• Gene Tavernetti, Ed.D.

No tricks, structured, effective lessons are a treat

With Halloween in the air, the merits of tricks versus treats weighs on the minds of many.

Very early in the history of TESS Consulting, my partner Randy Olson and I were having an initial meeting with an elementary staff. Literally before we were able to do much more than introduce ourselves a veteran staff member raised her hand and asked, “What tricks are you going to show us?”

Randy and I laughed and told the staff, “We don’t do tricks.” The staff seemed disappointed.

The norm for professional development seems to be that an individual, either someone from the outside or someone who is considered an insider, is selected to present some new strategies that have been “proven” to be effective in classrooms with similar demographics. The frequency of this type of inservice has conditioned teachers to expect another “trick” to either use or not.

To ensure this option, the introduction of the presenter and his strategies usually contains qualifiers like, “this is another tool for your toolbox,” “you won’t be using these strategies all the time, but you will have it when you need it,” or “hopefully you will all be able to take something away from the training.”

The same message was included when we would be introduced to present our training. Until recently, we thanked the person who introduced us and began our training. But then it finally dawned on me that we had been equated with tips like using popsicle sticks to call on students, or using an appointment clock to place students with different partners for various activities. We knew our model was much more than the individual particulars of instructional strategies.

STRUCTURE = the framework upon which we build the lesson.

Now when we are introduced, if “another tool in your tool box” language is used we make a point to correct that notion immediately. We do not do tricks. We do not teach strategies. We provide training on the structural components of effective lessons. Learning is a natural activity that leaves clues about how to teach in a manner that matches and compliments the learning.

TESS teaches the structure necessary for effective lessons. Among other things, we do this by sharing psychological and physiological constraints that can interfere with the natural activity of learning. Using the knowledge gleaned from this research, a replicable structure has emerged that guides the design and delivery of lessons. (You can find the lesson framework here)

If a teacher understands the structure of a lesson and the research that supports each component of an effective lesson, then the teacher can effectively use the assortment of strategies in their toolbox to implement the structure. Strategies without structure, without context, are simply strategies and don’t guarantee successful learning.

Trust us. Students prefer to be treated to an effective lesson over a hodgepodge of tricks.

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