Written by: Dr. Amanda Brueggeman
Author of: Student-Centered Mentoring (Corwin, 2022)
What is a successful lesson? Visualize a lesson. The timing was perfect and the delivery of content was exact. For new teachers, this is a common perspective of a perfect lesson. A different perspective is that the lesson went in different directions than was planned based on student responses. The students were engaged and shifts were made on the spot as students showed their understanding in connection to a focused learning target. Most coaches work with new teachers, so these strategies open up a coaching opportunity to encourage a shift in thinking.
Why should we shift our thinking about successful lessons?
Students are all different learners and have varied needs. “The cause-and-effect relationship of teaching and assessing is a teacher needing to be clear on what student learning looks like and then checking for understanding of that learning” (Brueggeman, 2022). When it comes to planning instruction, most teachers assume what students already know and teach students a concept or skill without changing directions. Research shows that the majority of what students are being taught is information they have already mastered. John Hattie (2020) claims that this number is as high as 80%! This is where learning creative ways to assess their learners can come in handy for beginning teachers.
Teaching is also no longer standing in the front of a room with rows of students individually listening and working on assignments. We have to imagine what a classroom now looks like – where students are learning to be critical thinkers and collaborators themselves. How do we help new teachers reflect on successful instruction? Using these three strategies can encourage reflective thinking for beginning teachers.
Strategy #1: Integrate a Student-Centered Philosophy
If we integrate a student-centered philosophy then we will be able to design our instruction to impact student learning. First, consider some of the key aspects of Student-Centered Coaching. These include; focusing on student learning, using student evidence, and establishing partnerships between coaches and teachers. Next think of a student-centered classroom, where there is a shared focus between both students and teachers. One example is a workshop-style classroom, where the teacher meets with a student or group of students while the others work around the room.
Classroom dialogue is another area to consider when incorporating more student-centered practices. In a student-centered classroom, the discussion between students and teachers during learning is more about dialogue. Student conversations about learning and growth are happening the majority of the time. Student dialogue is highly influential in affecting student achievement.
Here are some key ideas of student-centered instruction to discuss with new teachers:
- The focus is shared between students and teachers.
- Students and teachers are having conversations around learning.
- Strategies consist of a combination of cooperative learning and collaboration.
- Teachers and students interact equally in pairs or groups.
- Promote independent thinking and opportunities for productive struggle.
Strategy #2: Reflect on Instructional Impact
Having the courage to say, “We don’t know,” is not always easy. It shows imperfection in our abilities. If we want to grow and better understand our students, we have to ask questions about new skills related to our impact on learning. That starts with asking the question, “What is my impact?” To go deeper, collectively discussing beliefs of your teaching impact is powerful for beginning teachers. Correlations that some mentors and mentees have made with this reflection are increased student motivation and more effective management in a student-centered classroom.
The Teaching Impact Self-Reflection is a tool for conversation with new teachers. It can also allow new teachers options in setting a goal with next steps.
Teaching Impact Self-Reflection from Student-Centered Mentoring
Strategy #3: Observing In-the-Moment Assessment Options
In successful classrooms, being clear on what and how to teach is coupled with also knowing when to change directions during a lesson. As mentioned in The Teacher Clarity Playbook, without processes, checking for understanding has the potential to be a game of “Guess What’s in the Teacher’s Brain” (Fisher et al., 2019). Gathering feedback from students using various methods yields deeper understanding for students, as well as teachers. For a new teacher, seeing this work in the moment will be imperative to their instructional impact. Observing other teachers or videoing a lesson can help uncover how to make this practice a habit.
Two questions to gear new teachers towards in an observation experience are:
- What do you notice the student(s) doing?
- How do you see the teacher respond to students(s)?
A new teacher can also reflect on their questions during lessons and activities as a way of assessing in the moment. This process has shown to not feel overly cumbersome to new teachers. Spend those few minutes with new teachers to figure out how to ask strategic questions that will yield what the majority of students already know or what they are picking up throughout a lesson or activity. Student engagement will likely go up along with achievement, as well as the confidence of your mentee
Recap and Reflect
Engage in reflective conversations with new teachers to provide clarity around successful instruction. If you are interested in more strategies, take a look at Student-Centered Mentoring: Keeping Students at the Heart of New Teachers’ Learning.
- Brueggeman, A. (2022). Student-Centered Mentoring: Keeping students at the heart of new teachers’ learning. Corwin
- Fisher, D., Frey, N., Amador, O., & Assof, J. (2019). The teacher clarity playbook: A hands-on guide to creating learning intentions and success criteria for organized, effective instruction. Corwin.
- Hattie, J. (Producer). (2020). The power of feedback. [Webinar] hosted by GrokSpot & NextLesson.
Amanda Brueggeman is a certified Student-Centered Coaching trainer with Diane Sweeney Consulting and the founder of ACBrueggeman Consulting.