This morning I posted Carol Burris’s essay about the Relay Graduate School of Education. Carol Burris is the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, Long Island.

Many people wrote comments and discussed what they thought of Relay’s method of teaching as represented by a video embedded in Burris’s essay, taken from the Relay website.

I invited Carol to respond to the many comments, and this is what she wrote today:

My Answersheet blog on Relay opened up an interesting discussion on teaching and learning, both on that blog and on Diane’s blog. That is a good thing, and I am happy to enter the dialogue on this topic, although I certainly am not an expert.  First, let me say that I am not critiquing the young woman in the video. She is merely showcasing the techniques Relay asked her to show. It is the techniques that are ineffective, not the young woman. 

I learned to teach from a wonderful cooperating teacher, professional development by Madeline Hunter of UCLA and under the guidance of a great department chair who had a deep understanding of effective instruction based on Hunter’s work. Madeline based her wisdom on educational research, the observation of teachers and her own instruction. She believed deeply in the professionalism of teaching and was horrified when misguided administrators tried to turn good instruction into a check list. She would be appalled by what is happening today.

Her one “absolute” was that there are NO absolutes other than never humiliate a learner because learning shuts down. She said the only thing that every teacher had to do in every lesson was to think.

Now to the techniques in the lesson and why I consider them to not be effective techniques…

We know from cognitive science that it takes young students  5-7 seconds (teenagers 3-5 seconds) to retrieve information from long term memory and bring it to working memory. Without that wait/think time, many students cannot find the answer. Those seconds also increases the quality of responses of higher achieving students. The teacher does not give Omari sufficient think time, nor does she pose an open ended question for the rest of the class to think about. Hunter used to call that “naming the pigeon”…one student on the spot so no one else needs to think.

There is no learning happening for those students who are sending energy through their fingers. Although they are active, they are not engaging in active participation which requires that students be engaged in the learning. Learning happens in the mind of the learner, it is not poured into a passive pail. We know that not only from Hunter, but also from constructivist learning theory.

To connect covert to overt active participation and engage the minds of the learners the teacher could:

  • ask students to think about one time they were ambitious
  • jot down their response
  • share with a partner (teacher walks and listens)
  • share out so that the teacher can correct error.

That would take no more than 2 minutes to do. Remember, though, Hunter said each teacher must think. She may not want to spend the time because her learning objective is broader than that. She can (1) tell the class what the word means, and then ask them to give one example from their life of when they were ambitious (a few seconds). However, if she wants to engage the students in higher level thinking at the level of evaluation, (2) ask the students to decide if the character WAS ambitious, and back up their opinion with an example.

Or, she could differentiate and have some students work on 1 and others on 2.

Finally, although the narrator said that the problem was that the student did not understand the difference between a trait and a feeling, the teacher never clarified the difference.  She might present examples of traits and feelings and have the class explain how the two differ. That would engage the students in analysis, which is on the higher level of Bloom’s as well. With good support, kids can do it. Complexity and difficulty are not the same. This would promote transfer, and she could come back to this theme throughout the book. 

My overarching problem with the Relay videos is that they are most focused on keeping kids in line and low level learning than they are in teaching students to think deeply about content and develop academic discipline.  The video does not show ‘rigorous discussion’.  In my opinion it shows a behavioral management technique….Omari answer my questions because I will not stop until I get what I want from you.