Reflections from TDG 2017

Thank you to Linda Cooper Foreman and the entire Teachers Development Group team for once again creating an exceptional learning experience for all. As always, we are leaving TDG’s Leadership Seminar grateful for the participants’ energy and engagement as they grappled with and provided insights into our “rough draft” thinking.

Throughout this year’s conference, we repeatedly reflected on how much our thinking develops each year we attend, and we heard participants communicate the same idea. It’s not coincidence that the cohesive conference and thoughtful design position participants and speakers to learn deeply about current ideas and push their own thinking.

At TDG, presenters have the right to share work in its earliest of stages and participants have the right to try on, challenge and question that work. Thank you Amanda Jansen for setting this tone in your opening plenary.

Here are a few (current!) thoughts about the three sessions we led, what we learned, and some resources for those who were not there.

Critique and Construct: An Instructional Routine. Last year at TDG, we shared the process we’ve used to write instructional routines, and asked participants to test drive that design process to begin outlining a routine that develops math practice 3—Construct Viable Arguments and Critique the Reasoning of Others. (Thank you Mike Shaughnessy for pushing us to turn our attention to this important mathematical practice!) We considered the various outlines last year’s groups produced and over the past year drafted the instructional routine, Critique and Construct. We brought the draft routine back this year for participants to experience and provide targeted feedback.

Little did we know that, during the plenary before our session Kristen Bieda would frame how developing students’ capacity to justify serves to create equity in mathematics classrooms. Ideas she shared permeated our session as participants highlighted aspects of the routine that support ALL students to take on the role of mathematical authority in the classroom.

 After our session, we had the opportunity to learn more about and try out some of the discourse routines Elham Kazemi and Kendra Lomax shared during their plenary. These ‘intentional talk’ routines support student discussion of solution strategies and have us thinking more about ways in which discourse is facilitated in our emerging routine, Critique & Construct.

We are grateful for both lenses on the MP3 routine we shared. We left with a sense of urgency to refine this routine and share it more broadly. We revised the routine on the plane ride home based on participant feedback and will try it out with middle grades students this week. Stay turned for more about what we learn! Here are the powerpoints from the session. Still working on a name for the routine – how does Decide and Defend sound? Let us know your thoughts!

Using Routine Rehearsals to Transform Teaching Practices. This session grew out of a working hypothesis we have, namely that teaching students to think and reason mathematically means, for many teachers, taking up new teaching practices. Additionally, we think that helping teachers expand their repertoire of instructional moves means expanding our professional learning practices to include lesson rehearsal. We think providing teachers with regular opportunities to try, rethink, and retry new teaching moves in-the-moment is an effective way to build new teaching muscles. Because instructional routines are designed to be repeated, in our opinion, they are the perfect rehearsal vehicles for developing new teaching practices.

We were lucky to have Nataliya Paquette, Sonja Kuokannen, and Donna Sorilla from Lexington Public Schools join us in presenting this session. Nataliya and Sonja rehearsed live, in real-time, during the session so that participants could experience a rehearsal first hand. All three talked about their experience leading rehearsals with the teachers in their district. Participant reflections underscored the power of rehearsals. In particular they pointed to the value of trying out new moves and having “do overs” outside of the classroom, so that students were not negatively impacted when teachers tried out a new move. Several participants raised the issue of trust and questioned what it would take to build a culture where teachers felt safe rehearsing. Others remarked that the coach’s role was not evaluative or judgmental, but rather to keep the rehearsal focused on the teacher learning goal, and provide space and structures for the rehearsant (as well as the other teachers in the rehearsal) to pause, consider alternative moves, select one, and try it. Many participants noted the value of having only the coach and rehearsant ‘stop action’ during the rehearsal to avoid all of the participants weighing in and overloading the rehearsant with a high volume of wide ranging feedback. Finally, folks underscored the importance of having a teacher practice goal to focus the rehearsal.

We test-drove a draft rehearsal planner for the coach and left thinking it should be revised to include, among other things, “ask yourself questions” for the coach.

Here are the powerpoints from the session. They include a rationale for rehearsing through instructional routines and the rehearsal planner the coach completed in preparation for the live rehearsal during the session. We would love to hear your reaction to the draft rational!

Coaching so it sticks: leveraging instructional routines to develop math teaching practices We have a hunch that there needs to be some coaching shifts in order to support significant and long lasting change in teacher practice. This is based on the work we have been doing with teachers planning for and rehearsing instructional routines, and then coaching in-the-moment when teachers are using the routines.  Our line of reasoning goes something like this…

For many teachers taking on high leverage instructional practices like the eight NCTM Mathematical Teaching Practices will require developing different teaching muscles.  For example, in order to effectively elicit and use evidence of student thinking and facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse (two of the NCTM practices) a teacher must be able to quickly scan student writing and listen in on snippets of student conversation to determine how individual students (and the class as a whole!) are making sense of the math at hand, what misconceptions and partial understanding they have, and then based on that which ideas to bring to the full group, in what order, and what connecting questions to ask.  This capacity to take in a flood of information quickly and purposefully use it to make on-the-spot strategic instructional decisions takes practice. And this practice necessitates a shift in coaching support.

The traditional coaching structure –pre-conference, observation, and debrief — is effective when teachers are trying out a new classroom structure or resource or in helping teachers reflect on their practice. However, developing a new teaching habit — especially one that requires building a different teaching muscle– must be coached in real time.  To help teachers build new teaching muscles, coaching will need to become more in-the-moment than after-the-fact; and it will need to become routine.

Instructional routines are indispensable coaching tools not just because their repeatable structure invites the formation of habits, but also because their consistent lesson design allows for a focus on the complexities of teaching rather than the logistics of the lesson, and invites collaborative learning. Coaching through an instructional routine allows everyone – the teacher, their colleagues, and the coach– to walk into any coaching session ready to immediately begin working on the crux of the lesson — the mathematics, how students make sense of it, and how the teacher supports that sense making.

During the session participants had a common experience in the instructional routine, Contemplate then Calculate. We then asked participants to dip into a C then C planning session focusing on anticipating student thinking. When participants reflected on the experience they underscored the fact that they could “just jump right to thinking about the math and student thinking”; that because of the routine we didn’t use precious planning time on what the lesson would look like because we already knew the routine. Participants tried their hand at rehearsing annotating student thinking in-the-moment. Even with just two passes at annotating, participants reported getting better/more comfortable with annotation. Because everyone rehearsed at the same time, we could see that coaching through rehearsal helps engages all participants in the learning and thereby brings coaching to scale.

Lastly, we talked about the added value of coaching in-the-moment (versus the traditional preconference-observation-debrief model). The team from Lexington shared their experience with coaching-in-the moment and the impact it has had on their work and teacher practice.

You can download powerpoints and notes from the session.

We left the session feeling confident that this hunch was worth pursuing, promising to pursue it, and report back at TDG 2018!

If you’ve never gone to the TDG Leadership Seminar, we recommend seriously considering doing so next year.

We would love to see you there. In the mean time, check out the back channel conversations that took place on #TDGMath2017 for a flavor of the conference.



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