Saturday, September 11, 2010

Leverage Point Series: Get the Creative Ink Flowing

All other leverage points in this series are dependent on the first: Get the creative ink flowing. Whether activating prior knowledge, comparing and contrasting, or developing an engaging curiosity in a struggling reader, if you want classroom change, you have to let teachers roll up their sleeves and plan materials that become the new change.

Rather than a teacher learning a new strategy, if we were talking about someone learning to paint, no one would argue how illogical it would be for the new painter to learn to paint without painting. We easily understand the value of the new painter mixing color, taking brush in hand, carefully loading it with paint, and feeling the pressure of the strokes on canvas. However imperfect the young painter is at applying the new strokes, feeling and seeing key elements of painting come together is invaluable to achieving a sense of predictability and control in the art and craft.

Our teachers’ canvases are their “materials of practice”, and yet we ask them to learn new teaching without working on their canvases all the time. I’m not talking about units, curriculum maps, or even lessons; I’m talking about materials of practice ready to use in classrooms that define instruction, that define a research-based moment of classroom instruction.

Sometimes a lack of time and budgets force us into sending a large group of teachers into a room so they can listen to the latest great idea; but however challenging, we must find a way to get the creative ink flowing. Like through the hand of the young painter, there is no replacing the experience of a teacher with pen in hand breathing life into a new strategy as elements of instruction are aligned in the materials they use. Quality requires this creative ink.

While designing materials (evidence of good teaching), content is clarified and aligned to objectives, flow becomes focused as teachers turn to each other to clarify ideas, teachers think through good beginning, middle, and ends of lessons. However imperfect, teachers begin to see themselves and their students succeeding in the new strategy as revisions and plans take form. They are designing predictability and control into the art and craft of teaching.

I’ve heard the best of teaching shared and explored around the development of classroom materials. Yet, too often teachers attend workshops on a new strategy, and then they are expected some time in the future to make the strategy appear in their practice. Rarely does this happen. What usually happens is the best intensions to "finish later" are quickly consumed by the relentless flow of other ideas and priorities. In the blink of an eye good intentions become faded memories.

We must support teachers creating and talking about classroom materials that are the new strategy. These materials help develop students who read, write, and think - they model to students how to comprehend, articulate, and organize clear ideas.

We have to be more relentless than our challenges; we have to make time for teachers to collaborate around materials of practice. You’ll see later that these same materials set the stage for analyzing student work samples.