Saturday, March 17, 2012


While I'm less intentional about literally following the cycle around multiple times with our preservice Teacher Assistants, the teaching-learning cycle is still formative to how I think about teaching about teaching.

This past week we were focusing on instruction. We started by skimming two of my favorite Carol Ann Tomlinson articles on differentiation. (Instructor hope: they will read more when they have time.)

Then came the videos. We watched five bits of video on instruction as discussion fodder, and to think about just what instruction is. (I've been thinking a lot about this lately, too, spurred on by Dave Coffey as he thinks about renaming the instruction phase on the cycle.)

Week 10 Agenda

Objective: TLW synthesize thoughts and observations on instruction.

15 Skim Differentiation Articles

  • "Grading and Differentiation: Paradox or Good Practice," Carol Ann Tomlinson, Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 262-269
  • "Reconcilable Differences? Standards-Based Teaching and Differentiation," Carol Ann Tomlinson,  Educational Leadership, September 2000

60 Instruction: watch (or watch parts)
The famous geometry lesson from The Teaching Gap. I always feel bad showing it, because it is awful, but the teacher seems like a nice fellow that I would like, and very well intentioned.  
The first five minutes is plenty, although there is a spectacular bit in minutes 37 and 38 where he tries to give a hint.

Preservice teachers noticed a lot of things that they wanted to avoid, but also acknowledged how familiar this looks. And recognized this in their own practices.
One of the many excellent videos available from Annenberg's  Teachers responded positively to this video, found things to emulate, and particularly like his connections and his use of manipulatives.

Fisher and Frey are the authors (or popularizers) of the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework, which is very constructive.The TA response to this video was surprising to me. They like a lot of the lesson design and teacher practice here, especially the thought behind the poster project, but found the teacher off-putting and disengaging. Possibly because she's mellow? (Definitely be interested in your thoughts in the comments.)

Caution: not sure of what to warn you, but watch out. OK? You've been warned.

Wow! This evokes a huge reaction from any audience. I admire it for being the logical extreme of the direction in which they are going. PST are torn between the "obvious engagement" of the students and the obvious fact that they're being trained "like dogs." Interesting because they see many things that they like but it's in a context that they hate. And an excellent point for discussing the difference betweeen obedience and engagement.

This came the closest to how the students thought of themselves as teachers. They liked the way she used manipulatives and made connections to multiple representations, but also thought about the transition away from the manipulative.

The discussion was really cooking. But I had wanted to do a sample 3 act lesson also... they were really synthesizing, making connections... keep with the discussion.

OMITTED: 30 3-Act: A ticket to ride

During the discussion one of the TAs mentioned the idea of "well, I wouldn't want to be that teacher, but..." which prompted me asking them that about all the teachers.  After we had discussed a lot, I asked them to try and make a whole class concept map for instruction. Guided by the question, how can these radically different things we watched all fall under the category 'instruction'  In particular, I asked them to think about criteria that we used to evaluate instruction, features that we use to describe instruction, beliefs and questions they have about it. This is what they assembled: (click for full size)

5 Class Concerns (That's when we discuss what's to do the following week and clear up any remaining questions.) I asked for some quick, informal feedback from them about the lesson, and the mean and median were 4 fingers (out of 5) for usefulness.


  1. There's lots for me to learn in the Fisher & Frey video. That teacher is SO CLEAR. There are hardly any extra words. I suppose that might be what your students find 'disengaging' - there's nothing of herself coming through in that video, nor does she engage with the learners as 'whole people'. The focus is purely on mathematical instruction and learning.

    For me, periods of working in this way have a valuable place, and I could get better at it. If it's the only kind of communication going down in a class, learners could find it alienating.

  2. That's more of what my reaction was to her, and why I was so surprised by the TA reaction. I like how well you characterize it, though. Thanks!

  3. Just for comparison, here's an example of Whole Brain Teaching that's a little less intense:

    From my perspective this is a great way to include more movement and kinesthetic learning in the classroom, not to mention help students follow the directions and information being given, and an easy way to assess if the kids are with the teacher or not.