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12.11.18Studying Theme and Variation with TNTP

Theme and Variation both matter.


Dan Cotton leads our team’s collaboration with TNTP. I asked him to compile a short post about the most recent session.

Earlier this year, Doug wrote about our conversation with a set of colleagues from TNTP and the importance of de-silo-fication when designing training. During a more recent conversation we shared with the group a key consideration when we we’re designing a TLAC training: Theme and Variation.

One misconception about Teach Like a Champion is that it aims to produce teachers that all act and speak exactly alike. That’s the opposite of how we train people to use Teach Like a Champion. The TLAC techniques are a set of tools. Each technique has fundamentals to using it effectively but each technique also allows for a wide range of variations in approach—decisions about when and how to use it. Ideally leaders and trainers would be clear about both of those elements—and the idea that to be effective techniques must be adapted into any teacher’s context and style so that the techniques feel authentic and support learning.

We believe this framing is important when rolling out a TLAC technique, whether within a single school or district/network wide.

Here’s an example:

Teachers vary is how they use Cold Call—their tone and affect, the rate at which they ask questions, the length of pause before calling on a student, when in class they use it, how warmly they smile etc. Those are all legitimate variations. We support teachers in embracing them.

On the other hand, if you use a randomizer (e.g. popsicle sticks or i-pad) to determine whom to call on rather than making intentional decisions, that’s no longer Cold Call—intentionality is fundamental to the technique; it’s a theme, not a potential variation. It still might be fine to use a randomizer but we should be clear that you are no longer Cold Calling and that the differences matter.

Our colleagues at TNTP are responsible for providing training to teachers so to support them in providing the best possible guidance, we engaged in a short practice: Scripting and delivering the importance of “theme and variation” when introducing video or live models.

Here are the models Colleen Driggs and I provided our TNTP colleagues before they planned their scripts and practiced in partners.

My imagined audience was directly to a group of teachers:

“We’re now going to watch a montage of teachers using Positive Group Correction and Anonymous Individual Correction so that you can see a range of teacher tone, body language, style etc. Use the variety to help you find and be your best self. Jot down at least one thing you want to steal or adapt.”

Colleen’s model was for a group of facilitators preparing for a future training:

“We’re now going to watch a montage of teachers using Positive Group Correction and Anonymous Individual Correction. I want to go meta for a second: One of the misconceptions about TLAC is that it’s a system to make everyone teach the exact same way. TLAC is not a system; it’s a set of tools. Part of our responsibility is to make clear for teachers what are the must haves for a technique—the keys that everyone should do to be effective while also using the tool in a way that helps them be their most authentic self. For example, an effective AIC has to describe the solution, but whether it’s delivered with a stage whisper, at full volume, or with a hint of a smile can all vary based on the teacher’s style. As we watch the clip look for elements that you would want to emulate when teaching.”

In their feedback, our TNTP colleagues thought that the practice was extremely helpful and we loved the quality of their scripts—so we asked if could share them. In the spirit of theme and variation, we’ve included their scripts below.

January is often the time when schools introduce a new TLAC technique or revisit a previously introduced one to set the stage for a strong second half to the school year. If you do, we hope you’ll consider Theme and Variation so that teachers can find and be their best selves for their students.


Our Colleagues’ Scripts:

Nicole Brown (New Orleans, LA)

Audience: New Teachers

“Now that we understand how important Wait Time can be for increasing the cognitive lift for students, I’m going to show you a series of videos that highlight different contexts and teacher-styles for applying the technique. For example, you may see clips where the teacher is giving more direct narration to build the habits of Wait Time at an earlier place in the school year, and/or clips where the teacher gives minimal, mainly nonverbal cues for Wait Time in order to encourage students to deeply process content. As you watch each video, analyze where you see the criteria for Wait Time being implemented. Also pay attention to the teacher moves that best resemble your own teacher-style, and align with your students’ needs. Remember, this technique is a tool that can help you to boost the academic ownership in your classroom. Let’s explore ways that we can make Wait Time our own authentic practice.”


Ellie Cook (West Texas)

Audience: Session Facilitators

“You’re going to be showing the interns a few different video clips of teachers using Wait Time in their classrooms. By design, you’ll see that it looks and feels different in each classroom. We want interns to understand that across classrooms, Wait Time is used to increase the number of students who are engaging and carrying the lift in group lessons, and at the core will show narration, prompting thinking skills, transparent Wait Time, and real think time. However, the variations across classrooms allow interns to see how it might look at different times of the year, when using different content, and especially how it looks with different teaching styles. We want interns to be reflecting on which elements of these models fit with their identity as a teacher, and write down at least one thing they want to copy or steal from one of these teachers.”


Doc Miller (Indianapolis, IN)

Audience: New Teachers

“Now that we have a basic understanding of the criteria of effective use of Wait Time and why it is important, I want to share with you a series of short video clips that show different teachers in different contexts using Wait Time in different ways.  As you watch, look for the variations these teachers use and identify ideas that you could steal (or make your own) so that you can use this technique authentically in your classroom.”


Tamara Shear (Clark County, NV)

Audience: Session Facilitators

“The videos show how the key skills of BSL and Build Radar are the same, but teachers can execute them in various ways. For example, the second teacher smiles and has a warm tone, even self-interrupting to narrate the positive. The first teacher is calm and firm; he stands still and uses anonymous correction. This is important to highlight so teachers understand that while we are asking them to learn the specific skill, we expect the skill may look different based on their personality. Showing different variations of the same technique also provides teachers a window to think of how they would execute the same technique.

As we watch the videos again, think of how you would highlight the variation in the videos as you facilitate for new teachers.”


Megan Goodrich (Tulsa, OK)

Audience: Teachers

“We are now going to watch a montage of teachers using Wait Time. Remember, there are fundamentals that make the technique effective and there is not a single way to execute those fundamentals. As you watch I want you to look for three things: 1—What are the actions that are consistent across each clip? 2—What does each teacher do differently? And 3—Which example do you think reflects an authentic version of yourself?”


Chris Diaz (Charlotte, NC)

Audience: Session Facilitators

“So, right now we are going to watch a couple videos of teachers using Radar/BSL to ensure 100% before moving on to the next activity. Before we do that, I want us to put on our facilitator hats and think about the purpose of showing these two clips. One, both achieve their intended outcome in getting all students on track for the next part of the lesson. Second, and probably most important for you to note, is that the teachers here employ a variety of ways to achieve this outcome: they have different tones, postures, etc. while ensuring 100%. It’s important that you explicitly call this out as something to look for so that our teachers find their best and authentic teacher selves. For example, you’ll notice that Ms. Rizzolo notes a positive behavior and self-interrupts her countdown while using Radar, which is not something Mr. Frazier does. So, as you watch, I want you to jot down an example of the variations between teaching styles you’ll highlight when facilitating this technique.”

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