As I reflect upon my last post and read the posts from fellow bloggers around Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and Basal Alignment Project, Bill Murray’s voice repeating “baby steps through the office. Baby steps out the door. Baby steps,” cycles in my head.
As a school implementing Common Core, the truth of baby steps hits home. There’s definitely the pull between doing something with precision over time and doing something quickly. It’s a fair assumption that schools do both. In my opinion, though, the really powerful work comes from the precise, teacher-directed collaboration. This is the “baby steps” kind of work. And, this is what I’d like to see happening more often. Since my last post, I’ve had the privilege of being part of two different teams composed of a combination of science and English/ELL teachers working on literacy and Common Core. And, I’ve learned a fair amount. First, you need to identify and build trustful relationships with early adopters. Second, you need to identify when the work is overwhelming. Third, you need to provide something of import and substance. And, of course, most importantly, you need to remember to take baby steps…not as exaggerated as our friend Bob. But, still, baby steps.
So, identify the early adopters, the ones who will champion the work. The teacher, who if given a positive experience and positive outcome, their frustration replaced with confidence, will spread the ideas to colleagues. Or, the teacher that accepts and seeks out new ideas and challenges.
In my case, a group of teachers had been worried about literacy and Common Core after a spout of professional development on CCSS. In addition, they had never been fully trained on GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Development) literacy practices that had been rolled out in earlier years. Serendipitous timing provided an open vacation day and a supportive admin with the space and the hours to collaborate. The other group of teachers grew out of colleagues willing to take the roller coaster ride of LDC. With no more information than my brief summary, they trusted me to say “yes” and tag along for the ride. Fingers crossed (though really I don’t think I need that) our first LDC experience will be powerful, positive, and productive.
Fostering the experience is as important as choosing the right collaborator. With Common Core, there’s a need to not overwhelm or assume about the learner. You’d think this would be fairly intuitive, but it’s easy to forget that what we do on a daily basis aren’t second nature or known to everyone. For example, one teacher who is excited about teaching literacy in science with ELL students worried about text features and requiring talking about analogies. Two things were happening.
First, she didn’t connect anything with the term “text feature”. She definitely knew what a heading, bolded text, illustration, and a sidebar were and could read a college science textbook. But, that term “text feature” stalled her ability to continue in the first five minutes; unclear of what I meant. Though, that sure didn’t stop me as I continued to ramble on with my ideas. Just as we check for understandings with students, we need to do so with our colleagues. And after our lesson on text features with the students, another teacher commented “wow, I didn’t realize how many text features that science book throws at the kids”.
Second, she wondered why we’d spend so much time talking about and creating visual analogies in a science classroom. But, when pressed to consider how science uses analogies as a way of communicating, it clicked. In about 20 pages of the science book, three separate analogies popped up to explain a concept: DNA is like a zipper, DNA’s role is like a book that is shared, and DNA and RNA are like an architect’s blueprints vs. master plans. If a student struggles with analogies then a student is going to struggle in science. And, suddenly the literacy task of understanding and creating analogies and science standard CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RST.9-10.7 became something of value and import for the teacher. So, we cut and paste the original Miller Levine Biology pages 342 to 343to emphasize the analogy pieces and added questions that sought content knowledge as well as meta-analysis of analogies, as seen in Analogy 2 DNA Chapter 12. And, yes, this definately takes time and energy.
Other times, the tweak will be small yet mighty. You won’t change your content vocabulary and concepts (like forms of energy) or your discipline specific skills (like drawing forms of energy), but you will change your “content delivery”. For example, a lecture and standard notes can be changed into a foldable that has students actively folding, identifying, drawing, describing and has writing stems embedded on it. Or, you’ve always done a mythbusters style science activity where you generate what students think they know; only later to “bust” that idea. Why not add the requirement of “citation” into the proven/disproven write-ups of their “truths/myths”? Small and manageable tweaks can be just as powerful as large scale change. And, they can certainly keep the sanity in the teacher’s lounge to its usual level.
And with that sentiment and for those not fortunate enough to grow up in a family obsessed with the movie What about Bob?…yes I mean fortunate, here is your “baby steps” moment of the day.
What I love most about that clip is the recognition of glee and hope at finding a solution and then the inevitable panic of “what next!?!” Right now, there are probably a few of us stuck in the elevator panicking. But, baby steps, right? Baby steps.