Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Does it Take to Teach with a Laser-Like Focus?

Feedback from the November 2010 Focus Walk in upper grades included the phrase "teach with a laser-like focus". On the surface this seems simple - precise, focused teaching. Everyone does that, right? Thinking deeper, there seems to be so much more. What does it take to achieve the "laser-like" focus?

Remove Distractions
Planning what will be taught will help establish a focus. While planning, look for ways to avoid tangents that will take the attention off the main idea of the lesson. Too often we try to include too many concepts in one lesson. Another scenario occurs when we try to extend lessons beyond the scope of the curriculum. Many tangential lessons start from a simple mention in a story and take on a life of their own!

Visual Reminders
Having visual reminders can help a lesson maintain focus. Simple strategies, such as recording the benchmark and essential question on a chart, can provide enough of a visual reminder to keep the lesson on track. Other tools, like a clock or timer, can keep help with time management. Differentiation does not occur during whole group instruction. Keeping lessons focused will increase the time spent in small groups or working with individual students.

The Important Thing
Margret Wise Brown's book The Important Book teaches us the main idea, or what is important, for many common objects.
"The important thing about rain is/ that it is wet./ It falls out of the sky,/ and it sounds like rain,/ and makes things shiny,/ and it does not taste like anything,/ and is the color of air./ But the important thing about rain is that it is wet."
Teaching with a laser-like focus requires the teacher to concentrate on the important message of the lesson. Sometimes this looks like explicit instruction, such as a skills lesson. Other times this involves a quick launch into an inquiry lesson in math. Whatever the type of lesson, teaching with laser-like focus is an achievable goal for every teacher. 

This is just the start of the conversation on focused teaching. Help take this conversation to the next level by adding your strategies.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Life as a Writer

Today I wrote...
  • an email about an upcoming training
  • a coaching log entry
  • an activity to use with the December Book of the Month Bad Kitty (Bruel)
  • several calendar updates for school visits
  • a post it note to a teacher outlining a task for the Literacy Team
  • an outline and protocol for reading Chapter 4 in Mosaic of Thought (Keene, Zimmermann)
  • another email following up on a previous school visit
  • several Twitter posts (some related to work and one not so much)
  • a text message responding to a parent about the cost of the Thanksgiving Feast for visitors
  • directions on how to access the Math Navigator sites and information on screenings
  • a gift exchange form for next month's holiday lunch with the leadership team
  • an online form to renew my membership in the International Reading Association
  • another post it note to remind me of a classroom observation tomorrow
  • a phone number for the help desk
  • several terms for a Google search
  • and the first few letters of many websites for Firefox to auto complete before selecting one or another to visit
Some days I add charting to this list, or lesson plans, or directions, or descriptions. Blog posts, like today, can be part of my writing. I'm sure I do more writing now that I'm out of college than I ever did when I was in college.

What I don't do is write creatively. Now it's not to say I don't try to put a creative spin on my technical writing, but for the most part I have no desire to do much in other genres of writing. 

I think in images. Given a choice between describing a scene in writing, visually or orally I would chose the visual every time. Today, with my journal in my lap, watching a lesson, my fingers itched for my camera. Not a word was written down during the lesson. What I took away was the image in my mind of the shy smile one of the boys had when the teacher praised his reading. 

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around starting a blog. Truth be known, I was shooting for a podcast but decided to start small. My writing is for everyone else but me. That's my life as a writer.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Small Moments that Mean the Most

Sometimes you hope a moment never ends:
...the joy in watching a young child sleep
...the pleasure of getting unexpected recognition for a job well done
...the appreciation of standing in a forest as snow falls silently around you

Sometimes a moment seems to last forever:
...the awkwardness of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person
...the painfulness of hearing someone say the wrong thing to you at the wrong time
...the unnatural silence at a funeral

You never know which of these small moments will be the ones you carry with you. I suppose we carry them all and pull them out when the need arises. 

Today I am working on making a few more small moments:
...the smell of pumpkin bread baking in the oven
...the feel of cool air on a sunny day
...the way the ocean looked as the wind whipped up the surf

Hopefully you, too, had some nice moments in your day today. 

I know I did.