This year my school has decided to use mini-lessons as a way to increase our student’s comprehension. As a school we have been doing professional readings, watching video clips (both of good mini-lessons and not-so-good mini-lessons), developing and modeling them as well. I really got a feel for all of the components that must be in a mini-lesson: Connection, Teaching Point, Active Engagement, and Link. Because I am on my school’s Instructional Leadership Team, I was one of the first to begin piloting mini-lessons in my classroom. When it came time to actually try out my mini-lesson I was excited. I thought that my students would really enjoy it and I couldn’t wait to hear their discussions during the active engagement component.
I planned and planned and was finally ready for my math mini-lesson. I called my students over to the carpet, and the wonderful smooth transition that I envisioned in my mind was so different from what I was witnessing. I should have known at this point that this wasn’t going to be good, but I kept going.
A couple arguments and five minutes later, my students were all sitting on the carpet. I had most of them paying attention, so I began my lesson. I was showing them a new strategy they could use during a measurement math problem. I felt like they were really getting it, so I put up a new problem and told them to turn and talk to an elbow partner about what the answer would be. Much to my disappointment, I heard two different responses when I was circulating through my students. There was either “The answer is 3” or “I don’t know” (followed by lengthy silence from both elbow partners).
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I envisioned my lesson being like those in the video clips we’ve watched. I kept trying to figure out what went wrong; when it hit me: I never taught my students how to be active participants during a mini-lesson. I just expected that they would know what to do!
So I scaled things way back and began to develop mini-lessons on mini-lesson procedures. The first lesson was about where to sit on the carpet. Since my carpet is a map of the United States, I assigned each student a different state to sit on (and a nice connection to social studies as well!). We practiced coming to the carpet and sitting in the right place. We started slow and noisy, but after a while it got quicker and quieter. Next, we practiced what it looks like to show me that you are an active listener. Active listeners sit with their legs crossed, hands folded in their laps, and eyes on me. Once again, we practiced and we practiced until everyone could show me that they were active listeners. That’s where we left off before winter vacation.
Next comes the part that I have been putting off: teaching them how to have discussions. Some of my students love to share their ideas and others struggle to give me a single word. I have done some research and through some borrowing from different sources, I have made an “Accountable Talk” poster. It is a compiled list of sentence starters that my students can refer to when they give their answer and when they respond to their partner’s answer. I know that it is going to take quite a bit of practice, but I know that it will be worth it. I can’t wait for my students to begin using the “Accountable Talk” sentence starters and have great conversations without me having to guide their every response.