Taking A Risk To Dive Into Learning

Taking risks is hard. Taking risks can seem impossible for teachers. School days are packed with tight schedules, set routines, and high expectations for teaching and learning. The fear of taking a risk can hover above your bright idea lightbulb like a lead balloon. How can teachers harness the power of taking a risk, seeing what works, and iterating practice to improve outcomes for students? Where can teachers find support to take that learning leap?

BetterLesson launched TeachCycle to support teachers to engage in continuous improvement cycles. Here’s a story about a TeachCycle team that took a risk and gained new insight about the age old problem of supporting students to engage in rich academic class discussions. This team’s current reality for class discussions was lots of teacher talk (not by choice!), blank faces, one word answers, and a handful of off topic responses. Sound familiar? This TeachCycle team felt compelled to take a risk and try something new. So, we started our TeachCycle meeting by discussing a strategy that could have big impact for improving engagement and the quality of class discussions. Enter Socratic Seminar, an inquiry based collaborative discussion strategy. We talked through what we would measure to see if the strategy was effective, what we could learn if it worked and what we could learn if it didn’t.

Socratic Seminar was not an immediate success. In fact, the strategy failed in our first TeachCycle loop. It didn’t magically get students to engage in rich collaborative discussions but implementing the strategy helped us learn where to start to reach our goal. The teachers noticed that students were more engaged when they were responsible for generating the discussion questions but that most students needed support to produce quality questions about the text. A second learning was that students needed guidance to actively listen. Students were giving one word answers and not seizing on the opportunity to build on a peer’s idea. The identified student needs helped the TeachCycle team brainstorm additional strategies to implement such as accountable talk stems. Suddenly, taking a risk didn’t seem so scary to this team. They were learning about what worked and didn’t work for their students (quickly!) and they had support of each other in the process.

Taking a risk in your classroom might always generate a little fear. Our hope at BetterLesson is that TeachCycle will help you to take that dive into learning with support. We believe in supporting teachers to engage in continuous cycles of improvement to find out what works best for students as quickly as possibly. Ready to take the plunge into TeachCycle?