Yesterday, my dad and I had a date to do something we both love --- antiquing. In the large pole barn smattered with an incredible assortment of timeless relics, tasteless trash, and unique furniture we were surrounded by a gaggle of auctioneers. Each one babbling as only auctioneers can and hooked to microphones only 15 feet from the next bidding ring, I found myself reeling from the noise and thinking that I couldn't think... That gave me pause.
Flags, candlesticks, wicker chairs, chests, tables, pie safes, bookshelves, highchairs, chalkboards, paintings, glassware, rugs. Stained glass windows, chairs, sconces, gumball machines, wooden bowls, Pyrex, depression glass, mirrors. The bids and auctioneers' calls all blended together in one cacophonous display. After a while, it just became white noise to me; I heard nothing distinguishable. I made the hubbub disappear.
An analogy began formulating in my spectator's mind --- are the minilessons we create and deliver just noise sometimes for our students? Do they figure out how to make teachers' voices disappear?
Lately, I've been doing lots of thinking about what makes a minilesson sticky. Work Ruth Ayres' shared with my district begins the mental parade, followed by Shanna Schwartz's A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick, K-5 (which, incidentally, is chock full of practical goodness). We know for our teaching to stick to our writers we must consider:
- Student readiness --- Does my teaching point contain a big skill (something they would see if a published book) with a small tip (an easy way to approximate what they're seeing from adult writers)? Is it the next thing on on their skill ladders? Is my teaching point related to skills/strategies my writers are using but confusing (in other words, fits nicely into their zones of proximal development)? To keep my students with me, I must give them exactly what they need when they need it.
- Rich repetition --- Am I connecting this teaching point to the writing work students are already doing? Am I continuing within a predictable minilesson structure? Do I restate my teaching point six times over its course? Do I use consistent language throughout our day? If so, I'm creating stickiness in spades.
- Visual representations --- Are my anchor charts created with my students for my students to reference? Are they in close proximity to writing students? Do I change them out once students use content with automaticity? Do I pull visuals back into my teaching and/or individualize them for specific writers?
- Enticing engagement --- Do I teach from writing produced by my students, by us as a class, by me as their mentor writer? Do we create gestures together that are meaningful nonverbals? Do I incorporate role playing as a strategy to spur writing with heart and voice? Do I pull in authentic resources that resonate with my writers?
The noises around me changed --- it wasn't just sound and fury anymore. They became sticky and followed quite nearly each principle above. As I engaged. my surroundings became rich.
You know, I'm not so different from my students. The auction will show up in my mind's eye each time I sit down to plan a minilesson.