Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Observing a Colleague (Math)

Making good on my commitment to watching colleagues teach this year, I observed a math teacher today during my planning period. Math is something well out of my comfort zone and content area.

I found it refreshing to flush the content from my vision or hearing. The teaching was what mattered. Too often, we confuse content knowledge with the stuff that makes an effective teacher.

Effective teaching is about the conditions of your classroom as much as it is about the content...yet, the balance of attention and energy isn't always there. Curriculum, Common Core, Assessment, Tests, Scores, and Rankings share space at the adult table while the conditions of our classroom are often relegated to the unobserved little kids table.

Today, I got to see the balance and the best of both worlds at work.

It struck me that Glen used a technique English teacher's often lament that they don't do enough because we don't have the time--conferring. How can we find the time when we have so much curriculum to get to? You'll find that a shared sentiment across the nation.

Yet, even though a Math curriculum is just as intense and as bloated (and tested) as an English curriculum, I loved watching a teacher plan a lesson that included conferring time with many students.

Conferring was embedded in the natural technique. Nothing about it felt like it was a special arrangement because no "front" of the room existed. Glen is just so natural and good at it, but I know enough to realize that it is also very deliberate and intentional.

Additionally, I appreciated that when the students worked they were encouraged to talk to one another.

I know in the instruction of writing, turning and talking is often one of the best pre-writing tools we could encourage our students to use.

Glen has rapport with students, no doubt, but he also structured his class to encourage that rapport and the building of community. Starting the class with a warm-up designed from a pre-assessment of skills, the students selected one option from four choices.

As they worked on the "choose your own adventure" as Glen put it, he circulated around the room and made time to check-in with students. Sometimes he was by one's side for a minute or two, sometimes a bit longer.

When they moved on from the warm-up they collaborated on definitions for the tools and skills at play today. The class then dug deeper into some guided practice (same skills) and then transitioned to trying some problems on their own.

Throughout the class, I was reminded of the power of talking with our opposed to talking at them. Well done, Glen. I understand the joy and energy on the faces of this kids in your room a little better now. Thank you for welcoming me today!

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