Monday, January 29, 2018

You HAVE TO stick the landing!!

It's a relatively well-known fact in gymnastics that you have to stick the landing on every performance in order to score well.  What is not in the pool of common knowledge is that the same can be said for a good classroom lesson.  That was most evident today as I tested my "teaching chops" while demonstrating my well-planned lesson.

To begin with, I planned (for at least 6 hours) what I thought was a good lesson.  I worked all the class notes problems (provided by the teacher) so I had my answer key prepared. I created a graphic organizer, a warm-up activity and a couple of practice problems and emailed them to the teacher for her approval ahead of time.  I found a useful website that not only allowed for students to check their numerical answer but also manipulate their 3-D figure to see what it looked like.  I even found a great quickie-worksheet (in my vast  personal resources) that would allow students to see how the shape is changed by moving the axis of rotation.  And prior to delivering the lesson, I had discussed with the teacher how it should be delivered (and which materials we should use).  Suffice it to say that I had enough material for two lessons. And after delivering my lesson, THAT is a good thing because the teacher will have to "fix it" tomorrow.  While I didn't show them anything incorrectly (thank God!!), I just didn't stick it!!!  And on that account, I think I blew it!!  If judges had been watching (mind you, the teacher watched but was SO GRACIOUS), it might have gotten a 4 (10 pt scale).  It most definitely was mediocre!!

So here are my reflections on what makes a GREAT lesson:
1.  You HAVE to know your content....and WELL!!  You should be able to walk away from your notes and (ideally) be able to create a problem off the top of your a moment's notice.  This takes a lot of practice and AP Math teachers spend A LOT of time preparing because of this.  At least now that we have access to so much through the internet, it means teachers can find videos that help us in our own content acquisition. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are offered through many institutions for free which is another helpful resource.

2.  Knowing "how to do" a math problem/concept does NOT mean you can teach it.  That only comes from a well-designed lesson created with students in mind (How can I engage them? How will I know they "got it"? How do I scaffold the skills so they have access to the more rigorous problems?)

3.  Even knowing my content and designing a great lesson doesn't guarantee the students will "get it" if I don't stick the landing.  I didn't have the pacing down and didn't finish the examples that I needed to get done.  Execution is the most critical piece of the lesson. You HAVE to have the timing right if you are going to close the lesson well.  I didn't do it today.

I've been a teacher for over 30 years, and while (I hope) there were many good lessons where I "stuck it", I know they don't all go that way.  But I do know that as I lesson design, it is important to think about the misconceptions and common mistakes students make so I can point out the nuances and help prevent them from making those mistakes.  And sure, as the day progresses, I always improved the lesson for the later periods. But those improvements were driven by the things that happened that I didn't anticipate, not from my lack of planning.

As a math coach I should be continuing to test my abilities to deliver a good lesson.  If I don't continue to practice my own skills, of what value am I to those I coach? I must continue to be relevant and improving myself if I expect to help others do the same. I think that collaborating with the teacher helps us both improve because good ideas are seldom born in isolation, and feedback is critical for improvement.  I was probably my own worst critic today but sometimes I need to be.

Teaching is HARD to get it "just right".  There are so many moving pieces and variables (pun intended) and it's just not possible to "stick it"  every time, which means as I continue to practice, I will be more mindful of how to get the landing right, because I think our students deserve our very best!  They deserve a "10", not mediocre!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post Paula! I too am my own worst critic. Doing my best to pull off some Shaun White's this year.