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Targets and Time

I just finished Cris Tovani and Elizabeth Birr Moje's No More Telling as Teaching: Less Lecture, More Engaged Learning from Heinemann's Not This But That series edited by Ellin Oliver Keene and Nell Duke.

Needless to say, I pick up anything that's by Tovani and Moje because of Tovani's belief in the workshop model and Moje's extensive work in both disciplinary and out of school literacies.

After finishing this quick read, I've been thinking a lot about two things.

First, how we spend our time matters. I get less than 60 minutes with students each hour. Time is a hot commodity! Because of that, I am constantly looking at ways to maximize instruction. If I pass papers back this way or if I move this to this point in time, I can gain another minute. And those minutes add up! Sometimes, however, it feels like there is just never enough time. All teachers know that. In fact, I've yet to meet a teacher admit that she or he has too much time with students, especially as the end of the year quickly approaches.

I'm also even more aware of the lack of time because the end of the year is here. While it seems like just yesterday I was working to establish clear classroom routines and norms with my students, I'm realizing that I have two hours left with seniors and just 13 hours left with everyone else. That means roughly just 11 hours of in-class time to explore historical fiction. (Side note: Isn't it even scarier to think that we only see our students for approximately 180 hours of instructional time--and that's if we have them all year!)

Tovani and Moje invite us to step back and really think about what we're doing, when, and for how long in our classrooms. Tovani writes about her own experiences with an instructional coach who initially provided her this very feedback. She also mentions a principal from Missouri, Brandon Martin, who would diagram how teachers used class time with a circle. (I made a really rough example of this below. Imagine every section as one minute in a 60-minute period.) This reminded me of the observation notes my own field instructor shared with me during my undergrad experience. (All credit goes to Dr. Danielle Lillge at Missouri State.)


Because we see our students for really such limited time (and that doesn't include time spent testing or on in-school activities), we have an obligation to make every minute count. 

The other thing that Moje and Tovani really have me thinking about is learning targets. 

Let me admit this: For the first few years of my teaching career, I was terrified of them. And because I was terrified, I resisted. I had been trained in SWBATs (students will be able to...) and not necessarily student friendly language of particular learning goals. SWBATs were more focused on doing (far too often that meant compliance rather than learning), and targets are refined, purposeful bits of instruction with clear criteria with which students and the teacher can gauge success.

Tovani takes it one step further because everything is rooted in her "engagement model" that includes these major components: an opening, minilesson/microlecture, work time, catch and release, and a debriefing. 

Further, she writes that she "want[s students] to be clear about the learning goal and what they will create to show me what they know and need" from the very beginning (58). The last part of that is so true. Student assessment informs our understanding of what students can already do and what they are on the verge of. 

Lastly I'm thinking of how intentional Tovani is with her targets. She chooses her verbs carefully and also includes a "to" or "so" to ensure the target is connected to a reason for doing the work. By expressing purpose early on with students, they can see the short term and long term learning goals more clearly. Further, she also writes "what students will create or talk about during class to show me how close they are to meeting the target" (62). In her classroom, there are no surprises when it comes to learning or routines. 


I can't wait to read more in this series!

Comments

  1. Kevin, I just put this one on my wish list! ;) Do you have a shareable copy of the observation sheet? Would be interesting to see all that's on it, and what I do tooooo much of!

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely! Will you email me (kevinmenglish@gmail.com) and I'll send it your way?

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