In 2010, I took the Spec. Ed. Part 1 AQ course on campus at Alt House. It was a fantastic course and I learned a lot. I attended in person, on campus. I still think there is a lot of value in that.
One thing that I learned through the course was the value of literature circles. I had heard of them before, but I had never tried them. Traditionally, each group has a different novel, one that they have chosen for themselves. All group members read the same part if the book and complete a different “role” to be discussed (summarizer, illustrator, connector, discussion director, etc.). I immediately implemented them and learned the value of letting students pick books they are interested in, the importance if book talk, training students to respond to each other’s contributions. It was easy to differentiate and provide extra support (like audiobooks) or challenging books to those who needed them. In time, my “role pages” got more challenging, requiring deeper thinking. But my thinking on that is evolving too…
Another thing that I learned was the idea of gentle nudges when it comes to working with exceptional students. Keep providing them with different accommodations until you find one that works. Keep nudging them in the direction they need to go. If one strategy does not work, try another until you find something that does. And don’t give up.
So where have I seen examples of these two ideas in my coaching this year?
Perhaps literature circles are a bit like our collaborative inquiry networks this year. Teachers had a say and choice in the PD they wanted to participate in. And just like in literature circles, this means more engagement and ownership on their part. They had the opportunity to discuss their questions with other teachers who were “on the same page” if you will (bad pun, I know). In some cases, they did study actually study a book together! Working together helped them deepen their understanding.
Do I use gentle nudges in when working with teachers? I do. Now, I need to qualify this a bit. Not because they are like exceptional students, but because opening your door to an Instructional Coach can be a bit intimidating and can make you feel vulnerable. And in some cases, teachers are in fact struggling with a part of their teaching practise. In other cases they are looking to enrich it. It’s about timely feedback and meeting a teacher where they are at, figuring out where they want to go and the steps it takes to get there.
On occasion I think of Stephen Katz’s book “Intentional Interruption” and his idea that too often in education we operate in a culture of niceness. We have to push each other out of examples that confirm what we already believe and into that uncomfortable area where learning happens.
Are these nudges examples of me coaching too lightly? Should I push more? I will be honest, I’ve always thought of the pushes described by Katz more as nudges. However, perhaps there are times where we need to be more assertive and push each other’s thinking. It’s what we call in literature circles: disagreeing agreeably! Be passionate, but respectful. It’s okay to cause each other some discomfort because that is where the learning happens. But be mindful to challenge the idea, and not the person.
Finally, I have been nudging my own thinking about literature circles! I’ve been revisiting Harvey Daniels only to learn he has moved away from the traditional roles pages. He found that at times they can stifle conversation. New models I have been seeing involve post it notes stuck in different pages with student thinking that they then discuss as a group. And what about inquiry circles instead? What about students discussing different texts on the same topic? How is the literature block going to change because of inquiry?
And these are examples of a nudge that I might give a brave teacher willing to explore this with me. Together, we can explore and deepen our understanding of this type of activity.
And for that matter… Feel free to give me a nudge in the comment space below!