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Harry Potter and the Achievement Gap: Why Professor Snape Needs an Instructional Coach

Written By: Sarah Murphy, Instructional Coach

Summertime=movie time for many of us, and I am a fan of flicks! For years, I grabbed the life and arts section of the newspaper from our kitchen table and jumped straight to the movie section, hungry to read about upcoming films or current movie reviews. An old shoebox under my adolescent bed housed clippings from newspapers with articles on my favorite movies or stars. The experience of attending movies, analyzing movies, and anticipating movies was very much a part of my childhood. Movies which TRULY got me stoked were those based on beloved books. Frequently, I would bemoan the film’s ability to capture the literary greatness of the original text even before viewing the film, and I was still supercrazyexcited to catch the flick 🙂 Enter Harry Potter. I sincerely love the Harry Potter
books. They are exciting, creative, humorous, and rich, and they feature the craft of teaching. Reading Harry Potter as an adult, I could not help but notice the variety of teachers at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As I read about Harry’s adventures, I would take note of the relationships built with teachers, the instructional practices utilized, and the areas for growth which could truly make those classrooms transformational.

In my first entry of this series of blogs, I take a look at a clip from the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and analyze the effective and less than effective instructional choices made by Professor Severus Snape (played by Alan Rickman, who shall be reviewed in a forthcoming entry for his clear behavioral expectations in the film classic Die Hard). Teachers make thousands of choices each day, and those choices have a direct impact on the learning of our students. In this brief clip from the film, I analyze the instructional choices made by Professor Snape, attempting to let him know which choices he should continue to make, since they increase student achievement, as well as areas where he should make adjustments to benefit his students. This is A LOT of feedback, and I would not deliver all of this feedback to Professor Snape in one fell swoop. Preparing the debrief with Professor Snape would require culling this down to one to two areas for growth and providing him with strategies to implement in his next class period to help with those particular areas. I would happily instructionally coach Professor Snape if he asks for assistance:) Happy reading, blog reader! In the comments, please let me know other films you would like to see analyzed or areas of strength and growth you noted in this classroom!


Observed Classroom Action Instructional GLOWS! Instructional GROWS
Teacher arrives in classroom (sts already seated) +Routines and Procedures: 100% of students are seated at the start of class! They are quietly talking with neighbors and stop once classtime begins. This type of clear routine and procedure is not simple to implement, and it maximizes instructional time! ?Routines and Procedures: Consider strengthening this entrance procedure by moving students from compliant to fully engaged in rigorous material-have students begin a warm-up or Do First which prompts their brains to begin thinking through your content.
Teacher: There will be no foolish wand waving or silly incantations in this class. I don’t expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science of potions… No observed instructional glow here 😦 ? Promoting Positive Climate (KEY LEVER): This is an area where considerable changes should be made in order to impact student achievement. Students must feel safe in a learning environment, and language such as this excludes students and sets them up to feel failure. Consider utilizing positive framing and a more clear, supportive tone when addressing students. Rephrase what you just communicated to students in the following way: “We will be tackling some difficult subject matter this year. I will provide you with ways to master this difficult content, and we will have to work as one team and family 100% of each class period in order to understand all of this material.
Teacher:…I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death. (PAUSE…amazingly lengthy PAUSE) +Sense of Urgency!You have clearly and purposefully told students why the content that they will be learning in the class this year is important! This helps students understand why they should attend to the task at hand at all times, when such important big goals can be reached like ‘putting a stopper in death’!+Wait Time: Allowing students to process your words by pausing after this statement allows them to internalize the material. Building in wait time for students to think through material is key to student mastery! ? Student Processing: During this portion of the lesson, students are compliant-they are silent while you are speaking. In order to fully engage students in the learning process, provide them with a way to internalize this information: have them do a think-pair-share with a neighbor to generate questions they have about what they might learn this year or have them write down what excites them about this class or what questions they have. Allow students to engage in the learning by prompting them to process.
Teacher:Then again, maybe some of you have come to Hogwarts in possession of abilities so formidable that you feel comfortable enough to not pay attention.(Teacher moves to st taking notes on lecture) +Proximity: Moving towards an off-task student in order to make sure that they are on-task is an effective strategy for classroom management. In this case, the proximity should have allowed you to see that the student was engaged in the academic material. ?Behavioral Expectations:Articulate to students what they should be doing at ALL times. What should you ideal classroom look like? What should students be doing? Where should they be looking? Narrate this to students so that you can hold them accountable. Since you did not state to students what they needed to do, students cannot be held to any standard. Once you have made clear what students should do, you are then able to redirect them in order to help them contribute to a positive classroom climate.?
Teacher: …What I get if I added powdered root of asphedale to an infusion of wormwood? (st does not respond)Teacher: You don’t’ know? Let’s try again. Where would you look if I asked you to find a bezoar? What is the difference between monk’s foot and wolfsbane?St: I don’t know, sir. +Rigorous Expectations and Questioning: Expecting students to be well-versed in the material on the first day as well as participate in a cold-call session highlights your content knowledge as well as your purposefully planned questions. ? Student Processing:Earlier in the class, you utilized wait time very well. Consider asking your question, pausing to allow all students to think of the answer, and THEN cold call on a student to answer. All students must be held accountable for knowing the answer to the question, so pausing and then selecting the student who will answer enables your question to be pondered by 100% of the class.
T: Pity. Clearly, fame isn’t everything. Is it, Mr. Potter?
St: Clearly, Hermione knows. It seems a pity not to ask her.(sts giggle)T: Silence!(T moves towards st)Teacher: For your information…(teacher lists answers to questions just asked to student)
No observed instructional glow here 😦 ? Tone/Content Delivery and Teacher Talk: When you speak to the student and list the answers to the questions, your purpose appears to be demonstrating your intellect, as opposed to transferring that knowledge to your students. When a teacher speaks to students, that ‘teacher talk’ needs to be clear, purposeful, and connected to student achievement.
Teacher: Well? Why aren’t you all taking this down? Academic Expectations: Expecting students to take notes in order to process information is an effective way for them to grasp the material. It is also a college-ready skill to have students writing their own notes. Consider starting students with guided notes to help them capture your key points and then teach them how to take notes on their own. ?Academic Expectations: Make explicit to student what their notes should look like. Furthermore, communicate to students ahead of time that what you are about to say should be written down. Projecting your words on a PPT or document camera would help students see what they should write and how you would like it captured.
Teacher: Gryffindors, note that 5 points will be taken from your house for your classmate’s ‘cheek*’.*note: ‘cheek’, as used here, refers to one’s ‘impudence or effrontery’ ( Promoting Positive Climate: The school wide system in place at Hogwarts which encourages students to participate in class and make decisions which impact their team and family is an excellent way to invest students in the learning. Utilizing this system in your classroom is a great way to uphold school-wide expectations. Promoting Positive Climate:Students should know what it takes to earn points as well as lose points, and the first day of school is a great opportunity to teach this to students so that they are clear on these expectations. Consider adding a poster or chart to the walls of your classroom so that your students are constantly reminded what they should do in order to represent the values of their house and earn points.


5 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Achievement Gap: Why Professor Snape Needs an Instructional Coach

  1. Love this! What about “Stand and Deliver” or “Dead Poet’s Society”? I think an instructional coach could make quite a few observations about both of these movie teachers.

    Posted by Janet M | June 5, 2012, 10:23 am
  2. I would love to look at ‘School of Rock’. Even though Jack Black does soem heinous things, he also inspires the students through music!!

    Posted by lwashington8 | June 5, 2012, 12:20 pm
  3. Love the use of the arts for educational instruction! How about “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”

    Posted by Judy E | June 7, 2012, 9:45 am
  4. I love this! I love how detailed the grows were and how insightful they were. I would love to see “Matilda” analyzed.

    Posted by Francisca Lopez | July 13, 2012, 6:40 pm
  5. I loved the glow areas for Snape especially his high expectations. He could be an AMAZING teacher if he responded your growth areas. I would love the feedback on Ferris Buller’s economics teacher.

    Posted by AmandaRoussel | July 14, 2012, 6:50 pm

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