Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

07.31.20Denise Karratti’s Online Classroom: Great Systems, Great Culture

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We expect to be inspired by Hawaii but this is serious….

We’ve been working with Hawaii DOE and a group of ace teaches there to develop good models of online teaching and yesterday I got to see some of the early footage. It’s pretty fantastic and I wanted to share a few exceptional moments from Denise Karratti’s 6th grade math lesson at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

In particular I’d like to highlight a few of her systems (i.e. consistent procedures familiar to all students) which are fantastic and which help her to build a great classroom culture–even online.

As the clip opens, Denise is teaching a synchronous session with her kiddos. (We can’t see them, unfortunately but as you’ll see they’re there).

She wants them to reflect in writing on a question that requires some thought: How are fractions and percents related? She doesn’t want students to race to answer and, because she is Checking for Understanding, doesn’t want kids who know right away to give the answer away too readily for kids who might struggle.

So she uses a “Wait Question”: a question where they write their answers in the chat but don’t share until she tells them. This allows her to slow them down.

[Aside: This is also a great example of one of our rules of thumb for online learning: Give students something active to do within the first 3 minutes so the message this will be active learning! is clear.]

What’s even better about her use of the Wait Question though is that you can see some key steps in the process for how she establishes a system like this where kids reliably know how to do a “Wait Question.”

  • She’s clearly explained it already but she offers a reminder of the expectation in the most gracious of ways. If you weren’t here last week I’ll just remind you that a Wait Question is where I ask you a question and you’re going to start typing your answer in the chat BUT…. you’re not going to press send until I tell you to… Perfect what to do directions, warmly offered. Her goal here is to make sure every student gets the system right so she doesn’t expect her installation to happen in just one iteration. You can see her warm loving persistence.
  • She also gives the why, so students understand why she has this system: “That way everyone can write down their ideas without seeing other people’s ideas yet, and then we’ll take a look.”
  • Asking thumbs up if you understand is a great little detail to add. It reconnects the attention and accountability loop and reinforces the biggest ‘system’ of all: the understanding that we are always attentive and will be constantly interacting.
  • Then she sets a minute for them to write. They don’t have to rush. In fact, this signals to them the level of depth she expects. If she didn’t make the wait time transparent here they might write quickly for fear she’d say “press send” in just a few seconds. By specifying that they get a full minute, she makes it much more likely they will slow down and think.
  • Her warmth and excitement are so palpable when she says, “Go ahead and press enter. Let’s see it!” Who wouldn’t want to do their best work?
  • She also explains how to do the second part of the system–look at and listen to other people’s ideas. You don’t just sit idly, “While we’re doing that go ahead and see everybody’s [ideas] popping up. Check out what they wrote. See if you have the same idea as anybody. Maybe you have new ideas that you didn’t think about.
  • Then she calls out some things that students wrote to show she reads them carefully and cares. Now they’re even more vested in following through on chat writes.

Now here’s a second clip from her session where she’s using the technique “Show Me” from TLAC to Check for Understanding online. They convert a fraction to decimal and hold their answer up to their camera where Denise then scans the answers to assess where the class is.

You could do this with paper or with whiteboard and we love it because it’s such a simple and familiar system…. ‘tech light’… she’s chosen the simplest tools to allow her to assess, and even better, it gets kids writing pen to paper (or board)–a nice break from all that screen-based work and they are likely to remember better what they write versus what they type.

As with the previous clip, she’s always attentive to reinforcing the procedure. “Raffi a little closer; and to your right..”

There’s such appreciation for all the kids who do the work and she’s also reinforcing how carefully she looks.

And in fact, maybe that’s one of our biggest takeaways. Because Denise’s procedures work so well and so seamlessly she can spend her time building culture: reinforcing kids for their effort and hard work and showing them how much she cares.

Denise: Thanks for sharing with us. What amazing work!

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