Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Myth of Bell-to-Bell Instruction vs. Golden Rule of 15 Minutes

An interesting case study, courtesy "The Committed Sardine"...view the original article here.

Many teachers have been told to teach from bell to bell. Unfortunately, some teachers believe this means they must stand and deliver in front of the board for 50 minutes. Big mistake! In traditional urban schools, it is hard to keep students' attention for even 5 minutes without them taking out their phone or simply daydreaming while acting like they are paying attention.

I teach urban high school students with a history of failure, helping them succeed in mathematics, as well as closing achievement gaps across content areas. I credit my success to the CREATE instructional model—a style of teaching that is strongly against bell-to-bell teaching. In fact, I'm never up in front of the board "teaching" the class for more than 15 minutes at a time. Let me explain:

A typical class starts with a 10-minute warm-up exercise where students refresh what they learned the previous day. Then comes the "golden 15 minutes of teaching," which I call "interactive teach-back." During the interactive teach-back, I explain a concept through the context of a problem or scenario. Then I have different students immediately explain or teach-back what I taught by helping me with similar problems. Making students explain a theory by doing problems or through the context of a scenario is a way of checking for students' understanding, because students have to apply the theory to a novel situation.

During teach-back, I break objectives into smaller steps and concepts, do 10-second mini-lectures on a "baby" concept in the context of a problem, then immediately put up several problems on that baby concept and fire questions at several different students, asking them to teach the class to apply what I taught by doing the problems. (A variation of this approach grabbed headlines in a recent, popular NYT story on reforming math instruction.)

Throughout my 15-minute "lecture," I call on all students, and especially my most-at-risk students. I use a visible scorecard to reward points to student responses and to take away points for anyone not paying attention in any way. Once I am convinced that even the most struggling students can teach back baby concept one, I do another 10-second lecture on concept two using a problem. Again, I put up a few similar problems and then fire questions at different individual students and have them teach the class how to do those problems. I continue this interactive question-and-answer dialogue for 15 minutes, at most. All students are in the hot seat! I make sure that all students learn the objective by using 8 to 10 relevant lecture problems to elicit responses from at least 20 different students.

For my students, the most significant teaching and learning happens during the golden 15 minutes of interactive teach-back. I don't need to combat short attention spans and text messaging over 50 minutes of traditional lecture. Interactive teach-back makes it hard for students to lose focus because I am frequently and randomly asking kids to reteach concepts as part of my lecture. Kids don't get lost in the content because I'm checking for understanding with each step.

Keeping the core of instruction to these golden 15 minutes also allows for 20 minutes of student work at the end of class, what I call the "exit price." More on that concept in my next post. In the meanwhile, check out my book, Create Success! Unlocking the Potential of Urban Students, and share your tips for busting the myth of bell-to-bell instruction.

Post submitted by 2011 California Teacher of the Year and ASCD author Kadhir Rajagopal. Listen to a chat with Rajagopal here.

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