Intentional Teaching

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the intentionality that should be teaching.  For example, how many of us (I’ll jump in here just so I don’t point fingers…) tell our students that they should ‘compare these two (……) and tell how they’re different.”

Ok. Well, my hair just caught fire.

The word ”compare” actually means to find similarities, not differences.  The items in the middle of the Venn diagram.  “Contrast” means to find differences; the outer items in the Venn diagram.  However, according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, we have merged the definitions and now compare means to find similarities and differences. (I’ve wondered if the people who wrote the PARCC test are using an old definition or the new definition in their writing evaluations?)

Or in math.  Using the appropriate math word properly enhances the students’ understandings because they can explain their work more articulately when they have the proper vocabulary at their disposal.  Question:  When was the last time you saw/heard/had a teacher give a vocabulary test in math?

All of this reflection is driven by the passing of this school year.  It’s my first full year in one grade, in one classroom with one set of students.  I’ve learned about DRA scores, ‘just right books’, Lucy Caulkin’s Writers Workshop, and conferencing for Readers Workshop. I’ve learned that classroom libraries need a variety of ‘just right books’ to instill the positivity that reading can be fun and writing about them can be, well, exhilarating.

As our year draws to an end, (yes, the coming of PARCC tests does that to me…)  I am feeling like I let my students down.  I arrived early and stayed late every day, as do many teachers. But despite my best efforts,  I feel as though the year meandered through the curriculum without much intentionality.  I feel like my students could have/should have made more progress than they did.  I want to stop the clock, go back put in a more focused effort with the ones I feel that could be better readers, writers or both.  But alas, I cannot.  All I can hope to do, is to do better next time.

As a result of this outcome, I have been perusing the book lists that pass through my emails looking for a book that will help me become more intentional next year.  To that end, I just purchased the book, “180 Days” by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle for ~$35 from Heinemann Publishing.  It’s a pretty steep price and I bought it promising not to write in it just in case I was disappointed in it and wanted to return it. (That would be a first, as demonstrated by the multiple book cases in my house that are crammed with books of all sorts… no… that’s a lie… they’re crammed with books about teaching.

This book is by two teachers who decide that they are, in my words, going to teach for 180 days with intentionality.

This book began as an earnest attempt to share the decisions we make when determining what will fit into a single school year.  To move beyond the surface-level responses we had grown accustomed to giving, we decided that the best way to get to the answer was to first plan a year together, and then teach a year together…. Creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers, writers, listeners, speakers and thinkers continually led us back to closely examining out decision making process…. p xvii

I won’t even begin to tell you that I’ve gotten through the book; I’m only on page 9.  But I can tell you that this book speaks to the work that is teaching.

Planning doesn’t start with what and how questions.  Planning starts with why.…we invite you to consider the philosophical underpinnings of your own teaching.  What are the values and beliefs that guide your action? (p.9)

(See, I told you I’d only gotten to page 9…!)

But as I glance through the book for more proof that I can really teach next year with the intentionality I am capable of, I also think of the benefit of being able to share the goal of doing so with another teacher as passionate about it as am I.

For that part of the story, I’ll have to wait.  I’m told that I won’t find out who my co-teacher is until August… (that’s one of those things I’d change if I had the position to do so….)

I plan to write more about this journey toward and through next year, so if you’re interested, stay tuned!


Gallagher, K. (2018). 180 days: Two teachers and the quest to engage and empower adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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