Monday, August 21, 2017

The Ladder of Inference & Instructional Support

The Ladder of Inference reminds us that we too often fail to reflect on what we observe and what we infer from those observations. We are often unaware that we are too selective of the data we choose to observe or we simply don’t consider any data other than that which we have immediately or presently observed, so that data may be completely out of context. The Ladder of Inference is used a lot in business but also has application in instructional support and coaching as well as other areas of education.
Systems Thinker
It’s important to note that traversing the ladder of inference takes moments so being aware of how fast and how easy it is to move from the bottom rung to the top is important so that we slow down to assess and reflect. That way there is far less risk of any kind of injury.

Available data
As a coach, I have to take into consideration what I observe and experience. Just as the teacher can’t watch all of the students all of the time, neither can I so I have to be careful to sweep the room to try to see what the majority of students are doing. I also need to refrain from making any inferences or passing any judgment until I talk to the teacher and, even better, talk to the kids. Even then, as I’m gathering data from the kids, I have to be careful not to ask leading questions but general questions to get learning context and perceptions from them.

Select data
As a coach, I have to be careful about selecting data. I try to take notes on everything I see and hear, which is another reason I take pictures and video, and another reason I try to be with a teacher from the beginning of the class through to the end of class. When I select data, then, I try to select that which reflects a majority or close to a majority of the students but I might also select something that I was a superb teaching moment or one during which the teacher faltered and struggled to get back on track. Or all of the above because throughout a class period, there are always good moments and not-so-good, even bad, moments.

Paraphrase the data
At this moment in time, I have to pause to think about how I’m filtering what I see and hear. Did I come in with preconceived notions or specific expectations? Do I have some sort of bias about this teacher and, if so, what is it? How do my filters and other white noise influence what I see, hear, and select to discuss with this teacher? This is not about me, but about this teacher and the impact this teacher has on these students.

Name what’s happening
I have to be honest with myself about what I’m characterizing and how, the assumptions I made about this teacher and this teaching, the assumptions I made about the students and their experiences. I have to be crystal clear with myself so I can remove the detritus of my assumptions and filters.

Explain and evaluate what’s happening
Am I making excuses for me? For the teacher? For the students? Am I clarifying the data for the benefit of the teacher? For the benefit of the students? Or am I mentally trying to sabotage something? Is it possible I’m drawing conclusions based on past experience or what I’ve heard from others? Is it possible I’m not giving this teacher the benefit of the doubt because I’ve seen similar behavior and actions in the past?

Decide what to do
This is pretty clear. Once I’ve climbed thoughtfully up the rungs of this ladder, I can make a decision about what to do. I can revisit the data now that I’ve clarified my motives, questions, assumptions, perceptions, expectations, and anything else so that I can have an honest conversation with this teacher.

I can also frame my questions and my observations in ways that are helpful in moving a conversation about this teacher’s growth and success.

Adapted from https://thesystemsthinker.com/the-ladder-of-inference/


Additional resources


Monday, August 14, 2017

For Those Early Finishers, The Power of "What If. . . ? and Other Ideas

Educators talk about them all the time and fret about them nearly as often: what to do with those students who finish their work early.

The TeachThought team came up with 27 ideas and I thought I'd amplify that a bit, but first a bit of time travel to the past.

In the 1950s, a man by the name of Donald H. Parker began the work that became the SRA Reading Laboratory. I'm old enough to remember that self-paced reading program and I remember racing through the readings and the tests that accompanied each reading to get to the next level faster than anyone else.

When I saw the Level-Up suggestion from the TeachThought team, I immediately thought of SRA and that meant I had to do some research. McGraw-Hill is no longer updating SRA, but with a bit more diligence I found a history of the reading laboratory.

The first several pages are fascinating reading but then you must get to the page that Audrey Watters quotes in her 2015 blog post about SRA cards:
Parker went on to state, "To give students still more responsibility for their own learning, I had each one keep a chart of his or her daily progress. When the chart showed that the student was maintaining high comprehension, vocabulary, and word-analysis scores, it was time to move up to a higher color-level."

He further notes that they spent a week learning the system they devised because he gave credit to the thirty-two students who helped him figure it out.

So when you think about planning level-up activities, think first about implementing some sort of a learning portfolio system so students can track their learning and then give them the opportunity to design their own level-up activities.

Some of the TeachThought suggestions are fairly rudimentary and, depending on your students, might work really well. Number 18 is "Beads: Allow students to bead something." I confess that I was dismissive when I first read that, but, as so often the case, I saw it a bit differently when I came back to it to try to figure out why it was included. And then I thought about creating patterns and inviting students to bead those patterns. Or having students create patterns and beading those. Or developing some sort of a class programming language and having students use beads to "write" simple programs. Or. . .  the ideas kept flowing and they will for you as well. Just keep it simple or you'll make yourself crazy trying to gather all of the materials students might need.

Oh, by the way, the class programming language? Personally I think that's pretty genius and in my next blog I'll have some more specific ideas about that. This blog post already has enough rabbit trails.

The TeachThought team had some other ideas related to chatting, texting, reading jokes, journaling, or troubleshooting. The chatting corner leads to too much noise simply because kids are kids. Texting could be a problem because of school or district policy. Reading jokes could lead to noise as could designing a game. Journaling is a good idea but kids will want ideas for a journaling topic. Troubleshooting and planning for a new level could also be good ideas though kids will need and want more direction. So let's say the noise issue isn't an issue; there are ways to manage that anyway.

For example, one of "my" teachers has a counter bell in her room. When some students are still working and the chatter volume gets a little too loud, she taps the bell and the volume falls immediately. That's all she does: reach out and tap the bell. Now she had to train her kids to respond to that bell, but she told me it didn't take long for her 4th graders to learn that responding positively to the bell had positive results for them.

Maybe you have an erasable board on which students are able to keep a list of topics in which they're interested. Maybe it's something they pull from newsela (Gr 2-12), Student News Daily, PBS Newshour Extra (Gr 7-12),  CNN Student News (Gr 6-12), and others.

The students can use that board as idea starters for writing jokes, writing stories, designing games, etc. Or, if they want to chat but you're worried about noise, have them table top text. This is a strategy I learned through Discovery Education. One student writes on one side of the paper and the other student writes on the other. They can use different colors of ink. They can pose and answer questions. And, hmmm, it's possible that their table top texting could become the basis of an interview for a PSA or the PSA itself, or a script for a readers theater, or. . . .

Letting early finishers try something in which they're interested and covertly using strategies that might help them learn something they don't realize they're learning can most definitely lead to something powerful, profound, and positive.

By the way, though the SRA Reading Laboratory became something that educators seem no longer interested in buying, you have to admit that there is something to the basic premise. And maybe, just maybe, your students can use the basic idea to create something for themselves, their classmates, or maybe their younger siblings. You just never know what might happen when you let them pose and try to answer, "What if. . . ?".