Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Lessons Learned from Surfing
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Slice of Life: Lessons Learned from Surfing

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I turned to see my friend frantically pressing her fist to her forehead as she watched her boys head off into the waves with surfboards.

 My kids took surf lessons this week with some of their friends. As I watched the lesson progress, I could not help but notice and reflect on the instructional model being used.

 1)   If You Want to Surf, You Need to Get Into the Water

This instructor wasted no time at all! He spent no more than ten minutes going over the basics before he brought the group into the water. Although he did a great job modeling and had the boys try the moves on the sand with him, he knew that in order to really learn they needed to get into the water. It is so important to remember the only way to learn a strategic behavior is in the context of doing it. So often our students are only observing and listening. They need more time to actually practice using the skills they learn strategically. Trying to stand on your board when you are on the sand is completely different than when you are on top of a cresting wave. It is the same for our readers… being able to tell someone the strategies you know is completely different than knowing how to effectively employ a strategy when you need it.

2)   If You Need Help, Signal

Before going into the water, the instructor let the boys know that if they were in trouble they needed to signal him. There were four boys learning and only one instructor. He explained that if he was worried about them he would signal them and they should signal back. He assured them that if they were in trouble he would be there immediately. He then had them each practice the signal to use if they were in trouble – pressing your fist to your forehead. This instructor put a feedback loop in place right away. He knew he needed to be able to communicate with the surfers especially if they were in trouble. He wanted them to know he would be watching and listening. He set the expectation that he would be working with each surfer and that they should only signal if they were really in trouble. This is so important in the classroom as well. Our students need to understand that when we are working with another student they should only interrupt in an emergency. Do we take time to set up these expectations and signals with our students?   Do we let our students know we are watching and listening? Do they know the importance of the feedback loop in learning?

3)   If at First You Don’t Succeed…

The lesson was 75 minutes. The boys spent a good hour surfing…or trying to surf. I could not believe the number of times they were crushed by a wave, fell off their board or completely missed altogether, but still got up and ran back to the next wave. They had stamina and perseverance. It did not seem like quitting was even an option in their minds. They just practiced again and again and again. I could not help but think about the amount of time our students get to practice, truly practice in our classrooms. It takes many failures and approximations before we learn anything. Often our students don’t get this time. Watching these boys learn to surf reminded me of the importance of practice.

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So often when we talk about assessment and learning, our colleagues worry about the self-esteem of students. As a profession we want to protect them from failing or feeling stress. I wonder if sometimes our protection is causing more harm them good. Do they sense our fear? Do they think they are not ready because we do not give them time to give it a go? My friend clearly was not ready to see her boys go off and hit the waves so quickly (hence her emergency signal to the instructor which he luckily did not see), but the boys felt ready. I think they sensed the instructor’s confidence in them, felt assured by the feedback loop and knew they had hard work ahead of them. They each caught several waves and wanted to go back for more.   I want to keep this image in my mind as I work in classrooms this year – students ready to learn, persevere and head back for more!

Clare

 

18 Comments
  • Avatar
    Fran
    Posted at 09:36h, 26 August Reply

    Wow! What a powerful message! How do we capitalize on the “want to” that our students seem to associate with anything that is “fun”? And where does that spirit go as our students age?

    Much drive time thinking this morning! Thanks so much!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 11:41h, 27 August Reply

      Thanks Fran — we have lots of “long drive” mornings so we can relate!
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Michele Knott
    Posted at 10:06h, 26 August Reply

    Great analogies! A couple of things you mentioned have been on my mind lately. One is the amount of time we spend reading. I know we don’t do enough reading in our school and I’m trying to change that. I also like the idea of give the kids what they need (mini lesson) and let them get in there and try it. Good things to think about!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:13h, 27 August Reply

      Thanks MIchelle — we agree that time spent on authentic reading needs to be increased in most schools. Great goal for all of us!

  • Avatar
    Norah Colvin
    Posted at 10:16h, 26 August Reply

    I love the three main lesson points you were able to elicit from watching your sons’ surfing lessons. The analogies are very strong, and powerful in their message. On the subject of failure you may enjoy this article by James Clear, talking about the 200 re-writes Markus Zusak did on ‘The Book Thief’ http://jamesclear.com/markus-zusak 🙂

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:13h, 27 August Reply

      Norah we do not know that resource and cannot wait to check it out. One of my all time favorite books!!!

      Thank you

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan (@MelanieMeehan1)
    Posted at 10:57h, 26 August Reply

    I’m printing this and sharing it with some of my teachers. Love the analogies!!! Great post!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:14h, 27 August Reply

      Thanks — we would love to hear your feedback on responses.

      Clare

  • Avatar
    Amy Boyden
    Posted at 10:58h, 26 August Reply

    I really enjoyed this, the image really paints a clear picture. I do think it is true we need to show confidence in our kids and opportunities to perform for them to truly succeed.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:15h, 27 August Reply

      The confidence piece really resonated with me — I need to think more about that as a parent and to encourage it when I model lessons.
      Thanks

  • Avatar
    Linda Baie
    Posted at 14:01h, 26 August Reply

    Beautiful connection! We’ve been talking a lot about grit, and all the ways it applies in (& out) of the classrooms. Helping students learn to practice again and again, without feeling failure seems to ask for a goal, but for each, a reachable one. And that takes a wise teacher. Thanks for this, will share!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:16h, 27 August Reply

      Thanks Linda — finding a way to make practice and approximation not feel like failure, for us or them, seems to be a key idea.
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Lee Ann Spillane
    Posted at 23:13h, 26 August Reply

    Looks like the beach near our house. I love the connections you made that fit all learners. My son surfs and I could see his experience and learning in each description. Apt analogy.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:16h, 27 August Reply

      Thanks Lee Ann — we can hope this mindset transfers to school!!!

  • Avatar
    Dana Murphy
    Posted at 23:31h, 26 August Reply

    Clare, this instructional model will work well with my teachers, too, when I’m providing PD. I especially like #1: We, as teachers, have to get in the water. We can learn and study and discuss, but until we get in the classroom and give it a go…. well, we’re not really surfing.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 12:17h, 27 August Reply

      Love the idea that teachers too need to get in the water –that is a powerful connection you are making for me as a coach. Thanks for helping me see something in my piece that I missed! How cool is response!!??

  • Avatar
    Terje
    Posted at 16:15h, 27 August Reply

    I loved the analogy. Time seems to be a common thread here – lots of time to practice, time for feedback, and time to learn form mistakes. Time is precious. We as teachers have to be mindful how the students spend time in the classroom. In the midst of all the expectations it may be easy to forget to consider it. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  • Avatar
    John Howell
    Posted at 00:28h, 29 August Reply

    Clare,

    Super cool slice that I’ll be reading more than once. Perhaps the biggest take away for me after the first read was this little gem:

    “Our students need to understand that when we are working with another student they should only interrupt in an emergency. Do we take time to set up these expectations and signals with our students? Do we let our students know we are watching and listening? Do they know the importance of the feedback loop in learning?”

    I often equate the time spent in class to that person at the circus that spins dozens of plates on those tiny poles. He gets the first plate spinning then quickly shifts his attention to the second, third and fourth plate only then to have to run back quickly and give more attention to the first plate before adding more and more. Managing that madness is mentally exhausting and as a classroom teacher I have moments where I feel much the same way.

    Perhaps it is because I have not explictly setup the expectation that when I’m working with another student that they should only interrupt in an emergency. Perhaps it’s because I have not let the students know explicitly that I’m watching and listening or perhaps it’s because they simply do not know the importance of the feedback loop.

    I do believe that a reread of this article is in order and I will be thinking these expectations through so I’ll be ready for the first week of school that is quickly approaching.

    From bended knee, thank you!

    Respectfully,
    John

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