They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
The older we get, the harder it is for us to learn new things.
In my 20s, I used to be one of the “techie” teachers. Since I don’t use it all as much anymore, I have noticed that I am falling behind the curve.
I’m not as good at learning new music and new TV shows anymore. I am behind in paying attention to new trends. I see the glimmering beginnings of -- gasp! -- turning into an “old dog”!
But, honestly, there is one good new-but-actually-old trick that I can do. And that I love.
It’s how I teach my young pups (my own children) to do new things. It’s how I want someone to teach me new tricks.
It’s Gradual Release.
Wait, wait, wait -- hear me out!
Think about any new skill you want to learn. Maybe it’s the new webmail Outlook 365. Maybe it’s yoga. Maybe it’s sailing a boat. Maybe it’s healthier cooking. Maybe it’s actually training your actual dog (instead of my metaphorical one).
But this old-dog trick still works. We may have renamed it a few years ago, but it’s still solid.
It works on ANY skill you want your students to learn. I know you all know it. It’s how many of you learned to play baseball, write your name, and clean your room. It’s how most of us learned to write decent papers for high school and learned our first job skills.
It works with how you want kids to find the answers in the reading, how you want them to text-mark, how you want them to clean up your classroom room after a chaotic activity, how you want them to write their thesis statements, how you want them to back up their answers using evidence.
It works for any skill, big or small.
It doesn’t work for content. You can’t gradually release the causes of WW1. Either you know ‘em or you don’t. But you can gradually release the thinking and reading and writing ABOUT the causes of WW1.
And honestly, you should have some part of Gradual Release going on more days than not.
I know you know this, but let’s review anyway. It helps.
You-the-teacher do the task for them. Go ahead, contrary to what you thought growing up, you CAN give them the answers (for this part, anyway). Show them what the task looks like when it’s done well. (I know it feels weird and a little idiotic to give them all the answers. Do it anyway.)
*Note -- this works 100% better when you show them HOW to do it. Model this with a THINK ALOUD!!
The whole class works through the task. It takes twenty-some student brains -- minus the teacher brain that only prompts the kids but doesn’t answer anything.
(take some scaffolding away)
Step Three: You all do it (do this in small groups)
Put kids in partners or small groups so they have two or three brains on a task. Remember to use the five “O”s of collaborative structures, otherwise it will bomb.
Step Four: You do it. On your own.
“Come on, now, I know you can do this on your own, kiddos!” I can’t take the tests for the kids. I can’t vote in their stead. I can’t do their jobs for them. And so they have to start on their own at some point. Now is the time! This is where you push the little darlings out of the nest and hope they fly. And if they don’t, you scoop them up, help them again, and then push ‘em out of the nest again. For the few that are still unable on their own, this is when you-the-teacher give ‘em a little one-on-one time.
(Scaffolding is gone. Kids can try to stand on their own)
So, most of us are pretty good at step one and step four. We tend to be good at the “I do” and the “you do on your own”. It’s the middle we sometimes forget about.
But we can’t do all the work for the kids (step one) and we can’t push ‘em off the cliff (step four) without something in the middle.
It’s like learning to ride a bike. First, you watch someone show you how THEY ride a bike. Then, you ride with extra support -- training wheels or a grown-up holding on.
Then, the grown-up lets go and you ride (or crash).
Then, you try it again.
Old dogs can learn new tricks. I can. Our kids can.
What about you? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org