Head shot of Karen Gazith
Karen Gazith

How to teach with purpose- highlights from Ped Day keynote address

Karen Gazith’s keynote address at Intercollegiate Ped Days on Jan. 10 served as a crash course in how to be an effective teacher. Entitled Teaching with Purpose, her address had the same name as the book she published in 2020.

“How well we teach is the most critical factor” in a student’s success, she said.

At the beginning of her talk, she outlined the four topics she intended to cover: the strategic teacher, formative assessment, differentiation, and grit and perseverance. In doing this, she modelled her approach to teaching: “always start with the big picture before going into the details.”

I do, we do, you do one, you do many
One of the tactics she explained in detail was “I do, we do, you do one and you do many.”

The “I do” part is when the teacher “thinks aloud” and shows how to engage with the skill, going through all the steps and communicating where it gets difficult. “I model for students what I want them to do,” she said.

The “we do” step is not collaborative in nature. Rather, everyone goes through all the steps the teacher just did together as a large group. Then each student does the “you do one” step. Each student writes out all the steps and the teacher walks around to see if students need help. This step is very important because Karen says that “practice makes permanent.” In other words, students will recall the steps with much practice.

In the “you do many” step, students practice many different examples. It is important for students to master a skill on their own before forming groups. “Students who have not mastered a skill are hidden when forming groups too early,” she cautioned.

When mastering a skill, there are always steps. “They will remember your voice as you guide them through the steps,” she concluded.

How do you know you taught your students?
Formative assessment is important because teaching means learning. “If students don’t learn, did we teach?” she said.

Teachers need to formulate learning goals, communicate these goals to students, develop assessment(s), evaluate whether students have learned and assess evaluations.

Karen gave an example of what not to do: asking a question to the class along the lines of “who can tell me?” Only the students who like to speak up will answer.

She gave many examples of formative assessments, including:

  • Complete the formula
  • Complete the example
  • Write out the steps
  • Write a persuasive paragraph
  • Everyone write a “huh” (something that remains unclear) and an “aha” (something now understood)
  • Write three new things that were learned
  • Write “what I heard” (what you think you know) and “what I think” (what you know you know)
  • Write a note to capture the essentials for a student who missed class
  • Write a newspaper headline – a seven-word summary – or a tweet of 140 characters about what you have learned
  • Answer these questions: what is circling around in your head? What are the three main points? What is not sitting right with you?
  • List in rank order the most important to the least important concepts learned

Keep formative assessment simple, she said. If she teaches for three hours, the last 30 minutes are reserved for formative assessment. “At the end of class, I need to see that each person in the group understands,” she said. “Teach however you want, but at the end of the lesson, make sure they have learned what you taught.”

Every student deserves to learn and to have their needs met. “I want to make sure that as teachers we hold differentiation as a value, not a practice. I always think about how to meet my students’ needs. Once I hold this value, I think of tactics and strategies,” she said.

Karen reminded the 135 participants that in each class there are students who find a course too easy, too hard or on target. “If we teach to the middle, we miss two thirds of the class.”

She showed a cartoon to illustrate the concepts of reality, equality, equity and liberation. Reality shows that some people have advantages while others are disadvantaged; equality puts everyone on the same level; equity gives everyone the boost they need and liberation removes all the barriers.

Removing barriers
Teachers can ask themselves: “is there a barrier I can remove?” For example, if the evaluation is not about writing, why ask the students to write? Other ways to lift barriers include easing time restrictions, using images to explain difficult content, ensuring that questions are clear, allowing for re-do’s whenever possible.

Grit and perseverance was the last topic she covered, which she described as “the ability to handle bumps on the road while pursuing long-term goals.”

One way to do this is to praise students for the effort they put into learning rather than telling them they are smart. Goals need to be optimally challenging and students need to experience success, she said. “We don’t want students to give up, we want to keep them in the game,” she said.

To illustrate her point about how quickly students can become discouraged and learn helplessness, she showed a video.

Karen Gazith is the Director of the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre. She received her PhD in Education and Counselling Psychology from McGill University and has been a Faculty Lecturer since 2014. She also taught at the University of New Brunswick and Hebrew College of Boston on topics related to Inclusion. Gazith also acted as the Graduate Program Director of the Certificate in Inclusive Education – Education and Counselling Psychology at McGill.

Gazith is the author of The Mindful and Purposeful Teacher and Teaching with Purpose. Her work includes assessment for instruction, differentiation, grit and perseverance, literacy development, challenges, behaviour management, leadership, strategic planning, and the brain-friendly classroom.

Last Modified: January 25, 2023