Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

06.12.15Portrait of a Teacher (Beth Brannon) in 8 Scenes (Video)

caprockHere’s a rundown of that video of Amarillo Texas Caprock High’s Beth Brannon that I promised in my recent post about unexpectedness. Beth uses, by my count, 11 techniques from Teach Like a Champion 2.0 in the clip (!), though you might never know it unless you watched carefully.  Her productive class seems like a happy accident.

But there’s a lesson here. BECAUSE she’s so good with her technique she can be warm and even a bit casual and still get follow through. She makes space for her appealing classroom personality through mastery of fundamentals.

I tried to describe how she used those technique in 8 scenes, below. (I also noted where each technique appears in TLaC 2.0)  My colleague John Costello, who edited it, has added a clock in the corner so you can track these observations more easily.

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The video opens with Beth chatting very informally with her students about some TV commercials and the rhetorical approaches they took. Very safe, very comfortable, very warm.

Scene 1: 22 seconds Beth transitions quickly to a very simple What to Do (Technique 57) direction–“I want to see directions from yesterday on your desk.”  It’s simple, clear, observable and concrete. There’s just one step. Everyone does it right away.

Though she maintains the warmth of her demeanor, notice that she’s also using aspects of Strong Voice (Technique 56) to ensure her students’ follow through, most notably “Economy of Language.”  After her directions at :22 second she doesn’t say anything else for about ten seconds. No other stray verbiage to distract their attention.  There’s one clear task, framed in precise language with the minimum number of words.

Scene 2: 46 seconds Beth says: “Do a quick double check. In the top right hand corner, make sure your name is there.” Again a super clear What to Do direction; again that Economy of Language from Strong Voice. There’s not a bit of additional verbiage while they are following through.  This shows that their completing her directions is still foremost in her mind. And she augments this by some Be Seen Looking (Technique 51): she scans the classroom visibly after giving her directions (at :50 on the clock) to remind them that 1) she looks to see if they follow through, and 2) she cares whether they follow through.

Scene 3: 58 seconds. Another simple, clear, observable, and concrete direction: “Pen, directions, chart paper.”  Again, Economy of Language. There aren’t even any verbs! The idea that she means for them to come sit near the chart paper is expressed with a gesture. This constant Economy of Language with her directions makes her seem so self-assured and clear on what she wants from them that she doesn’t have to “go all stern on them.” Space is made for her warm and thoughtful personality by her excellent technique.

Scene 4: 1:07 There’s one last perfect bit of Strong Voice as she stands by the chart paper, facing them wordlessly and not moving a muscle. It’s classic Square up/Stand still.  Message: “There is nothing on my mind, save for you completing this transition to the front of the room, and I won’t even move until I see it underway.”

This of course is the unexpected transition to the front of the room that I described in my previous post:

You’ll also see her ask her 10th graders to essentially transition (Technique 48; Engineer Efficiency) to “the carpet”—without calling it that or even having a carpet she deftly moves them up front to sit on the floor for instruction in a way that vaguely recalls the multicolored carpets of elementary classrooms. And yet in Beth’s hands, it’s perfectly natural, perfectly mature. It doesn’t feel strange or out of place. 

Scene 5: 1:35 Beth starts a countdown.  As she does so, she’s using gestures—i.e. non-verbal interventions (Technique 53) —to keep students on task and processing through the transition without distracting others or calling their attention to it.  In a last bit of skill, she cuts off her countdown at two and without a second’s delay starts in on teaching (with yet another perfect What to Do direction:  “3…2… Look at your paper from yesterday.”  Then watch how attentive they become and how quickly. Basically she can be both warm and engaging (intellectually) because her technique is strong, and it’s very clear what she wants them to do.  Her personality is brought to life through technique.

Scene 6:  2:09 Beth says: “Go to step 3. What’s our job today?” By now, that use of clear, concrete, single-step directions must be looking familiar. But now she brings in something new. She engages her students via Call and Response (Technique 34). Over the next minute or so, she engages them actively in the directions she’s giving by having them answer her questions 10 times via Call and Response.  Simple but useful. They are not sitting passively. They are actively engaging as she explains the task.  The most important round of Call and Response, then, comes at 2:17 when she “Sharpens Up” that is, she re-asks the question “what’s our job today?” because lots of kids answered the first time but everyone didn’t and for this tool to work at engaging her students in the min lesson she needs everyone joining in.  She throws in the word “everyone”—positively, subtly—between question and response and successfully sets her expectation.

Scene 7: 3:00 and 3:20 Beth also mixes in two warm and genuine Cold Calls (Technique 33)  to ask for input from two students—Oscar and Brooke—who had not raised their hands. This ensures that students stay engaged as they could be called upon to opine and contribute at any time. But cleverly these are also some of her warmest and most personable moments in the clip. Not only does she joke about teenage crushes, but she smiles as she Cold Calls and this yields up a key lesson. The times when your accountability tools are in place are often the times when you can and should be your warmest. The technique is doing the hard work so you can reinforce connections and relationships.

Notice her Pacing here by the way–the variations of  format Call and Response and Cold Call (and the occasional hand) allow her to explain the task and review the model quickly and energetically; it’s a constant quick back-and-forth. The potentially dull work of “here’s what we’re gonna do” feels fast and energetic. (Techniques 27 and 29)

Scene 8: 4:00: Finally, when she sends students off to do their work, she Checks for Understanding. Many teachers might use Self-Report here: “Everyone understand?” In that case, the answer is always yes. And usually wrong. Beth Rejects Self-Report (Technique 1) and requires students to actually respond: “What’s the first thing you’re gonna do? What’s the second thing? What questions do you have?” This is asked genuinely, with a real pause for possible questions.  And then Pacing’s favorite word to Brighten Lines (Technique 28): “Go!” and off they go.

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