Cakes have layers. MMM . . . cake.

Warning: This is the hardest kind of post for me to write, because it often comes across as pretentious and there’s nothing here that’s truly original. But it started with a conversation on Twitter last night about how I end up hitting the standards without needing to assign homework:

So, the hardest thing for me to get when writing novels is the notion of writing tightly. Some of my favorite YA writers do this really well. They write effeciently without it feeling rushed. Some of it’s simple. Use fewer adverbs and replace them with better verbs. Use details instead of adjectives.

But some of it has to do with layering. Instead of describing a character, show the character in the plot. Instead of describing the setting, let the setting influence the plot development. Introduce seemingly random characters who play a role in the story later.

The same is true in teaching. Someone asked me last night how I was able to avoid assigning homework. I’m not expert on this, but I found that layering makes a difference. Here’s an example from when I taught reading:

I separate out the concepts, the genres and the skills. Then, I layer it so that lessons have multiple skills, one concept and often multiple genres. Students spend less time working and more time reading. Instead of asking for seven clarifying questions and nineteen examples of author’s purpose, I have them practice most of those skills verbally with instant feedback from peers. So, they might hit eight skill standards in short doses each day.

Over the course of a week, I knew we could hit each skill standard at least once. Often, they practiced the skills three or four times a week. However, because these were often done verbally, students didn’t waste as much time on the paperwork side of it. Instead, they spent their time reading.

Often, I would tell them that they can opt-out of standards that they’ve mastered. So, if they get persuasive strategies, they can essentially “test out” in a formative, authentic assessment. Then, they can spend their time practicing in the areas where they’re struggling. This, by the way, is where the weekly student-teacher conferences make a difference. It’s why students in my class typically knew the standards where they needed help.

The same concept of layering happened in math class, where I chunked together standards into units and blended the skills, concepts and process standards into the same lessons. So, instead of getting Order of Operations in two days, they practiced it for weeks along with two-step equations, linear relationships, graphing, etc.

It’s not perfect. And there are days when I have to teach skills in a more explicit way. However, I’ve found that this concept of layering has been helpful.

photo credit: Michelle Gow via photopin cc

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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One response

  1. "Introduce seemingly random characters who play a role in the story later." YES. Brilliant.

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