I recently saw this tweet by Dr. Brad Johnson:
I liked this post for several reasons, but mostly because it goes against what is frequently heard in education, that there is only one right way to teach children. I’m guessing this has stemmed from the No Child Left Behind era that we are all still suffering PTSD from, but it needs to stop.
I have spent the past seven years working in classrooms, observing teachers or partnering with them on lessons. Not once have I seen highly effective teaching demonstrated in the exact same manner. I cannot tell you how many teachers I have spoken with, in a variety of capacities, who have asked me, “Am I doing this right?” “Is this okay?” When we tell people there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” we are setting up our educators for self-doubt as opposed to empowering them to make instructional decisions based on the needs of their students.
We set up a similar dynamic when we give students limited ways or one way of demonstrating their learning. This cartoon is a great illustration of this idea:
Making kids read a book and fill out the same template after they read, complete a problem set after a math lesson, or write a five-paragraph essay on the same topic are all examples of ways we tell students that there is a right way and wrong way of demonstrating learning. We give students assignments like this because it is an easy way for us to see if students have reached proficiency. However, the unintended consequences of this approach might be:
- We create a classroom dynamic where students constantly ask us, “Am I done?” “Did I do this right?” (I don’t know about you, but these type of questions personally drive me crazy.)
- We aren’t really getting an accurate gauge of student understanding. When given choice in demonstrating their learning, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, many students will actually show they can go way beyond the target. On the flip side of this, students who struggle with the way we are asking them to demonstrate learning (think elephant, fish, seal above), may show us they don’t know how to do something that they actually do.
Please know I am not advocating for zero expectations or standards in the classroom. I do believe strongly that there are strategies and structures we can use that are more effective than others depending on the learners in front of you. I also know that students are not going to be able to set goals and reflect on their progress if there is never an expectation to be reached even with choice provided.
We need to start thinking more of teaching and learning as a limitless continuum as opposed to an endpoint to be reached. When we provide professional learning experiences we should have educators experience and explore a variety of high leverage instructional practices and then trust them to make the right choices for their learners. We need to have high expectations, but broaden our definition of what this means and recognize this might look different depending on students and the target for learning in the classroom.
At our Late Arrival on Wednesday we focused on microshifts in practice in math workshop. We gave teachers a continuum with three options of what it might look like in the classroom with descriptors. (Thank you to our amazing coach Pia for creating it!) Instead of saying, your goal is to get to the last option, empowering students, we asked teachers to reflect on times when they had been in each of the options. They thought about when it made sense to use each of these types of models and then set a goal for one new strategy they would implement over the next few weeks.
I have already seen the impact of this approach in the classrooms I have visited. I’ve seen examples from the continuum as well as ideas that have far surpassed it. No one has asked me for permission or questioned whether they are doing it right. Each classroom has been uniquely amazing in its own way and I look forward to keeping it that way.
Thanks for reading. Christina