Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.24.14Back in Sam and Meghan’s Classroom as Guest Reader and Secret Observer an hour in Samantha “Sam” DeLuke and Meghan Hurley’s second grade classroom at Troy Prep this morning.  I was one of those guest reader types and had a great time.  But while I was getting ready to dust off my Rikki-Tikki-Tavi I had the chance to learn a few things.

The first was how incredibly tight the systems are.  I observed Sam managing them from the corner of the room while meeting with her guided reading group of eight students.  Meghan’s reading mastery group of ten and ten additional students working diligently reading and writing at their desks were working in parallel and on Sam’s signal they transitioned from their various places around the room to the carpet in a matter of seconds, angst free and happy, their eyes practically glistening at the thought of a bit of read-aloud.  The most interesting part was how Sam used her timer.  As the reading period wound down, the timer went off and her students put down their materials and tracked her.  Sam scanned the group to show she noticed their readiness, (a bit of “be seen looking” for the TLaC geeks out there) but did not say a word.  Nor, interestingly, did she turn off the timer, which continued its beeping. Now Sam scanned the ten students who’d been working silently at their desks. They were tracking her back but she methodically made eye contact with each student, waiting an extra second or two for one slow poke.  Still she said nothing.  Still the timer beeped. Finally she scanned Meghan’s group who had just finished passing in their books. Only when every student was tracking her did she switch off the beeping timer.  It wasn’t the timer beeping that signaled the start of a transition but the timer going silent.  Without a word, Sam was able to communicate that she was watching and waiting for eyes to quickly find her. Completely beautiful.

My second takeaway was similar to one from my previous visit. People think: “Oh a class with systems that tight must be stifling for kids. How about giving them a bit of freedom?” But the truth is the opposite. In how many classrooms can ten students work independently for 10 or 15 minutes (or longer) at a stretch, reading and writing the whole time without an interruption? Sam and Meghan’s kids are so good at the expectations that they can be given the freedom to work with immense amounts of autonomy. As I wrote the last time I visited:

That’s the paradox, right?  Structure and clear expectations and practice in doing mundane things the right way aren’t tools to  constrain students as some skeptics try to maintain but to give them real freedom and autonomy.
It was still true today.  For my part I got to read a long story to them (30 minutes at least) and they were SO attentive and engaged and all-around completely wonderful… with hardly a wave or a peep of management from Sam or Meghan.  Really, you shoulda been there.

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