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Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

11.20.14Check For Understanding: Julia Goldenheim’s 7th Grade English Class (Video)

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 starts with a brand new section on Check For Understanding: Two full chapters and 10 techniques answering four key questions:

  • How do you better gather data about student mastery through asking students questions?
  • How do you better gather data about student mastery by observing students?
  • How do you make it easier for yourself to take action in the face of data showing insufficient mastery?
  • How do you build a culture where students are comfortable exposing and talking about their own mistakes rather than hiding them?


At (Teach Like a) Champion Towers we’ve been busy developing new clips to demonstrate some of the great ideas teachers have come up with in answering those four questions.  We’ll be featuring them at our upcoming workshop on Check for Understanding on December 12 in Albany.

Meanwhile we couldn’t wait that long to share this clip of Julia Goldenheim, a 7th grade English teacher at North Star Academy Vailsburg, since she shows off skills relevant to all four of the above topics.

Here’s a play by play.

The clip opens with Julia explaining to students that some of the questions on a recent activity had proven difficult so they were going to review.  No judgment there.  No scolding. Just normal as butter on bread.  We got some wrong so we’re going to review.  That’s subtle but important.  You want kids to feel natural and comfortable exposing and discussing their errors with you.  They’re much easier to spot, frankly, if they share them willingly.

Julia then uses a technique called Show Me in which she asks students to present their answers to her in visual form. They translate what answer they chose onto their  fingers and hold them up and so Julia can quickly scan to room and tell 1) how many folks got it right and much more importantly 2) what answers they gave when they got it wrong.  This allows her to instantly re-teach, targeting her instruction to the thinking their wrong answers revealed.  You’ll notice that Julia cleverly uses a standardized cue so kids all put up their hands at the same time and can’t corrupt the data by looking at other people’s answer before putting up their own.  (She’s practiced this so it’s a reliable routine, by the way—one of those things that the more you do of it the more you get out of it).  Notice also that her kids are getting the message about it being normal to make an error.  Notice also that it’s objective data she gathers (what was your answer); subjective data (e.g. “Thumbs up, thumbs down. thumbs sideways: how well do you think you’re doing with this) is far less useful for CFU purposes.  Anyway, her students all put participate, they keep their answers as is when discrepancies appear and everyone is pretty comfortable with the process of exposing disagreement.

Next Julia chooses the two most common answers and asks one student to argue in favor of each.  She’s Excavating Error here—using the power of error analysis as a teaching tool—and critically she also Witholds the Answer– through the entire clip she does not reveal whether A or D was correct until the very end, thus keeping kids engaged in analyzing the thinking rather than judging whether they got it right or not.

You’ll also note  how Amber and Jovon respond to directly to the person who spoke before them and build off their answers even when disagreeing with them. Those are elements of Habits of Discussion, another key technique you’ll find in Teach Like a Champion 2.0. 

You probably noted the solid  tracking by students as their peers talk. That’s a classic routine.   Hopefully you can see here how much it helps to build a culture of peer-to-peer respect and attentiveness.

Finally, Julia circles back to Sydney, who it turns out gave a very solid rationale for her answer but was wrong.  Many teachers would say something like “Sydney, do you see what you did wrong now?” but Julia asks, “What are your thoughts now?”  This focuses Sydney on explaining how her thinking has changed based on the discussion.  She smiles—showing how safe it feels to get it wrong in Julia’s class and then she does a beautiful job of explaining why her original answer was wrong.  This is far better than merely saying “Yeah I see” which from a teacher’s perspective may or may not have been true. Either way having to explain how her new understanding is better than her original answer is an example of Own and Track a technique in which teachers use various ways to have students be accountable for explaining either the right answer after an initial error or, even better, how they changed their thinking and got to full understanding.

Anyway, Julia, we love the clip and thanks for letting us tape you and your scholars.

We hope you’ll join us for this clip and dozens more at our upcoming CFU workshop and that you’ll read more about what teachers like Julia do to drive results in Teach Like a Champion 2.0. 

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2 Responses to “Check For Understanding: Julia Goldenheim’s 7th Grade English Class (Video)”

  1. Kim Fleming
    April 9, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    The video is password protected.

    • Doug Lemov
      April 9, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      Sorry. we’re having some technical issues. we’re working on it.

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