Reason number 1,346 that I love summer: Time to read great books

“Research shows that the factor to advance student engagement and achievement is not just teaching, nor just learning, but interlocking the two. A hinge is the device that allows two sides to swing relative to each other, and feedback seems to be a hinge that allows for the transfer of information from the teacher to the student and back to the teacher again. If we look at learning research, we find that feedback connects students to teachers in a way that acts as a hinge, and the result is accelerated productivity and increased achievement.” -From Feedback by Jane Pollack

A few years ago, when I was in charge of school improvement initiatives at an elementary school, I assigned a group of teachers to read the book “Learning Targets” by Connie Moss. I remember discussing success criteria– the way that the students will know if the learning target has been met.

The PE teacher, who was (and still is) a fabulous instructor, discussed how learning looks in her classroom.

She said, “So, say that I’m teaching the kids to dribble. I might say something like, “Today we’re going to learn how to dribble. Dribbling is when you bounce the ball repeatedly, with only one hand. After we’ve got that down, I’ll teach you a game we can play with dribbling.” Having given this basic learning target and success criteria, she would probably then give a demonstration of dribbling. This first demonstration would probably be very rudimentary– she wouldn’t talk much about exact technique, only the basics. And then she’d probably say something like, “Go ahead.”

She’d watch the kids bouncing the ball, and then she would stop and give some feedback based on what she saw. “Only one hand,” She might repeat, or “It helps if you bend your knees,” Or “Eyes on the ball!”

Then she’d have them try again, and repeat the process.

I remember thinking about this technique, which seemed like second nature to the PE teacher. I thought about how every student I knew would probably say at some time that PE was their favorite subject, and how (especially when they were young), they probably all felt like they were GOOD at PE.

I wondered about this way of teaching in bite-sized increments. What would that be like, if in 3rd grade ELA, we said something like, “Today we’re going to learn about comparing and contrasting, which is when we look at how two things are alike, and how two things are different. After we have that figured out, we’re going to compare and contrast two Cinderella stories.” Presented them with an apple and an orange, and then had them just try. Right away. No more instruction than that. And then, after they try, give the feedback.

I started to wonder if the reason that most kids enjoy PE has less to do with the fact that little kids are naturally wiggle worms, and maybe because the skills being taught are so within reach. Maybe because it’s so skills based, so straight forward, and has always been taught in a way that is accessible.

Think about video games. Kids playing video games are used to immediate and constant feedback. Depending on how they wiggle their thumbs, their character on the screen continues or meets its demise. This is like PE class– if you are dribbling a ball with two hands, this is immediately apparent. If you drop the ball on your shoe and it rolls away, this is immediately apparent. What if we all gave feedback that was immediate and constant?

What could this look like in your classroom?