Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.22.15Tales of a Positive Outlier, Part 3: Nicole Willey’s Show Call (Video)

If you’ve seen the first two clips I’ve shared from Nicole Willey’s classroom at Leadership Prep Ocean Hill Elementary Academy, you’ll be thrilled to know there’s still more to come– and that the clip I’m sharing today might just be the most replicable of the batch. Nicole’s Check for Understanding was pretty killer. Her positive touch was inspiring. And they both resonate even more when you consider her results. (See first graph here).  But today’s topic, Show Call, is not only powerful and engaging but it offers a practical formula for everyday rigor. You could use it over and over again.

Here’s the idea: In effective classrooms, students get plenty of time to engage in rigorous independent work. They practice doing challenging tasks on their own, flying solo. This yields a high Participation Ratio—everyone is working the whole time—and a high Think Ratio—the work is challenging and requires students to process in writing—often the most demanding format in which to express an idea.

But when you say: “Take eight minutes to reflect in writing on how Scout felt about the decision…” or “Take seven minutes to solve each of these three problems,” you want to know that students will do their best work so they get the most out of the time you allot. You need, in short, a tool to make sure that students feel positively accountable when they are doing written work independently. That tool is often Show Call… a sort of visual Cold Call.

The idea is to project (on the board usually) and reflect upon the work that one or several students, whom you’ve chosen regardless of their volunteering, completed during Independent Practice.  This creates the opportunity for a rigorous conversation about real student work, the careful selection of ideal case studies for learning by the teacher, and a strong incentive for students to do their best work.

You can see that play out in Nicole’s class here.

EA.ShowCall.GR3.Willey.’Which one is right.’Clip2348 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Notice how her kids leap into independent work energetically, even happily when she prompts them, and how Nicole uses the comparison of two answers in the Show Call as an opportunity to “Excavate Error”—that is, to study it.

Here’s Nicole’s take on what she’s doing and why in her own words:

Students in my class love Show Call because it’s an opportunity for them to show off what they’re working on to their peers! Throughout the year, I try to keep a very neutral tone when presenting work to Show Call so that students don’t know if their work is up there for being right or off-track. Show Call gives students whose answers are correct a chance to explain their work and thinking and students who missed the problem an opportunity to explain how they revised thinking after the discourse. Both help to clear up misconceptions for all students in the classroom. Plus, getting problems wrong is a normal part of learning and becoming a great mathematician. I message that incorrect work is just an opportunity to learn and I celebrate the growth of students after they make changes—either publicly or privately.

In this clip, the first student whose work I chose is among the scholars with the highest math scores in the class. Her work was actually the one off track, which helped to strengthen our culture around struggle and growth. Even the top kids get it wrong sometimes. The other work I chose was from Gary who at the time was scoring about in the middle of the class’ achievement spectrum. I try not to let students guess who is right just based on whose work I pick—so they really have to evaluate the piece of student work being shown and not just guess who is right based on who they think is “good at math.”

I also started off the discourse by naming some of the obvious similarities between the work so the discourse would not focus on the most superficial aspects of the student work. Then, I gave the students a chance to Turn and Talk so I could listen in on conversations and see who would be able to articulate the error. The video shows me listening to two students who sometimes struggle. I saw that one of them had the right answer and wanted to hear if she would be able to offer a strong explanation to the entire class. I also wanted to give her a chance to shine. As soon as I heard her, I jumped right into the discourse so we could squash the misconception. Before Janelle talked, I also took a poll of my students—who thought which answer was correct–so I would know who might need to follow-up due to lingering misunderstanding. At the end of the clip, I made sure to use Right is Right, checking that all scholars had the correct number sentence before moving on.      

So… the Show Call builds an incentive for best-quality written work. = It allows for the careful study of both correct and erroneous student thinking in ‘real time.’  It builds a Carol Dweck-like growth mindset—we love challenge and we’re always seeking to improve. Add to it a bit of Turn and Talk to boost the Ratio and some intentionality, like  Nicole describe s,  about building a Culture of Error—it’s normal to make mistakes and even the top students get things wrong—and you’ve got a great model that you can use day in and day out.

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