Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

02.06.18A Masterful No Opt Out by Denarius Frazier (Video)

Every once in a while, you come across an example of a teacher using a technique in the classroom that captures almost everything you wanted to say about it–Why a teacher would use it. How.

It’s a case study in how to apply a tool to advance learning and it pushes your understanding of the idea even a little more–you see it and think: Yes, that’s what I was trying to describe all along, even if you never quite did.You see it and you say: “Yes. That’s it.”

That’s how I felt last week when I watched this clip of Denarius Frazier using No Opt Out in his Geometry class at Uncommon Collegiate High School so I wanted to share it right away. It’s kind of a No Opt Out master clip.


EA.NoOptOut.GR10.Frazer.’Quadrilateral.’Clip2764 from TLAC Blog on Vimeo.


Some notes:

  1. Denarius sets the purpose. The class is setting out to prove that a given quadrilateral is not a square. Having done that he starts with a bit of retrieval practice, asking Aaron, via Cold Call, what the definition of a square is. This is a great time to encode key concepts in long-term memory. The Cold Call is also great here. It’s an invitation to a real conversation and so Aaron is not rattled by it. In asking, Denarius has gotten a good sense for the level of understanding of a typical student in class–as opposed to the students who raise their hands to tell him. Those students are always more likely to know and by Cold Calling he gets better data.  By starting with a Cold Call he makes his use of it predictable and builds a strong incentive to be engaged.
  2. Aaron’s answer is incomplete. Instead of filling in the blanks of the answer himself and rounding up, Denarius notes that it’s a solid start but needs more. This is nice positive framing. ‘80% correct’ gives Aaron credit for what he’s done but makes the line between that and full credit clear.
  3. Denarius then asks Anastasia to fill in the gaps. She gives a definition that is 100% complete. Denarius could have given the definition himself, of course, but it’s better coming from a classmate–kids demonstrating knowledge and making classmates smarter is a good thing.  Plus it’s retrieval practice for Anastasia too.
  4. Now the No Opt Out: back to Aaron to ask him for the answer to make sure he’s got mastery now.  But there’s a wrinkle.  Instead of just saying: What’s the definition of a square? Denarius brilliantly asks: “What’s the difference?”  In other words he asks his student to descrbe the difference between what he originally said and what was fully correct.  Denarius even prompts him to make sure he described both of the things he left out of his answer. Some meta-awareness mixed with retrieval practice and high standards.
  5. Denarius doesn’t make a fuss over the improvement. He’s appreciative and warm but it’s clear that he expects mastery of his students. But he also validates Aaron’s work by applying it. The video ends with his voice dropping into a quieter, almost suspenseful tone: “How can we prove that this is not a square…”  Subtext: we are going to honor that much-improved definition by applying it right away.


Anyway, it’s a beautiful clip. Tidy, positive, productive.  I love especially how Denarius returns to his student for the No Opt Out and asks him to narrative the difference between his first answer and the ideal. I’ve never seen that quite so clearly and perfectly before.

By the way if you like the idea of No Opt Out here is another great example.



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One Response to “A Masterful No Opt Out by Denarius Frazier (Video)”

  1. Woodraille F. Gilchrist
    February 8, 2018 at 2:54 am

    This is awesome! Absolutely, don’t let students off the hook. This is a great way to build speaking and listening skills as well. We call them ‘conversation moves,’ as students should be able to effectively manage what they want to state, restate, and respond to others they are engaged in conversation with skillfully and intentionally. Mastery is essential, and it looks like you want evidence! Love it!

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