Saturday, 15 September 2012

Gearing Up for Game Plans

One of the things I love about this time of year is football.  I'm not a diehard fan or anything.  I can't even name more than a few players, but there's something about watching two teams battle it out yard by yard.  For me, autumn just isn't complete without it.

Unfortunately, we don't have those crisp, fall afternoons where I can plug into a game here.  Not only that, I'm subjected to viewing the games 2 am or avoiding spoiler alerts the next day until I can replay them on my DVR.  It just isn't the same, but there's one aspect of the game that I do replicate in my own way here.  It's the game plan.

In football, before the players and coaches hit the field, each team sets a game plan, a series of plays they have chosen to use in their first drive down the field.  They've decided on these plays based on their strengths and their opponents' weaknesses.  They've practiced them over and over, minimizing any possibility that they won't work.  And while every play may not turn out the way they hope, they are prepared, focused and determined to succeed.

When it comes to teaching literacy, I do the same thing.  With every unit, my colleagues and I craft focused mini-lessons and teach them with precision.  Like a well choreographed offense, we drive through the unit making minor adjustments to our mini-lessons, bringing our readers and writers to a successful touchdown.

A good game plan involves much more than the mini-lessons we teach though.  Like coaches on a team, we need to take time between the mini-lessons (or plays) to check and see how our players are doing. I know that this is where my game plan needs work.  

After teaching a mini-lesson, I often move through the conferring time bouncing from student to student, trying to meet with those students I've seen the least or catching up with what students are working on right then.  I teach into that moment wherever those students are and go from there.  It works, but it could be better.

Instead,  I need to approach my conferring with the same intensity and purpose as I do with my teaching.  This is the time when I can really move readers and writers forward.  How do I hope to do this?  With formative assessments.  By using them widely and often, I can use the conferring time to follow up with small groups of students who need follow up teaching points.  In other words, I can address the needs of my students at all levels, and if I get it right, I can move down that proverbial field with greater efficiency and accuracy.    

Teacher Dashboard, a quick access to students' work
Last week I tried it out.  Before sitting down, I set my timer for ten minutes to look through my student work and set a game plan.  I know how precious time is, and I'm finding that since the mini-lessons are written for the unit, I do have a few minutes extra to do this important work.

Through Teacher Dashboard, I sorted my students' drafts of Personal Narratives with, looking for how they were using dialogue.  In just a few minutes, I had three piles:  students who weren't using it, students who were using it, but could need to fine-tune it, and students who were using it with sophistication.  

I thought of the skill as a continuum with low, medium and high. To determine teaching points for each level, I asked myself what do these writers need to know or be able to do next in terms of using dialogue.  Finally I made a list of them for each level accordingly.

In the next day's conferring time, Nicole and I pulled the groups separately and taught specifically to each group.  Instead of hitting the whole group with one lesson or following up with each student independently, we taught with precision, highlighting the challenges they were facing as writers at each level and offering a greater range of tips to reach the next level.  It also gave us a chance to extend our highflying writers by pushing them to move from Personal Narrative to Memoir.  

While this work is still relatively new for me (as are some of the formative assessment tools such as Google forms, Confer App, Teacher Dashboard, and sticky notes as a spot check), I plan to add it to my overall game plan as I'm already noticing a difference in my players.  When I do, we'll all be winners as a result.

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