Guided Practice…for new teachers

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

When we teach a student a new skill in math, for example, subtraction with regrouping, do we send her off to practice a page of similar problems immediately after the first lesson? No, of course not. Why is that? You probably answered that we don’t want her to practice incorrectly and develop bad habits. Because it is extremely difficult to undo misconceptions, we use an instructional technique called guided practice. In other words, we let the student practice under our guidance so we can immediately step in and correct mistakes. This is a more effective use of our time in the long run, and it sets the student up for success. Face it, nobody likes being told they’re doing something wrong and have to fix it! Do we, however, use this same principle with new teachers on our campuses?

Each year, nearly all campuses experience turnover. Some of the incoming teachers are fresh off the college campus, some come to us via alternative certification programs, and some are veteran teachers. When you think about it, however, we actually hire teachers with very limited information. Of course, there is an interview process and we check references, and some schools have job candidates teach model lessons. But it’s kind of like taking a new car off the lot–no matter how good the test drive was, you don’t really know how the car performs until you’ve driven it for a few weeks.

Research tells us that teacher quality is the most important factor for a child’s success. Doesn’t that make teacher quality an administrator’s number one priority? And if we follow that line of thinking, who better to mentor new teachers on a campus (whether rookie or veteran) than administrators? As teachers, we spend the first 4-6 weeks establishing routines and expectations in our classrooms. How powerful would it be if administrators spent the first 4-6 weeks of school partnering with the new teachers on a campus–visiting their classrooms, meeting to discuss questions and concerns or to debrief lessons, and basically just supporting them. A period of guided practice…for teachers. New teachers wouldn’t have the chance to develop bad habits, and it would be immediately apparent if new veteran teachers share the instructional philosophy of the campus or if they might need some additional direction.

What are your thoughts? As a teacher, would you feel supported by having an administrator as a mentor? Administrators, is this doable? Add a comment and let’s get a good conversation going!

 

12 Comments

  1. Laurie

    I am a brand new special education teacher. I graduated in December, and started teaching 2-5 as a resource teacher. I was surprised how little my masters actually gave me for the real world classroom. I was even more shocked that no one seemed to check what I was actually doing with the students. I have had a quick learning curve, and I feel quite comfortable at this point. I suppose, the autonomy is actually what I will most prefer in the future. I did have a mentor teacher, who answered a lot of my questions regarding special education paperwork. I am split between two elementary schools. I think very highly of each of my administrators. I have had a formal observation by both. I think that they are truly so swamped with all of the day to day, that it would have been impossible for them to do anymore. They are required to observe and then complete this big hairy Mazono’s review. I think they are inundated with paperwork. Ideally, I would love to learn from them more, but real world I think they are just too overloaded. Both of my administrators have been very open when I have had to approach them for a quick question. I try to keep it just that. I feel that they probably appreciate that I am a self starter.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Laurie, it says something that you self-reflected and realized how little your formal schooling prepared you, and you obviously asked the right questions of your mentor and administrators. Just as with our students, some new teachers are better able to handle the learning curve than others. I agree that administrators are often overloaded with additional duties, and I think that’s part of the problem. What could be more important than interacting with teachers and students?

      Reply
  2. Jackie

    I have taught in the classroom for 21 years. My district has hired me to be the Elementary Induction Coach for next year. I will work with all of our new Elementary Ed teachers for their first 3 years to support them in their classrooms. They will also attend a monthly class for graduate credit which the District provides and pays for to help them learn new skills and develop a learning community. They also have a mentor in their school who has classroom duties. We try to provide our teachers the level of support they need without feeling they are being judged by their administrator.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      That sounds like a phenomenal model, Jackie! Now we just have to hope that more schools/districts will recognize the need to support new teachers.

      Reply
    • Mary

      Wow this sounds wonderful i wish my district did this! I’ve been teaching for 2 years now and i still feel lost some times!

      Reply
      • Donna Boucher

        I think that lots of new teachers feel that way! It would be nice if more districts or schools recognized this need. Enjoy your summer! Relax and reflect. 🙂

        Reply
  3. Cheryl

    In theory, I think this is a great idea. I’m not sure in all cases though that the administrator is the best person for that. Not all administrators are experts at content or pedagogy.They are also burdened with many other issues like parents, IEP meetings, discipline, etc. The best person for that guided practice in my opinion is a math coach.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      I agree that coaches can be very effective mentors, however not all campuses/districts have instructional coaches. Shouldn’t administrators be experts in content/pedagogy?

      Reply
  4. Alyssa

    Donna,
    I found your post really helpful! I am currently an undergraduate senior pursuing a double major in Elementary Education and Special Education. In my methods class that I am currently in, we have been practicing including misconceptions that students may have into our lesson plans. That way, we will be prepared for the misconceptions that they may have, and it will make correcting their misunderstandings that much easier. I love your ideas and advice that you have for guided practice and how it benefits both the teacher and the student in the long run. I also found it interesting how you relate these ideas to new teachers and administration. I will not be a licensed teacher until May 2017, so I personally can’t share many thoughts about this, but it definitely gave me some things to think about! Thanks for sharing!
    Alyssa

    Reply
  5. The Math Spot

    This post really resonates with me. I am not a new teacher but in my district we have both mentor teachers, although they are spread quite thin, and teacher leaders who are more readily available in the buildings. I think it would be wonderful if, as a part of our teacher leader program, we created a new teacher pathway through the first few months of the school year. Your point about the first few months serving as guided practice is an excellent analogy.

    Reply
  6. Janelle

    Hello! this is my first time on your blog, and I found this post very interesting. I am teacher candidate; I will be student teaching in the fall. I was under the assumption that student teaching was our guided practice? Isn’t that when we get the feedback and redirection? Any tips on how to get the most from the experience?

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Welcome to the profession, Janelle! Yes, that is the purpose of student teaching. You will find, however, that when you step into your own classroom it’s a whole other world! For example, when you student teach, the teacher has already planned, organized, and arranged her room. She has already developed and taught her classroom routines and expectations. You see the result of those things, but aren’t usually part of the process. The classroom may function beautifully, but it’s in large part to what went on behind the scenes before you got there. Student teaching is a snapshot at best. You will face situations in your classroom that just didn’t come up during student teaching.

      My suggestion for maximizing your student teaching experience is to ask many, many questions! Keep a journal reflecting on your experiences and discussions. When you get a job, if your school does not have a mentor program in place, speak to your principal about pairing up with a master teacher in the building to serve as your mentor. I wish you the very best of luck!!

      Reply

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