Teaching vs. Learning

In the following question, fill in the blank with your own content example, such as simplifying fractions.

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 10.29.15 AMHold the space for that idea as we go along.

This is an idea that I have been thinking about over the last few days. When I think to myself, “It’s my job to teach ___”, the focus just naturally lands on me, the teacher.  How am I going to teach it? What resources am I going to use? But, when I shift my thinking to, “It is my job to ensure that each student learns _____“, ahhh, did you see how the focus changed? I suddenly start thinking about what each student needs, rather than what I need or what resources I might like to use. It is a subtle shift, one you might not even notice right away. But when I follow the shift, when I am planning a lesson with the guiding focus being what each student needs to master the concept, I start thinking about my students–not my classroom, not my students as a group, but  individual learners. I open myself up to variety; to differentiation.  I am giving myself permission to be creative. My focus could be on where each student lines up against the standard. What it is not on are the resources. It is also not on high stakes tests. One of the most difficult shifts to make is from the teacher to the student. This recentering of thought helps with that. While reading and exploring this idea, I ran across something similar to the quote below and it sums it up perfectly:

Our job is not to teach the grade level standards. Our job is to ensure that each student masters the grade level standards. There is a big difference between those two things. 

Why is this important? If we limit our role to that of teaching content instead of teaching kids, our approach narrows. What about the students who don’t reach mastery after we have taught it? We most likely are thinking about this group after the lesson. We are thinking about reteaching and intervention. And don’t get me wrong, those are definitely strong practices that we embrace for good reason. But I also believe that the best intervention is strong Tier 1 instruction. How might things change if we plan instruction for the middle and for those to the left of center? What about the students who have mastered the skill before we have taught it? How can we plan instruction for those students who are to the right of center? If I am honest, I did little to plan instruction for the group to the right of center. My main planning hit center. My intervention came as a post-teaching action. But nowadays, with our limited time and the scope of concepts on our curriculum plates, post-teaching is in many cases too late.

Carol Tomlinson does a wonderful job of casting light on the subject of individual student need and responsive teaching. In the video below, she discusses how the learning experience happening in our classroom can feel very different for every student sitting in front of us:

Okay, so put into action, what might this type of approach require? Pre-teaching? Could we maybe design “lesson-embedded” differentated tasks where student self-assessment could drive the path their instruction takes? How can we accomplish that? Could students begin work in the middle, and then shift left or right based on continual assessment of where they are at points during the lesson? What could that look like? We have Learning Targets in place now and we have students evaluating where they are in the the trajectory of hitting that target. How or where could that fit in this approach? I know a lot of teachers are using Google classroom. How can you incorprate the ideas above in that manner? What about a flipped approach? Ambitious ideas require creative thinking and planning. I don’t know how to achieve this complex goal. But I do think it is an interesting goal–a goal  worth giving thought to (and… blog space) .

I often encourage teachers to take a similar approach to classroom management. Rather than thinking about which consequeces to impose, shift the idea to “What does this student need in order to start (or stop) doing ____”? That approach almost always changes our response. A student continues to lose her assignments. Why is this happening? Does she have trouble with organization? Will keeping her in from recess improve her organizational skills? Or might we need to provide a scaffold to help her be more successful? This is central to our implementation of restorative practices on my campus. It’s a different approach–one that takes the focus off of consequences and places it instead on student needs. It shifts our response and helps us charts a new course. A course that gets students to mastery. And at the end of the day, that is our goal.

What about cultural proficiency? Where/how does that fall? I am doing some online exploring as I grapple with the conceptual shift from teaching to learning and how I can best support that shift as an administrator. I have collected some great resources on differentiating and on lesson design that are focused on this concept. Here is a great place to start; to give structure to the ideas. Here is another; focused on culurally responsive learning. And another–this one on Responsive Teaching. I encourage you to tinker around with the idea of shifting our instructional design from teaching to learning, and the impact that might have on teachers and students.

When we start thinking and planning from this shift in focus, our reactions and approaches change. In the words of one of my past mentors, when our actions are driven by student need, we are not going to go wrong very often.



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