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Teaching Transparently

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Transparency: See-through. Clear. Unambiguous.

We often keep learning a secret and expect students to read our minds. Why do we make our expectations murky and ambiguous (and then grade them!)

Is it worth considering giving students the definitions of challenging words before they encounter them? Is it a good idea to post around the classroom examples of sentence starters? Is it good practice to list the steps to take to solving a word problem? Setting up a lab? Reading a timeline? Determining the elements of plot?

Where does Transparency belong in the classroom? Almost everywhere. Not, of course when we’re talking about uncovering content or unraveling the mysteries of literature or discovering the relationship between chemical reactions, but when we are explicitly teaching skills. What makes “explicit”  is the transparent instruction. The see-though, clear, unambiguous instruction.

Medicine and Public Health - Woman looking at model of transparent man, Digital ID 1677893, New York Public LibraryThe ultimate in transparency“Explicit” and “transparent” aren’t inherently synonyms, but they are in the classroom. We can’t just say “read for meaning,” or “make inferences.” We have to show what that looks like by modeling (often over and over) the process.  By making the processes transparent, students know how to do it, how to monitor it, and how to fix it up if not doing it right.

One of my most awkward moments as a teacher was when I launched into a Think Aloud of a challenging poem without introducing the fact that I was doing a Think Aloud or why I was doing it (to teach Questioning the Author).  All the students saw was their nutty teacher talking out loud to a poem on the overhead.

Had I taken the time and thought to tell my students up front something along the lines of “Questioning the author is something that good readers do to help them make sense of what they are reading.  Asking questions while you read helps with comprehension, retention, and the ability to make inferences and predictions. I am going to practice Questioning the Author so you can see how it works.”

Ta Da. With the simple introduction I provide a focus for the lesson, indicate what skills will be worked on, and save myself some embarrassment.

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