By Tim Shanahan 2016
I’ve been reading your blog articles very carefully, and in one entry you recommended having the kids read a lot during the literary block time (and all other subjects), suggesting possibly 50% of the time should be spent reading. My question is how much of that reading time should be teacher-led (for close reading and complex text), and how much should be just independent work?
All of the school reading time—or almost all of it—should be teacher-led. Kids are sent to school to learn things. Teachers are paid to teach things. There is no question that kids can learn things on their own. However, then one wouldn’t need a school or a teacher for that.
Kids don’t learn as much on their own as when provided with explicit teaching. Hence we pay you to teach the kids. If you send them off to learn on their own instead, you reduce the benefit kids get from schooling.
The trick is to use the school day effectively to guide kids to learn as much as possible, and then to entice them to continue on their own when they don’t have a teacher available to guide them (after school, before school, weekends, summers, etc.).
How close this interaction or supervision needs to be is an open question. If a teacher scaffold’s kids half way through a story, and then has them finish reading the story on their own, perhaps followed by some kind of written response, is that teacher guided or independent, or both?
My sense of that is that, even though the kids are sitting someplace separate from the teacher for the second part of that lesson, it would be a teacher-guided activity. It was the teacher who assigned the text, got kids engaged, focused their attention on key elements through questions and other directions, and then who, even though the kids were going off to work, had focused their attention on the writing outcome.
That is very different from those situations in which kids pick reading materials themselves, go off and read on their own—with neither guidance nor supervision (e.g., observation, feedback)—and without outcomes to focus the activity (e.g., the discussion, the writing response).
Or what about the teacher who has developed a sequence of instruction comparable to reciprocal teaching? The series of lessons might have started out with the teacher doing almost everything; perhaps demonstrating how one can interrogate a text. The ensuing lessons would likely be under teacher control, too; these are the “we do its.”
But what about the “you do its” or the “you do it togethers?” At that point, the students have watched the teacher carry out the activity, and would have engaged in questioning too, though under the teacher’s supervision. Now what if she has 3 or 4 groups each trying to work there way through a text, asking and answering certain kinds of questions. Or maybe it is individual assignments and the kids are reading, coming up with questions for each section, and recording these questions and answers in their notebook?
An observer who parachutes in for those last lessons might think them very independent and far outside of teacher control, but I would disagree. Because of the context that the teacher created, those kids would simply be mastering the skills the teacher was teaching. Looking at the entire sequence of lessons, it would be more obvious that the teacher was actually still guiding the process and enhancing the learning.
Again, kids definitely can and do learn on their own. The purpose of teaching is to focus that learning on socially determined outcomes and to make learning more efficient and powerful.
Good teaching activities are going to have kids very much under teacher leadership. Sometimes specific lessons might require students to work away from the teacher, in a manner that allows the teacher to observe and to provide feedback.
Giving assignments alone is not teaching. But giving assignments—even those that require kids to work on their own—are a part of teaching, if there is scaffolding, explanation, direction, purpose setting, opportunity for feedback or adjustment, and the like. Don’t look for opportunities for kids to do independent work, but look instead, to figure out the combination of activities and guidance that will allow students to accomplish particular learning goals most effectively.
The ultimate goal is for kids to be able to do, on their own, what they are being taught to do. Kids eventually have to be able to demonstrate that they can carry out whatever the task is or that they have acquired the requisite knowledge. What combination of activities will allow them to accomplish such outcomes with maximum efficiency?
With activities like reciprocal teaching, we often talk as if the progress from “I do it” to “we do it” to “you do it” is a linear path (and one that may suggest two-thirds of the time–the “I” and the “we”–should be directly and immediately under teacher control, with one-third for the somewhat more distant independent work). It doesn’t really work that way. I might demonstrate the skill to the kids and then try to guide their efforts. Those efforts might be terrific in which case I have made a great choice, or they might be feeble in which case it would make more sense for me to demonstrate yet again. The same kind of thing happens when the teacher tries to have the kids do the task on their own: they might struggle and the teacher may find she needs to re-intervene.
The proper division of time between teacher-led and independent is unknowable, because it depends on the kids. Their performance will lead you to either conclude that they have mastered the skills/knowledge or that they haven’t; and pulling back to teacher-led activities might be the right response if they haven’t. Of course, if they have, you should be moving forward to teach something else.
Reprinted with permission from the author. Tim Shanahan is a member of the CDL Professional Advisory Board.