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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

07.31.19Side-By-Side: Matthew Gray’s Check For Understanding compared to Denarius Frazier’s

M. Gray et les étudiants

John Costello is Team TLAC’s lead video editor. He recently cut a gem of a clip of Matthew Gray about which he is sharing a series of reflections. John writes:

Last December, Matthew Gray and Josh Goodrich from
OASIS Academy Southbank joined us for our first Check for Understanding workshop in London.

Afterwards, having had several insightful conversations with them, we asked to film teachers at their school and we were inspired by the quality of teaching there–we taped five or six teachers who were truly exemplary.

One bit of footage that we found especially useful, and which I wrote about previously, was of Matthew’s Check for Understanding technique. Specifically, I was impressed by how well our CFU materials had been transformed to match Matthew’s teaching style. This reminded me of            the very first pages of Teach Like a Champion, in which Doug wrote about the development of great artists- how, for example, Picasso filled 178 sketch books with realistic drawings before he painted Guernica.

The art of sculpture and the art of painting are derived from mastering a set of foundational tools, in other words, but also by emulating of other great artists and developing one’s own style. The art of teaching is no different. We’ll write about Matthew’s process of practice and adaption (and how Josh’s action steps helped him get there) in a future post, but for now I want to focus on the first step of “copying the masters.”

If you’ve been to one of our workshops, you’ve probably seen footage of TLAC Fellow and champion teacher, Denarius Frazier. The footage of Denarius featured in that blog post is chock full of fantastic technique, an essential clip of the workshop. We see Denarius Name the Lap, we see him Tracking Not Watching, we see him deploy Show Call and follow it up by having students Apply the Learning. These moments of great teaching weren’t lost on Matthew, we can see him applying the same CFU sub-techniques in his own classroom:

EA.CFU.GRM.Frazier.Gray.'CFU side by side.'Clip2902 from TLAC Blog on Vimeo.

Putting these two teachers side-by-side we can start to tease out elements of CFU that are universally useful and which elements respond well to adaptation. Denarius is teaching math to high school students in the United States, Matthew is teaching a poem to middle school students in England. Despite a literal ocean of separation between their circumstances, there are specific actions and language that Matthew is able to borrow from Denarius.

Like Denarius, Matthew says he’s going to be “coming around to check” student work, and specifically names which problem he’s checking. Like Denarius, Matthew executes affirmative checking as he circulates, prompting struggling students to elaborate.  Like Denarius, Matthew show calls student work that exemplifies a common error. Like Denarius, Matthew works to stamp the understanding the class has gained from analyzing a common error.

Despite the core similarities of their CFU technique, we also see Matthew adapting the tools to best suit his own classroom. Matthew asks “do you mind” when he wants to show student work, and mentions that the common error is a mistake he made the first time he read the poem – he knows he needs these little moments to build up a strong Culture of Error. Matthew also recognizes that he can’t yet take student understanding for granted, at the end of the clip he has Dan repeat the correct answer and explicitly asks the class to copy it down. And of course his tone and affect are his own.

All in all it’s a great study in theme and variation: the idea that we can both learn from the study of our peers and also making the ideas we borrow and adapt unique to each classroom.

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