Teach-Okay is the third piece of Whole Brain Teaching’s classroom management system. Teach-Okay is a distinctive feature of Whole Brain Teaching, and requires a paradigm shift from the teacher doing all the talking. Much of our teacher training implicitly reinforces the notion that the teacher does most of the talking. That’s also what most of us were exposed to as students starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school. However, research clearly supports a radically different approach where students are engaged in the process. Yet, how can students teach what they don’t know? The Teach-Okay strategy addresses that question by chunking information into a micro-lecture format.
Traditional Lecture Weakness
Traditionally, teachers were viewed as the Sole Proprietor of Knowledge. Consequently, they did all the talking and students did all the listening (or at least learned how to look like they were listening!) However, brain research shows that our short term memory is simply cannot retain all the information disseminated in a lecture. The short term memory can only remember 3-7 pieces of information, and only for a short period of time. As a result, one of the key principles in Whole Brain Teaching is: The more we talk, the more students we lose!
When you first introduce the procedure for Teach-Okay, break it down into smaller steps. Begin by teaching the verbal cue and gesture. Start off simply by clapping two times and saying, “Teach!” Your students should respond by mimicking your clap and saying, “Okay!” Practice just that part a few times. Next, model for them how to make a full turn to their partner after they say, “Okay!” Again, practice those two pieces a few times to build familiarity. This is something your students will be doing many, many times each day. Go slow at first until they demonstrate mastery. Finally, have students practice teaching something easy, such as Rule #1, with their partners. Here is a practice script to get you started.
I would also recommend you watch Chris Biffle’s introductory video about Teach-Okay.
Praise, Prompt, Leave
While your students are involved in the Teach-Okay process, walk around the classroom “eavesdropping” in on their conversations. It only takes a few seconds to monitor each pairing in your class. Listen to what they are saying and observe the gestures they are using. Either praise them for doing a good job or prompt them to make a correction, then leave. You can quickly check your whole class with this approach. Start with your “borderline” students. If they understand, then it’s a good indication that the majority of your students are learning.
Using Teach-Okay is more than just students mimicking the teacher. Once the basics of a lesson are taught, you can use it as a critical thinking piece in any lesson. For example, ask students to write sentences using prepositional phrases with their partner. Just make sure your students have the fundamentals grasped before you start asking them to use that information in meaningful ways. There’s no point in having students use prepositional phrases in their writing if they first don’t know what a prepositional phrase is!
It’s just not possible for the human brain to remember the amount of information given in a traditional lecture approach. And that’s for the average student! Imagine how hard it must be for students diagnosed with ADHD or language impairments! If we truly say we have a student-centered classroom, then we must consistently use the core educational device in Whole Brain Teaching of the Teach-Okay. Only then can we be assured that our students are actively engaged in the learning process.