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Teacher to Teacher: Calling on Our Wisdom

By Lynne R. Dorfman

When the end of the school day comes, we often see teachers dragging themselves to the parking lot with bookbags and laptops and papers galore. They are tired – they’ve worked hard from the moment they stepped into their classrooms until beyond the final bell. They love their profession – the students, their peers, the challenges. But what about the students?  They burst through the doors, running and jumping and calling to friends. They still abound with energy. “It’s a question of age,” you say. “They are youthful – this is to be expected.”  But is this the reason for their energy?

Are students putting as much effort into the learning day as their teachers?  If we take a closer look into classrooms, we often see the teacher explaining, modeling, offering solutions, taking the lead, and providing resources. Students are capable of all these things and more. Instead of teachers pulling kids up the mountain, sometimes carrying them on their back, students can work together (sometimes, with a little guidance of gentle nudges from the teacher) and have conversations on many levels. These conversations can be about interesting areas of inquiry, books that serve as mentor texts, and making the classroom environment more efficient and user friendly – anything that will help move the entire learning community forward. Conversations focus on solving problems, and students, together with the teacher as facilitator, can arrive at a new level of learning.

Our goal of education is to produce students with the ability to evaluate, discuss, and apply what they know. If we expand from our traditional model, we can create classrooms where everyone is a teacher and a learner.  Wisdom is at the heart of this framework, and knowledge is at the head. Our job is calling on our wisdom to apply what we know to be true and what we value as educators and learners.

Teaching is as much about watching as it is about instructing and assessing. Remember Ken and Yetta Goodman’s focus on “kidwatching” and all that it implied? In fact, a large part of our job is to watch, to listen closely, to notice and note!  What kidwatching meant was asking ourselves a set of questions such as the following:

  • What do I notice?
  • What could the student(s) work on?
  • Where do I go next?
  • How can I get there?

In Brenda Krupp’s third grade classroom, the students talked about solutions to a common problem in many workshop settings: noise vs. quiet time. The students grouped themselves in pairs, or threes and fours, and explored the classroom. They took some notes and made some sketches. After five minutes of talk, Brenda asked for a whole group share. Brenda recorded their thoughts on an anchor chart and honored each contributor by placing his name after his comment. In this way, Brenda was also able to reflect on who was doing the talking and who was silent, how her students solved problems, what they knew to be true of writing workshop, and what they wanted to honor during this special time of day. Here are some of their ideas:

1. Use the carpet if you want to talk about your stories. (Tammy & Audrey)

2. Make a poster to display writing time when no one should be talking. (Turner)

Comments: “How much time for that? Maybe five minutes? (Tim)
“I think more time is needed. Ten minutes.” (Waylon)

3. If you are having a conference, use the library area. (Sophia)

Comments: “I think only two people at a time. It’s not a big area.” (Sophia)
“I think you can get two conference pairs in that space.” (Dan)
“We should test it out.” (Bryce)

4. We can make some of the tables “quiet” tables for conferences. (Jax)

Comment: “We could label them so we know where to go without asking Mrs.
Krupp.” (Claire)

5. There could be one table for publishing your work. (Ryan)

Comment: “We could keep scissors, glue, colored pencils, paper, & markers
there in a box.” (Krissh)

Brenda had called on her wisdom – she let the students work together to solve the problem. She was the “kidwatcher.” The students used their knowledge of workshop and prior experiences to imagine the possibilities. And since the students created the plan for the physical environment, they were committed. At first, the students sometimes walked closer to the anchor chart to review the physical plan. Soon, they didn’t need it anymore. The workshop was humming with the whisper of voices, the scratch-scratch of pencils traveling across yellow note pads, and the purr of notebook pages turned and read.

How do you use your wisdom and knowledge to help your students reach a new level of learning?

References: Dorfman, L. & Dougherty, D. (2017) A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Writers with Formative Assessment, K-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Lynne Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow. Through PAWLP, she has met so many wonderful educators and students.  Lynne learned so much from being a kidwatcher and a Lynne and Einsteinmaster-teacher watcher while writing A Closer Look. A big thank you to Brenda Krupp, a co-director of PAWLP, and her third graders. Wisdom, commitment, and collaboration helped to create a new level of learning and engagement in her writing workshop and throughout the school day.


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