“You talk too much.”
There are moments as a teacher that will always stick out in your memory — the time that 4th grader, “James” impersonated Michael Jackson at the Halloween party and the girls giggled wildly; the time that “Nick’s” mother shared with you during conferences that it was the first year he actually enjoyed school; the time when your principal told you talked too much…
“You’re working too hard,” he shared with me. I stared back, unsure of how to respond — Working too hard? Isn’t that a good thing?
It wasn’t until many months later (maybe the better part of the year) that I began to understand what he meant. I had planned my lessons to a T and knew what I wanted my students to learn, from the point they sat on the rug, to the moment they returned to their desks. Now all I had to do was teach it, right? After all, if I knew the plan well, the execution part would be easy. That’s where I was wrong.
Teaching the “Perfect Lesson”
While there is no recipe for “perfect teaching”, I’d like to think that we will know when it happens. We will feel the buzz in the room as the students engage in excited conversation around the new topic. We will hear the scratch of their pencils as they write furiously, developing new ideas and understandings. We will see their eyes widen with discovery during the “aha” moments. Believe it or not, these wonderful things won’t happen instantly as the result of a well-planned lesson. As it turns out, there is an art to executing the perfect lesson.
In order for teachers to execute the perfect lesson, they must first understand their role in the classroom: Teachers are there to support students in becoming independent learners. In this changing world, where information is readily available to students via technology, we must move away from our position as the “keeper of knowledge” to the “facilitator of learning”. Only then can we create a classroom that truly supports our students’ needs.
How can we ensure we are ‘facilitators of learning’?
1. Consistency in Structure
Structure can feel like an intimidating word when it comes to the classroom. It can make us think of something restrictive that doesn’t allow for the flexibility necessary in teaching. Instead of thinking of it this way, I’d challenge you to consider structure in the sense of consistency. Students feel safe when they are able to predict what will happen in your classroom. While you should mix things up every once in a while, be sure to give your students a hint of what’s to come. Using symbols or simple pictures along with text can be an effective (and easy) way to support this, especially with ELL students.
Tech Trick: Create templates on Google Slides, Smart Notebook, or ActivInspire (etc.) that you can reuse at the start of every lesson. I always included a “brain stretch” question to get them started, then followed up with the “mission” of the lesson. The predictability of this structure made it possible for my students to begin the lesson without me!
2. Set Up, Sit Down
Yes, the perfect plan won’t teach itself, but neither can the perfect teacher teach without a lesson plan. Although planning can be a bit daunting at times (what with the million other things you need to accomplish), it’s one of the most essential pieces to facilitating learning in your classroom. I encourage you to find what works best for you, especially in terms of efficiency.
If you really want to “sit down” during the lesson, do the work ahead of time to predict possible misconceptions— Where might there be gaps in the students’ prior knowledge? What types of questions will students probably ask throughout the lesson? What types of answers will they provide to your questions? What new understandings are you hoping will surface? What might surface in addition to them? The more you can set up ahead of time, the more smoothly the lesson will run.
Tech Trick: Believe it or not, database creation programs like Filemaker Pro can be super helpful for teachers when it comes to planning lessons. I loved creating templates that worked just for me and leaving room to predict questions/answers along with a specific space to jot a quick reflection. Not into database creation? No worries. Google Forms can work in a similar fashion and programs like Kiddom and Common Curriculum offer great platforms to integrate other digital apps right into your planning.
3. Do Less, Expect More
Let me be clear; I am not telling you to sit behind your desk and stop helping your students. Quite the opposite actually. The more ownership you can give your students over their learning, the more motivated they will become. Try to find more opportunities where you can give them less and expect more. As teachers, we are often faced with the pressure of keeping up with pacing guides so our students are ready for “the test”. This can lead us to forget best practices and lean on what we think will get the content across quickly.
Rather than creating opportunities for students to interact with with the content, we deliver it to them on a silver platter. While this may seem like the best option, it’s doing our students a disservice. We need to set high, clear expectations and support them as needed to reach those expectations, without giving “it” all away.
Tech Trick: Hyperdocs are an excellent way to provide students with the resources they need to learn without giving them the answers. Guide their learning by using appropriate questioning and allow them to make choices about how they learn. Worried the resources might be too difficult for them? No worries. Provide scaffolding (link provides examples of scaffolding in small group instruction), or utilize programs like Google Classroom or Newsela to differentiate.
Don’t Talk Too Much
The advice my principal offered me many years ago was some of the best advice I have received as a teacher. After I got over the shock of being told I was working too hard, I began to really look closely at my teaching and figure out what was and wasn’t working. I encourage you to do the same! Take the time to really reflect and notice what is and isn’t happening in your classroom.
I’ll give you a hint: You’re probably talking too much.