Friday, May 20, 2016

Follow-up Probes: How I Grew This Year

10th graders discuss A Midsummer Night's Dream

As a kid I promised myself I would never be a teacher. It seemed so dull to do the same thing over and over every year. Little did I understand that enormous adventure of teaching is that even if the content and skills are the same, the students are different, and I am always challenging myself to get better. It's looking at every student and saying, "How can I help this child grow this year?" Every year I get a chance to say...
  • That worked well. How can I do more of it?
  • That didn’t work so well. What can I change?
  • What can I learn that I don’t know now?

My 10th graders just wrapped up their unit “Finding Love” based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a unit I love and have been teaching and tweaking for many years. The presentation did not go as well as it usually does—I’ll have to think about what went awry and how to fix it next year. Other than that, the unit went well—the readers’ theaters, journals (see below), nonfiction background readings, discussions, movie watching, and final essay (letter from their current “rational” self to their future “in love” self using sources from this unit to guide wise decision making regarding the relationship). It is so fun to be the coach who gives students the tools and opportunity for interpreting challenging text to find the artistry and truth, and then to stand back and watch them gaining confidence and competence and insight.

A 10th grade journal on A Midsummer Night's Dream

It is also fun to see myself getting more consistent with a good teaching practice: follow-up probes. After committing to this to some colleagues with whom I was reading Understanding by Design, I made a copy of these follow-up probes (p. 249) and carried them around in a plastic sleeve on top of my pile of books. I read them over between classes. And I actually found myself, when getting excited about a student insight, remembering to contain my comments and instead use follow-up probes to elicit more student thinking.

Follow-up probes:
  • Why?
  • How do you know?
  • Explain.
  • Do you agree?
  • What do you mean by ___?
  • Could you give an example?
  • Tell me more.
  • Give your reasons.
  • But what about ___?
  • Can you find that in the text?
  • What data supports your position?

You see, what happens when I respond to a student insight with my excited follow-up comments is that I shut down student thinking. How? I tell myself that I’m modeling a good response, but imagine the opposite. The student comment is vague or off-track. Then I pause and respond with follow-up probes. Generally in my class prior to this, a follow-up probe signaled the wrong answer. Then more thinking had to happen. But a good answer—even a shot in the dark—was rewarded with the teacher giving all the thinking background. 

I got better this unit. Next year, I’m going to carry that list with me everywhere. Maybe put it on an anchor chart for students to use with each other, too. Hey, there’s a good idea! I love the feeling of growing!

What’s something you got better at this year?

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