In this podcast, Katherine Casey explains to Heather Rader why it is helpful for coaches to share their teaching blunders with colleagues. Katherine is the author of Literacy Coaching: The Essentials.
A full transcript is available below the player.
Heather Rader: Katherine, I love that you share your fumbling attempts on video now with teachers. It just makes me think of popularity of websites like Awkward Family Photos or Cakewreck.com or even the blooper reels that we love. I think it does help to see what doesn’t work. What is an example of a fumbling that you use and what discussion does it promote with the teachers you work with?
Katherine Casey: I can name a couple of recent examples. In one of the districts that I work with, teachers have been working hard on being clear with students about the purpose of the lesson at the beginning and using student friendly language and then referring to it throughout to say, “Remember, this is what we are learning.” And then closing the lesson at the end with a review of the purpose and asking students to name what they learned. It’s just a nice way to sort of ground that question in the framework around effective instruction. And we did a workshop around it and we planned lessons on it and I taught a lesson where I just started teaching without using the purpose at the beginning. And I was doing it on video because I was going to use it for an upcoming workshop. And I started the lesson and I started teaching and one of the girls raised her hand and said, “Ms. Casey, what are we supposed to be learning?” Like did you want to read the thing on the charts? And I was thinking this is for a videotape so I started the whole lesson over, but I saved that for teachers to share with them that you can have a plan – I had it in my plan. I had it written on the board. I didn’t remember to use it at the beginning of the lesson and the reason why is I was teaching new content and when you teach a new concept or new content, I often as a teacher, I often forget the parts that I already know how to do automatically. It’s almost like my brainpower goes in one direction.
And then they watched the second lesson where I did share the purpose and you could just see the students’ response to knowing what they were doing throughout the lesson elevated it. So it was a classic example of forgetting to do a part of a lesson that we know should be there and how it affects students. But what happens inadvertently when I show those two tapes is for people who don’t even see the value in writing up a purpose for students, they start to see that value because they saw what happened in the first lesson when the students didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing and in the second lesson where they did. So it kind of serves two purposes and one like we can have it in a lesson plan and we forget to do it and all teachers do that so don’t feel embarrassed when it happens to you, kind of way of thinking about it. But then the other piece is what does a lesson without a purpose look like for students? And see how they fumble. And this is why we want to be clear about what we are trying to teach. That was an example of a recent fumble.
And then another Tape A to B type of piece that we did was we were working on – it was supposed to be around helping students understand the attributes of genre – how if you know something already about science fiction, like if you know how science fiction goes, you can use the attributes of the genre in order to read a new example of that genre.
So in the first tape that I did, I had the students activate what they already knew about science fiction and they started reading the science fiction piece. But throughout it I didn’t name for students, “See, this is the second piece of science fiction that has those attributes.” Like we are starting to get a pattern. I didn’t name throughout for students what the attributes word that they were discovering. We just read the story. We had a great discussion about the story.
In the second one, the second version of that lesson, I said, “This is what you already know about science fiction, let’s see if we can read this story and see if any of those characteristics are similar.” And in this one, we really named and labeled each one and I had the students then compare the two texts and students were thinking like, “Oh, wow. In both science fiction pieces they are written in the future. In both science fiction pieces, there are things about real life that the author changed around and the author wants us to reflect on our lives now. In both science fiction pieces, these writers seem awfully angry.” And actually it is true about the science fiction pieces, there was an angry tone. “Even though we think life would be better if things change, it looks like in both science fiction pieces, they are saying being cautious what you are wishing for.”
But because I had them name each attribute and really look for them and label them, the students were able to do much more solid genre work. So the first tape was more Wow, they really understood the story. The second tape showed they understood the story and then were able to name the attributes so that when they then were going to read another science fiction piece, at the end of the lesson I ended with so when you read a third science fiction piece, how do you expect that story is going to go? And they were able to list: We expect it’s going to be in the future. We expect it’s going to deal with something about our current lives that have been tweaked in a way to make us reflect on now. It’s probably going to have some darkness in it. And it was neat to watch them list those attributes. And we use that in the workshop to talk about why it’s important not just to teach students the story, but how to read the story. And it made it really clear.
Heather Rader: Right, right.
Katherine Casey: The fumbling attempt, though, because this is an example of something that was fumbled, is also in the first one when the students were naming things, I didn’t write anything down even though I told them that I was going to chart. In the second one, I did chart. So I just made it even though I say I’m going to say to students I’ve got my chart ready and I’m going to make these charts throughout the lesson, I didn’t chart a thing. And I don’t know why teachers do that, but that happens to me where I will say something, I say to the students I’m going to do it but then I get so caught up in the lesson, that I don’t follow through.
Heather Rader: Well, I think it goes back to what you were talking about with the complexity of the number of decisions that you are considering especially when you are modeling for other educators because you’ve got their watch-fors on your mind, you are keeping track of what’s happening with all the kids and then you’ve got this lesson design as well. So there is probably a high level of complexity you’ve got going on.
Katherine Casey: And I find that when I show those tapes to people, they say “Oh, it’s so reassuring that you do that, too.” Because for some reason they see probably by position they will say “Oh, you must be an expert at this.” I’m not an expert really at anything. I’m an expert at giving these lessons a go and see how it goes, but they say, “Well, if you forget to chart things, too, it gives me permission, not to forget, but to say “Oh, okay tomorrow I will do it better.”
Heather Rader: Yeah.
Katherine Casey: Because my feeling is you make a mistake, you change it tomorrow. Do something different. The children keep showing up to school each day. Change it. They are not going to stay home because you fumbled a lesson. They’re going to show up tomorrow, give it a try tomorrow. Learn from that and move forward. So it just makes the whole process a lot more human and less expert and technical in the stance that we take as coaches.
Heather Rader: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I know that when you do Tape A where you are either capturing yourself or another teacher on video with perhaps a commonly used strategy in the particular school or a particular district and then you come back and do Tape B with an effective strategy that shows how you can go beyond that Tape A. When you are sharing this with teachers, and I know you do this work with such grace, how do you structure that Tape A and B experience so teachers really are feeling empowered and not judging themselves?
Katherine Casey: I think that the Tape A/Tape B experience if we can wrap it around a professional text that we have read or a strategy that we are working on that we are learning more about or we can ground it in some sort of common issue that we have been researching, the Tape A/Tape B can be a place where we can say okay, so let’s just take a typical lesson. Here is a classroom teacher who perhaps with English language learners was using a particular strategy that she thought would work. And then we read a professional text and that same teacher tries to do the lesson applying whatever strategy we learn from the professional text about English language learners. If we are grounded in well, we learned something new from a professional text, we’re going to give it a go and see how it changes the lesson, then it becomes more about – it’s not like we didn’t – we were ignorant for not knowing it before or we weren’t effective teachers. We were doing the best work we knew how. You read a professional text where somebody has spent a lot of time researching it and trying some strategies and are saying that these may be effective, give it a go in your classroom. Tape the second one and then it’s a matter of wow, look at how much more we were able to get out of our students because we used a strategy that we didn’t even know we knew existed before.
So if we set it up as not like the first tape is bad because the teacher was doing it wrong, if the teacher is doing the best way they know how, read something in a professional text or go to a workshop or watch another teacher try something and you kind of have those light bulb moments like oh, maybe that will work with mine. And try again with your students. Tape it a second time. It just shows that learning cycle of here is the reality, I’m going to read a professional text, I’m going to try it on, I’m going to see if it works better and when it works better, wow. That just changes the way we start to think about our lesson. So I try not to do it as judgment because I say I am always teaching the best way I know how until I encounter someone’s idea and I try it on and it works. Does that make sense with helping them not feel judged? But I think if you are going to use that as a coach, you’ve really got to use yourself a lot.
Like one of the districts I worked with had one teacher do Tape A and another teacher do Tape B and that was a total disaster. Even though they had agreed on it and they were friends about it, everyone was like it’s not going to be that big of a deal. The Tape A person really did feel terrible. You don’t want to be in that position of being judged that way. So it’s really important that it’s the same person and whenever possible, the same group of students so that it’s not the students that are changing the dynamic. It’s the same students just using a different strategy.
Heather Rader: Yeah. Well, and it makes me think of in science, keep as many variables as possible the same so that you can see the effect of what’s changed.
Katherine Casey: Yeah.
Heather Rader: That’s great. Really good advice.