My best planning times are usually the most inopportune times when its virtually impossible, dangerous, or ridiculous for me to write down my ideas. I used to tell my former principal that I planned most of my PD while I was sleeping - which used to make him laugh, but this is a true statement! Generally when he would spring a PD on me four days before the show was supposed to go on the road, I'd stress about it for a day, go to bed, and then wake up at 3 a.m. with a plan that I would have to get up and jot down so I could sleep again. A few weeks ago, in the car on the way to work, I'd been stressing about a presentation that I had agreed to do with a colleague at the Day of Reading Conference on November 2, when I had a brilliant idea! Of course, I was driving . . . so I did what any teacher would do, I grabbed my phone and hit the voice to text button and sent her the entire plan in a voice text, which came out sort of the way I had intended, but she got the idea (although apparently I thought that we should introduce whole GRAIN teaching instead of whole BRAIN teaching . . . ).
So yesterday during a working lunch with her, I embellished on my thought - which included the idea of introducing Power Teaching to our audience. Not surprisingly, I had completely forgotten that I had even texted that to her. I love technology for this reason - how many ideas of mine would have flown out my open car window that morning had I not had the option to voice text her?
I digress . . .
A little over a year ago, a respected colleague of mine introduced me to Power Teaching - one of the most engaging and entertaining ways to present, in my opinion. This video is a brilliant illustration of a few of the fun and engaging strategies.
Want more? Just google Chris Biffle and whole brain teaching, and you'll get a ton of fantastic ideas as to how you can make these strategies work for you!
So after discussing the idea of power teaching with my colleague yesterday, I started to realize that the bits and pieces of information that were being "taught" by the students to each other were similar to what Project CRISS has called the 3-minute-pause. The idea of this strategy is to break up a lesson into smaller, more manageable chunks so that our kiddos can process it and then reset for another stretch of learning. I really wish I was better about writing down important research and backing it up with evidence like we expect our students to do because my rule of thumb has always been "one minute per grade-level" - so for a sixth grader, the manageable chunk of time they can "sit and get" is about six minutes, a seventh grader can sit for about seven, and so on. I'm pretty sure I didn't just make this up, but I can't find the research to back it up. In a behavior management document published by the University of Carolina, it is reported that kids can usually pay attention for their age +1, which would be about twelve minutes for a sixth grader, thirteen for a seventh grader, and so on. My experience has been that it depends on the topic and the kids, and I'm sure that most of you would agree with me on this one. Notice that for middle school, none of those numbers are even close to forty-nine, which is our current period length, so our job is to break up that time so that we can make the most of the instruction time we have with our kiddos.
CRISS's three-minute-pause is a longer time frame than the power teaching model with a more in-depth look at the content, but the idea of breaking up the content is the same. CRISS values the idea that students should restate what they've learned, similar to Biffle's power teaching, but CRISS specifically asks students to make connections with the content, ask questions, or identify something that was particularly interesting to them. Using a combination of power teaching and the three-minute-pause could be pretty powerful if planned and implemented well.
Whatever your time specification - know that once your kiddos start to sign off, there is no more learning going on, so the more often you can get them to engage in the content, process it, discuss it, apply it, write about it, and reset - the more content they will internalize. Biffle stops so often that my head starts to spin after about three minutes, but his illustration is one for teaching teachers how to use the strategies, and it is truly effective! You have to make them your own. What I love about his teaching method is the predictability of what is expected along with the validation that quick pace and discussion are important for learners at the middle and high school level. Its classroom management and content management wrapped into one strategy, and it is beautiful.