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Example: Audio visuals, technology, and demonstration equipment are set up in advance. The teacher writes information on the board behind

 

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T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R 61

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a pulled-down map, so that the information is readily available when the map is raised, and handouts are stacked near the site of a planned lesson. For the room itself, activities, kits, games, listening stations, books, manipulatives, and problem cards are laid out in an orderly and visible fashion for pupils to find and engage; supply points are ad- equately stocked; and a computer is ready. Next to it is a pad of paper with a note giving location codes for three different areas students are assigned to research that day. When provisioning is skillfully done, the small amount of teacher time spent provisioning the environment dur- ing the school day results in a maximum amount of time available for focus on students.

OVERLAPPING MOVES

We borrow the term “overlapping” from Kounin (1970) and expand on his definition: overlapping is the ability to manage two or more parallel events si- multaneously with evidence of attention to both. “Manage” here includes two aspects of teaching performance. First is keeping in touch with what is going on in several groups, areas, or activities at once (the teacher may be involved in one, more than one, or circulating among several sites). It implies knowing the nature of the activity, the appropriate pupil behavior within the activity, and the current quality of the pupil’s performance. Second is making moves to help pupils over blockages. Blockages may come from pupils’ not understanding di- rections or not knowing what to do next, their inability to resolve interpersonal disagreements (for example, about sharing materials or about how to proceed next as a group), their encounter of material above their frustration level, atten- tion wandering, or finishing an activity and needing help making or planning transitions to the next activity.

Overlapping requires something Kounin (1970) calls “Withitness,” meaning that a teacher always knows what is going on in the room and shows it. It is a prerequisite for overlapping. This withitness—a form of radar or “eyes in the back of the head”—is necessary for noticing and responding to misbehavior in its early stages. But in contrast to its disciplinary application, it is also the basis for overlapping several simultaneous instructional events, as it enables teachers to keep in touch with the flow of all of the events.

Building on withitness, teachers make moves to keep momentum going when they notice a blockage or potential blockage. Here are a few examples of moves that maintain momentum by helping students avoid or work through blockages:

 

 

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Example 1: The teacher, seeing a student nearing the end of an art proj- ect, says, “Where are you going to put it to dry, Jimmy?” Jimmy replies, “Under the woodworking table.” The teacher responds, “Okay, fine. Af- ter that, you can finish the book you started this morning.” The teacher has provided a focus for the closure of the activity and the transition to the next activity.

Example 2: As a pupil across the room appears stuck on his lab experi- ment, the teacher says, “Mark, ask Jane for some help if you’re stuck.”

Example 3: As the teacher sees a child using the last of the paint, he gestures for her to come over and reminds her to refill the paint jars when she’s finished.

Example 4: When the teacher sees a group arguing over the position of a senator on a bill, she says to them, “Where could you find out for sure?” This is a way of directing the students back into constructive in- volvement.

The point of overlapping is that all of these moves to maintain the momen- tum of groups and individuals are made while the teacher may be instructing a punctuation-skill group, listening to students in a group explain their think- ing behind the math problem they are solving, holding a reading conference with an individual student, inspecting a pupil’s lab report, or engaging in some other primary focus. The teacher makes the management move without leav- ing, interrupting, or seeming to remove attention from the primary focus but for an instant. It is an accomplishment to perform overlapping effectively at any time, and especially so when the teacher has a primary active role in a particular learning experience.

FILLER MOVES

It happens regularly during the course of a day that teachers are caught with groups of students for short periods (from 1 to 10 or 15 minutes) where nothing is planned. Sometimes this happens in awkward places where standard class- room resources are not available, for example, outside waiting for a late bus, in the hallway waiting for a late class to come out of a specialist’s room (gym, music), in an instructional group just ended where students have had it with work, yet when there isn’t enough time to assign them anything else or even to let them choose and start some other activity around the room before it will be time to dismiss for lunch.

 

 

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In such situations, what does the teacher do to prevent the disruption of mo- mentum? Some may be inclined to comment, “Why does the teacher have to do anything? The students will just have to sit and wait, that’s all. Students should know how to wait: it’s an occasional and unavoidable occurrence in life. It’s not up to the teacher to entertain them at these times.” We would answer, “Yes,” a consummation devoutly to be wished. But it doesn’t always work that way.

For some groups, not so in command of themselves, and for some situations, relying on students to patiently sit and wait can be an unreasonable expectation and may result in disruptions. In such instances, teachers may pull out a filler to hold the class together for those few minutes, as these teachers did:

Example 1: Because the clock in her room is wrong, Ms. M arrives with her first-grade class 5 minutes early for gym. There’s no use trek- king all the way back to the room; they’d just have to turn right around and return. So she asks the children to sit against the wall and move close together so they can all see and hear her. “While we wait for the other class to finish up, raise your hand if you can think of a word that rhymes with fish.” She calls on three students who give different rhym- ing words. “You’re clicking this morning. . . . Now . . . one that rhymes with . . . lamp.” She calls on two more students.

Example 2: Surprisingly, lab teams 1 and 4 have finished their earth science experiments and write-ups early and put their equipment safe- ly away. Ten minutes still remain in the period. Mr. L knows the re- maining lab teams will be asking questions, and he’ll need to be avail- able for them. But to prevent downtime and fooling around for teams 1 and 4 (a distinct possibility with this class), he quickly writes eight science vocabulary words on the board and calls up those students. He gets them seated and started on a 20 questions review game and is then back circulating among the experimenters in a scant 45 seconds.

Sometimes fillers are not as directly curriculum relevant as in these examples. Primary teachers may just play Simon Says. A fifth-grade teacher may say, “Okay, without anyone looking at their watches, raise your hand when you think one and a half minutes are up. Go!” This game is a good way to quiet a noisy bus for a few minutes. Secondary teachers may begin chatting with a class about current events or school teams. None of these is necessarily a waste of time, but it is worth distinguishing between fillers that pass the time and fillers that bring in something of the current curriculum.

 

 

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MOVES FOR INTRUSIONS

Sometimes a teacher’s day can seem like a series of intrusions punctuated by moments of instruction. These intrusions take many forms: pupils wanting work corrected, wanting help, wanting directions clarified, or wanting disputes arbitrated; adult visitors; incoming messengers; and public address announce- ments. Every intrusion has the potential to disrupt momentum, but teachers can handle intrusions in a way that minimizes their distracting influence on student’s involvement with learning experiences.

Four basic levels of performance describe a teacher’s ability to deal with intrusions:

Level 1: Allows intrusions to fracture momentum.

Level 2: Deals with intrusions in a uniform way. For instance, the teacher never allows students from outside an instructional group to ask questions (that is, doesn’t tolerate intrusions of any kind), or al- ways refers intruders to peers for help, or always has intruders wait nearby until an appropriate moment to help them arises.

Level 3: Deals with intrusions in a variety of ways using different ways at different times.

Level 4: Matches the response to the intrusion to the characteristics of the students involved or to the particular situation. For example, this may mean that the teacher knows that Andrea (the child she’s working with) has fragile concentration and that even a delayed response to an intruder will lose Andrea for good. At other times, it is the intruder’s characteristics to which the teacher adjusts, sending off Charlie to get help from a peer because she knows that Charlie can handle that, but holding John in close while signaling him to be silent until she can briefly and quietly help him because she knows John doesn’t have the confidence to approach a peer. In summary, while the situation is simi- lar the responses are different and the matching may be to the student or to students in the group (those intruded on or to the intruder).

Sometimes the teacher matches the response to the situation rather than to the student. For example, the case of a fast-paced verbal game involving a large group may prompt the teacher to brook no intrusions at all, even from a stu- dent the teacher would normally accommodate, in order to preserve the mo- mentum of the game. Like all of the areas of teaching in this book, intrusions remind us that the better we can match our responses to students or situations, the more effective we will be.

Every intrusion has the potential to disrupt momentum, but teachers can handle intrusions in a way that minimizes their distracting influence on students’ involvement with learning experiences.

Video: Intrusions

 

 

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LESSON FLEXIBILITY

What do teachers do when lessons or planned activities are bombing? How do they control momentum? We can distinguish four levels of teacher performance:

Level 1: Presses on with the lesson anyway.

Level 2: Drops the lesson and switches to something else.

Level 3: Keeps the lesson objective and tries to teach it another way or vary the format of the lesson.

Level 4: Matches a new format to the needs of the group, or adjusts it for characteristics of individuals.

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