What really counts in our classrooms?
When we think about teaching, we normally focus on what the teacher says and does. But, what really counts is how the students experience the classroom environments that they live in. Here’s a quick way to think about the difference.
Are you a “math person?” That is, do you think about yourself as someone who enjoys, and can do, mathematics?
Odds are the answer is no. I can’t tell you how many people have told me “I gave up on math in 4th grade when they told me that to divide fractions, I had to turn the second fraction upside down and multiply.” That’s just one of many reasons people quit. And when they do, they’re lost to mathematics, even if they can do well on tests. The same is true for every discipline. Are you a reader? Do you like science? Those are issues of disciplinary agency and identity, and they matter.
The Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) framework focuses on what instruction looks like, with regard to five key dimensions. Those dimensions are summarized in Figure 1. The bottom line is: if things go well along these dimensions, students will emerge from the classroom being powerful thinkers and problem solvers.
Here are a few questions teachers and coaches can ask themselves as they plan for or reflect on a lesson.
About the content: What do students see as the main content of the lesson? Is it rich and connected, with the big ideas clear?
About cognitive demand: What opportunities do students have for sense making, for “productive struggle?
About access and equity: How does the lesson provide “ways in” to the content so that everyone can engage with it in meaningful ways? Can students run and hide, or do/must they engage?
About agency, authority, and identity: what opportunities do students have to explain their ideas, and have them seen as contributing to common understandings?
About formative assessment: Do classroom activities reveal student thinking, and does instruction respond to it in ways that help students think more deeply?
If we make these questions habitual and act on them, our students will have much better opportunities to develop into powerful thinkers.
This post was written by Alan Schoenfeld for LearnTeachLead.
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