Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.10.13The Paradox of Structure as Demonstrated by Sam DeLuke and Meghan Hurley

troy prepWish everyone could have seen Sam DeLuke and Meghan Hurley’s second grade classroom at Uncommon’s Troy Prep yesterday.  Sam was in one corner reading a chapter book with four kids who were discussing rigorously and citing evidence. They used Habits of Discussion to talk to each other in mature ways about the text.  “I think you missed one piece of evidence Zariah.” “I agree with David’s point and want to develop it.”

Meghan was on the other side of the room reading about ants and doing vocabulary with 10 kids- energy, enthusiasm and hard work.

In the middle five kids were reading a book on their own and six were working industriously and independently, writing a paragraph about the theme of a story they read yesterday.

Every kid completely engaged and on task; tons of autonomy and student cognition.  And what made it possible:  Systems and routines and clear behavioral expectations.  Sam said “go” and ten kids got up and walked over to work with Meghan pin-drop silent and quick as a flash. Later she looked across the room, re-directed one child with a non-verbal signal and asked another to distribute books to his peers without interrupting instruction for a second.

That’s the paradox, right?  Structure and clear expectations and practice in doing mundane things the right way aren’t tools to  constrain students as some skeptics try to maintain but to give them real freedom and autonomy.

Five minutes in that classroom would have convinced anybody of that.


2 Responses to “The Paradox of Structure as Demonstrated by Sam DeLuke and Meghan Hurley”

  1. Joanne
    October 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I’ve been conducting research at a “No Excuses” school for over a year and have been thinking about these tensions between structure and autonomy. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these issues in future posts:

    1. Too much structure has its own unintended consequences–how do you decide how much is necessary to facilitate student learning? How much practical know-how do these students already have, and how much really needs to be taught?

    2. If elementary school kids are learning independence, why do we still need these structures in middle and high school? How do you make the transition to providing less structure?

    3. I have seen the best teachers combine structure and freedom, but with the inexperience/youthfulness of many No Excuses teachers, the model often seems to default on the structure side with less freedom. Thoughts?

    • Doug_Lemov
      October 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      i’m not big onthe phrase “no excuses.” it’s a phrase other people use to describe a wide range of schools that are complex and different with a simple (simplistic) paint brush. nobody i know uses the phrase to describe their own work.
      for me it’s hard to say what the default is of any young teachers.. or any teachers… i trust teachers to figure out what works for them in the long run. but i ALSO think think many many many people enter the profession and think they won’t need structure. and if they learn it they see that the structure sets them free to have the kind of relationships with kids that they yearn for and allows them to do the type of teaching that caused them to enter the profession. and if they don’t it causes them to leave the profession. one glimpse of Sam’s classrom would convince anyone of the veracity of the connection between freedom and structure.

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