A Work of Art: The South Literacy Liaison End-Of-Year Workshop Experience
In A Handbook for The Art and Science of Teaching, Robert J Marzano and John L. Brown write “effective teaching is both art and science.” We have researchers like Harvey Silver, George Hillocks, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey who have captured the science behind what we do— that is, these educators have made accessible to the rest of us those strategies that help students achieve at higher levels. Marzano and Brown write that teaching “is art in the sense that it involves no specific script all effective teachers must follow.” They go on to say that effective teachers have a ‘toolbox of strategies’ that they have a competence with; however, no two teachers use these tools in the same way. There are countless books and articles written showcasing the latest in strategy instruction, but how do we truly capture the art of what we do— specifically the beauty of seeing the spark of understanding in a group of students’ eyes?
This was the question that I was tossing around in my mind as I entered the last Literacy Liaison Workshop of the year at South High School on Wednesday April 16th. As I listened to our first year liaisons share their recent successes, it dawned on me that the answer to what the art of teaching looked like was right in front of me! Four Liaisons from four different departments shared four different ways they ignited students’ interest in their content and, as a result, boosted student achievement in their classes. What each of these presentations had in common was that every teacher let go of some small aspect of control over the classroom environment and allowed students the chance to discover the learning on their own. Two English teachers allowed students to play tic-tac-toe in an effort to incorporate students’ learning intelligences and choice into an understanding of Lord of the Flies, and students discovered ideas about fear and human nature. A Science teacher used sorting techniques with vocabulary before, during, and after a unit, and students discovered they had strengthened their understanding of scientific terms. A Music Department Chair shared how he first taught his students the context in which a piece of music was composed, and students discovered that they were able to play a piece of music more passionately. A Math teacher played with descriptive activities and vocabulary, and students discovered they were able to use academic mathematical vocabulary in conversations to produce pictures of the complex geometry concepts they were learning. What this group of liaisons understands most is that the trick to the art of teaching is finding ways of teaching students content that is unique to the teachers’ style. Every one of these teachers—and the other teachers in attendance at the Workshop—have their own ‘toolbox of strategies’ that has been strengthened from their relationship with their coach, and, after attending the three Literacy Liaison Workshopes this year, has been strengthened from their relationships with one another. (And, again and again, we come to the conclusion that the most important fuel for the art of teaching is relationships.)
As they continue their Liaison journey at South, these teachers have expressed that what they look forward to most is having the opportunity to learn from one another through the sharing of ideas. They know that what Phil Collins said is true: “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” The circular pattern that is the art and science of teaching is clear when you take a moment to step outside the Literacy Coaching Program at South and look in. It was, and will continue to be, my favorite part of the year! Nothing is more energizing than watching these teachers leave the Liaison Workshop inspired to continue their work into next year. They all left with ideas in how to involve students in what Allison Zmuda, author of Breaking Free from the Myths About Teaching and Learning, calls “parallel play,” or ways students can strengthen basic skills through complex, real-world application activities. For these teachers to be inspired to push forward at a time of the school year when many teachers are feeling the pressure to just ‘cover the remaining curriculum’ is truly what makes these literacy interactions a work of art.