Sunday, August 17, 2014

Time on the Bike: An Analogy for Teaching and Learning

This summer has just been amazing. I attended several professional development trainings and had time to read several books. I’ve done a LOT of processing and thinking and re-thinking, but one analogy described at a particular training has stuck with me.

Nancy Motley, an amazing presenter and also the author of Talk Read Talk Write, came to speak to us about acquiring academic language and to describe the techniques provided in the book 38 Great Academic Language Builders. Although her entire presentation was fabulous and filled with great information and strategies, her introduction made my wheels turn. It all had to do with riding a bike.

To give you the most authentic experience with this analogy, because I’m obviously not her, I’m going to speak to you directly just as she spoke to us that day. I am also not a mommy, so this will obviously not be my voice. 

So here we go.

When it’s time for us to teach our child how to ride a bike, we do not sit the child down on the sidewalk, get on the bike ourselves, ride around for a bit and say, “Ok, watch mommy. Do you see how I’m moving my feet to pedal? Are you watching me? Do you see how I’m holding the handlebars and using them to steer? Watch me. Do you see how I have to keep myself balanced on the seat? Are you watching? Ok, now here. You try it!”

(end Nancy voice) :) 
Of course, that is not how we teach a child to ride a bike. Riding a bike requires practice. We put the child on a bike with training wheels first so they get the feel of being on a bike and learn to pedal and steer. Then we take off the training wheels but we hold on to the seat as they ride to guide them if they start to sway. Then, eventually, we run beside them as they ride, not holding on anymore, but still right there ready to intervene in case they start to fall. To learn to ride a bike, the child must spend lots of time actually ON THE BIKE.

This is a direct analogy to teaching and learning.

So, thinking about this analogy, I thought: How much time do I give my students to actually “ride the bike?”

Nancy did an activity with us that really brought this idea home. Would you play along with me for a minute?

Ok, grab something to write on- anything- and something to write with. On the left hand side of the paper, list the four language domains: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It doesn’t matter what order. 

Ok, now imagine a student in your classroom. Not just any student, but the student who struggled the most. That one student that no matter what they did, they just didn't seem to get it. Get a picture of that student in your head. Got it? Great. Now, thinking about THAT student only, beside each of the language domains write the percentage of time during a typical class period that THAT child would spend writing, listening, reading, and speaking. Be honest. Also be sure that your percentages all add up to 100. To get the most out of this, really put yourself in that student’s shoes.

I’ll wait. :)

How did it go? How do you feel? Any aha’s!? Which domains had the highest percentage? The lowest? 

Let me tell you, when I did this activity my heart completely sank. It was embarrassing how little time that child had opportunities to write and speak- the two expressive domains.

Here’s the takeaway for me. Acquiring new language, just as learning to ride a bike, requires lots of practice. I’m great at providing opportunities for students to listen to me talk about the new language or read about it, but I need to provide more time for students to speak and write and really interact with the new language. They need more time ON THE BIKE.

The two trainings I attended this summer that Nancy presented on were fabulous and provided lots of strategies for giving students more time “on the bike.” 38 Great Academic Language Builders is great for any grade level. Her book that she wrote called Talk Read Talk Write is a lesson structure designed for secondary students but is also applicable to elementary students as well. I highly recommend both of these books if you are looking for ways to increase the amount of time students spend “on the bike.”

This sign is going to hang on my cabinet in my classroom as a constant reminder to myself when I'm planning:

Have a great Sunday!

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