The brain that does the work is the brain that does the learning.–David Sousa
This week we are exploring the ways that planning Common Core lessons is different from our lesson planning when we were expected to teach state standards. Some of the differences are obvious, such as changes in text levels, and others are more subtle. We are most concerned with the subtleties of scaffolding and facilitating student independence, and challenge you to look closely at your lessons to identify places that your work may be eliminating thinking work for students. It is possible that much of the lesson planning we have traditionally done, that of identifying the vocabulary to pre-teach or figuring out how to build background knowledge for students, has actually interfered with our efforts to facilitate their independence! We are interested in supporting you as you adjust your lessons so that students do more of the work and develop agency about their reading. Please note, we are not suggesting a rigid model, but rather a few semantic shifts with which you can experiment as you work to help students independently apply the meaning-making strategies we teach them.
Tasks such as those described above, including pre-teaching vocabulary or summarizing the main idea of the text before students read it, fall into question with the Common Core. Examine your lessons closely for similar scaffolding and get serious about figuring out how to let students do more of this work. The following questions can help you analyze your instruction:
- Can students identify the areas of the work that need their attention? Example: Rather than pre-teaching vocabulary words and pointing out parts that might be hard in this text, students work in pairs to skim the text and discuss how they will manage what they anticipate will be difficult for them.
- Can students decide the type of strategy or work they need to do to understand a text? Example: Rather than telling students to work on inferring with a particular text, tell students to read a new text and then let them suggest a strategy and talk about how it did or didn’t work and why.
- Can students self-monitor their understanding and identify the areas of the text that they do not understand? Example: Rather than introducing a text by giving students a summary or telling students ahead of time which parts of the text are “tricky,” thus pre-empting that trickiness, have students work in pairs to identify the parts of the text where they require clarification.
- Can students share the thinking behind the strategies that work for them? Example: Rather than telling students what to do first, second, and third to understand a text, let students work with partners to see what they can figure out and create anchor charts that list their processes.
These are just a few examples of ways to adjust your lessons so that students are doing more of the work. We are not suggesting that you should do ALL of these in a single lesson, that you should ALWAYS use an instructional strategy such as these, or that you should NEVER pre-teach vocabulary or build background knowledge, etc. before students read. We are suggesting, however, that your instructional practices, whether traditional or revised, need to be exceedingly intentional and closely connected to your long-range goals for your students.