Packaging a Lesson
As we begin a new school year, it would be helpful to review the basics of teaching a lesson. Much of that teaching has to do with packaging.
There are only two basic ways to package a lesson. You are familiar with both of them.
The first one looks like this:
Input, Input, Input, Input – Output
This is the model we all grew up with. It characterized my junior high, my high school, and my college. The teacher does the Input, Input, Input, Input – the lesson presentation. After the input comes output by the students – maybe. Think back to your high school history, government, and math classes. How many times did you sit through a 20, 30, or 40 minute presentation before doing anything.
The second way of packaging a lesson looks like this:
Input, Output, Input, Output, Input, Output
After you provide a manageable amount of input, the students immediately do something with it. You tell the students what to do, you show them what to do, and then you have them do it before they have time to forget. This process is repeated as the students learn by doing one step at a time. Our nickname for this method is “Say, See, Do Teaching.”
When you focus on “doing” rather than remembering what was said, you become a coach. Your focus is on correct performance.
Making Say, See, Do Teaching Affordable
Recent books on “best practices” emphasize student engagement along with sample lessons from exemplary teachers. Any lesson that constantly engages students in the learning process could be described in terms of Say, See, Do Teaching.
However, most examples were special “marquee lessons” that were both unique and extremely labor intensive. One science teacher had students work with the local water board to sample water purity in a nearby stream. Another teacher had students study geometric forms by making an Amish quilt. Often teachers or entire courses are identified by such lessons.
“Oh, you have Ms. Jacobsen. You get to do the model city council.”
“You’re taking biology? You get to dissect a frog!”
Have as many such lessons as you can, but realize that you will also need simple Say, See, Do Teaching formats for everyday use in between your special lessons. They need to be easy to get into and easy to get out of – simple yet sufficiently engaging so that the students do not get tired of them. They are your “old reliables” – your “bread and butter” lesson formats. Here are some examples as food for thought.
It is common to regard concepts as fundamentally different from physical skills when it comes to teaching. Social studies teachers will say, “You have to approach the teaching of ideas entirely differently.”
This is a misconception. While history is “conceptual” in nature, it is no more so than mathematics or playing a musical instrument. In all cases our job is to create understanding. But how?
First of all, we do not create understanding directly. We create it indirectly. Understanding is a by-product of experience.
Our job as teachers is to create that experience. Without doing something with conceptual input quickly, it will simply dissipate – another example of “in one ear and out the other.”
Partner teaching is one of your “bread and butter” Say, See, Do Teaching formats that makes concepts experiential. The procedure described below is simple and can be used in any subject area. It is uniquely suited, however, to producing performance with concepts in social studies.
First, divide the class into partner pairs. This is a subtle process in which the teacher pairs strong with weak while avoiding best friends, worst enemies, and other combinations that just won’t work. Partner pairing will determine your seating arrangement since you will want students to interact by simply turning to their neighbors.
To begin input, teach a “chunk” of the concept and then say, “Teach your partner.” Partner A teaches Partner B complete with explanation and demonstration just like you did. Then have Partner B teach Partner A in the same fashion. Repeat this process as you move on to the next step and the next.
The first time you use partner teaching, however, practice with a piece of review material. The initial lesson is, “How do we behave during this format?” All of your corrective feedback will be aimed at training the students to implement partner teaching properly. The errors of greatest concern to you are “format errors.”
The most common format errors are 1) parallel play, and 2) lazy teaching. In parallel play the partners are doing the task side-by-side, but nobody is talking. In lazy teaching, one person is explaining while the other person is doing. Both of these short-cuts reduce the integration of modalities.
Clear Writing Is Clear Thinking
Partner teaching is an excellent prewriting activity. Writing and rewriting are the crucibles in which the fragments of ideas that pass for understanding in our consciousness are forged into clarity. Only through writing do we produce rigorous thought.
When writing becomes a process rather than an assignment, it fits very nicely into the Say, See, Do framework. Think of partner teaching as the Say, See, Do Cycles of the lesson. This could be followed by a ten minute in-class essay to integrate the material while it is fresh.
Structured Practice might take the form of Read Around Groups (RAGs) in which students in each group read the papers of each of the other groups, select the best one, and mark strong passages in the margin. The class might then construct a “rubric” listing the key features of a well-written essay. Guided Practice would be the writing of a second and third draft.
Most students graduate from high school without any significant experience in public speaking. Organizing thoughts for an oral presentation, learning to “sell” those ideas while on your feet, and conquering the anxiety of public speaking are key life skills.
Rather than being sequestered into a separate course, public speaking could be part of any class. Preparing for an oral presentation can be very motivating for students. Pressure can be taken off of the individual, however, by having study groups help to research the topic, outline the presentation, and conduct rehearsal.
Going to the Board
When trying to come up with cheap and easy ways of learning by doing, it can be useful to learn from those who have gone before. I grew up with the most time-honored (or vilified) version of Say, See, Do Teaching.
My classroom had three walls of slate chalkboards. Throughout my grade school years I did almost all of my lessons “at the board” – vocabulary, arithmetic, sentence structure, verb tense.
Working at the board provided the involvement and precision of one-on-one coaching. In addition, this format prevented a lot of squirrelly behavior since it enabled us to get out of our seats, stretch our legs, and do something.
A half-dozen times a day I would hear the teacher announce the beginning of a lesson by saying,
“All right class, let’s all go to the board.”
Imagine that the lesson was math. She would write a problem on the board, and we would copy it. Then she would say,
“Class, let’s do this first problem nice and slow so that we all get it.”
The teacher would explain and model step one, and then we would do step one. It was easy for her to monitor our work from the front of the class since it was written large in chalk.
Corrective feedback was given immediately, often by way of partner pairs standing next to each other.
“Robert, would you check your partner’s multiplication on that last step?”
The teacher coached the class through the new skill just as a basketball coach might coach a team through a new play. With continual monitoring and corrective feedback, there was little worry about getting it wrong. Board work was relaxed. And, since kids enjoy writing on the board with chalk, it didn’t seem much like work.
After completing the first problem we would erase and do another problem. The process would be the same, but we would pick up the pace since we were now familiar with the steps. Then we would erase and do another, then another. By this time we were “in the groove.” Then the teacher would say,
“Let’s do one last problem for speed, and then we’ll take our seats.”
Once we were at our seats, the teacher might say,
“All right class, would you please open your math books to page 67 and look at the practice set at the top of the page. Do you see anything familiar?”
There would be a few giggles as we realized, once again, that we had done problems 1-5 at the board. Then the teacher would say,
“I think you know how to do these by now. Let’s do problems 6-9 just for practice, and I will be coming around to check your work. When you have done all of the problems correctly, I will excuse you to work on your science project.”
Doing lessons at the board had some real advantages for the teacher as well as the students. It was simple and cheap and never got old. And we were busy “doing” throughout the lesson which kept us focused.
Making Learning Physical
A desire to make learning physical can sometimes lead us to flashes of creativity. I read an article years ago in which an inner city teacher taught kids spelling by having them stand up and form each letter with their bodies. Spelling lessons resembled cheerleading practice, and learning went through the roof.
Yet, in between your marquee lessons and your flashes of creativity, you will need a repertoire of “old reliable” Say, See, Do Teaching formats for everyday use. If they are not handy, the first casualty will be “learning by doing.”