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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Choose the Empowering Path to Teaching and Learning

Fifth graders presenting readers' theater to the first grade students.
I just got a nice note from the first grade teacher. It was such an encouraging note with regard to a small group of students who presented a readers' theater presentation to her students yesterday. It's always good to hear first grade teachers speak of students' growth and good work as they have the long view since they taught the students in the early years when they were first starting to learn to read and study math.

When I first started meeting with this small group of readers, we read a number of readers' theater scripts. It was an enjoyable way for all of us to get to know each other and a good way for me to get a sense of the students' reading and interests. Now that we've created community, the group will dive into reading the first Harry Potter book together. They're an enthusiastic and talented group of readers. They decided together to read the Harry Potter book.

As much as possible we have to choose the empowering paths as educators. When you choose the empowering paths of teaching and learning, there are few to no discipline problems and less wasted time. Typically the empowering paths are engaging routes of dynamic learning.

Yet, this call is easier said than done. When you're helping large groups of students to learn at the same time, it's not always clear which learning experiences to choose for one, some, or all. And sometimes what you think is going to work well, doesn't work at all. Yet, for the most part, we need to work for empowerment.

How can we do this?

Focus on your most at-risk or challenging to teach students first. Make sure that they are engaged and full members of the lesson. We all know that there are some students that are very easy to teach and there are some that challenge us more. Judge your work on how well you do with the most challenging students.

Talk with students. Ask questions such as Will this arrangement help you to learn best? How can I make this lesson accessible to you? What can I do to help you?

Share the rationale. Tell students why you've chosen the learning experience you've chosen with regard to a particular learning goal or challenge. Connect the lesson in meaningful ways to real life and wake up students brains by adding a thought-provoking fact or question at the start of the lesson.

Choreograph the lesson well including a strong introduction, time for engaging study, and a wrap-up.

Make time to coach individuals, small groups, and the whole class. While coaching focus on the positive. Point out positive evidence of effective effort, character, and a growth mindset.

Embed students' interests and passions into the learning experiences.

Strategically enlist the support of assistants and volunteers.

Take pictures and/or videos. I have found that re-looking at the pictures or videos and sometimes sharing those with the students helps to discern what worked in a lesson and what did not.

Teaching is a partnership between educators, students, and families. During lessons it's a give-and-take between teacher and student. We're not always exactly sure what will work best, and sometimes we misstep in this regard both as teachers and students, but in general, it's best to look for the empowerment path as that will serve everyone well.