As principal, I have the honor of observing classroom lessons to learn about instruction and student motivation. This week I was able to directly see the positive impact that specific and direct modeling had on student performance in a 4th grade math lesson by Jesse Raines (@Mr_Raines on Twitter). His lesson’s objective was for students to be able to identify and explain geometric transformations of rotation, reflection, and translation. Read more to see examples and why it matters to much to have such clear expectations for learning and how that worked in his lesson.
Jesse did a really great job in this lesson in having clear objectives, specific and direct instruction, fun movement-based strategies, and modeling that was very explicit and visual which I broke apart below with visuals. Many studies have shown that effective direct instruction by the teacher is one of the number one ways to ensure increased student performance. I believe that many teachers consider direct instruction with mini-lessons as easy and don’t plan enough for them. But when they are done right, the ‘first instruction’ (or the first time that the students have received the content) is so powerful that it reduces the need for remediation and has a much higher guarantee of student success on that objective. Basically, don’t wing it, instead prepare and nail it.
It starts with clear objectives stated and posted for the students to read and with language that is child-friendly. In our school, every teacher, every day, posts “I can…” or “We can…” objectives for students each lesson. This is important because it should be crystal clear what you want students to learn during the lesson. Don’t make them guess! Just tell them. Then tell them again. And at the end, tell them one more time. Beat the objective over their head so they can’t miss it. Another powerful piece to this is that if the objective is posted, the chances that the teacher also understands it and knows what their goals are for instruction.
Be Precise in your Modeling
This is the biggest takeaway and something I have been preaching a lot recently. If you want your students to copy something down from the board, make sure what they are copying is easy to do. Use the same notebook they are typically using. Show them with a document camera. Make sure they pictures/words actually fit on the page in a way that children can also write, not just small print. Be specific with how many lines they should use. If you want to use color in your lesson and notebook, make sure they have the markers, crayons, or colored pencils to do the same. If they don’t have those materials, then you shouldn’t use them either. If they only have pencil, then you only use pencil. I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t make your lesson confusing or hard to follow. Tell them and show them exactly what you want and you are way more likely to get it in their notebooks. Look at a couple examples from Jesse’s class below. Every student’s notebook, including students with English as a second language, was amazing for this lesson and an exact replica of what he put on the board.
Explain & Model Using Pictures
Jesse did something for this lesson I rarely see. He used pictures taken ahead of time and put them in a slideshow to show students exactly what he wanted their tables and materials to look like during the lesson. This worked perfectly as you can imagine. Telling is one thing, but showing is a whole different animal. It’s so immensely powerful that you barely have to even give too many verbal directions. And what’s great about this, is some of the pictures are able to be repeated many times for different lessons. Want to have your room clean, your classroom library organized, or tables/desks straightened away? Have a routine like centers, writing workshop, or guided reading and each time they have a specific set of materials they need to use? Take pictures of each of those when they are in perfect, exactly how you want them. Then bring those pictures up when they need to be cleaned. What the difference in how your students react and follow through. Show them exactly what you want them to do using visuals.
Movement to Enhance Learning
In education we often talk about using movement in school, but in many cases it can take away from the the flow of the lesson. In this lesson, Jesse had student practice brief actions that aligned to the transformation being taught. The pictures below showed how students were ‘reflecting’ each other as a mirror. Notice the smiles and laughs in the picture. What was great on how he did it was that it was very brief, direct, and timely to when the transformation was being taught. It didn’t slow down or get in the way but instead enhanced the lesson and gave students a mental break from taking the notes in the notebook. If some of your lesson is direct and with notes, make sure to build in other time for kids to move and let loose for a second. It’s a like a pressure-release valve. If the kids get too tied down to their chair, they start to burst, so make sure you control how and when you can release their energy during lessons.
There are many examples of fantastic lessons. I’m going to try and do a better job of capturing exactly why they are successful. Great job Jesse Raines for your preparation and delivery of instruction!