Transforming Instruction

by Sandra Herbst

It is curious that at the very same time that we in Manitoba are just beginning to think about planting our vegetable and flower gardens, this blog posting is about harvesting. My thoughts turn to the harvest because of several conversations that I have recently had while working with educators across the North Island of New Zealand.  

As we lead the learning of adults, we know that it is important to set the stage for learning.  For many, that includes starting workshops or sessions or seminars with a list of the outcomes for those adult learners.  We do the same for students when we explicitly identify the learning goal for a lesson and its connection to a curricular outcome or expectation.

Throughout the learning, though, it might also be helpful to deliberately illuminate the strategies that are being used with the participants.  For me, this is a strategy in and of itself.  I was first introduced to it during my foundational Cognitive Coaching training with John Dyer and is one that, many years ago, I saw Bruce Wellman model in his Adaptive Schools sessions.  It is called the Strategy Harvest.

The Strategy Harvest is a list of strategies that are “collected” by the facilitator and the learners throughout the session. These are the strategies that the learners have used – the ones that have invited them into processing, whether externally or internally.  They can be listed on chart paper that is hung around the room or can be electronically posted on a shared document. Essentially, it shines the flashlight clearly on the learning approaches that have been employed.

Below, you will see pictures of the charts that we recently created during a learning session with approximately 70 school leaders in Napier, New Zealand.

One of the strategies that you might notice is called Stop and Say Something.  It is a strategy that I first used at the very same Cognitive Coaching training sessions to which I referred earlier. Stop and Say Something is a way to engage with text and actively process while you are reading.

Two partners have the same piece of text and they begin to read it simultaneously and silently.  At each heading, they stop their reading and turn to one another and essentially “say something” about what was just read.  It might be a related idea, a question, an affirmation, or an account.  The readers connect text to self; they engage in metacognition.  Many find the “chunking” of the text helpful to their comprehension, as does listening to the connections of a valued colleague.

Now back to the conversation in New Zealand regarding the Strategy Harvest.  Perhaps because it is the harvest season in that part of the world, we found ourselves regularly debriefing the use and nuances of this strategy.

The very practical aspect of identifying adult learner strategies is that, at the same time, one is highlighting strategies that can be used with student learners.  And so, Stop and Say Something is a strategy that can be used with students as they read a text, watch a video, or listen to a presentation.  For example, a video can be paused every four or five minutes and students can turn to each other and “say something.”  Or during a presentation from a community elder, a local politician, or a veteran, the presenter can be asked to speak in five or six minute chunks.  At each break, students are invited to share with a classmate a connection to what was just stated.

This example highlights that, as a strategy is placed on the Strategy Harvest, its use with students is considered.  In essence, this means that a double agenda is being run.  The adult learner outcomes (shared at the beginning of the learning time) are being met, alongside a set of strategies.  And these very strategies are ones that can be used in the classroom with the teacher’s students.  Because the adults have experienced these strategies themselves, they have engaged in a round of “practice” that will be helpful in determining when they might be used with their students; thought can be given to the ways in which it might need to be adapted, based on the age of the learners and the discipline of study.

When “time” is of the essence in professional learning and when we need to make every minute count, the strategy of the Strategy Harvest maximizes that most precious commodity.