The Rule of Three: One Thing at a Time

I don’t know what your bookmarks tab on your browser looks like, but mine is packed with so many interesting teaching ideas that I rarely have time to go back and investigate.

There are so many cool teaching ideas out there. If I were to dip my toes into every pond of ideas that has impressed me, my students and I would grow… crazy.

I love what we do in class. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; but I want to keep growing as an educator.

This is where the rule of three helps me adapt my classes so that change happens, but it happens slowly enough that I can reflect and move forward purposefully rather than in a frenzied, unbalanced push to do it all.

Consistent Structure

My classes are organized in what I call a “two conversation class” so that there is a high degree of consistency that my students can count on. We always start class with a short pleasure reading session (or a book talk if they are not yet ready for pleasure reading), followed by a student-centered activity in which student ideas are the curriculum (think student interviews, card talks, OWIs, guided writing), followed by a “voices of others” presentation in which I present something from the outside world (a movie talk, a story, a picture talk, a maravilla… something in which students confront “the other”). Finally, we end our class, every single day, with a Write & Discuss summary of the class written on the board and a quick exit quiz that does go into the gradebook.

Essentially there are two activities every day, or two conversations, and students know they will be held accountable for understanding the content of the two conversations every day at the end of the class period.

The Rule of Three

For years I have thought about change in my classes in terms of three basic categories. Am I trying to (1) improve my relationships with students, or (2) modify my instructional technique so that I am clearer, more efficient, more effective, or (3) am I developing a richer understanding of target language cultures?

Thinking about change in my own classroom in these terms has allowed me to slow down and avoid jumping from teaching fad to fad. I spend more time, usually at least one or two weeks, focusing on the impacts of one set of changes and how to tweak them so that they lead to better outcomes. Better yet, it leads me to assess the changes I make on a scale more profound than simply, “did students like the activity?”

It is through this process, focusing on the category of improving relationships with students, that I first explored the idea of spending a part of every class period on a student-centered activity. I once spent two weeks of classes in which I purposefully kept an eye on how our word walls were being used (2nd category), making modifications across classes to try to identify best practices. There are times when I delve deep during my prep periods to explore a specific country or culture (3rd category), knowing that a two-week deep dive will leave other teaching initiatives dangling, but it is worth it for me to re-engage with cultures I love.

Having a consistent class structure allows me to drop-in new activities and techniques easily, and it allows me the breathing space to grow as a teacher without drowning.

The key point I want to make is this: it is worth going deep and really drilling down into whatever initiative you are contemplating rather than quickly trying out new activities and moving on. Slowing shifting between the three categories (students / pedagogy / target cultures) allows me to spend three weeks of my prep periods immersed in Peru without worrying that my professional growth in other categories is stagnating.

It is as simple as recognizing that I am at my best when I do one thing at a time.