A few years ago I was working in a school that was exceeding growth year after year. Teachers were doing amazing and kids were excelling; it was the perfect scenario. Towards the end of the school year my administrator came to our PLC meeting and said next year we would have to implement a new teaching model in math called Launch, Explore, Discuss. I didn’t say a thing; but I didn’t have to, my face completely gave it away. I was very hesitant to change our teaching ways as our growth was skyrocketing so I wasn’t sure why we we needed to make any changes. My assistant principal looked at me right away and said “don’t worry, this doesn’t really change much for you because you are already doing it”.
The Well Known Mini Lesson
Most teachers are very familiar with mini lessons and we know why they are important. Even thought I knew they were important, I always dreaded them. There was so much talking on my part. It was a lot of work for me and kids just had to sit back, maybe take some notes and maybe do a turn and talk in there somewhere. Worse yet, when it came to math there were so many times that I felt like kids were bored because quite frankly it wasn’t a challenge just having to “sit and get” the content.
I Did Things Differently
By my 2nd year teaching I started to find myself as a teacher and had stepped back from the traditional mini lesson. I had started to reduce the amount of talking I was doing and instead started putting the work on the kids. Instead of pulling out my anchor chart and immediately showing students how to solve the problem I would start by asking the students “I know you probably have never learned this but how would you solve this problem”?
In the first few weeks of school it was a challenge, kids were taken aback. I would give them a problem they likely had never seen before and had given them no upfront guidance. Instead I allowed them to work in mixed ability groups and told them to think about what they had learned previously about the skill. As students would solve the problem, I would see them struggle and sometimes get frustrated; but by the end almost all students got it right and hadn’t even done my mini lesson yet!
Year after year I continued this process, giving students a task that was tied to the objective and allowing students to work together to solve the problem. Then we would discuss and share out what each group did to solve the problem. Not only were the students able to teach themselves how to solve the problem but they heard various ways to solve the same problem and deepened their reasoning skills.
Back when our admin told us we would use a new instructional model they sent us to attend a PD opportunity to review the new method. While at the PD I learned that Launch, Explore, Discuss is an instructional model in which students work collaboratively on a task and they discuss their findings. The teacher works as a facilitator of the processes and students drive the process. It was something I was already doing in my classroom and wasn’t even aware of.
I Still Provide Direct Instruction
Even though this teaching method has been used in my classroom for many years, I still do provide direction instruction to my students. However, my instruction is based on my findings when students are working together on the task. I pay attention to misconceptions they have or struggles I see. My mini lessons are usually only a few minutes long and just clear up any confusion and students take notes of the process. There are times that it’s more of a challenge and I do a more in depth lesson of the skill.
When our admin told us about our new instructional model many teachers were very stressed about trying something new. I observed other grade levels who were feeling overwhelmed and was surprised about how much work they were putting into creating an in depth task everyday for students to complete. While you can spend a lot of time creating a task for your students, the truth is you don’t need something very complicated; they can be a simple computation problem that is tied to the objective for the day or a more rigorous word problem.
Here are a few tasks I have created for my students to learn new concepts.
I saw real academic results and improved engagement when I started to allow students to work and teach themselves. Even better, I wasn’t going home so tired since I was putting the work and effort onto the students. Over the last year I have been creating digital notebooks for my classroom and I have modeled them after the Launch, Explore, Discuss instructional method. If you would like to introduce this model to your students and need resources these 5th grade math digital notebooks will help you tremendously!