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March 19, 2021

The Teaching Norm that Drives Me Nuts

There is a predominate norm in teaching that has always driven me nuts. We hear it often from people when we ask teachers what they need to improve their practice to better support their students. “I keep looking for someone who is teaching my kind of kids or my subject or my grade level…” And yet teachers also repeatedly tell us that they’d like to learn from each other. If we can only learn from people whose circumstances are just like ours, we severely limit where we can turn for great ideas!

At Teaching Channel, we believe that teachers can learn from colleagues at any grade level and any discipline—because great techniques and approaches are, in fact, transferable and re-interpretable (if that’s a word). The work, therefore, can never become stagnant or routinely boring, if and when teachers find new ways to see what other teachers are doing, take the time to unpack the strategies they see and think about how they might use them in their own classes.

I recently watched a video entitled “Interactive Stations: Increase Engagement and Understanding.” In it, David Wallace who is a 12th grade English teacher at the High School for the Arts, Imagination and Inquiry in New York City, demonstrates how he helps students discover and understand how an author creates a narrative line—one of those skills that all college bound students need.

I don’t know how many ways to Sunday I tried to approach that very skill with third graders, middle schoolers, and high school kids, but I did not ever do what he did. David found three different modalities for exploring the issue, set that exploration up with clear and simple supports: a piece of chart paper to represent a wall and moving desks out of the way to make room for physical movement.

He gives the students clear directions for each form of exploration and then has them explore the issue using evidence-based writing, inquiry-based discussion, and finally through a physical representation of the theme. It is a master class and a student states clearly that doing three different activities helps her come to grips with the skill of determining the narrative theme as it moves through a book.

David had the good fortune to be in a school that has a partnership with Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts where teachers and artists explore creative approaches to teaching and learning together. Immediately, I start thinking how I might use it with middle school kids or mid-elementary grade students in a variety of disciplines.

I do think the strategy is transferable to other age groups and disciplines. That is precisely the magic of Teaching Channel: teachers can pick up strategies from all kinds of teachers, teaching in all kinds of places!

I’d love to know how some of you, great and creative teachers that you are, have modified Daniel’s technique for your classroom and your particular kids. I think it would be terrific if we started blowing that old norm out of the water. It is too limiting, too restrictive, and undermines our very goal of learning from one another. Anyone out there tried Daniel’s approach with another grade level? Another discipline?


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