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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.07.15Erica Woolway: Handling the Student Who Has to Leave the Group (video)

My colleague and co-author Erica Woolway and I spend a lot of time watching video of great teaching with our team. Often times the things that excite us most are the things that are the most mundane- a teacher mastering some small challenge that all teachers struggle with, with deftness and skill. So useful! That’s just what happened yesterday and Erica wrote this short post about it.

In our workshops we sometimes start off asking about the “endemic challenges” that teachers face.  Endemic challenges are the opposite of exotic.  They are the predictable, everyday challenges that teachers encounter in their classrooms on a day to day basis.  Predictable doesn’t mean easy, by the way; it just means you know it’s going to happen. The endemic challenges teachers describe often range from students being absent for a key lesson, a surprise fire drill in the middle of the lesson, students putting their heads on desks, pencils breaking during independent work, or the inevitable fact that some kids will get it (whatever it is) right away while others will need much, much, much more time.  Teachers, we think, deserve guidance on how to handle predictable challenges, but they often don’t get such guidance. Arguably, the more mundane the challenge, the less likely the how-to guidance.  Consider, for example, how many elementary school teachers working with a small group have to send a student out of the group to sit by the side due to non-productive behavior.   The answer is: pretty much every single one. Today, we had the pleasure of watching kindergarten teacher, Jamie Williams of Troy Prep Elementary School, in just that situation. Her deft handling, using tools from Teach Like a Champion, is a road map to solving this nearly universal endemic challenge.

Before the clip starts Jamie has had to send one student out of her reading group.  As she works with the other readers, she uses What to Do directions to guide the student to both be attentive and show very concretely that he is ready to follow directions and come back to the group. “Your hands are folded,” she says.  “…all the way,” she adds, declining to accept what we call that Marginal Compliance and making sure that students follow through entirely with the direction that they have been given.  She adds, “tuck the chair, feet flat” – bright clear What to Do directions to make sure that he’s clear with her expectations, along with a dose of Positive Framing “you don’t want to miss this!”  She manages his follow through with a confirmation glance—looking over to make sure he’s doing as asked and making sure he can SEE her looking over. But she keeps her body facing the rest of the students, whose lesson continues unabated. She’s emotionally constant to the struggling student and upbeat with the rest of the gang.  Learning remains a positive thing; the classroom a positive place.

About 30 seconds of instruction later, she gives her struggler a non-verbal reminder to sit up a little sharper and keep his feet flat.  Having done this and shown his intention to follow directions, he is invited back to the group with a “thank you.”  The “thank you” emphasizes that civility is alive and well in her classroom and also that the student has done what she has asked (in case any other students were watching). He is invited back to the group having met her expectations, and her lesson has remained on the rails.  What could have been disruptive and negative for all of her students, was instead positive and seamless.

You can watch the clip here:

Thanks to Jamie and to all teachers who face endemic challenges with grace.



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2 Responses to “Erica Woolway: Handling the Student Who Has to Leave the Group (video)”

  1. Dennise O'Grady
    January 8, 2015 at 12:39 am

    I love these clips; however, this one would have been much more useful for discussion if 1) it included the child working unproductively in the group and at what point he is sent out and how, 2) a clip of not only the teacher but the child as he is sitting off to the side (how he is negotiating those cues from the teacher), and 3) extended video of his returning to the group and being successful (or not); in the case of his returning and being successful, what behaviors and gestures does the teacher employ to foster success for the next time?

    • Doug Lemov
      January 9, 2015 at 2:23 am

      Thanks, Dennise. All fair points. And the question about what happens after he comes back is the right one. In a perfect world we’d have video of all those things to share as well. Alas…

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