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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.12.14“Most people have the will to win. Few people have the will to prepare to win.”

The quotation at the top of this blog post comes from The General, Bobby Knight, the legendary Indiana University Basketball coach (and folk legend). We discuss it today at our workshop on Check for Understanding with 100 or so educators from around the country.  There’s a strong connection between planning and success in the domain of Check fur Understanding-

When you Check for Understanding you see to gather data about student mastery of what you’re teaching as you teach it.  Then you seek to respond to the data by changing and adapting your teaching actions as necessary to ensure that your students learn more.

It’s critically important work and can mean, essentially, your choosing to bury the data or else blow up your lesson plan live in front of 30 skeptical 7th graders and march off in a new direction.  To pull that off you’ve got to have puled off a bit of Bobby Knight and have prepared to succeed.

We pointed out five ways today that planning can help ensure success with Check for Understanding.

1) Plan ‘Right’:  One of the most common reasons we don’t notice data that tells us students aren’t mastering content is that we aren’t really that sure of what the right answer looks like.  If you plan out an exemplar response to your question about key terms in the water cycle, you’re likely to notice that students left out a key detail.  If not, you might miss it.  Of course you can’t plan out an ideal right answer to every question you ask- but you can choose one or two key questions per lesson and write out the answers to those.  That would ensure that when you worked on those critical questions you were clear on what “right” looked like.

2) Plan Wrong: The only thing we know for sure about teaching is that students will get some of what we teach wrong.  Might not be today–though it probably will be–but over time error is certain.  If you prepare to teach by choosing two key ideas per lesson and then planing out the two things for each that students are most likely to mis-understand, and if you then plan out what you’d likely do if that mis-understanding occurred, you’d be more likely to act on the data and adjust your teaching when it happened.  And even if the predicted errors didn’t emerge, you’d get better and better at anticipated student mistakes and understanding how they think.

3) Plan Time to Gather Data: Planning two or three points when you are going to gather data–either by asking targeted questions or by observing intentionally and tracking the results can help you make sure you do it.  When you hear yourself fall back on self-report- when you say, for example, “everybody get that?” you are reminding yourself that it’s a good time to Check for Understanding… and failing to do it.  Anticipate those moments in advance and plan a sequence of quick questions to see whether everyone gets it.

4) Leave Time to React:  You know kids are going to get it wrong; it’s just a matter of what and when- that’s how it works.  If you know some undetermined error will occur why not leave time to remediate it.  Leaving five minutes un-allocated time in your lesson seems like a waste but giving your self time to go slow and teach til mastery will be faster int he long run. And you can plan some extra-rigorous challenge questions to use if for some reasons there’s nothing to circle back to.

Do those four things before your lesson and you’re likely use CFU successfully during it. And you’ll make the General proud.

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