Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Workshop for a Living

I plan the vast majority of my lessons now with a workshop structure. It's become an integral part of how I think about lessons, much as Launch-Explore-Summarize used to. Or the "keep the students busy the whole time" strategy that came before that. (I can keep going here...)

What do you want preservice teachers to know about lesson planning, and when do you want them to know it?  The Math for Secondary course that I'm teaching this semester is the first math ed course that our students take. Then we get them for a Math for Middle School course, and then we got to observe them in the field and have a weekly seminar during the first semester of their internship. Just recently we've added more time with them during student teaching, their 2nd semester of internship. We're trying to get away from doing lots of lesson planning for imaginary students. But when they start their internship, lesson planning is what they feel most nervous about. (Survey says.)

Recently I had a class with the objective to get these ultra-novice teachers started on thinking about lesson structure. There's so many ways to consider...

Students were working from a section in Statistics in Action from Key Curriculum Press, and tried every model except 3 acts. (Makes sense given their resource.) Why ITIP...?

So why workshop for me? An article from a bunch of us that we've been working on summarizes the workshop with this table:

Despite the fact that we all implement the workshop differently, these are the commonalities.  So maybe just a word about the phases and why I feel they're necessary.

Objective: what? That's not in the table! But it's this structure that has helped me be clearer with myself about what it is I want students to get out of a lesson, and clearer in communicating it to students as well. I used to like lessons to be like a surprise, but that is a cheap way to get suspense. If you can tell the objective up front, and still generate the mystery... that's good teaching. I'm working on it.

Schema Activation: part for the students to give them something on which to build new understanding, part for me as pre-assessment, this has been very helpful.  One of the best things I have to share as a math teacher is my connected view of mathematics. How does this relate to what we've done before, what ideas do you want to refresh before tackling new material, or what questions do you have about previous times you've seen this that you might not even know you had. Why does that work? Why does it matter? Is there another way to do it?

Focus: this phase has helped let me back into the classroom. When I became convinced of the centrality of student activity, I went extreme. I tried to minimize what I shared to things that just got students started on their activity. It was an improvement, but it left a lot of my students without the support that they needed. I see this phase as part equipping for the activity, part selling of the purpose, and part testimonial as I share some of my experience or thinking.  Activities that students used to struggle with nonconstructively have become high impact learning opportunities with this phase, and frustration has reduced.

Activity: always the heart and soul of the lesson. Rich tasks on important mathematics. Often with some kind of choice built in. Usually cooperative, as I value the power of that mathematically and for learning. This phase can have none or many places where we come back together as a whole class. Sometimes to share what groups are doing, sometimes to address a common stumbling block, sometimes to just refocus attention on the task at hand.

Image by Duncan~ @ Flickr
Reflection: but activity is not enough. The research that showed differences in retention depended more on consolidation than on activity vs lecture really effected me. Whereas I used to just want to summarize - and that is still important to me - now I want the students to spend time thinking about what they did, what was important, what was new and to get time to record that. It has helped me with student retention, formative assessment, and re-emphasizing the objective. My most common form here is to have students write a bit about what they want to remember, what seemed important or what comes next, and then share with their group what they wrote. Excellent eavesdropping opportunity. It's been hard to cut off an engaging activity for this, but it is always worth it.

So that's why workshop is good for me. I shared with the novice teachers that I used to want them all to try to teach , but now I hope for two things: 
  1. that they will teach intentionally, purposefully choosing a structure rather than relying on what's always been done.
  2. that they will evaluate by meaningful assessment of student understanding.
That's going to lead to some good teaching and learning.

What instructional structure(s) do you use? Why?

Postscript: Dave, Esther and I are presenting on this tomorrow. We probably won't use the slides, but they make a good resource.

1 comment:

  1. I've been struggling with a lot of the same ideas en route to creating a new online professional development workshop about active learning. As part of this project, I've created what I'm tentatively calling a taxonomy of engaged learning that I thought I'd share with you. http://i373.photobucket.com/albums/oo177/unfossil/Taxonomyofengagedlearning.jpg