No perfect instructional strategies

I read Donna Fry’s post ( this evening, and as a result I reflected on my practice as a central resource teacher. It also brought to mind an experience I had a number of years ago when I worked as the Special Assignment Teacher for Numeracy with our board. The math teacher in me cringes at the emphasis that people (including math teachers) place on memorization in math, instead of modelling and problem solving. And many math teachers think that they can learn the formula for teaching (you know, the approach used by their teachers).

One of the most powerful moments I had in supporting math teachers was with an LTO who was struggling with engagement in her Applied class. I observed her class for a period, and we had a reflective conversation afterwards. Based on her own perception of her class and her teaching, I suggested she try getting the students to work through the next day’s planned problems in small groups and on chart paper. She was concerned about the behaviours in the room, and didn’t think students would work well together. She didn’t have chart paper in the department, so I brought some for her. She was uncomfortable, but was willing to give it a shot, as nothing else she had tried had proven effective.

I couldn’t be there for the lesson itself, but I spoke with her afterwards about it. She told me that she was stunned at their level of engagement, and that they were even excited to share their solutions with each other. I congratulated her on trying out a new strategy, and told her it was great to hear that the students were engaged.

A month later, I spoke with her again. She told me that she was discouraged, because the students only responded to the “chart paper activity” a couple of times before they were just as disengaged as before. She thought we had stumbled across the perfect instructional strategy for that class, and was frustrated that it didn’t always work. I kicked myself for not pushing to stay more regularly involved, because she had fallen into a common trap.

There is no formula, there are only models and approaches and careful consideration of all of the factors involved. Each concept, each skill, is a new problem to be solved, both for teachers as instructors (determining which strategies will work well for this concept, with these students, on this day) and for students as learners (developing understanding of the concept, and of themselves as learners).

So we need to reflect, talk to others, and learn as much as possible about our practice. As we do, we should also share that understanding with others, to support them as they develop, and to invite feedback, which we can use to improve our own practices.

Thanks to Donna for a great post, and for an excuse to ramble, tell a story, and soapbox a little. :)