Saturday, April 27, 2013

Explicit Coaching

Recently I overheard a coach conferring with a teacher about a lesson the teacher wanted to see modeled. “What I’d really like to see,” she said, “is how to work with my stronger readers on the reflection and interpretation questions similar to those on the DRA. Could you work with a guided reading group on that?” The coach agreed and set a date for the lesson.

I waited for more conversation to happen, but none did. I thought the coach might probe for what specifically the kids were having trouble with, or she might think aloud about how she could address these higher-order skills in a guided reading group, how she might model thinking aloud to the kids or think through which book to use. But none of this happened – the conversation moved on to other kids in the class who struggled.

Perhaps this coach and teacher will meet again before the modeled lesson, but it made me realize that one of the hardest parts of coaching, especially when we’re new to coaching, is remembering that we’re not there to teach the students. We’re there to make our teaching moves explicit to teachers. We have to make the implicit explicit, and that’s not always easy.

Many of us are “unconsciouslycompetent” – we’ve been teaching effectively for so long that we’re no longer conscious of why we do the things we do. We teach like we drive – automatically, effectively, and unconsciously. Perhaps one solution is to practice narrating our driving on the morning commute: “See what I did just then? That truck up ahead put on its blinker to pull into the deceleration lane, so I automatically glanced in my rearview mirror. I need to know how close someone might be following me before I apply the brakes.”

In the classroom this might mean saying, while modeling a reading conference, “At this point, I’m deliberately ignoring the minor oral reading errors I hear in order to keep the focus of the conference on comprehension. Otherwise I run the risk of overwhelming the student with too many teaching points.” These types of automatic, subconscious decisions are what highly-effective teachers do, but if we don’t lift them to a conscious level then some teachers may continue to be left in the dark.

Effective coaching makes implicitly good teaching explicit. It’s about sharing our thinking in the midst of the acts of teaching. That includes sharing the thinking that goes into planning instruction, the myriad small moves that happen in the course of a lesson, and the reflection after a lesson is complete. As coaches, we must move beyond unconscious competence into becoming reflectively competent.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cranking up the rusty wheels

It has been entirely too long since I’ve written a post. I can whine and complain about how complicated my life has been, but the reality is that writing is like exercise – difficult to get motivated about starting, but surprisingly cathartic once I’ve taken the plunge.

Recently I was at a seminar where one of the round-table discussions centered around writing strategies. Most interesting to me were the strategies people use to convince themselves to write. One lady always stopped writing in the middle of a sentence, so that she’d have a thought to begin with the next time. The man beside me said he always goes somewhere across town to write – a coffee shop or a park – because once he’s there he can tell himself he has to keep writing to make the trip worthwhile. The woman leading the session rewarded herself for writing by bribing herself with Solitaire games – for every page or so written she’d allow herself to play three games.

It’s interesting, I think, that we must entice ourselves to write. I don’t hear people talk of strategies to get started with reading, or ways to manage reading a book so you’ll pick it up the next time. Even when you’re reading for an assignment, it’s much easier than writing one. Is it because it’s a type of Breathing Out that requires us to actively produce thought rather than merely absorb another’s ideas?

At any rate, I’m going to work at playing games with myself to be a more active writer. One idea I liked from the round-table discussion was not writing every day – maybe just every other day, the ones with the letter T in them. I’ll promise myself that I only need to write one paragraph, and if I write more then that’s just icing on the cake.