I observed an *amazing* lesson today.

Lisa Hoeflich, a middle school teacher that I’ve become acquainted with this year, pushed into a sixth grade classroom to help students build background knowledge of paleontology and identify main ideas in different text types. She led with a think aloud, targeting key words in a piece of poetry to expand upon her understanding of what a paleontologist did. I loved the fact that she focused on the words that WEREN’T there as much as she attended to the words that were present. She assumed that a poem about paleontology would include particular terms, and it didn’t. I’ve never seen a teacher model how we might respond when predictions aren’t accurate. Today I did, and so did her students. It was engaging work.

Afterward, she book talked her way through several picture books that she borrowed from her local library, pointing out interesting pictures, unique facts, and varied treatments of the same topic. Half way through, students began voicing their own curiosities about paleontology, wondering aloud WHICH picture book might best address their questions. Lisa tagged several key pages in each book and made them available to children long-term.

My favorite part of the lesson happened toward the end of my visit. Lisa crafted an employment advertisement for a paleontologist and carefully included several key facts within it. She provided students explicit criteria for effective advertisement writing and asked them to critique her ad, identifying important information and supporting details as well as what was missing or unclear.

They applied the skills modeled through her think aloud as they read several pieces of informational text about paleontology and considered how they would craft their own creative writing pieces. As students worked, Lisa circled the room, studying HOW students were determining importance within the text and identifying where they were struggling. She provided feedback on the fly, coached her students to consider alternative possibilities, and encouraged them to bring their own knowledge, experience, and meaning to the work.

Lisa teaches in a block. This provided her time to help kids strategically consume three varied text types and begin producing another one. Thinking skills were modeled, guided practice was provided, and Lisa had time to formatively assess how well her students were able to do what she needed them to do. We talked about the ease of capturing this sort of data throughout the year so that it could inform departmental conversations and goal setting. This is our new priority.

Toward the end of the lesson, she mentioned how valuable it might have been to engage all of the kids in independent research around this topic, and while I agree that this might have been fabulous, I also know this: Lisa knew what her purpose was today. She attended to it with laser-like precision while allowing her students plenty of room and the resources needed to chase their own questions to natural conclusions.

It was a treat watching her teach today.

It made me want to be a kid again.


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