Great teachers seize opportunity.

September 27, 2012

An email from Ryan Weaver, KIPP Academy Boston’s founding science teacher:

– we have a leak in our bathroom from the school upstairs, and I put up a sign that says “This is precipitation.  It is becoming runoff on the floor.  We will learn about the water cycle later this week.  Thanks, Science, for being everywhere!”.  Also, I let Trevor know about the leak and it’s getting taken care of.  🙂

 
This is a marvelous example of KFET 3.3 E-connect lesson material to past and future material as well as material from other content areas. (Build the neural net).

It’s also an example of another unheralded but vital teacher behavior: telling jokes that may fly over the heads of fifth graders but leave the observer in the back in stitches.

A teacher asked: Why do I need to make classroom routines automatic?

September 14, 2012

I wish I had handed him this article.

Inside Obama’s  Decisions from Libya to Launch

To try to get a sense of what it really means to be the president of the United States, writer Michael Lewis spent six months in President Obama’s shadow. Lewis hoped to find out just what it’s like to be in the president’s shoes — down to something as simple as how he decides what to wear every day.

“He had very self-consciously sought to eliminate all trivial decision-making from his life, such as what he wears to work,” Lewis tells NPR’s Renee Montagne about his interviews with the president for his piece in the October issue of Vanity Fair. “So, he says, ‘I got rid of all the clothes I have except for gray suits and blue suits, so I don’t even have to think about what I put on.'”

Why? The president “started talking about research that showed the mere act of making a decision, however trivial it was, degraded your ability to make a subsequent decision,” Lewis says.

Three Pieces of Simple Feedback from Our First Week

August 31, 2012

 

Our three schools have opened.  KIPP Academy Lynn and KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate moved into our new home at 90 High Rock in Lynn.  KIPP Academy Boston’s fifth graders started their journey at 215 Forest Hills Road in Jamaica Plain.  It’s been a fun ride.

It’s been especially grand to get back into classrooms.  In an attempt to get writing again here are recreations of three simple pieces of feedback from the past week.  I didn’t write down the praise and planning conversations that surrounded these pieces of directive feedback.  My goal, especially with young teachers, is to give a very manageable piece of feedback to implement.

Yesterday in your room I watched you twice  move closer to a student when he or she was speaking to the whole group. This has the effect of making the student quieter and the classroom turn into singles tennis (KFET3.6D).  One plane-breaking habit that is counter-intuitive for most people is to move away from the student who is speaking.  As you move away (usually to the diagonal corner) the student naturally increases his or her volume and begins to address his/her teammates and you.

You were at the front of the room in the vicinity of the Smartboard during the entire ten minutes I observed.  This makes it hard for you to notice student confusion and misbehavior (KFET 2.4 D &3.5F).  Lemov talks about breaking the plane and moving around the room frequently. One way to develop the muscle memory for this is to deliberately move to a different corner of the room every time you ask a question.  This four corners move will quickly become habit.  One more hint: obsess about keeping book-bags under desks or hung neatly on the back of chairs. If they are in the aisle they will keep you out of corner spaces (watch how Marquis masterfully splays his bag out to keep you from his corner desk) and they will make activities that get kids up and moving harder to execute.

This morning you introduced the extra credit procedure where kids can do  challenge problems.  You said, “hand it to me on the way out of class and I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.” You may have wanted to create greater accountability and investment in the challenge problems but you created two new potential pitfalls.

You have a stack of papers in your hand as you line the the kids up for lunch, have a follow-up conversation with a student, make a parent call, grab you own lunch out of the fridge without sending the Jenga-like stack of teacher lunchboxes tumbling to the floor like yesterday while making it back to the cafeteria in time to manage the lunch study group.  In other words, you are a super busy teacher juggling a thousand cognitive tasks and relationships.  It is highly likely that you will lose some papers.  Make it a rule in your room never hand me a piece of paper, deliver the papers to _____________and create the place where all work is returned.

The second pitfall is promising students you will return these challenge problems tomorrow.  It’s hard work to get the exit tickets sorted and homework checked.  When it comes to the grading of papers under-promise and over-deliver (KFET 3.9E).

 

 

How did this teacher become awesome?

July 26, 2012

certificate

Huge congratulations to one of the best teachers I have ever had the privilege to work with.

Alison Drake of KIPP Believe was recently awarded the President’s Award for Math and Science Teaching.  It’s a huge national honor with a nice 10K check attached and a chance to meet the President (or in this election year have a photo with Arne Duncan).

Alison is the real deal and her story makes me wonder a lot about how to develop truly, long-term excellent teachers.

Did I know from the moment she started at KIPP GCP that Alison was bound to become one of the most impactful teachers I have worked with? I wish I could claim such finely tuned ESP.  At the time I might have placed my money on a fellow first year teacher who was full of extroverted energy and flew around the classroom like a performer and had the class eating out of her hand on day one.

As a first year teacher Alison she was a total stress ball, no dynamic energy, no immediate connection with kids.  Fairly early in the year both Alison and I wouldn’t have expected a second year to happen, much lesson ten.

So what happened?

Intensive coaching at critical moments can make worlds of difference.  Early into Alison’s first year when quite literally she was thinking about quitting we were lucky enough to have  Josh Zoia arrive for a four week Fisher Fellow residency.  At the time instructional coaching at KIPP GCP was as scarce as ACLU booths at the Republic National Convention because everyone including me taught five or six hours a day.

Josh showed up and since I didn’t know what to do, I asked him to coach Alison.  This wasn’t once every other week observation; this was a planning meeting, observation, and debrief every week.  It was akin to the personal trainer.

It’s fair to say that this intensive intervention gave Alison the confidence to stay in the classroom and start to apply her fierce work  ethic and intelligence to the challenge of kids learning.

The next leap Alison took had lots to do with the liability of charisma,  Lots of hyper extroverted, charismatic young teachers quickly get used to two bad habits.

They become hooked on the addictive quality of entertaining the class and their barometer for success is solely engagement.  If you ask, how did the class go?  Their response is often, they were really into it instead of most of them mastered the aim, Jovan, Ricky, and Essence need more practice.  In the interest of full disclosure I struggle with this particular addiction every time I teach or plan.

The hyper charismatic teacher can also make a habit of not having to plan as carefully because he or she can get away with it.  Thus charisma becomes a liability if it contributes to a class with too much teacher talk and imprecise questions, explanations, and tasks.

Alison knew that teacher as performer wasn’t her sweet spot or her desired end.  She focused on planning.  Not just lesson planning but planning investment strategies, classroom culture, incentives, consequences

She uses her class routines and incentives to subtly build her kids’ cultural capital.  This meant the reward for the best Algebra group might bee a trip to a sushi restaurant one quarter and Ethiopian the next.  It meant greeting at the top of the do now came from a different language every week. It meant her first unit was about Algebra as a Civil Right and equations were taught with comparing cell phone plans.  This immaculate planning allowed the classroom to hum and Alison to spend more time with small groups and individuals simultaneously building great relationships and accelerating their math skills.

A third piece of the puzzle is exposure to awesomeness.  Both of the KIPP schools Alison has worked at (GCP and Believe) have a sizable cohort of amazing teachers.  Especially early in a teacher’s career seeing how great teachers act, think, and interact with kids helps form a new teacher’s vision.

We didn’t create these opportunities strategically.  We lucked into them.  I wonder if…

a school can differentiate its coaching more so the intensity lines up with a teacher’s needs (ideally before flame-out begins)?

it’s worth naming charisma as an occasional liability and pushing showboat teachers early on?

you don’t have models of great teaching in your school, how do you provide deep exposure for young teachers ?

Implications from Imagine for Schools (Part One)

June 7, 2012

Jonah’s Lehrer’s Imagine is a quick, compelling read about the science behind creativity.  Every chapter contains something relevant (and arguable) for how we think about teaching and schools. Lehrer writes:

“the standard definition of creativity is completely wrong.  Every since the ancient Greeks people have assumed that the imagination is separate from other kinds of cognition.  Instead creativity is a catchall term for a variety of distinct thought processes.”

Every time I think we have the hang of this growth mindset thing as an organization, a school, hell as an individual there’s proof that we have a long way to go.  The growth mindset in our schools might be strong in regards to kids’ academic performance and character development but I bet an audit of our hearts and minds would reveal that we divide the world (and ourselves) into the creative and the pluggers.

The flash of inspiration can be taught or as Lehrer writes “It shouldn’t be reserved for the creative types.”

Lehrer quotes Milton Glaser, one of the premier graphic artists of our time apparently, “There is no such thing as a creative type.  As if creative people can just show up and make stuff up.  As if it were that easy.  I think people need to be reminded that creativity is a verb, a very time consuming verb.

This is perhaps the biggest challenge posed by the book: How do we recognize creativity, not simply as a magic, but as something that can cultivated?

A common though misguided criticism of schools like ours with a strong sense of order and common purpose is that this  is in opposition to creativity.  Creativity’s association with chaos and free-spiritedness isn’t entirely wrong according to Lehrer.   When your right brain clicks into gear it’s often making wild connections entirely different from the ones your frontal cortex.

However there are KIPP schools that do a marvelous job of fostering student creativity.  I saw this the other night at our high school’s poetry slam; the warm and supportive culture allowed the poets to range from the surreal goofy to the confessional to the political.   The same culture makes it safe for every 9th grader to take a rigorous visual arts course where their daily work is on display in the cafeteria.  This is something you couldn’t have made me do at knife-point in high school.

In an 8th grade writing class at RISE Academy (KIPP Newark)   I watched an 8th grade boy share a piece of Harry Potter fan fiction and get rabid applause from him teammates rather than the jeers that would greet most middle school boys in that instance.  The safety of the culture allows kids to share, to get judged, and try again.  It’s the dream of writing workshops everywhere.

I loved having an improv elective (started by the inimitable Kelly Dunn) at my first KIPP school in Gaston, NC.  It forced our kids to take risks and be incredibly weird.

The arts, music, and to a lesser degree creative writing are part of many of our schools. This is something we are proud of and cuts against current trends in education.   The same commitment to quality teaching and warm/demanding school culture makes our schools fertile ground to do more for creativity.  I worry that the creativity is too often confined to the arts. A few things I am wondering about:

Will beefing up the engineering section of our science curriculum tap kids’ creative energy?

If as Lehrer suggests there is wild associate creativity and focused creativity, are we making this explicit to kids as they create?  My hunch is no.

Should we have a science fair and an engineering fair and an entrepreneurs/investors fair to make events celebrating different kinds of creative minds?

How often do our homework and classwork assignments  prime kids for creative though and action?

How intentional are we about the sharing of student work in order to spread ideas and give kids models?

In a future post I’ll try to write about the implications of Imagine for teachers and leaders.  I’d love to hear how other schools are thinking about any of these ideas.

Mission Impossible? Teacher Planning Time

June 1, 2012

I called Mike Goldstein for a question about charter seats and wound up talking about teacher time.

Mike’s obsession (and it’s a good one) is how to develop the best rookie teachers around.  The match teacher residency does a great job of this; we hire their grads as fast as we can.

The conversation started with one of Mike’s recent posts where he mentioned feedback from one of our principals that match resident teachers were awesome rookies but didn’t have a repertoire of joy factors moves.

My take is that the Lemov set of J-factor moves are easily teachable but the larger issue for the MTR grads was not planning hooks.

Mike threw out the premise that most rookie teachers spend too much time planning.  They over-think and over-create when the time could instead be spent on tutoring and parent contact.  He recommended rookie teachers establish a planning budget and stick to it.  If necessary they should plan in a set time period and head for the copier when the egg timer rings.

I love the last idea because deadlines and constraints help most of us.  There may also be a hidden point that the ten thousand hours of deliberate practice necessary for excellence are not necessarily reached in the desperate bleary eyed search for youtube videos of your content and new fonts for your worksheet.

There’s another planning challenge, changing the way teachers use their planning time.  McTighe and Wiggins nailed this when they described activity planning vs. end in mind planning in Understanding by Design.  Their macro view of the planning challenge (most of us are activity planners) still holds true.  What does end in mind planning look like in the incredibly pressing day to day lives of our teachers?

KIPP MA teachers have an average of 2-3 hours of planning built into their day.  This is way more than teachers are allotted at many other KIPP schools.  Bless the great funding in MA. However these 2-3 hours are far from sacred planning time.  This is also a time for meetings with coaches, copying,  discipline follow up, responding to boatloads of email, etc.   This time is also frequently gobbled up by the bane of our teacher’s existence: coverage*.

If that 2-3 hours is actually 60 minutes that can be devoted to actual lesson planning, what should a teacher do during that time?

Here’s a thought.

Write the aim, criteria for success, assessment                                     20 minutes

Create the guided and independent practice                                         15 minutes

Scripting explanations and questions                                                      15 minutes

Developing the hook                                                                                     5 minutes

Figuring out lesson logistics (groupings, materials)                             5 minutes

Please take some swings at this pinata.

 

* There’s a whole future post on how we plan to tackle this.

 

Making growth mindsets stick.

April 12, 2012

Randall Lahann of MATCH Teacher Residency made a great set of videos a few months back about the “Four Horseman of Fixed Mindset”.  You can still catch the videos over at Mike Goldstein’s blog.

http://www.startinganedschool.org/2011/10/13/the-four-horsemen-of-fixed-mindset.

The four horseman are wonderfully sticky tags for the attitudes that bedevil our progress.  The tags make it easier for both coaches and coached to call out fixed mindsets.

Elliott Witney of KIPP Houston and I pulled the four horseman into our KFET course to illustrate the challenges of coaching.   Elliot took the activity one step further.  He had the leaders develop sticky tags for the growth mindsets we want to point out and cultivate.

This list came from fifteen minutes of the leaders’ work. We’d love to hear other suggestions or revisions.  Ultimately I’d love to name four five variations of the growth mindset that we weave into our training and coaching next year.

1.  Tim Gunn: makes it work.  finds a way.

2.  Apprentice: constantly asks for feedback. Seeks mentorship.  Like a child pulling on your sleeve with a question.

3.  Scavenger: Constantly digs and searches everywhere for resources, ideas, and strategies to improve.

4. Ears of Michael Jackson: although things might sound great, tries to find one beat or one note to improve.

5. Off-season ballerina: Like a football player who spends time in a ballet studio during the off-season, looks for ways to complement strengths or weaknesses outside the content area or classroom.

6.  Navy Seal: revels in the challenge.  The just “get er done” mentality.

7.  Man in the Mirror: Constantly reflecting and growing.  Self-assessing all the time.

8.  Kudzu/Phragmites: forever growing plant.  It will grow through everything.  Through concrete.

9.  The River:  keeps moving forward.  Not stagnant like a pond.  Cuts a new path around obstacles.

10.  Blacksmith: constantly reflects and tweaks their own performance looking for new edges or angles.

11.  Scientist: someone who depersonalizes the teaching experience (not in a bad way) and makes it all about the data.

12.  General Contractor: I have the tools in my toolbox.  No job it too small or too large to tackle.

The Big IDEA behind cumulative review

April 3, 2012

Last week I wrote about the work we adopted from KIPP Infinity around cumulative review.

There’s a huge learning benefit to intentional, daily, engaging review. Kids get more at bats with the content and skills.  Sustained mastery is possible (thought I guess there’s no such thing as un-sustained mastery).

There’s also a huge benefit to kids’ understanding of the idea of school and knowledge.  When we fail to do intentional, daily cumulative review we unwittingly encourage the idea that you are only learning for a test.

Cumulative review is one of the easiest ways to show kids the ways in which knowledge builds on itself.  Resurfacing prior content, even prior content that isn’t immediately relevant, increases the likelihood that kids will make meaningful and unexpected connections to the new content.  For example: a science teacher does a quick review of vocabulary from the human body unit before a lesson on pitch; a student compares the lowering pitch of loosened guitar string to a boy’s voice changing during puberty*.

The last two letters of the IDEA acronym seem like no-brainers.  After all isn’t everything in our classrooms supposed to be engaging and have all students working?

Engaging:  Engagement occurs when the teaching creates joy or meaning.

Feedback is a powerful way to provide meaning to an activity.  Quick quizzes or tests where they receive immediate feedback and chart their own growth may not be sexy but framed well they are engaging review because kids see their progress.   Some of our teachers use clickers or similar technology to give real time feedback to student answers.  Others simple flash answers on the overhead as students self-correct and chart their progress.

These quick quizzes speed up the pace of the lesson and keeps all students working far better than having kids answer a few questions and then share answers with the class.  The students and teachers can focus on reviewing the common errors and misconceptions rather than trudging through review of the whole quick.  It’s a beautiful example of the right behavior in the teaching cycle contributing to a classroom culture brimming with growth mindset.

Joyful cumulative review can occur in games, songs, and chants.  It can also use student creativity as the means to the end.  In a recent observation of Shauna Mulligan’s 9th grade English class she challenged the kids to write a poem about homework using four of their vocabulary words.  The wit and deep disdain for homework in the poems engaged the kids and allowed Shauna to hear how well the kids were using the vocabulary and adjust her instruction accordingly.**

This was the poem they were reading by the way.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/239036

High school teachers love the chance to teach risque content. 🙂

All students working pushes us to eliminate the common pseudo-review practice of asking a whole class question, calling on a few kids who raise their hands, and assuming the review is done.  This is akin to a politician conducting a poll at her headquarters and assuming it’s a representative sample.

In addition to their potential to engage students, games can also get everyone working.  However cumulative review games often are designed to violate the all students working principle.  Take the staple of classroom review: Jeopardy.  In most games there’s a moment where one or two student answers and everyone else watches.  Even in classrooms with strong cultures, where the kids are supportive and positive during competition, there’s often very few students required to do the thinking at any one time.

One workaround is having all students in a group answer the review question individually before the teacher calls one randomly to answer or all students hold up answers on individual whiteboard.  Many teachers in our schools use variations of this effectively.

Another important tweak to games is embedding reflective moments before/during/after the fun.  Even a quick turn and talk in the midst of a game “what’s one thing you got wrong that you know now that you didn’t know before?” can create a meta-moment where students’ awareness of their own learning increases.

Another wonderful move is teaching kids games that can become study tools.  Maddie Witter, formerly of Infinity, teaches kids a version of go fish with their vocabulary flashcards.  It allows the whole class to engage in review and becomes something kids do on their own.  Our teachers have done similar adaptations of Memory and Taboo.

As a coach seeing cumulative review’s effectiveness requires following the thread of a class throughout the year.  Though I don’t do it nearly as consistently as I should, observing with the scope and sequence in hand needs to be a regular practice.  There’s an iceberg of planning and organization for teachers behaviors underneath the cumulative principles outlined by IDEA.  After seeing IDEA’s impact in action it seems one of the the better initiatives for a school or an individual teacher to add to their repertoire.

* I made up this example after learning in Melissa Savage’s fifth grade science class that vocal chords actually do loosen like guitar strings.

** Creative challenges like the poetry require the teacher to frame carefully and react quickly to mean or inappropriate language.

Death to Review Day: Intentional, Daily, Engaging Review for All Students

March 16, 2012

A few weeks ago I wrote about coaching a super talented teacher on ratio.  She’s a science teacher and the fifth grade science curriculum often means teaching students ideas and content from grades K-4.  There’s an amazing diversity and amount of content.  Do you remember the five ways to test rocks and minerals?  Effective cumulative review is essential for her kids.

This idea is stolen entirely from the amazing work of Joe Negron, founder, principal, and teacher at KIPP Infinity Middle School.  Joe describes the elements of effective cumulative review using the acronym IDEA.

Cumulative Review should be Intentional in content, format, and grouping.

1. Content:  There’s a general rule of thumb we apply to cumulative review that was also borrowed from KIPP Infinity.

  • Content where kids demonstrated 80% or higher mastery gets tossed into cumulative review periodically (monthly, once a unit)
  • Content where kids showed 60-80% mastery gets reviewed multiple times a week.
  • Content that kids had less than 60% mastery gets reviewed daily.

This is not a perfect rule but I think something like it helps teachers quickly prioritize re-teaching and remediation.  I’d love to hear how other schools approach this.

2. Format: All too often kids only recognize content if it’s in the same format  they have previously seen. Kids who demonstrated mastery on a series of teacher-created tests are thrown by the font and layout of a standardized exam.  We need to intentionally mix as many formats as possible into our daily cumulative review.  Intentional formatting will help make kids more flexible users of their own knowledge whether it’s on a state test, at a museum exhibit, or a college application.

3. Grouping: Ideally cumulative review activities involve a mix of heterogeneous and homogeneous grouping.  This can be as simple as mild, medium, and spicy questions on a do now or as complex as using Kagan’s numbered heads to assign different questions to different skill level groupings during a review game.

Daily: As teachers and leaders we see how all the units and lessons add up to knowledge of a discipline.  The thread that we easily see connecting one day to the next is not always so obvious to a child. For kids lesson to lesson feels like runaway train lurching to a stop at some unknown locale before picking you up again and dropping you off farther away.

In order for cumulative review to work it has to happen on a daily basis.  There’s a lot of emerging (or at least emerging to me) science that suggests memory requires constant work*.

Cumulative review evokes images of massive worksheets and elaborate jeopardy games.  As we pushed to make cumulative review part of our daily routine in already jam packed lessons teachers became incredibly creative about weaving in old material.The science teacher I referenced at the top has become adept at weaving vocabulary review into the transitions between activities.  As the kids break up from their discussion groups to do independent responses to a demonstration she has them perform the motions for words from prior units.  It takes all of fifteen-thirty seconds and ensures kids have a daily dose of old vocabulary. Several of our math and language teachers do mad minutes, quick quizzes on old material in the middle of new content.

The idea of a review day is a cherished teaching zombie refuses to die. These days are often aim-less meanderings where we repeat content.  They also ignore the fact that cramming huge hunks of knowledge is far less effective for students’ long term success than daily review. One happy consequence of daily cumulative review is that it put a stake in the heart of review day.**

I’ll tackle engaging and all students working in a later post.

*Check out Moonwalking with Einstein or the Memory edition of Radiolab if you want some cool science and history behind memory.

** Stakes don’t kill zombies.  I should have said chainsaw.

Just Say No (Planning and Executing for Pace)

February 8, 2012

It’s one a.m. and you step out of the late night venue of your choice

* for many of the small band of folks who read this-a late night venue is a perch beside the school copier not a hopping club.

It’s one  a.m. and your step out of some late night venue arms already raised to hail a cab home.  Your friends pours out from the establishment full of cheer urging you to visit one more place.

If you say just no, you are on track for a good night’s sleep and lovely tomorrow.

Say yes and you are headed down a rabbit hole where little good is likely to follow.

In many of my lessons plunging down the rabbit hole sounded something like this:

Me: Now that you have seen these examples what’s the difference between erosion and weathering?

Student A: Weathering is when rocks and objects are broken down and erosion is when they get carried away.

Me:  That’s close but we need a few more pieces in that explanation.

Student B waves both hands in the air full of excitement drawing the teacher in like the Death Star.

Student B: I was watching the Weather Channel and they said there’s more extreme weather now.  What’s that?

Me: Naturally excited by the genuine curiosity about content dives in.  Two-three minutes later after an impassioned, entirely verbal explanation of the difference between hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis as well as global warming and the politicization of the climate debate I realize that this may be off topic and that momentum is spilling out of the lesson like flour from a ripped bag.  I close with the most cursory and useless checks for understanding. Make sense? Kids nod because that’s what they are supposed to do.  We move back to weathering having introduced as much confusion in 2-3 minutes as I might typically produce in a whole lesson, only this confusion won’t get cleared up because it’s not part of the independent practice or assessment.

Here’s the rub-curiosity is one of the character strengths we most want to cultivate in our kids.  Curiosity is also the mother of digression, tangents, and other related monsters that eat up independent practice, summarizing, and quality closure of a lesson.  However when most of us try to explain entirely on the fly one of the following happens:

  • The impromptu constructivist lesson where kids develop a piece of knowledge that is entirely wrong.
  • The entirely verbal explanation  of a difficult vocabulary word or concept
  • The oversimplified recap of a large chunk of history or context
  • Clues that you “didn’t say no” checks for understanding like “get it?” “make sense?”

Why do we teachers do it?  We all overestimate our ability to craft clear explanations and examples on the fly.  A sneaky even more dangerous truth is that many of us overestimate our knowledge of content

Just say no may have done little to change the drug habits of Americans but it could be the philosophy that measurable improves the pace of teacher’s lessons.  If a teacher can artfully say no and avoid the rabbit hole while encouraging curiosity and divergent thinking, then kids will learn more.

.

What can teachers do to “just say no”?  If you are using the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching think about behaviors 2.2 A (utilizes engagement for mastery and meaning), 3.2 A (moves students briskly and purposefully through the agenda), 4.2 D (matches content to an excellent strategy for presentation).

  • Anticipate misconceptions and anticipate naturally curious but tangential questions.
  • Script questions. The poorly worded question is the mother of time-sucks.
  • Stick fingers in your ears and say “I didn’t hear you.”
  • Develop systems that allow you or the kids to follow up on their curious and tangential questions.  Lots of science teachers have questions jars for the slew of gloriously questions kids ask in almost any science class.  The jar is the easy part; the hard part is knowing what to do with the jar.  Our high school bio teacher instead has kids put these questions on post its on a classroom window where he can respond.  This celebrates curiosity and allows lessons to stay on track.  I would love to hear about other successful systems for this.
  • During execution of the lesson frame the lesson and make sure kids understand what the aim and criteria for success are. Clarity here will help them ask more on target questions.
  • During the lesson check for understanding frequently so the kids and you know when there is confusion vs. curiosity.
  • Don’t assume intent when a student asks a tangential question.

I would love hear more about how break the paradox and celebrate curiosity while teaching aim-driven, well paced lessons.