As we begin a new school year, it would be helpful to review the basics of teaching a lesson. Much of that teaching has to do with packaging.
There are only two basic ways to package a lesson. You are familiar with both of them.
The first one looks like this:
This is the model we all grew up with. It characterized my junior high, my high school, and my college. The teacher does the Input, Input, Input, Input -- the lesson presentation. After the input comes output by the students -- maybe. Think back to your high school history, government, and math classes. How many times did you sit through a 20-, 30-, or 40-minute presentation before doing anything?
The second way of packaging a lesson looks like this:
After you provide a manageable amount of input, the students immediately do something with it. You tell students what to do, you show them what to do, and then you have them do it before they have time to forget. The process is repeated as students learn by doing, one step at a time. Our nickname for this method is 'Say, See, Do' Teaching.
When you focus on doing, rather than on remembering what was said, you become a coach. Your focus is on correct performance.
Recent books on best practices emphasize student engagement, and include sample lessons from exemplary teachers. Any lesson that constantly engages students in the learning process could be described in terms of Say, See, Do Teaching.
However, most examples are special marquee lessons that are both unique and extremely labor intensive. One science teacher had students work with the local water board to sample water purity in a nearby stream. Another teacher had students study geometric forms by making an Amish quilt. Often teachers or entire courses are identified by such lessons:
Oh, you have Ms. Jacobsen. You get to do the model city council. You're taking biology? You get to dissect a frog!
Teach as many such lessons as you can, but realize that, in between your special lessons, you also will need simple Say, See, Do Teaching formats for everyday use. They need to be easy to get into and easy to get out of -- simple yet sufficiently engaging that students wont get tired of them. They are your old reliables -- your bread and butter lesson formats. Here are some examples as food for thought.
It's common to regard concepts as fundamentally different from physical skills when it comes to teaching. Social studies teachers will say, 'You have to approach the teaching of ideas entirely differently.'
That is a misconception. Although history is conceptual in nature, it is no more so than mathematics or playing a musical instrument. In all cases, our job is to create understanding. But how?
First of all, we do not create understanding directly. We create it indirectly. Understanding is a by-product of experience.
Our job as teachers is to create that experience. If we don't do something with conceptual input quickly, it will simply dissipate -- another example of 'in one ear and out the other.'
Partner teaching is one of the bread and butter Say, See, Do Teaching formats that makes concepts experiential. The procedure described below is simple and can be used in any subject area. It is uniquely suited, however, to producing performance with concepts in social studies.
First, arrange students into partner pairs. This is a subtle process in which the teacher pairs strong with weak, while avoiding best friends, worst enemies, and other combinations that just won't work. Partner-pairing will determine your seating arrangement because you will want students to interact by simply turning to their neighbors.
To begin input, teach a chunk of the concept and then say, 'Teach your partner.' Partner A teaches Partner B, complete with an explanation and demonstration -- just as you did. Then Partner B teaches Partner A in the same fashion. Repeat the process as you move on to the next step, and the next.
The first time you use partner-teaching, practice with a piece of review material. The initial lesson is, 'How do we behave during this format?' All your corrective feedback will be aimed at training students to implement partner-teaching properly. The errors of greatest concern to you are format errors.
The most common format errors are: 1) parallel play, and 2) lazy teaching. In parallel play, partners are doing the task side-by-side, but nobody is talking. In lazy teaching, one person is explaining while the other person is doing. Both of those short-cuts reduce the integration of modalities.
Partner-teaching is an excellent prewriting activity. Writing and rewriting are the crucibles in which the fragments of ideas that pass for understanding in our consciousness are forged into clarity. Only through writing do we produce rigorous thought.
When writing becomes a process rather than an assignment, it fits very nicely into the Say, See, Do framework. Think of partner-teaching as the Say, See, Do cycles of the lesson. That could be followed by a ten-minute in-class essay to integrate the material while it's fresh.
Structured Practice might take the form of Read-Around Groups (RAGs), in which students in each group read the papers of each of the other groups, select the best one, and mark strong passages in the margin. The class then might construct a rubric listing the key features of a well-written essay. Guided Practice would be the writing of a second and third draft.
Most students graduate from high school without any significant experience in public speaking. Organizing thoughts for an oral presentation, learning to sell those ideas while on your feet, and conquering the anxiety of public speaking are key life skills.
Rather than being sequestered into a separate course, public speaking could be part of any class. Preparing for an oral presentation can be very motivating for students. Pressure can be taken off the individual by having study groups help research the topic, outline the presentation, and conduct rehearsals.
When trying to come up with cheap and easy ways of learning by doing, it can be useful to learn from those who have gone before. I grew up with the most time-honored (or vilified) version of Say, See, Do Teaching.
My classroom had three walls of slate chalkboards. Throughout my grade school years, I did almost all my lessons -- vocabulary, arithmetic, sentence structure, verb tense -- at the board.
Working at the board provided the involvement and precision of one-on-one coaching. In addition, that format prevented a lot of squirrelly behavior because it enabled us to get out of our seats, stretch our legs, and do something.
A half-dozen times a day, I'd hear the teacher announce the beginning of a lesson by saying, "All right class, let's all go to the board."
Imagine the lesson was math. She would write a problem on the board, and we would copy it. Then she would say, "Class, let's do this first problem nice and slow so we all get it."
The teacher would explain and model step one, and then we would do step one. It was easy for her to monitor our work from the front of the class because it was written large in chalk.
Corrective feedback was given immediately, often by way of partner pairs standing next to each other. "Robert, would you check your partners multiplication on that last step?"
The teacher coached the class through the new skill just as a basketball coach might coach a team through a new play. With continual monitoring and corrective feedback, there was little worry about getting it wrong. Board work was relaxed. And, since kids enjoy writing on the board with chalk, it didn't seem much like work.
After completing the first problem, we would erase it and do another problem. The process would be the same, but we would pick up the pace, because we now were familiar with the steps. Then we would erase and do another problem, then another. By that time, we were in the groove. Then the teacher would say, "Let's do one last problem for speed, and then we'll take our seats."
Once we were at our seats, the teacher might say,
"All right class, would you please open your math books to page 67 and look at the practice set at the top of the page. Do you see anything familiar?"
There would be a few giggles, as we realized once again that we had done problems 1-5 at the board. Then the teacher would say, "I think you know how to do these by now. Let's do problems 6-9 just for practice, and I will come around to check your work. When you have done all the problems correctly, I will excuse you to work on your science project."
Doing lessons at the chalkboard had some real advantages for the teacher, as well as for the students. It was simple and cheap and never got old. And we were busy doing throughout the lesson -- which kept us focused.
A desire to make learning physical can sometimes lead us to flashes of creativity. I read an article years ago, in which an inner-city teacher taught kids spelling by having them stand up and form each letter with their bodies. Spelling lessons resembled cheerleading practice, and learning went through the roof.
Yet, in between your marquee lessons and your flashes of creativity, you will need a repertoire of old reliable Say, See, Do Teaching formats for everyday use. If they are not handy, the first casualty will be learning by doing.