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.

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