Breaking Skills into Strategies...

Apr 24, 2015 by

The last several posts have been devoted to unpacking skills and strategies.  I have used Jennifer Serravallo’s definition of strategy: “step-by-step how tos that lead toward skilled performance”.  When I think about strategies, the question that always pops into my mind is, “How can I break this down?”  If a learner is struggling with a skill, it may be that the skill needs to be broken down into manageable steps.  So how do we break skills down? This can be more challenging than it might seem. If you have been reading this series of posts, you may have already watched the baseball video clip.  If not, please take 30 seconds to watch it now:  click here. We have already talked about how the father in the video told Max to “use two hands” while Drew modeled it....

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How Long Does It Take for a Strategy to Give Way to a Skill?...

Apr 21, 2015 by

In my last two posts I wrote about the difference between telling and teaching and the distinction between a skill and a strategy.  I shared a story about how author Jennifer Serravallo learned to draw people by using the strategy of lightly drawing shapes and then adding the details of the person.  This strategy gave way to skilled performance.  We could take any skill we want to learn and break it down into step-by-step how-tos that lead to skilled performance.   Today’s question is:  how long does it take before a learner becomes skilled and no longer needs the strategy? (Remember—strategies are scaffolds that are meant to be removed eventually).  Well, in Serravallo’s story, she said it took months of practice before  she could draw people without the strategy. I wonder how often we have...

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Skills vs. Strategies

Apr 17, 2015 by

If you missed my last post, before reading this one, take a moment to watch the 30-second video clip in that post. Did you notice a difference between the way the father taught Max to catch a baseball and the way Drew taught him?  Did you notice that he did a lot of “telling” and very little “teaching”?  Did you notice how Drew broke the skill of catching the ball down into a step-by-step strategy? As teachers we toss around the words “skills” and “strategies” all the time.  I must say, however, that it was many years into my teaching career before I truly understood the difference between these words.  As teachers, it is our goal to teach our students many skills—reading skills, math skills, communication skills, self-discipline skills, and the list goes on...

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Telling Isn’t Teaching!

Apr 15, 2015 by

I recently had the opportunity to visit my alma mater and speak to a group of undergrad education majors. I was asked to speak for one hour on any topic I chose. Narrowing it down to one topic was the hardest part! I thought about all of the classrooms I visit and asked myself, “What is ONE thing that can dramatically elevate the quality of our teaching?” I finally settled on the topic of teaching strategically rather than just telling or assigning. I introduced the topic by showing the following video clip about a father trying to teach his son how to catch a baseball. Take a moment to watch this 30-second video clip: Baseball Video Clip What do you notice about how the father “teaches” Max? What do you notice about how Drew...

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Thinking about Theme Pays Off

Mar 6, 2013 by

Last week I started thinking more about theme after spending time in a 2nd grade reading workshop.  In my previous post I shared a helpful video clip that helped me think about teaching this abstract concept to young readers.  Well, that thinking paid off yesterday when I was hanging out in a 6th grade writing workshop.  The students were in the middle of a unit on literary essay.  They were writing a practice essay about the short story “Papa’s Parrot” from Cynthia Rylant’s Every Living Thing.  This is a story about a boy named Harry who was once very close to his father, but as he approached adolescence, began drifting away from his father to spend more time with his friends.  When his father bought a parrot and began talking to it, Harry became...

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Thinking about Theme

Mar 3, 2013 by

This past week I spent a morning in a second grade reading workshop. These second graders had been working on taking their comprehension of text to deeper levels. On this day they were learning more about theme. Earlier in the morning the teacher had read Eve Bunting’s Fly Away Home, so during the lesson they worked together to identify what the theme could be.  As I listened in while students turned and talked to their reading partners, I heard responses such as homelessness, perseverance, courage. Some big ideas for young readers, to be sure! The teacher worked with them to elaborate on their single-word answers by finding evidence in the text. Then she sent them off to do this work with their own independent  texts. As I watched the teacher circulate among her students...

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