Automaticity does not mean that teachers become automatons – glorified robots just walking through their classes. No, automaticity means that teaching skills have been learned so well, they have become so ingrained, that they are automatic. Just like when we learned to drive a car, the first attempts were focused on details and we had lots of jerking and quick stops. But now, our brains have created a pathway of expertise so we can drive smoothly while hardly thinking about it. We have learned to drive to a level of automaticity.
The same thing needs to happen for any new skills that we adopt for delivering lessons in the classroom. We have to practice them to the point where our brains have built the pathways to make our teaching automatic. This is like the athlete who has practiced so much that he or she can perform any move with ease and fluidity. That is the goal for automaticity for teachers – to teach so smoothly it looks easy and effortless.
What are the prerequisites for gaining this ability? 1) We have to know exactly what strategies we are learning and why; and 2) we have to be willing to make mistakes, or at least not be very smooth at first. That’s the only way to get better.
What is the best professional development?
To that end, teachers are offered professional development by their districts. But the problem is that not all professional development is created equal. There are many kinds of professional development. These include consultation, coaching, communities of practice, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision, and technical assistance. The most effective for building automaticity, according to the 1987 research by Joyce and Showers, is in-situation coaching.
They showed that implementation of new skills is:
- 5 percent with learning by theory,
- 10 percent with theory and demonstration,
- 20 percent with demonstration and practice,
- 25 percent with theory, demonstration, practice and corrective feedback, but
- 90 percent with theory, demonstration, practice, feedback, and in-situation coaching.
What in EDI needs to be automatic?
The Explicit Direct Instruction model of teaching asks teachers to upgrade their delivery of lessons to make them more effective – based on solid research. Let’s look at the major “deliverables” in an EDI lesson. In an EDI lesson, there are three structural delivery strategies that are critical, and four additional delivery strategies that are refinements to better meet the needs of the students. As we’ll see, the structural strategies are best learned while actually teaching a lesson; they are dynamic. The refinement strategies can be practiced and added a little bit at a time. Because they are more situation-dependent (on content, on student needs, etc.), the refinement strategies are hard to practice in every lesson. Thus, a teacher can concentrate on the big three during the lesson, achieve some degree of smoothness, and then add the others as time goes on.
|EDI Delivery Strategy||Why it’s important||Best way to learn|
Structural Strategies that are critical to automaticity with EDI
|Working the Page||By having the Learning Objective, the Concept, and Skill Development with good examples all prepared in advance, the teacher can ensure the lesson is on standard and can be repeated for different classes. By using a PowerPoint lesson, the teacher can lead the class through the key points on each page. The teacher uses his or her own style and sequence to ‘work the page’, pointing to key points so the students hear it and see it, and also point to it on their student copies.||In-situation coaching|
|Checking for Understanding (CFU)||To verify what the students are learning while one is teaching, teachers have to become good at CFU. They have to become smooth with teaching Concept Development first, then asking higher-order questions of non-volunteers while giving them time to pause and Pair-Share as needed. Then teachers need to listen to the response and provide effective feedback. (See DataWORKs TAPPLE system for doing this.)||In-situation coaching|
|Engagement Norms||To keep the students engaged, the teacher must ask them to do something every two minutes – that’s the goal. The DataWORKS Engagement Norms (see the Norms poster and video) provide eight ways to do this. Getting students to use the language and their own voices, EDI emphasizes choral Reading, Gestures when possible, Pair-Shares and an Attention Signal to bring the focus back, and finally the use of Whiteboards and speaking in Complete Sentences. This also minimizes classroom management problems, keeps the students involved, and helps them practice the vocab.||In-situation coaching|
Refinement Strategies that help teachers better meet the needs of students
|Teaching Strategies||Depending on the lesson, teachers can choose to use explanation (in 2nd or 3rd person), modeling (think aloud), or demonstration (with a physical object). This enhances the lesson by helping students remember the concept.||Theory and demonstration|
|Cognitive Strategies||Teachers can help students remember and retrieve information by rehearsing (using exact words through flash cards, note taking, underlining, etc.), elaborating (using different words through mnemonics, paraphrasing, summarizing, etc.), and organizing (showing relationships through clustering, graphic organizers, etc.).||Theory and demonstration|
|Differentiating Strategies||Teachers can adjust sub-skills and time for diverse learners without changing the content standards. Examples include sentence frames, multiple choice questions, pointing, etc.||Theory, demonstration, and practice|
|EL Strategies||Teachers can adjust their own use of language to accommodate the needs of English Learners. They do this by focusing on comprehensible delivery of known words and context clues for unknown words. Teachers can also promote English language acquisition by the student by emphasizing vocabulary development and having in their mind as they teach specific Language Objectives for each lesson.||Theory, demonstration, practice, and feedback|
Automaticity is the result of fine-tuning our teaching skills. We can always get better, but we have to focus. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code describes this process of achieving excellence as one of “deep practice.” We focus and repeat and feel what it’s like to be performing at an excellent level. We are building up the neural circuits that give us an “unconscious competence” or what we would call automaticity. Coyle says, “Struggle is not optional – struggle is required. To get a circuit to fire optimally, you must fire the circuit as well as possible for you, inevitably making mistakes and tending to those mistakes, slowly but surely correcting and honing the circuit.”
We have to put ourselves in learning mode in order to perform at higher levels of excellence. As teachers, we can never become so complacent that we don’t learn anymore. We have to keep those brain circuits firing. The result is more effective learning for all our students – and more satisfaction in our teaching.