Our son-in-law asked for a Nike VR_S Covert golf club for Christmas. Not a golfer myself, I had no idea what was so special about this particular club. But, being an extremely proficient online shopper, I had no trouble purchasing it, anyway.
He was delighted! He immediately began to break it in, knocking about Christmas wrapping and boxes, referring to it as his new “rescue club”. He claims it will be his new best friend on the golf course. It seems this club will magically bail him out of a whole lot of tight spots. But as much as he might love it, it most certainly is not the only club he’ll carry in his bag this summer.
Many of the golfers I know have their favorite clubs, but none of them relies on only one. That’s the purpose for the bag, right? To carry a range of tools for a variety of situations. Each one compliments the others in some way.
The same is true in the literacy classroom. You may have your favorite instruction format; whole group, small group, or one-to-one conferences. But you can’t rely on just one. To deliver the most effective instruction, you’ll need a mix of all three in your bag. Different situations call for different teacher tools. Each one has its place and compliments the others in some way.
The golfer starts out on the tee with a driver and with any luck at all, the driver takes him a nice distance toward the green. The teacher often starts off in the gathering area with whole group instruction and if things go well, takes a fair number of students in the direction of the learning goal.
With the exception of the extremely rare hole-in-one, most drives on the golf course are followed up by the selection of the just-right mid-range club for the next leg of the journey. In the classroom, whole group instruction is best followed up with some sort of differentiated instruction. Often small group work. Some pockets of students will need something more or different in order to get to the goal. Some need to try the same skill with a more difficult text. Some need to try it with a simpler text. Both the mid-range club and small group instruction are efficient ways of covering more ground toward the goal.
Eventually, the golfer arrives at the putting green. Here he comes in close, appraises the situation, and relies on a great deal of finesse. Even as great as our son-in-law’s new Nike club may be, I doubt it will ever see the putting green. And even as as powerful as a whole group and small group instruction may be, there will always be a place for individual conferences in our literacy instruction. This is the time for us to slow down, come in close, and provide just the right nudge in just the right direction for just this one student.
For many of is, the 1-1 conference may be our favorite instructional format. We love seeing the reader in action on his or her own reading turf, and then delivering the truly reader-centered instruction that only conferring provides. But a teacher could never deliver effective and efficient instruction to a classroom of 30+ students by relying only on 1-1 conferring. There simply isn’t enough time. We need other tools as well.
On the other hand, some teacher’s have a strong preference toward whole group instruction, relying heavily on it throughout the day. Whole group instruction is a powerful tool, when used as just one possible tool in the bag. But after hitting that initial drive, both golfer and teacher must ask themselves what is called for next? Unless things have gone badly off course, it is rarely another driver.
Whether on the golf course or in the classroom, we all need a well stocked bag of tools. Not just our favorites, but a variety of tools for meeting a variety of needs.
Success hinges on selecting the right tool at the right time.