TECHNIQUE 1: Reject Self-Report
Chapter One of Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹, ‘Gathering Data on Student Mastery’ is part of a larger section, Check For Understanding, or CFU. As a data driven approach to sculpting teaching strategies and techniques, Chapter One presents 6 techniques on how to efficiently gather observable, objective and collective data from students during classroom instruction. As opposed to relying on formative data, test scores, or even data derived from short written quizzes or individual performance on homework assignments, the 6 techniques in from Chapter One encourage teachers to consistently have a working knowledge of students’ understanding of material they are in the process of learning.
Technique 1: Reject Self-Report. This initial technique suggests a negative stimulus/response of sorts, in that the educator needs to eradicate the rhetorical questions from their repertoire in the classroom. Questions like “Everyone got it?”, “Do you all understand?” “Got it?” “Are we ready to move on?”,elicit responses that are almost always a passive “yes” and invariably an inaccurate assessment of collective understanding. This type of binary questioning (yes/no) is largely viewed as a formality, by teachers and students. In terms of group dynamics, students are very unlikely and motivated to single themselves out; to avoid the embarrassment factor they will diligently nod “yes” and will rarely stop the implied momentum of instruction to explain what it is they do not understand.
On a professional, personal level, I attempted to self-monitor the prevalence of instances when I employed the above mentioned “self-report” questions in the classroom on 1/29/2016 and 2/1/2016 as a substitute teacher. On 1/29, I was substituting in a secondary level mathematics classroom. After giving students instructions of the tasks they were expected to accomplish, review behavior expectations and establishing which materials I would be collecting, I found my self, almost involuntarily asking, “Does everyone understand?”. With a little more awareness of my professional goal to “reject self-report”, as a substitute in a middle school level Spanish classroom, I found myself more attentive to varying levels of understanding among students. Again, however, it was very ingrained, almost standard verbalization, on my part, to pose the questions, “Do you understand?”. Habits are hard to break. Lemov¹ elaborates on the trouble with asking, “Got it?” and the challenge “…to root out such familiar rhetorical habits”(p.31) in the classroom, gradually students identify those questions with a natural transition point in instruction and realize that the questions themselves are not actually genuine. TLAC 2.0¹, suggests that we use the points of ‘natural transition’ in the classroom and gather valuable data on student understanding as opposed to using that time to ingenuously assess students’ understanding.
I truly love the efficiency and simple, practical solutions & strategies that Lemov has collected and presented in TLAC 2.0¹. ‘Reject Self-Report’, in my opinion is a task of Pavlovian magnitude; in reality, I think, it suggests that teachers resist the temptation to gather collective, passive data on student understanding. The alternative being that educators begin to gather data on individual students “under the guise” of a collective activity. I’ve seen many classrooms supplied with mini, individual dry erase marker boards, dozens of classrooms! I’ll try to identify why I’ve never considered using them as a tool, however, now I’m beginning to view them as an ideal tool for CFU, gathering student data, AND as a tactile, hands on “hook” to keep students engaged. Technique 1 recommends replacing the rhetorical self-report with providing students an opportunity to indicate their individual status (in terms of comprehension) in a more comfortable collective manner. This is a great video clip, of Amy Youngman, demonstrating a means to reject self-report.
The reality of implementation & $! I always like to address the practicality of initiatives in the classroom. Budget wise; Is it a practical investment? What are the actual costs? Maintenance: are these materials perennial, recyclable? A quick, comparative look at school supply companies online: 24pk. of dry erase lap boards cost approx. $25.00., 300 ct. low odor dry erase markers cost approx. $99.00. As I would double the quantity, total investment would be approximately $250.00. How affordable is this initial investment? Personally, I would feel confident about working this into my annual classroom budget.
Speaking of dollars and sense; as a reader and learner, evidence of “business” jargon and expression, and perhaps theory, are prevalent in Lemov’s text. Keeping in mind, that the charter school model of the 21st century, tends to replicate many business models. There is a generous amount of $ content in Lemov’s text. Here is a passage as Technique 1 transitions into Technique 2:
This sort of self-monitoring…requires a significant investment in time, is highly valuable, but expensive from a time perspective. For that reason, it’s important to make use of the next technique, Targeted Questioning, to replace self-report as a lower transaction cost – the amount of resources allows you to save self monitoring for times when it’s most important and valuable.¹ (p. 34)
Regardless of the author’s proclivities towards corporate lexicon; within the first technique defined, I do believe I’ve encountered a radical yet simple way to integrate an extremely tactile, purposeful instructional strategy into my teaching repertoire.