Hillsborough County elementary teacher Rennex Franklin freely admits he likes to talk: “I can talk a lot, I talk fast, I have a lot of ideas I want to share. I recognize that.” Despite—or, perhaps, because of—his propensity for talking, Rennex recognizes the power of discourse for students.
Rennex provided our education team a glimpse of his pedagogical approach:
“I intentionally structure my classroom to support respectful conversations between students. Whatever topic we are studying, I pose questions that students can take, make connections with and move from there. I’m interested in seeing what students do with a question—what they create and invent by answering it. I start with open-ended questions based on what we are studying and follow-up with supporting questions that sometimes push the conversation in areas I think student should explore and other times to let students go. I will never respond to a student’s idea by saying ‘yes, that is right’ or just agree with a comment. That cuts off their conversation. I try to remove myself—which is hard at first—while making sure they know what they are supposed to know.”
Rennex further explains some of the strategies he uses to assess what students know and to push on their conversation. For example, Rennex watches to see if students are using content vocabulary in their conversation and whether or not they are taking a concept they are learning and applying it to new ideas or circumstances. In Rennex’s words, “Are students owning the content?”
In math, for example, he might take the topic of fractions and, as students begin to speak, he checks to see if they are incorporating specific math language such as numerator, denominator and parts of a whole. Are students following the mathematic process for solving fractions? Are they making connections to how they use or could use fractions in their daily lives? What are those connections and how are students building upon each other’s understanding of the concept? As Rennex summarizes, “What teachers do in terms of scaffolding, can the kids do that for each other? I organize my lessons to allow for that.”
In 2009, the Foundation funded the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project to capture the types of strong practices teachers such as Rennex use. The purpose was to build and test measures of effective teaching to inform teacher evaluation and professional learning systems. The project recently culminated in a final report and tools which can be found here.
Rennex participated in MET’s research stage and is now one of 300 teachers who is helping the project move from research to practice. The next phase is to build a video library of practice for use in professional development. Rennex and his colleagues will record more than 50 lessons each for the MET project to make available to states, school districts, and other organizations. The new video library will allow educators to see and analyze great teaching in action.
The notion of capturing and sharing effective teaching with other teachers is what convinced Rennex to continue with the project. According to Rennex, “I’m interested in the possibility of helping new teachers learn, of making their teaching easier for them, of providing them with concrete examples of strategies that support student engagement and learning. Seeing clips of effective teaching strategies would have helped me greatly as I prepared to become a teacher. I remember thinking exactly that in my teacher certification program. I wanted to see many different examples of what people considered to be good teaching.