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Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

07.02.14A New No Opt Out Insight and the Advent of TLaC 3.0

FishmanPrize_2014Launch_Scroller_v2I should start this post with apologies for my long hiatus from blogging.  After finishing the new book manuscript, I developed a keen case of, if not writer’s block then at least writer’s break… but I feel like I’m getting over it.

And yesterday, I was lucky enough to be able to participate in a short video conference with four amazing teachers: Steven Sanders, Laura Strait, Michael Towne and Kelly Zunkiewicz.  They’re the 2014 winners of TNTP’s Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. 

For 45 happy minutes I got to talk ‘shop’ with them and hear about the work of teaching through their eyes. Steven described how he’d learned over time to go from “lockdown” classroom culture to one where he used the level of student engagement as his benchmark and gathered data such as rates of hand raising, etc. Laura described how powerful daily feedback from her principal at Aspire Public Schools had been–the leap forward she made when she identified two or three specific goals and focused intently on improving just those things while getting (and loving) weekly observations. Kelly talked about inspiring kids to not be afraid of advanced math and to believe in their capacity to master it. Michael described how he’d learned to make his teaching “incremental and recursive”: give students small bits of information to process and use, then add more. Cycle back and reuse frequently.

It was Michael’s discussion of how he’d adapted No Opt Out in his classroom that made me realize that, having just finished TLaC 2.0, I needed to start making notes towards the next revision: TLaC 3.0. You can’t even rest for a week, it turns out, before some brilliant teacher is taking a technique to the next level.

What got me going on this was Michael’s discussion of how he used and adapted No Opt Out to build discussion and buy-in.  For example students in his class can’t say “I don’t know” but he has taught them that they can ask a clarifying question.  “If I ask them, ‘What’s the speed of the magnetic flux here?’ I want them to be able to say, ‘I’m actually not that clear on what you mean by magnetic flux,'” Michael noted. They use that instead of saying “I don’t know.”  In some cases, students can initiate a Turn and Talk: “I’d like a few seconds to discuss that with my partner.”  The Turn and Talk of course ends with the original student being accountable for answering. Anyway, I thought the idea of letting students self-monitor and react productively to “not knowing”–which there is quite a bit of in advanced physics–was brilliant. I especially liked Michael’s clarifying question formulation: It’s so powerful to not be afraid to ask the clarifying question in the face of something you’re “supposed to know.”  How many times has someone dropped a name on you–“Oh, that’s just like Foucault’s pan-opticon”–and you’re kind of afraid to just say, “Who’s Foucault?” or “I’m not familiar with that.” or “Define pan-opticon.”

So anyway, it’s probably too late to add these variations to No Opt Out to version 2.0 of the book–though the 2.0 version does have some pretty great adaptations of its own–but they’re officially my first notes towards 3.0 which will be in stores sometime in 2018.  Maybe. In the meantime, look for version 2.0 around the end of December and keep checking for updates right here.

5 Responses to “A New No Opt Out Insight and the Advent of TLaC 3.0”

  1. Alexis T
    July 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I love the idea of having students initiate turn and talks. I feel like that would help them really see why we do them – to give everyone a chance to formulate their thoughts before sharing whole class. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Janice Smith
    July 2, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    I love this so much. It just reinforces the idea that these are life skills, and not just ‘come up with an answer so I don’t get in trouble in class’ skills. There will be times in life (many!) where there is no one stopping you from opting out but yourself. If you know how to respond in that situation, and have been equipped with ways to handle it, you’re far more apt to persevere regardless of whether or not someone is making you. I also love how this push towards mastery of a concept/objective ties into building the character trait of humility… not feeling as if you always have to be right, but embracing the idea that there are always times when we don’t know and the best thing we can do is just ask.

    • Michael Towne
      July 5, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Janice, thanks for noticing the reach beyond the classroom this strategy has. I am often trying to convince students they will use these strategies in life, regardless of what they do for a living. Even people well-versed in topics have areas they are not sure about, so stating something like, “I’m not sure what you mean by …” is a great skill to have. Nothing is more transparent than a person trying to “fake” his or her knowledge. On the other hand, intellectual honesty, humility and curiosity are always highly valued over pomposity, in my opinion.

  3. Michael Towne
    July 5, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    hen I read Doug’s book, many of the strategies were familiar. I think reflective teachers are aware of dozens if not hundreds of pedagogical strategies and sub-strategies. One value of a book like “Teach Like a Champion” for me is that it gives names to strategies I may already be developing and validates the thinking that went into evolution of the strategy in my classroom. Of course I can also get some great new ideas. In the case of No-Opt-Out, I think every teacher has had many instances in class where the same three students seem to answer all the questions and cold calling leads to resentment and silence, because students hate to be “put on blast” and made to look stupid. So I began modifying the strategy several years ago. Giving students control over the use of strategies, in my opinion, leads to greater student buy-in. It takes time to develop the culture in which this happens, but the effort is well worth it. One day, a group of administrators were observing my class and I asked a student a question. She was silent for about 5 seconds (many of you know this as Technique 25: Wait Time), during which the class and I remained silent and the administrators stopped their murmuring in the back of the room, aware of the silence around them. The student I had called on broke her own silence by saying, “Can have 30 seconds to discuss it with my group?” Of course I instructed the entire class to follow suit, which they did with a vigourous half minute of 13 different groups in heated discussion. When we reconvened in a whole group, the original student gave a salient, but incomplete answer, which was immediately followed by comments from other groups around the room until we had an exhaustive answer. Of course, this was a textbook case of implementation and the administrators came back to my class at the break and asked how I developed such techniques. My copy of Teach Like A Champion was on my classroom bookshelf and they asked me where I got it…turns out I had checked it out of our professional development library! We all have access to strategies, the trick of course is in the implementation. I love the book mostly because it gives me so many places to start as I strive to improve implementation.

    • goflyajib
      July 6, 2014 at 12:34 am

      Love this idea, Michael!

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