"Mom! Hurry up! I'm gonna be late for football workshop!"

I don't know squat about coaching sports but I'm convinced that good coaches use the workshop model. They gather the players and do whole-class lessons, break up into groups, and also confer 1:1. At the end of a practice, the players are gathered up again for a re-teach. My son has had many coaches and the ones he respects and learns the most from do a lot of conferring and modeling. When he complains about a coach, it is usually because he doesn't understand what is expected of him. Yes, he would like to win but a lot of his motivation during football or basketball season has to do with his relationship with the coach. He wants to learn, feel like he is improving his skills, and contribute to the team. One of my son's coaches this year never conferred with the players during games. He rubbed his eyes while he watched the kids struggle. Mid-season, I began to wonder if this coach had deep knowledge of the sport he was coaching. In practice, they ran drills and practiced plays but the coach didn't seem very responsive to what his players were doing. It was like he was unable to see how to use the strengths of the players on the team to design instruction or create plays based on those strengths. Like I said, I don't know squat about coaching sports but I can usually recognize effective instruction when I see it.

I've seen a similiar workshop teaching structure used by my daughter's best dance teachers. My daughter thought I was watching her, but I was really watching the teacher.  One dance teacher I found fascinating to watch could take a large group of students with a wide range of skills and by the end of the year, all students in the class would make significant gains. I watched this teacher create this success year after year. What was this dance teacher doing that other dance teachers were not?
One of the things she did was give each student very specific feedback. She only asked them to focus on one or two skills per class. She named and noticed what they were doing correctly then added one more small bit of teaching. Although her classes had lots of work at the barre, many of the skills were taught in combinations. When skills were taught, she immediately inserted them into varying combinations in the center of the floor. The teacher would often comment that she would get students from other dance schools that looked great at the barre but they didn't move well and fell apart in the center. In other words, they could do isolated skills but when it came to actually dancing, they hadn't been taught how to pull it all together. Many new students would leave in tears because they were afraid to take the risks. They were afraid to look silly in front of their peers as they were learning new steps. My daughter's teacher took great pains to create a safe learning environment where risk-taking was noticed, complimented, and expected.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in the bits and pieces of reading and writing instruction or lengthy units of study that we forget that students need long stretches of time to actually read and write. As a literacy coach, I see this all the time. Lately, I've asked some of my teachers to let go of unit lessons for a week and just read and confer with students. Make sure the kids have just right books in their bags. Sometimes teachers need permission to just get back to the basics of workshop. Model a little, confer a lot, then teach a little more.

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