Often times you attend conferences with high hopes only to leave wondering why you wasted your time and money. The 2016 Teaching Learning Coaching Conference was not one of those conferences. I left all four keynotes and all four breakout sessions with a plethora of knowledge and ideas for next steps in my instructional coaching path.
While all sessions were equally as good, Doug Fisher’s keynote on Visible Learning for Literacy and breakout session on Unstoppable Learning had the most impact on me. Perhaps it stems from spending one-forth of my time learning from him or the fact that as a former math teacher and brand new instructional coach, I am searching for ways to connect more with all content areas.
During the keynote, Mr. Fisher stated, “We need to stop identifying students as strugglers, as struggle is not part of the student’s identity, but rather the situations we put them in… It isn’t about prescriptive programs, but rather about teachers learning how to design experiences for students.” As educators, we impact the learning process by the situations we design for students. Teachers must mindfully plan for those situations to occur and not just leave them to chance. He stated that situations such as mobility, ability grouping, and retention all have a low effect, while small group instruction, repeated reading, and class discussion have a high effect on student achievement.
Teachers must combine situations that have a high effect with different stages of learning. He explained the three stages of learning as surface, deep, and transfer.
Surface learning, which focuses on skill and concept development, is important, but is not enough to move students forward in their learning. In the classroom, surface learning looks like students’ activating prior knowledge, engaging in vocabulary development, utilizing reading comprehension strategies, and summarizing their learning.
Deep learning is where students make connections, relationships, and schema to organize the skills and concepts. For students to reach deep learning they must engage in concept mapping, class discussions, questioning strategies, and reciprocal teaching.
Transfer learning allows students an opportunity to apply their learning to novel situations. For a teacher to facilitate this type of learning they must create situations that allow students to participate in formal discussions, such as debates and Socratic seminars, give opportunities for peer tutoring, and engage in problem solving. As educators, we must ask ourselves if we are we teaching literacy in general or are we teaching in context of surface, deep, and transfer learning.
During his breakout session, Mr. Fisher went on to share how thinking is invisible. He stressed the importance of teachers modeling their thinking for the students, using “I” statements, not “we” or “you” statements. Modeling should not go on very long, but allow enough time for students to see the thought process around comprehension, word solving, text structure, and understanding text features.
To model thinking for students, read a portion of text displayed for the class to see. Mr. Fisher displayed the following text from the article What Happened to Phineas? (Discover Magazine, January 1995) and had us engage in a conversation of what to model.
Attend the tale of Phineas Gage. Honest, well liked by friends and fellow workers on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad, Gage was a young man of exemplary character and promise until one day in September 1848. While tamping down the blasting powder for a dynamite charge, Gage inadvertently sparked an explosion. The inch-thick tamping rod rocketed through his cheek, obliterating his left eye on its way through his brain and out the top of his skull.
In small groups, we talked about how teachers can discuss their predictions, how to use context clues to help decipher the meaning of unknown words, and what visuals the text created in their mind. We continued with the activity by looking at a couple more excerpts from the article and sharing additional modeling techniques. The activity ended with Mr. Fisher sharing how to model questioning text by stating, “If you could ask the author any question, what would that question be?”
The Teaching Learning Coaching Conference left me with pages filled with notes, ideas, next steps, and wonderings. During the closing session, Kristin Anderson, Senior Director of Professional Learning at Corwin, stated, “A conference is not a destination. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon.” Often times we run to conferences looking for the speakers to provide us with definitive answers to our biggest problems, when in fact we need to attend looking for guidance on how to reach the next checkpoint in our race to improve education. The Teaching Learning Coaching Conference was perfect in helping guide me towards my next checkpoint: improving literacy in our students.