Constant, Quick Interactions are Key
In the restaurant business, there is a practice called ‘touching tables’ where the manager or owner walks around to every patron to quickly assess how they’ve enjoyed the dining experience. By using the steps in the cycle above (or any similarly constructed steps) it allows you to ‘touch tables’ and offer immediate, quick help, and immediate, quick feedback. Kids have way less a chance of falling days, weeks, months, and years behind when you realize they’re behind after five minutes.
The optimal word above is ‘quick.’ Don’t spend the entire six minutes with one student or you miss the big picture. Instead, notice the student’s issue and direct her to where she can find the answer she needs -- like a direction sheet, a bulletin board with helpful tips, the guided notes, a practice worksheet, the smart kid who buries his nose in Manga books every free minute, etc. From a management perspective, spending six minutes with your face down in a student’s paper means you can’t see the other 95% of students, and no matter how engaging your lesson is, that’s a recipe for behavioral disaster. An easy way to avoid spending too much time with any one student during this time is to always make forward progress. Never stop moving. This forces your interactions to last no longer than the space of time it takes to slowly walk by a desk. I used the same technique during my college life when designated-driving humans home from a party. Forward motion, when coupled with the positive consequence of getting home, and threatened with the negative consequence of not getting home, created a perfect storm for drunkies filing well-behavedly into my two-door, hatchback Ford Focus, and later, into my two-door, way-awesomer, Cadillac Eldorado.
More constructively, point out that a student hasn’t indented their paragraphs yet. Don’t make them fix it above, but ask that they fix it for the rest of the writing process. Notice that a math student has made simple errors in calculation each time, but has employed the rest of the algorithm perfectly, and prompt that he take a bit more time, or offer a calculator to assist him in the basic maths because he is so accomplished at the more-important processes. Notice that the social studies student has only used evidence from three documents and she needs to use six, and recommend the easiest document to read and access, to which she has yet to refer.
Small feedback like this seems intuitive, but unless you structure time to be free and to touch tables as a teacher, you never have a chance to give this kind of feedback. By keeping it small and simple, it’s easy for kids to fix their issues immediately, and without undue distraction from the major task.
Touching tables and constant, quick interactions are what structures the examples and nonexamples you share with students, which in turn, keeps instruction authentic. For more information, see ‘Creating Experts’ in the Specialty section later. Take a moment to quickly share (with permission) some of the fantastic work your students have done and anonymously share some of the simple mistakes you’ve seen. Follow this protocol for both academic and behavioral expectations, and you can greatly minimize distractions, and greatly increase engagement.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.