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.

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