Day 4: Go Slow to Go Fast

15 Days of Back To School

Go slow to go fast.

I’ve heard this phrase a lot lately.  Most recently I noticed it as I was flipping through Leslie Blauman’s new book The Inside Guide to the Reading-Writing Classroom, a book that I will be leading a teacher study group on this year.  So what does it mean?

In a high stakes world it can seem like we need to cram in as much as possible.   However, there is something to be said for dwelling in ideas and really going deep.  Depth vs. breadth.  But in order to do any of this we need to really take the time to explicitly teach students the skills they will need to be successful.  If you want to do book clubs you can’t just put students in groups and expect them to magically know how to have a discussion.  If you want the to collaborate you need to teach them to collaborate.

I could write an entire series of posts on collaboration.  (In fact, I probably will write an entire series of posts on collaboration.)  Teaching students to work together is a major focus in my classroom.  It’s not just about group projects, when students learn how to effectively collaborate in school it carries over to all aspects of their life.  Collaboration is a skill that will serve them in everything they do and that’s important to me.

If something is important then you have to take the time to teach it and reinforce it.  Here are some “go slow” lessons that I teach and reinforce many times during the first week of school.

  • Structure Lessons: It’s not enough to just put up a poster or give a handout about the classroom procedures.  Even if you collaborate with students on something like a morning routine their need to be plenty of opportunities for practice and making adjustments.  Students need to know how you will communicate with them, where to go for help when you’re not available, where to look for directions, where to find supplies and which supplies they can access without permission.  This is especially important in the workshop format.  When you use reading and writing workshop it places a great deal of responsibility on the student’s for their own learning.  Teacher’s who visit my room later in the year often marvel at the fact that the students seem to operate fairly independently and that I’m free to move around and meet with students or even stop to briefly chat with visitors during the lesson.  That’s not by magic.  It’s because I started slow establishing what each part of reading and writing workshop should look like.  What the noise level is during these activities, what the expectations are for these different times.  I don’t impose expectations, students create them.  They know it needs to be quiet when they read and that there should be a low buzz in the room when it’s time to talk.  We practice at it until it’s great and later in the year, month, or week when things start to go off the rails we go back to basics until it’s right and working for everyone.
  • Learning Lessons:  I’m not sure that’s the right name for it but, there are certain things I need students to do during my lesson. Turning and talking is a huge part of my classroom.  I teach students how to turn and talk, that you need to actually turn and face the person you are talking to, to make eye contact, to listen as much as you talk, to ask your partner questions if they need an invitation to join in. This then expands into small group work.  Because learning is a social act I need to help my students socially interact in a way that benefits their learning.

I should also mention that I teach these things within the context of rich and engaging material. For example, I don’t teach turn and talk just for the sake of it.  I teach it within the context of a fun and engaging read aloud with an important theme or message.  So remember, build those structures for your school year from day one.  If you go slow at the beginning you’ll be able to accomplish much more later in the year.

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