Reflective Teaching Requires Humility – One Classroom Example
Reflective teaching requires humility. Sometimes we get data that challenges us to recognize and change our assumptions.
Effective teachers don’t just implement effective strategies. We value our students’ assets and plan with high expectations. We engage and observe our students to gather formative data. We use that data to humbly reflect and adapt.
Here’s a story of one humbling classroom moment of student data changing a teacher team’s approach.
Make an Inference from Evidence
Fourth graders in a Northern California classroom are filling out a graphic organizer with their inferences, text evidence, and thinking about the text. This is a linguistically-rich Tier 1 classroom. The majority of students are Latinx; more than half are Multilingual learners (MLs) who are classified as “EL.”
Four teachers, who planned the lesson together, are watching students. Each teacher sits by a different group and takes notes about what the students do. When partners discuss, observing teachers take notes on what students say as evidence of confusion, understanding, and language use.
After the lesson, teachers use the observation inquiry protocol to discuss what they saw and use their shared data for collaborative reflection and instructional change.
One observation of students stands out to me today, because we perceived it differently and wrote it differently in our notes.
Several teachers noticed that students wrote their inferences in the wrong part of the graphic organizer. The organizer we had given students was similar to the following table. The teachers noticed students were writing what they inferred in under “text evidence.”
+ My Thoughts
What conclusions do you draw from students writing inferences in the wrong place? What instructional next steps would you take to remedy this challenge? Take a moment to think about your responses before reading on.
If that was the only data I had to inform my teaching, I’d assume students were confused about the difference between text evidence and inference. I’d also make plans to model more specifically how to use this graphic organizer.
I had observed something else, however, in the same moment of the lesson: Students wrote the inference first. Some wrote it first on the right side of the organizer, where we had wanted them to write it. Some wrote it first on the left side of the organizer—in the “wrong” place, as noted earlier.
The formative data here isn’t simply that students were writing in the wrong place, but also that they were thinking of inferences quickly and before they thought of text evidence. This formative data is extremely relevant to our learning intention for students to come up with inferences about the text.
Using Data to Reflect and Adapt
In light of this new data, our team began to question the core problem to solve. Was the problem that students didn’t listen to the directions and needed reteaching in how to use the graphic organizer? Or was it that the scaffold we created—the graphic organizer—was based on a false assumption about how our students would think?
We humbly agreed it was the later. Instead of reteaching, we revised our approach. We gutted our organizer and built on the assets we observed: students could express inferences.
We co-designed different scaffolds to help them build on that strength to address a next-level learning priority: finding and using relevant text evidence to support their thinking. (Find these scaffolds in Chapter 11.3 of my Flip-to Guide for Differentiating Academic Literacy.)
Reteach or Revise?
This story is a metaphor for a common scenario in our classrooms: those moments where a scaffold or a task stumps students—not because the students need reteaching, but because the scaffold or task fails to connect to how students think, and what they already know and can do.
It made me wonder how many times I had retaught something that actually needed gutting. I remember many times of doubling down on my modeling, reteaching students how to do what I asked and, admittedly, doing so with a declining level of patience for students I perceived as failing to follow directions. I’ve been there. It’s the wrong path entirely, built on an assumption that if students struggle the problem is theirs and they need more supports.
It takes a different kind of observation, and a deep humility, to see the data that challenges our assumptions. This work takes intention, as it requires actually working against the way our brains our wired.
Stay tuned for the next blog post: Improvement Science Meets Brain Science.