Here’s a tiny little clip from MK Pope’s classroom at Bed Stuy Collegiate in Brooklyn. It’s just under a minute in length but that minute can, I think, teach us a lot about Stretch It, Wait Time and the mindset of a successful teacher. It’s a pretty simple clip but definitely worth a bit of study.
Part I, Stretch It
Some background: MK’s starting off class here, and as a Do Now, her students have just read and reflected on an article about the difficulties recent Black and Hispanic college graduates have faced in obtaining jobs after graduation. The reading connected to a series of previous lessons on the topic of institutional racism in the US, a concept they informally referred to as ‘the monster’ because, they had observed, it could crop up anywhere at any time.
The clip starts with MK asking her students to reflect on what the reading “has to do with what we talked about yesterday.” MK notes, “I wanted them to make the connection, unwritten but implied in the text, that institutional racism is part of what hinders well-qualified [Black and Hispanic] graduates from getting good jobs out of college.”
The first student MK calls on basically gets that right: “the Monster…” she says, citing the class’s informal term. But MK follows up with another question to that student in response to that ‘right’ answer: “What is the Monster?” This is the core of Stretch It: the reward for right answers is harder questions. To be right–or to understand, or make a sound argument– is not to be done, but to begin. There’s a very Carol Dweck-esque aspect to this approach. The goal is to relish constant challenge.
Interestingly, you could also argue, as MK did when I showed her this clip, that Stretch It is just as valuable in helping you determine IF a student has reliable understanding as it is in helping you to challenge her. So, for example, MK wasn’t really convinced by her student’s answer here even though it was technically right. And she wasn’t sure the student wasn’t just throwing around the key term from the previous lesson without really understanding it. So, rather than saying “right” and then “rounding up” — offering her own slightly more sophisticated gloss on what her student said, for example, “Right, what Ezria said was that this was another example of the way institutional racism could creep into society…” which, actually, she didn’t say, MK put the question back to the student. “What is the Monster?”
And as the student’s response to that follow-up reveals, the student’s knowledge was not in fact as reliable as it appeared. The right answer was a bit of a false positive. “Racial discrimination,” the student replies in an effort to define the “monster,” and then switches tacks: “No… how we don’t get good education.” (At least that’s what I think she says). This reveals another benefit of following up on apparently right answers with further questions: it’s an effective way to Check for Understanding.
MK’s next question is very simple: “Can somebody build on that, please.” This spreads the culture of Stretch It—and listening to your peers!–around the room. The message is, “We always seek to
improve one another’s answers as well as our own.”
The next students to reply says: “This builds on the idea of institutional racism.” She’s got the idea but again MK decides to stretch a good answer rather than praise, confirm, or restate it: “Good, say more. How do we know that this connects to that idea?”
MK’s response reminds me of the range of ways to Stretch It I describe in TLaC 2.0.
1) Those that are directive and push a student to engage a further question that guides them in a specific way. (Asking why or how is an example of that. So is asking for evidence … or more evidence… or contradictory evidence).
2) Those that are non-directive and ask for more without suggesting what to add. (“Say more,” “Develop that,” or even a nod or hand gesture that says, ”keep going.”)
3) Those that are in between and are partially directive and so for example might combine the non-directive-ness of “say more” with an identification of a part of the previous answer that is particularly useful to expand on. As in, “Say more about the idea of there being an unspoken conflict…”
But MK’s question walks the line between partially directive (How do we know that this connects to that idea?) and non-directive (Say more…) in a new way–it seems like she is preparing her students to be familiar with what will ultimately be non-directive Stretch It prompts like “say more” by using that phrase and then prompting her specifically how to do that in a useful and productive way. She’s scaffolding the non-directive prompts so her students are comfortable with those phrases and successful at them down the road.
In case it’s useful, here’s a slide from one of our recent workshops showing the possible range of types of Stretch It:
Part 2, Wait Time
One more thing about MK’s class: Watch the video again from :07 seconds to :12 seconds. These are the five seconds of Wait Time MK leaves between her questions and the first response she takes. As you probably know, the average teacher waits less than a second before taking an answer to a question and would likely have called on one of the two kids whose hands are up within the first second. But even though we can only see about half the class, we plainly observe at least 5 or 6 additional students raising their hands in the four additional seconds she waits. And we can see four or five kids go back and look at their notes from yesterday to review. In other words, almost the whole class uses those four seconds in productive ways to engage with the lesson.
Part 3, Humility and Craft
A final piece of the puzzle that I just had to share: MK’s response to this clip. As is so often the case with great teachers, she responded with humility, self-criticism and a focus on her own improvement. She wrote:
“I think in retrospect I should have asked one more question to stamp the idea that institutional racism is part of the problem these graduates face, for instance even something simple like: “WHY is that an example of institutional racism” or “Connect it to our definition of institutional racism” to engage at least one more voice in the discussion. In general, I think some teachers are “scared” of Stretch It because they’re worried it will eat up a lot of time and affect their pacing. But if you have specific, targeted questions, it doesn’t have to be a pace-killer – I think it actually motivates students to do the thinking (which they perceive to be “bite-size”) that will ultimately lead them to a deeper, more analytical understanding of what they read. Down the line that ends up SAVING you time if more students have already done a lot of the heavy lifting, thought wise.”
I find that kind of self-reflection and passion for the craft of teaching to be the most inspirational of all. Thanks, MK, for sharing your teaching with us!