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Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

07.22.13Teach NOLA and a Whole New Approach to Practice (Video)

teach nola 2Another guest post from Erica Woolway this evening… this one with an amazing video accompaniment.

Check out this clip from Josh Gardner (TNTP seasonal staff and KIPP NOLA Math Teacher) in New Orleans as he teaches his fellows to practice using non-verbal directions until they become automatic.


We have worked with TNTP for the past year and a half around the techniques in Teach Like a Champion and on how to ensure that teacher training is full of practice.  But we never could have imagined how far (and awesomely) they would take the techniques and their practice.

This practice prepares Josh’s teachers to use non-verbal signals with students during their instruction so that they don’t have to think about them and disrupt the flow of their lesson.  You may notice a few things about this clip in particular:

  • Practice is fast-paced and challenging.  We see participants use different signals in combinations that more closely resemble the game. We call this Integrated Practice. It may look overwhelming to the first-time viewer, but you may also notice that the fellows (all in their first few weeks of teaching) are able to use the signals with ease and automaticity because they have already practiced them in isolation.
  • There is a Culture of Practice established amongst these teachers.  They don’t seem to think it’s at all strange that they are preparing to teach in this way.  In fact, they seem to actually enjoy it and celebrate it at the end with snapping to acknowledge their success.
  • The practice resembles what you might see in a football or soccer practice—it’s drill-like and they have a coach giving them rapid-fire commands.  Teachers, like athletes, are performers and should prepare in the same way that other performers prepare—through various approaches to practice.  Practicing in this way also turns teaching, which is often considered a solo endeavor, into a team sport.
  • The coach uses a lot of repetition in order to solidify the non-verbal signals that they will need to use often in class.
  • The practice doesn’t take a lot of time.  We trimmed this clip from about 3.5 minutes of their practice session.  Practice doesn’t have to be one more thing on teachers’ and leaders’ plates – it can replace methods that we are already using to prepare teachers.  Compare this moment to 3.5 minutes spent discussing pedagogy.  Which approach will make new teachers better and more prepared for the first day of school?
  • Finally, Josh isn’t seeking to automate these gestures because he thinks they’re the most important part of teaching; he’s seeking to automate them so his fellows can manage class with the minimum possible bandwidth, this saving their brain power for the sorts of things that are the most important parts of teaching.

Josh and his co-facilitator Bill Spielman (Building Excellent Schools Fellow) do what a lot of great leaders do with the work in Teach Like a Champion or Practice Perfect.  They take it, make it their own, and they make it better.  As a team, we have learned so much from this virtuous cycle of improvement, and we are so thankful for the teachers and leaders who help us get better at training others.

Thank you, TNTP, for showing us new and better ways to lead practice that helps more teachers get even better for their kids.

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