Just as an expert restaurant chef makes use of all of the techniques–from frying, to baking to poaching to molecular cooking with liquid nitrogen– [and] tools–from paring knives to rolling pins to food processors to steam ovens [and] ingredients that [she] has at her … disposal, [that chef] has the requisite deep knowledge, skills and experience to know what to use with what as well as how and when to use them. An expert [teacher] also makes use of all of the techniques–different pedagogies and approaches to instruction and learning from lecture to computer supported collaborative learning to games/simulations, etc. [and] tools–books, whiteboards, computers, mobile devices, wet labs, and ingredients–content domain, adjunct questions, feedback, learning objectives, etc., [that teacher] has the requisite deep … pedagogical content, and technological … knowledge and skills and experience to know what to use with what as well as how and when to use them.
Professor Paul Kirschner at Open University of the Netherlands
Analogies between teachers and chefs or orchestra conductors or staff sergeants or master performers stud the literature describing effective teachers. I happen to like the different analogies because they get at how particular teachers combine the art and science of teaching, the evanescent and abiding, the simple and complex into daily lessons. When it occurs, it is a pleasure to see. And so it was when I observed three teachers in the San Mateo Union High School District in northern California a few weeks ago. The teachers invited me into their classes and gave me permission to use their names. These three posts describe the lessons I saw where teachers were like chefs (readers can choose another analogy) as they prepared and executed lessons that seamlessly integrated tablets and smart boards into English and Spanish lessons in two different schools within SMUHSD.
Sarah Press has been teaching English at Hillsdale High School since 2007. With about 1,400 students of whom 94 percent graduate, about 60 percent are minority and less than 20 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch (common poverty measure), Hillsdale High School had adopted nearly 15 years ago the small “learning community” model and sub-divided itself into six “houses.” Press is in Florence House. Working closely with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, the school had established a reputation for academic excellence and innovation for both students and teachers. When I asked the district coordinator for exemplars of technology integration he recommended Sarah Press. I emailed her and she invited me into her 50-minute class for January 25, 2016.
Press and a colleague next door who teaches U.S. history share the same 100 students. The two teachers integrate the content of both English and history for most of units and projects they do. For the lesson I observed, Press had planned two activities (for an overview of her Freshman and Sophomore English classes, see here)
As the 23 students enter the smaller-than-usual classroom, each picks up a Chromebook from a cart next to the door and went to their desks. The desks are in rows facing a puled down screen with daily agenda on it. The teacher’s desk is at the side of the room and in the rear where I am sitting, there is a comfy couch that can sit at least 4 people. On the walls are students’ work, photos of previous classes, inspirational quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., reminders of books they have read, and lists of key concepts (e.g., motif, oxymoron) used in English lessons. On the back wall is a list of questions students generated to delve into the “housing crisis” in Northern California. Title above research questions is “We Want To Know.”
She had placed slide of agenda for the day on front screen*:
- Apostrophe Review
- Fact Finding Reminders
–Presentation of Projects during block schedule Friday
–Product update: Maximum time for presentation and speaking notes
–guest speaker tomorrow—means less research time to work on project presentation
- Work time on project (about housing in the Bay area–see below)
- In your groups, check what each person does,figure out how to assess progress in completing project, delegate who does what, and assign homework
- Office hours today. Come and get caught up.
The room is crowded, students open their Chromebooks, as Press launches into review of apostrophes. Press gives students a link and they take a quick quiz on use of apostrophe. Then after five minutes of students filling in answers to questions, she clicks on her laptop and slide appears with student results for each question. Seventy-eight percent of class got all items correct. She then focuses on particular questions where students erred and with a quick back-and-forth between her and students, re-taught correct use of apostrophe. All of this took about 15 minutes.
Press then asks students to close “lids” partway and goes over tasks students have to complete prior to presentation. Each group had asked specific questions about the housing “crunch” in the Bay area and the presentation was their solution to it. She then asks students to move into their groups, pointing to agenda for the day, and have each group work on project answering the questions they asked (for each group’s research questions, see here).
For the remainder of the period, each group, at different stages of preparing for presentation and completing the project, worked away. To answer their particular housing question, each group had collected documents, interviewed different people, and sifted newspaper and web articles. Everything about the project was on their Chromebook. Press went up and down the aisles asking and answering questions and checking on each group’s progress on different tasks.
Every five minutes, I would scan the class to see which students were off-task, uninvolved, or simply staring into space. Each time I checked, I saw, perhaps one or two students, in each instance different ones, who appeared off-task. Of course, I could not tell for sure.
Three minutes before the buzzer sounded ending the class, Press calls for students’ attention–“eyeballs up here,” she says. She reminds class that each group decides what to do next, assigns work on presentation, and figures out homework for each member of group. A few students ask questions and she answers them crisply. Buzzer sounds. Students return Chromebooks to cart and leave class, some going next door and others to Chemistry and Math classes.
For content of Press’s daily lessons including this one, see here.