Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Purposeful Classroom

I'm writing a series about the different sessions at the ASCD virtual conference. My notes on last year's conference are here.

Full disclosure: ASCD is paying me for the posts but I paid for the conference myself. I'm coming out ahead in this transaction but the lifetime flow of money is still in their favor.

The first post is on Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey's Purposeful Classroom. Fun times. If you're a regular reader you will appreciate how difficult it was for me to keep my word count down.

Additional notes:

Fisher says they made a shift from "objectives" to "purpose"in order to include the idea of relevance. He says that relevance can be in three areas. Learning that has use outside of the classroom walls. Learning that gives a student opportunities to learn about oneself as a learner. Learning that is necessary for citizens in a democratic society. It's an interesting lens. I haven't thought about relevance enough to decide what I'd add, subtract, or modify from that list.

Fisher also commented on the Gradual Release of Responsibility model. He said the number one clarification he'd like to make is that GRR isn't meant to be a step-by-step recipe. You don't have to do it in exact order, just that the phases of GRR should all occur during a lesson. He doesn't make it clear in the talk but a lesson in this case doesn't necessarily mean one class period. This is an incredibly important point and was lost on the people who lead the GRR training the first time I heard about it.

Another important point was the difference between independent practice at home and in the classroom. He said that we give homework too early in the learning cycle. Students aren't ready to immediately apply homework.

They also shared two rubrics I thought were interesting starting points. A modeling and purpose rubric and a rubric showing indicators of success at establishing purpose.

Last: I've heard criticism of writers like Fisher and Frey for not being "transformational" enough. I get that. They're not. I classify them as "Better Now" types. They want to help teachers to improve what we're doing right now as opposed to razing the whole school system and starting over. Both types of writers have their place but I spend much more time reading and learning from the Better Nows. It's fun to think about what my ideal school would look like but I'm far more concerned with helping the kids that are in front of me each day.


  1. Great rubrics. Not because I agreed with every single word but because the process of reading them while agreeing/disagreeing made me notice things, generate questions, and change my mind. Can you say more about what they mean by "language demands"?

    1. I don't know about the rest of the US, but in California its popular to include a Language Objective along with a Content Objective. The language objective is the read/write/listen/speak part of what the students will be doing. For example, your content objective might be learning about gravity. The language objective could be how they articulate their learning - "Write a paragraph showing....Use the sentence frame." How they access.."Read..." or sensemaking..."Discuss..." (Like content objectives they come in many shapes and flavors.)

      So when Fisher/Frey talk about the appropriateness of language demands I think they're talking about dialing your language objectives to the correct difficulty setting for your kids.

      California has specific standards for English language development (as opposed to English Language Arts) if your'e looking for concrete examples.

  2. Thank you! Although I have the sinking feeling that I would have had a hard time paying attention during the conference, and that I would have felt guilty about that. If I can figure out why I'm so uneasy, I'll post...