I 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.