At the beginning of the year, I started a coaching cycle right away with one of our district’s fourth-grade teachers. We had studied the data of the cohort heading her way, and we both knew that we would need every teaching strategy we could think of.
For the first four weeks of school, we planned lessons together, working hard to adjust our expectations to some of the developmental and achievement levels of the students in her classroom. Sometimes we co-taught, and other times we taught parallel lessons to stay well within the zones of proximal development for all learners.
We have had days when we think we are getting somewhere, when students seem to be more independently writing stories with structure and even hints of development. But there have been other days when we’ve been frustrated and concerned that we wouldn’t achieve our student-centered goals for the coaching cycle.
At a recent meeting, we sat down with a coaching checklist and revisited our goals and our progress toward them.
“What do you feel is getting in the way?” I asked the teacher. “In some ways, I think it’s more their behavior and commitment to learning than anything else.”
“They’re completely unmotivated by learning,” she agreed. When she shared how the students' attention spans were short during all lesson times, we started to brainstorm how we could structure learning to engage the students and inspire them to take more active roles in their own learning processes.
We were at the end of the personal narrative section of our opening unit, so we were about to launch a segment of realistic fiction writing. We agreed that a mini-celebration would send the class a message about how much we value learning. The students heard celebration and instantly cheered, thinking they would be having cookies and juice during writing workshop.
“No, not exactly,” we told them. “We are celebrating the learning you’ve done since the beginning of the year.”
“No cookies?” one student asked.
“No cookies,” the teacher responded.
Instead of a celebration that included sugar, we set up and co-created the learning chart:
It took a while, but eventually everyone was able to say something they were proud of about their writing progress.
Then, we talked to them about habits of mind and what it means to be a learner. In other classrooms, I’ve partnered with teachers to create goal charts for students that are skill-based, but for this class, we decided to offer them goals that were more behaviorally oriented. The teacher presented the chart below to them. Their assignment was to decide on a habit of mind to work on, study, and improve:
So far, this chart has improved their awareness, and they have learned about what each habit of mind really looks like. We have been adding to the chart to help them know what each concept looks like in action, and, on a positive note, the attention span of the class as a whole is increasing, based on quick engagement inventories during instruction and workshop sessions.
On another positive note, this challenging class is honing my coaching skills and their teacher’s instructional expertise at a steep rate. We are looking forward to celebrating the progress and growth of this class across all subjects. Maybe we will even provide cookies and juice at the end of the year!