Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.11.14Grace Ghazzawi’s Right is Right Clip, Our Workshop, and How “Symbolism” is Tin Foil (Video)

It’s been a busy morning at TLaC Towers (pictured) where high, above the pulsing city of Glenmont, NY, (population 5,200), we’ve been cutting amazing video for our upcoming workshop on Engaging Academics, to be held April 10 and 11 in Albany.  Needless to say at the workshop we’ll do some serious geeking out on all of your favorite techniques: Right is Right, Stretch It, No Opt Out, Cold Call and the like, sharing new ideas and, best of all, fresh new video.

How fresh, you ask? How new?  Well, we cut three new clips for the workshop this very morning- two from Boston’s high performing Edward Brooke Charter Schools, and one of North Star Academy’s Grace Ghazzawi.  The last of these, we think is about the most useful Right is Right clip we’ve come across. Actually they’re all pretty amazing and we are excited to share them–and all our new clips–in April.

But listen, April is a long way away and a great clip tends to burn a hole in my laptop, wanting to get out there and be useful, so here is a sneak preview.

Grace’s Right is Right is a BEAUTIFUL “Answer My Question” moment.  She’s reading Edwidge Danticat’s story “Night Women” with her class and asks how the setting, a room divided in half by a curtain, tells the reader about the characters.  She calls on a student whose answer contains some insight but which rapidly loses it’s focus. “The setting… shows symbols,” she says, “The night is a symbol for the mom. And for the son the scarf is a symbol for him.”  This answer is interesting. It starts on point but proceeds rapidly towards vagueness and circular reasoning (“for the son the scarf is a symbol for him?”) and the question about the setting goes unaddressed.

But the answer also contains references to symbols, and we reading teachers love any reference to symbolism.  Symbolism is the tin foil and we’re the crow.  From up on our branch we are drawn irresistibly to its shiny outlines.  “Symbolism!?  Did you just say symbolism??”  At the very word most teachers would jump in with both feet to snatch it up- “Oh, so interesting tell us how the night is a symbol for the mom….”

But not Grace.  She says, “But pause. How does this room, split by the fabric, tell us about the characters?”  She signals the importance of her question in insisting the student answer it. And she signals the importance of precision and focus with language. And then the student responds with a revised answer that is, by my measure, about 75 times better than the first.  Encouraged to focus and dissuaded from throwing terms around, she refines her ideas in a sentence that is more precise, insightful and almost beautiful: “The room tells us about the characters because when the room splits in half it’s like two worlds and… It’s like two things are going on at once. So it’s like the the son is having his own world where he’s confused and the mother is having another world where she’s working on her job and trying to protect her son during the day.”

It’s amazing to see how the discipline of answering the exact question carefully and attentively brings out a dramatic a increase in answer quality from Grace’s student and shows how a small change in teaching can yield big results. Thanks to Grace for showing the way.

By the way, the clip also shows why Right is Right is such a bulwark of an academically rigorous classroom, so we hope we’ll see you in April for more great video and discussion.


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