When More Than One Teacher Subtracts Rather Than Adds: How to Solve a Problem Administrators and Teachers May Not Know They Have. Another Story from Those High-Achieving/High-Poverty Classrooms I’m Watching.

The only problem with the additional helping teachers found in a high-poverty school is the additional teachers.

Here’s a story followed by a solution. (And, no, the solution isn’t to get rid of the funding and the extra teachers!)

So, Eduardo, Mr. P points to his notebook page, Are you getting to the bottom of it?

Mr. P is teaching exploratory writing. “Ideas are like boxes. I can’t always see the bottom of them. When I write to get to the bottom of the page I sometimes get to the bottom of an idea too. Writing helps me figure out what I’m thinking.”

Now the lesson is at the “Try-It” phase, where Mr. P confers with the students as they grapple with what he’s demonstrated.

Eduardo points to the top of his page and, using the exact gesture Mr. P used, zigzags his finger down to the bottom of the page. “New Idea,” he announces, pointing to the last sentence.

“New Idea?” echoes Mr. P. “You got to the bottom of the page and surprised yourself? You came up with something you hadn’t thought of before?”

Eduardo nods and starts to tell Mr. P what he’s discovered.

At this point, Eduardo’s Helping Teacher rushes over.

Like a looming Goliath, she stands behind Eduardo. She makes a time-out gesture and says, as If Eduardo were deaf, “Eduardo’s not ready for that yet.”

With that pronouncement, Eduardo puts his pencil down and drops his hands to his lap. The light in his eyes switches off; he starts to do that humming thing he’d done when he first came to the class. When his foster mother enrolled him she said he had elected not to speak because of the trauma he’d suffered before coming to her. Now, several months later, although he does not yet volunteer in whole class situations or with his Helping Teacher, he talks freely in small group and with Mr. P.

Until now.

The Helping Teacher hadn’t coordinated with Mr. P. and that’s a huge problem. In order to accelerate progress, every adult working with the students must know the child and have the same goals.

So how to coordinate?

  1. Have all helpers working in the classroom where the main teacher can quickly talk to the helpers and make sure they get it.
  2. If this is not possible, the team working with the child must meet, even if it’s two minutes twice a week, even if it’s through a notebook that the child carries with him in which all the teachers make notes and give updates–something to ensure that everyone is on the same page–in this case literally.
  3. Helpers include: Chapter One and Special Ed teachers, interns, student teachers, the specials teachers, elder tutors, physical therapists, psychologist, etc.

Once the teacher team understands the vital nature of cohesion in instruction, it happens. And it’s not a case of David and Goliath anymore.

Patty 9/28/12

Learning Starts from an Itch that Needs Scratching: The Big Deal About Questions OR More Stories from Those High-Achieving, High-Poverty Classrooms I’m Watching. (Way to Go, Vogel-Wetmore!)

All learning begins with an itch that’s just has to be scratched, a curiosity that begs to be sated. Teacher questions assess learning; student questions spark it.

The students in these high-achieving, high-poverty classrooms I’m watching hear this anchor story. It reminds them to ask questions. (Anchor stories are stories that get retold to anchor ideas.)

Olaf is a first grader in Joan Lexau’s book Olaf Reads.

The Plot: One day Olaf receives a Champion Reader certificate. He always answers his teacher’s questions and can read words.  The next day, however, he makes a series of mistakes. He «mails» his mother’s important letter in a litter basket because he reads litter as letter on the “Put Litter Here” sign. When the trash collector retrieves the letter and hands it to him, he says, “What’s the matter, Olaf, weren’t you thinking?”

Olaf replies, “No. I just read the words.”

Later, at school, Olaf pulls the fire alarm after boasting that he can read anything, even the word PULL! After the fire chief determines that it was Olaf who pulled the alarm, the chief asks, “What’s the matter, Olaf? Weren’t you thinking?”

Olaf again has to say, “No. I just read the words.”

When Olaf is too noisy in the library, the teacher points to one of the QUIET signs and asks him to read it. He guesses wildly. Queen? Quit? King?

When she says Think, Olaf. What word would make sense here in the library where we use our six-inch voices? he reads the word quiet and sighs with great weariness.

Olaf slogs home. He goes to the refrigerator, pulls the Champion Reader certificate off the door, and rips it to shreds. His Mama is horrified. I’m not a champion explains Olaf, as he recounts all his mistakes. What to do, what to do worries his Mama. Then Olaf pulls a small laminated square out of his backpack. My teacher gave me this. She said, «keep it with you, Olaf, and memorize what’s on it.»

His mother takes it and reads:

Olaf tells her, My teacher says pretty soon I’ll ask myself questions without any reminders.

Students hear this story more than once in their K-5 years. It’s fun to listen to a storyteller and watch the plot unfold with sketches of the various read-but-don’t-think errors.  So, at the beginning of fifth grade the teacher tells the story and then distributes replicas of Olaf’s laminated square. She comes to Angus who shakes his head, No thank you. I don’t need one.

The teacher insists until Angus points to his head. I’ve got ’em here already.

And that’s the point.

Research says asking questions is vital, but to accelerate progress, to deepen the learning, to propel the reading, it’s the students not the teachers who need to ask them.

Ask Olaf.

Patty 9/27/12