TECHNIQUE 13: Stretch It
Technique 13 is a combination of obvious ideals, some really practical teaching strategies and the unrequited promise of intriguing yet undefined ethos. The idea behind ‘Stretch It‘ is simply that once teacher and student have established an “all-the-way-right” (see technique 12), response, the student is then expected to expound upon his or her answer; providing more insight and application with a follow-up question (a How? or Why?). This allows for the learning process to continue. The Obvious: The notion that learning is never done is implied, hopefully, in every classroom. A consistent habit of asking more in depth or challenging questions, building upon the initial question, “stretching it” seems like an excellent habit indeed. The text provides 4 basic, scripted teacher/student scenarios; a feature of this text that I really like; “mock case studies”.
- Ask How or Why
- Ask for Another Way to Answer
- Ask for a Better Word or Evidence
- Ask Students to Integrate a Related Skill
Here are 2 scripted scenarios from the text.¹:
- Teacher: How would you describe Dr. Jone’s personality? What traits is he showing?
- Student: He’s spiteful.
- Teacher: And spiteful means?
- Student: Spiteful means that he’s bitter and wants to make other people unhappy.
- Teacher: OK, so read me two sentences from the story that show us that Dr. Jone’s is spiteful.
- Teacher: Who can use the work stride in a sentence?
- Student: “I can stride down the street”
- Teacher: Can you add some detail to show more about what stride means?
- Student: “I stride down the street to buy some candy at the store”
- Teacher: Add an adjective to modify street.
- Student: “I stride down the the wide street to buy some candy at the store”
- Teacher: Good. Now add a compound subject to your sentence.
- Student: “My brother and I stride down the wide street to buy some candy at the store.”
- Teacher: And can you put that in the past tense?
- Student: “My brother and I strode down the wide street…..”
The teacher here is, actually, asking the same student to respond to three different questions/tasks. The key, as described by Lemov, is to be fluid to ask one question right after another, seamlessly. Not interrupting the flow of the lesson by “announcing” that another question has to be answered and making this type of “series” of seemingly natural questions a consistent part of the classroom culture is part of the technique ‘Stretch It‘.
The Good Stuff: What I really do like about TLAC techniques is that many of them are connected to some sort of physical motion or repetitive verbal cue. ‘Stretch It’, when used consistently, should also be paired with a hand gesture and a verbal command. I love this stuff. Very similar to referee or aircraft marshalling signals. Once the signal and verbal cue and have been introduced and practiced with students; ideally, they would know, on cue to elaborate,”say more”,or ‘Stretch It‘ after seeing and hearing these suggested commands:
Non-verbal: “Traveling gesture” paired with Prompt-Nondirective:”Develop“.
Non-verbal: “Move ahead” paired with Prompt-Partially directive: “Tell me more”
The essential point of the pre-establishment of prompts and signals with students is to diminish the “transaction cost” or the amount of time taken to ask more of a student, to ascertain students’ level of comprehension and then smoothly, in order to determine level of mastery, employ a final directive follow up question, such as: “What evidence tells you that?”. As Lemov commiserates, “As the buzzing of our electronic devices constantly proves, even a few seconds’ distraction is enough to break the spell of deep thinking. The absolute simplicity of prompting is critical…”(p.113)¹. The ability to differentiate instruction through the use of ‘Stretch It‘ is possible as well. In addition to differentiated instruction, this technique also gives students the opportunity to develop the skills for building and supporting strong arguments.
The Vague Promises: Much of the pedagogy behind Stretch It purports to create an ethos where the student inclined to respond to challenging questions eagerly, positively, in fact, “as a reward”! “Stretch It can help build a culture where students want, expect and relish challenge, and where they perhaps embrace a growth mindset…it lets you give students exciting ways to push ahead…”,(p.108)¹ Even a separate category: Make Stretch It Fun and Transparent“; which catches the readers eye, yet this section does not describe any one single strategy or technique towards how on might render Stretch It “fun and transparent”. When pedagogy starts promising the Moon, it’s time to have a nice hot cup of Reality. I wish the text provided actual, specific steps or “tools” for how to create Sublime Entertainment; when in fact, there aren’t any presented in this section. Students do love “challenges”, some times from a place of intrinsic motivation, more often than not the reward that inspires is extrinsic. Ideally, an ethos if wanting to “take it further” could be nurtured and developed in any classroom. And that is what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? Champion teaching?