Today, I had the privilege of attending The Sisters Daily Five presentation here in Massachusetts – and if you get the chance, it is well worth your time…. and money. Some of the most intriguing parts of the presentation involved the research on brain function.
When I try to apply a something new and exciting to my own teaching, the temptation is to just rip of the bandage and dig in. Maybe that’s not the best way to do it though. Having lived in older home for most of my adult life, I know that when I first move in, I want to spend all my capital on the things that are seen, the obvious things like a new coat of paint or new furnishings. Fixing structural pieces (the chimney, the roof) aren’t going to be as obvious.
No one walks into your (new) home and says “Wow, that’s quite a nice chimney job. Love the new cap!” But these kinds of fixes are the structure and although there’s more of a wow factor in repainting or re-papering, the structure must be dealt with first. So how does this thinking relate to the Daily Five?
According to the Sisters, Kenneth Wesson’s work on neuro brain function, informs the structure they advocate for Literacy: a small focused hit of instruction with the whole group followed by a period of 10-15 (primary grade) or 20 (intermediates) of independent work. Wesson further states that the amount of time allotted to the whole group lesson is directly proportional to the average age of the students in the class. Joan – one of the sisters – taped her class to prove this was wrong when she first heard it and ended up becoming a believer. She shares this video clip during the Daily Five presentation.
Think on that for a moment. At the beginning of the school year my students are 7 or 8 and by the end they are 8 or 9. My third graders only sustain focus on what is being taught for an average of 8 minutes! And if I have a “young” class — teachers know what I mean by this — the time is even less.
The impact on teaching is that time spent on the actual lesson must be focused and succinct. Thank goodness I am not forced to use a basal; if I had to do all the ramping up to the actual point of the lesson, my kids would either learn little or we would both be frustrated by constant re-teaching.
But what I do need to attend to next year is boring right down to the essential learning more quickly. It may mean timing my mini lessons until I get the feel for just how long 8 minutes is.
It is a model we’ve used both in Reader’s Workshop and in Mathematics (Launch-Explore-Summary), but the model stopped short of explaining why it is so important to have a short burst of focused whole group instruction. As I start to plan for the coming school year, the one structural piece I am determined to attend to is this one. Those mini-lesson times, whether in literacy or mathematics, need to correlate to the amount of time my students can function.
And maybe then we’ll be able to move on to dressing things up.