09.02.16How to Batch Process–Starring Jason Brewer & his Prepsters
Batch Process is technique #44 in TLaC 2.0. The idea is that rather than responding to or mediating every student comment during discussion, it can be beneficial to let students talk several times in a row, directly to one another, before you step in to guide or shape. This idea is sometimes referred to as playing volleyball instead of tennis- three hits and then over for the students rather than one for the students one for the teacher, one for the students, one for the teacher.
Of course to make this happen you need some advance work: you must instill strong Habits of Discussion so students carefully listen to each other and know to (and how to) build off one another’s comments rather than jumping suddenly to a disconnected idea. And you need a tight classroom culture: free of distractions so you and your kids can really listen to one another and where it’s safe to take intellectual risks and be wrong.
You can see all of that at work in this short video of Jason Brewer’s History class at Troy Prep Middle School in Troy, NY.
Jason Brewer. Batch Process from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.
And you can see some other details of how to batch process effectively in this tiny example. Here are some notes:
- First note that Jason prepares for discussion by giving students real and rigorous content about the Industrial Revolution. They’ve been reading and talking about the idea of interchangeable parts and how it revolutionized manufacturing. But now he’s asked them to think about what that change meant for labor. They’ve read a primary source text, Jason has augmented with facts and examples, they’ve had a rich discussion, augmented by Turn and Talks and short writing prompts to get everyone engaged and thinking. And he’s built warm culture marked by high academic and behavioral expectations.
- As the clip starts though you’ll also notice how much Wait Time Jason gives his students before he calls on the first scholar to respond- it’s 8 seconds from the question “Why?” to “Track Mahaira.” I cut about four or five examples of Wait Time from this lesson. What this tells me is that Jason systematically tries to slow his students down. He wants them to think carefully and not race to have their hand up first. So he’s stopped calling on two-second hands.
- As the first student responds notice how carefully her classmates listen. Not a pin drop of distraction. Full respect for her ideas and her voice. This notion is visually reinforced by the ‘tracking’- in Jason’s class students “track the speaker”- that is they look at the person who’s talking. This shows they’re listening and causes them to engage better. I’ve seen comments from folks who argue that a classroom where tracking in the expectation is somehow demeaning to kids. It’s pretty clearly the opposite of that here. That especially true because the girl who answers first is wrong. But not a single kids scoffs or interrupts etc. A culture of respect is part of making a safe intellectual climate and Jason has done that beautifully here.
- But it’s not just the her classmates who don’t react as the first student struggles with an erroneous conception. Jason’s face doesn’t change either—it’s impossible to tell from his affect who’s right and who’s wrong. He “manages his tell” and avoids unintentionally showing disdain for a flawed idea through his expression or body language.
- You’ll also notice that he’s socialized his students to build off one another by using sentence starters. They practiced these and he probably taught them and reminded them how to use them for some time so that by the time this video was shot in March you can hear evidence of it. Nyasha, the second girl he calls on, begins, “I’d respectfully disagree because…”
- You’ll also notice that Jason’s prompt “agree or disagree” is very quick but reminds students to develop the first idea. And of course he uses the exact same tone whether a student is right or wrong to avoid tipping classmates off. And his economy of language is strong so kids do the work.
- Jason’s response Nyasha is not to opine but to ask Marty to opine about the two previous answers. I can’t tell for certain but this looks to me like a Cold Call– that is, I don’t think Marty had his hand up. Jason just wants to make it the expectation that everyone is in the game, all the time, and so he asks Marty for his two-cents. He is very accountable for listening carefully to his peers. (Aside: we sometimes equate talking with participating, but I would like to observe that good listening is at least as important to effective participation as lots of talking). And by the way what a safe and positive way to Cold Call: “Marty, what do you think?” He shows that he genuinely values Marty’s opinion. And Marty can pretty much say anything productive to get things going. Even “I’m not sure but…” As it happens Marty has plenty to say but it takes him a minute to get started. Again not a peep from his peers. He’s given the time and space to compose his thoughts in a climate of respect.
- This short example of Batch Process wraps some more tradition “tennis”—ie guided questioning by Jason to unpack the mistaken thinking that the discussion demonstrated. This also conveniently allows us to too see, side by side, the difference between volleyball and tennis and the benefits of both. That’s key. One isn’t necessarily better. Jason’s “tennis” in fact is quite good. But an ideal classroom balances these approaches to maximize learning.