first couple years of teaching, I often found myself planning day-to-day, having stacks on stacks of papers sitting to grade (thus mostly trusting my gut on daily mastery instead of graded evidence), and getting to the state assessment hoping and praying my children would do well.

I have some good news!


Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share some best practices on MEANINGFUL data collection (what to collect, how to analyze it efficiently, making adjustments based on the data) and giving students feedback so that they own their knowledge and learning.

Two beliefs and practices are necessary before we dive into data:

  1. Students MUST independently practice the content.
  2. The daily content MUST be aligned to grade-level standards and rigor (coming in Thursday’s post!)

I’m uncertain how we came to believe that talking at someone would lead to them mastering the skill. Regardless, enough data has now proven this strategy futile, so let’s agree that, fundamentally, students must practice a skill in order to build a skill. Even still, we often see teachers acting as tutors – kneeling down guiding students through the practice, nodding when an answer is correct and pointing out what to change when an answer is incorrect. In my third year of teaching, my principal said to me, “In whole group settings, be a teacher, not a tutor.” He explained that, rather than guiding and doing the work alongside students, it was my job to see the room as a whole. Write a quick check on students’ papers who were on the right track and let them keep working; circle the point of error on students’ papers who needed adjustment and let them try to figure out how to strengthen their response; use students to teach one another. It finally clicked — as much as I would love to tutor them during the end-of-year assessment, they will have to perform independently. So, every single day there must be sacred time for students to independently practice where I am only giving feedback on their work (rather than helping them THROUGH the work) and thereby allowing them to figure out the learning on their own.

so let's agree that fundamentally...

shutterstock_552354385I believe that school leaders, instructional coaches and teachers should observe and learn from the top sports’ coaches. There is not one sport where the coach talks at the athletes for 40-50% of the time, allows them to practice for 40% of the time and then assesses their level of skill mastery for 10% of the time. Even considering this approach causes me to chuckle due to its absurdity. On the contrary, the athlete does the work to learn the skill from the start, with ball/stick/bat in hand, learning from success and failure, and their coach nearby giving quick feedback on what to keep doing and what to adjust. For our students to be ready for the championship game, we MUST teach in a similar way. When we teach our students without constantly guiding them to the answer, we are not only teaching them to be self-advocates, but how to be owners of their knowledge and learning.

With the numerous events and tasks that bombard educators in the spring, commit to making independent practice a sacred and consistent element in every lesson.

meghan thompsonGuest blog author Meghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.


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