Script it!

As I've written about before, experts have situation-action pairs stored in their long-term memories. A situation-action pair represents an automated response (action) that an expert has to a given scenario (situation). This automated response represents an action that has a high probability of producing the desired outcome.

Some examples:

  • The footballer instinctively selects the appropriate kick for their current velocity and position on the field.

  • The musician automatically plays an appropriate note for the key and mood during their solo.

  • The salesperson intuitively uses just the right phrase to close the deal

Whilst each of these acts may seem effortless to the naive onlooker, they're actually the product of countless hours of deliberate practice, honing appropriate and pre-prepared responses to a huge diversity of crucial situations.

When we leave our actions to chance, the probability that they will provide us with the outcome that we desire is not very high. This is especially true for stressful situations. For example, if we deal with the first case of a student inappropriately yelling out in class with an unconscious and unrehearsed response, it's likely that that response will be as unproductive as the student interruption in the first place.

What's more, practice makes permanent. If we continue to react in an unconscious and unrehearsed way to such situations, the situation-action pair that we'll burn into our brains will be that of an ineffective, rather than an expert teacher. (and this habit formation happens scarily fast in teaching!)

That's why it's so important to ‘script it'. That is, to deliberately plan, and to rehearse, what we want to say in a given situation.

This is particularly true of classroom management, but it's also true of instruction.

Scripting is super valuable during instruction because, during instruction, we aren't just trying to foster effective and efficient situation-action pairs in our own long-term memories, we're also trying to build them in the minds of our students. The stakes are twice as high.

When a student sees a routine addition problem, we don't want them to have to effortfully search their long-term memories for an appropriate approach (or even worse, to make something up on the spot), we want them to unconsciously and automatically commence the appropriate solution procedure.

Scripting can help.

A great example of this was shared in my podcast with Sammy Kempner (now with over 20k downloads!) in which Sammy spoke about chants. With chants, Sammy trains his students to automatically respond to prompts with appropriate knowledge. For example, when Sammy calls out, ‘Perimeter', his students reply, ‘Distance around a 2D shape'. Sammy's call is the situation, his students' response is the action, and the pair represents an important mathematical definition stored in his students' long-term memories.

I saw another great example of chants at the Fogarty EDvance Teaching Intensive that I wrote about last week. Participating teachers and I were using lesson plans from Dawson Park Primary School, and these lesson plans included scripts that were designed to help students to build highly effective situation-action pairs on long-term memory.

Pictured below is an example of one such script. For this script, teachers had explicitly planned what they want students to think, and to say, when solving a two-digit addition problem that requires regrouping. Take a moment to read the Self-talk script on the right hand side of the image:

Kalon Harrison doing a great job of scaffolding student self-talk with a pre-planned script

It's actually a bit hard to imagine how this is used, so here's a quick recording of the pace at which students say this script (imagine a whole class full of students enthusiastically chanting this in unison. It's pretty powerful!)

Over time, this script becomes automatic for students. Eventually, they're unconsciously saying this script and it acts as a scaffold that helps them through the solution process for novel two-digit addition. They literally just change the numbers in the script, and find themselves at the answer. (as long as they've also automated their addition facts, which they do in their daily reviews too).

This is a fantastic example of scripting it. Picking a high leverage skill and consciously planning exactly what we want students to think, and say, whilst working through it.

Where might there be some low hanging fruit for scripting in your classroom? Which situation-action pairs do you want yourself, and your students, to master?

You are reading an instalment 133 of Teacher Ollie's Takeaways, an (aspirationally) weekly email in which I share some personal thoughts on teaching and learning, as well as great resources from others. Subscribe here, view all back issues here.

Announcements and Opportunities

  • We've now sold 35% of the tickets for the upcoming Steplab Instructional Coaching Intensive, and it's still more than a month away! Get in quick to see Josh Goodrich and Peps Mccrea in action and learn about the most up-to-date and impactful approaches to Instructional Coaching. More info on the event page, and make sure you check out the most recent ERRR podcast on Instructional Coaching if you're keen to know what the hype is all about!

  • The Science of Learning Leadership Accelerator is happening in Perth on March 9th-10th. This will be a fantastic 2 days of connecting with movers and shakers who are bringing the Science of Learning to the fore in Australia. I'm particularly looking forward to the keynote from Tom Rees who heads up Ambition Institute in the UK. Find out more here.

Takeaways (TOT133)

  • TeacherTapp is a UK app that allows teachers to fill in quick surveys a number of times each week. Their excellent surveys provide regular insights into how the profession is feeling. In this blog, Harry Fletcher-Wood shares a number of these insights from a recent collection of surveys. I found this bit on teacher morale particularly interesting. It shares the kinds of words that low and high morale teachers use in descriptions of their school.

  • New words:

    • ‘To wit': To be more precise

    • Metonymy: A figure of speech in which an object or idea is referred to by the name of something closely associated with it. (Often used to sneakily influence a words meaning by association.)

    • Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa. E.g., , within the phrase, ‘England lost by six wickets', ‘England' is a synecdoche for ‘the English cricket team’.

  • Quote:

    • ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.' – James Clear, Atomic Habits

The post Script it! appeared first on Ollie Lovell.