Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

06.30.18England Reflections 2: Backstopping with Writing Allows for More Leeway in Discussion

Image result for cricket backstop

This is the second of a series of short posts sharing new realizations I arrived at thanks to the insights of teachers at the workshops Colleen Driggs and I led in England this week. This one is on yet another synergy–one we hadn’t recognized before–between writing and discussion.

Writing After a Discussion Allows it to Be More Open: We led off our workshop at Ivybridge College with a video of Arielle Hoo discussing solutions to an algebra problem with her class.

EA.EverybodyWrites.GR8.Hoo.’Conjectures.’Clip2462 from TLAC Blog on Vimeo.

Participants were struck by how Arielle resisted naming each participant’s comment as correct or incorrect.

Students, they noted, seemed engaged in working towards a solution themselves because Arielle didn’t crowd them out by evaluating each step as they went. That’s right; that’s wrong. They were therefore tasked with figuring out what was correct.

All of this is true, and, as we discussed at the workshop, Arielle helped make the discussion more productive by asking students to write their “conjectures” about the answer—how they would know if a problem had infinite solutions  or no solutions–first.

With everyone having written—and incidentally written in a low-risk formative manner that allowed them to think in writing and without the pressure of having to know everything at the outset—hands shot into the air when the discussions started.

Arielle was able to let kids follow and build on each other—obviously it also helped that she had taught them habits of discussion to ensure effective listening.

But it’s important to also remember that what Arielle does is a bit risky.  In a discussion without clarity about what’s right and what’s wrong, there is the risk that students could remember misinformation or not grasp the correct information fully.

This risk is most prevalent with students who start with less knowledge. Weaker students are likely to get a lot less out of the discussion—to miss the point or to remember the wrong thing.

So what Arielle does after the discussion is critical. She has students write afterwards and they work together to do this in an intentional and carefully written manner. She calls this a “stamp”—a written summary of the key finding of the discussion.

This backstop, a participant noted, was critical; it allowed her the freedom to let students explore in their discussion with less judgment from her.  BECAUSE she knew she was going to tidy up at the end and cause students to commit the key ideas to memory via writing at the end she could give more latitude during the discussion. The more leeway you want to give, the more important the re-writing afterwards is. One more reasons to write-discuss-revise.


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