“The book and the lesson sets have really rocked my teaching world. I’ve never been happier teaching in my 24 years, and I know this is a huge part of it.” ~Patti Austin, Second Grade Teacher from Islip, NY
Patti Austin, a second-grade teacher from Islip, NY, recently spoke to us about how she is using Who’s Doing the Work? Lessons Sets in her classroom and the tremendous impact it has had on her and her colleagues’ instruction. Read to find out how these simple, carefully-crafted lessons have transformed her classroom.
Lightly edited for clarity.
Q: What was your experience when you first read the professional book, Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More, when it came out?
A: When Who’s Doing the Work? came around, I read it with a study group. That book spoke to my teaching soul. It resonated so deeply, and I kept finding myself going, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” in so many things I read. It created such an excitement. In the words of one of my colleagues who just started reading the book, “This is a game changer.” It really was. It really made a huge impression on me and the fellow teachers that I worked with in the study group.
Q: How did you go about incorporating some of the strategies from the book into your classroom?
A: Well, we were so excited. We had done the work over the summer, reading the book and discussing it. Leading into the new school year, it was like, Charge! But when we started we realized that we had to back it up a little bit. We weren’t ready for it, and the kids weren’t ready for it. They weren’t ready to do the work and talk about what they were thinking. As much as everything in the book made sense to us, we felt a struggle in trying to create lessons that had that gradual release of responsibility. The wait time was difficult because the students have been trained to look up and wait for somebody to help them. But there are components of the book, like the prompting funnel for example, that helped us a great deal.
Q: Your school was asked to field-test some of the lesson sets about a year ago. As someone who was already using strategies from the professional book, what was your experience seeing some of the lessons?
A: When we got the set, it was the biggest “aha” moment of our careers. What we thought we were understanding and trying to put into practice, didn’t exactly look like what we saw in the lesson sets. I often compare it to an experience I had many, many years ago, back when my children were little. Before videos, you did everything with a record album. I had the Jane Fonda workout album. My neighbor and I would put the album on every morning and do our best to work out. About a year into it, the video came out, and we watched it. We were both collectively, “Oh, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing!” We had to see it. And that’s what the lesson sets did for us. As much as we understood and followed the principles of the book, we weren’t really good at putting it all together. Then once we saw it in the lesson sets, it changed everything. As I said, it was the big “aha” moment.
Q: What did you think when the Lesson Sets came out, with all of the packaging, all of the trade books, and in full color?
A: Well, it was little bit like Christmas morning. We were very excited to see them because we had been working with them in the draft form. They’re just beautiful to look at. But what I feel is the most important feature of them is that it’s so user friendly. It is simple. I’ve read other “how to” books that are very, very long and dense. These are quick and easy to read. It’s just beautifully put together, every piece of it. To see the videos, to see Kim and Jan in action, is magical. It’s very inspiring. We’re very inspired by it all.
Q: Is there a component that your students have chosen as their favorite?
A: I would say absolutely the trade books that come with the lessons. I love them myself. Most of them I’d never heard of or read. It’s amazing to me how well they fit into what lesson is being taught. One of the things that we loved about it was how the concept was threaded through each portion of the balance piece, the gradual release. These books are such crowd-pleasers for the children, and for us as teachers, because they speak so well to what we’re trying to teach. The kids rave. They want to read them, they want to borrow them, they get very excited, and they want to hear them again and again.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about whether or not any of the strategies that you’ve learned from the lesson sets actually helped in any other parts of your curriculum?
A: It surely has. During math, when we’re reading story problems, where they have to really negotiate a lot of words, sometimes they don’t really understand. The reading is more of a challenge than the math. We found ourselves saying, “Hey, wait a minute. We’ve gotta break this down. We have to use the same strategies here in math that we were using for reading our stories.”
Q: Is there anything that you want to share with other educators about your experience with the program?
A: I could probably talk for weeks, but they don’t want to hear that. There’s just so much to say about it, but I have to say in a nutshell, the book and the lesson sets have really rocked my teaching world. It’s changed so much. Even in the guided reading sessions, whether it’s two kids or six kids, the conversations are different now. The children are feeling more empowered and more comfortable with doing the work. As we go on through the year, I’m looking forward to seeing how these second graders of mine grow and change as a result of this teaching. It is, I’ve said this many, many times, people will get sick of hearing me say it. I’ve never been happier teaching in my 24 years, and I know this is a huge part of it.