For a minute, let's imagine ourselves as we enter our doctor's office. Stark, white walls donned with pastel artwork (if we're lucky) support cold, imitation leather chairs with a sharply geometrical metal frame. A dash of color flits by here and there as some nurse has decided Snoopy is the scrub choice of the day, but in general, all seems washed out and sterile (which is a good thing, in the medical world). Now, imagine what you've seen of prisons from community service, perhaps popular television shows--I doubt you even get a washed out pastel picture on the wall. In each of these environments, the physical environment communicates its purpose. And so it follows, what do our classrooms communicate to our students about what we as teachers value most? Do they communicate that critical thinking and engagement are at the center of all we do, or is it yet another generic place in which students simply exist?
I get it. Some of our classrooms are too small. Some of our classrooms may be too large, but we can't be Goldilocks-ian in terms of waiting around for the perfect fit. Quite simply, we've got to work with what we've got and at the same time recognize how to shape our physical environment in our classroom for collaboration and purpose, making it standards-based and differentiated for student needs. We may be excellent at differentiating the curriculum, but are we proficient at differentiating the physical environment for our students for a particular lesson or purpose?
When it comes down to it, there are four factors we must consider when arranging our classroom for our students to promote learning:
How can we make our classrooms more collaborative and standards based by just arranging desks?
How do we model thinking in how we set up our desks and student work?
When we arrange our classrooms in a structure for collaboration, we are quite literally making that collaboration and thinking arrangement visible to students. When we have them in individual desks, facing a similar direction (although such may be ok for an assessment), we are hiding thinking and collaboration from them. In fact, according to Ritchhart (2015), "there is a literal need to make one's thinking visible in collaborative learning situations in order to be understood and to be able to build on others' contributions" (248). When arranging a classroom, we want to give students access to one another, making each other visible to each other so that we are fostering belongingness to our classroom and engagement for the learner. Don't be afraid to make your walls "messy" with the creations of students, attached to standards-based commentary and the assessment rubric. Though as an early teacher, I used to believe such "decorations" were superfluous, in reality, they are so important because they make both the teacher's thinking and the student's thinking visible to the entire class, fostering achievement. Post quotations of geniuses in your content, anything to make the thinking of others visible in your classroom.
How important is keeping the same desk set up each day?
How do I decide how to set up my classroom environment?
"I'm going to wear the exact same thing every single day" says almost no one. So, arrange away, in a different way, on any day. When it's raining, we make our clothing choices different from when we plan to attend a job interview. And I'm guessing we probably don't go to work in the same clothes we use for exercising, unless of course, we're out to be on a permanent vacation of sorts. But when it comes to the classroom, should we dress it the same way every.single.day.? Absolutely not. Think about your classroom set up as the clothes of instruction. How it looks will help make students more comfortable and guide them into the learning that is taking place. I'm certainly no superhero, but when I represent during Homecoming week, I feel a little closer to superhero for at least a day, maybe two. Perhaps our students aren't amazing communicators to start, but what if we could get them used to feeling like a star orator from time to time just by how we arrange our desks? There shouldn't be a default as "schools that wish teachers to use more varied approaches that are more responsive to students and create a dynamic learning culture shouldn't acquiesce to any single style as the default (Ritchhart 2015). If you're working in purposeful quads, arrange your room that way. If the focus is whole class and smaller class groups, arrange your room as a C. Look at your lesson and see what might look best in order to foster the best thinking for the assignment.
What actions can I take to help my standards-based classroom foster learning?
What can I control in my classroom to help students learn?
Comfort is not just something you can find snuggled up with an excellent book (or math or science problem) on the couch with a blanket. It can be introduced into the classroom as well. The way in which we foster comfort with each other in our classroom environment allows students to feel more interactive with one another in a standards-based classroom. Of course, teachers do need to consider light, temperature, and noise in the classroom. Use your window for natural light; don't be fearful the outside might distract them. Researches have found that "cortisol levels drop under poor lighting conditions [specifically] in the absence of natural light" (Rictchhart 254). Fortunately in our building, we can make use of the dimming features of our lights and put students in a more comfortable atmosphere. Goodwill is an excellent place to find lamps that change the lighting just a bit in our classrooms and can make our students more interactive as they feel more comfortable in their environment. In terms of color, brighten the walls and make them lively. Give students creative, colorful work that can surround your walls with feedback. In terms of noise, it is ok as long as you set rituals and routines for what level is appropriate in each learning situation and as long as you have a cue to use with students that will clue them into quieting down. In my classroom, I preferred counting down with explicit directives. In five you will be going to your seats, in four you will be placing your group projects on your leader's desk, in three you will be quieting down, in two you will not be talking, and in one you are completely done. Every teacher has his or her own tool, but use one consistently to make sure noise is a collaborative sound, not an off-subject one.
What can I do for students to help them feel invited in my classroom's environment?
How do I help students belong so they can be more engaged in learning?
You've felt it before; it's the X-factor of teaching and it has to do with the invitational quality of your classroom. Do you stand at the door and welcome students into your classroom like a home owner would his or her guests or do you allow students to filter in and out without a greeting? Given the fact students spend more time awake with teachers in classrooms than in their personal home, we should certainly attempt to make their learning environment as welcoming as possible. And each student needs something different to feel invited compared to another student. One student might need a comment of encouragement, one may appreciate a quick pat on the shoulder or perhaps another needs his or her chair pulled out just for him or her to start the day. As differentiation is the key to excellent classroom learning, so also that first interaction with students allows us to assess where he or she is emotionally for the day and understand, at least subconsciously, how we might go about overcoming that obstacle, if there is indeed an obstacle. That first connection is our first step toward connecting students on a daily basis. Ask yourself what first greets your students in the classroom and how it feels through the perspective of a student. If you don't feel comfortable, chances are your student won't either. After all, "as with all the cultural forces, the physical environment sends messages to our students about what we value, how we think learning happens, and what kinds of learning and thinking are to be celebrated (Ritchhart 257).
So what arrangements can you try?
So, how are we doing as a school?
I was super impressed when I took a quick walk-through as I snapped pictures of some standards-based arrangements; there was such a variety and so many wonderful ideas. Some teachers commented they used a combination of desk arrangements, designed to fit their classroom's behavior needs. Another commented that he based his classroom formation on his ability to use proximity control and be close to each learner when needed. Just remember we can switch our classroom as often as needed to fit the type of thinking that we want to do with students on a daily basis. Here are some SBC arrangements I've noticed around our school! Thank you for the ideas.
Offer ideas on how class set up has helped you with classroom management, classroom thinking, or classroom engagement! And in the meantime, keep up the excellent work bulldogs!
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools.
The Opening: the word has power beyond just the classroom. Usually in life, whenever we open something, strong feelings surround it, and many times, there is an aura of positive excitement (unless of course, it's that speeding ticket). Regardless, the word in and of itself has an emotional element of expectation, of anticipating the new. Is it the same way in your classroom?
Usually, when we think of our content and practice, we just can't understand "the kids these days," and their distraction to technology. We're almost disappointed that they're not like us, those young "whippersnappers" in college classes who listened intently to every single word that poured out of the professor's mouth like molasses, the days when there wasn't even texting. And maybe we become even a little bit disgruntled that students just can't sit as a sponge and soak up all of the content knowledge we're so passionate about in our practice.
But in reality, if we poured over our college or high school notebooks (yes, I kept a few), I think we'd find that although we remember ourselves as super engaged, our notes to friends, doodles in our margins (though doodles don't say non-engagement in all situations), and remembrances of thoughts that distracted us, there were times, yes, when our gloriously untouched-by-technology brain was still not engaged in some situations. You remember those classes. Even if you had technology when you attended college, I imagine you struggled with engagement here and there.
So what is the answer to engagement and getting kids ready for our class so that they look forward to working with our content? Openings, of course!
Openings are a part of the instructional routine we call "The Instructional Framework." This part of the framework that starts with the Bell Ringer, sits permanently and explicitly on our board with the Essential Question (EQ) and with its own counterparts: the Work Session and the Closing; it is our hook to excite students about the day's learning--it should take no longer than twenty minutes. And the more it connects students personally to the content or engages them with a fascinating part of it, the better it is for the classroom, as we all know we enjoy speaking about ourselves and working with subjects we enjoy.
In honor of our Openings, here are some ideas that you might be able to use in the classroom:
An excellent way to involve students in learning, thinking routines such as thinking maps help students later in life and are powerful strategies to use in the opening. Good maps to use in the opening with generic content (though you could use any of them) include the circle map that defines, the bubble map that describes, the double-bubble that compares and contrasts. If students have already been studying a lesson's content, then you might be able to use a map with a more complex thought process.
Accountable Talk Blocks
Grab a set of large legos (mega blocks) and write Accountable Talk prompts on them with a permanent marker. Review a topic students have been learning about and need to revisit or design a new topic kids can talk about that relates to the day's lesson. Accountable talk prompts are essentially scaffolded prompts, sometimes called sentence frames or stems, to help students discuss in the classroom. Here are a few:
I wonder why… I have a question about… I agree/disagree with…because… That reminds me of… I don’t understand… I predict… On page ____ it says______ so I think… ____ could you please clarify what you mean when you said_____ I would like to add to what ___ was saying I had a different opinion to what ___ was saying because I thought _____ I came to the conclusion ____ because
Have posters set up around the room that relate to the content you'll be discussing. Then, have students walk around and write their thoughts on the topic or subject on the posters. Recently, a science teacher shared with me that she used the strategy effectively with vocabulary. Placing up five posters around the classroom and putting students into five groups (each with a different color marker for assessment), the teacher wrote five important vocabulary terms she was introducing with her new content and asked students to write ideas or definitions in their own words. Rotating from poster to poster in one minute intervals, the teacher played engaging music as a signal for students to rotate. At the end of the opening, students shared out their definitions of their original poster and were prepared to start the new content.
NearPod is a presentation interface that allows you to present a lesson to students using an interactive program that links their technological device into your presentation. You can choose to teacher-pace the lesson or student-pace the lesson (which only allows students to see the slide you are currently using). NearPods can be interactive and house videos as well as surveys and other technological programs. You can use it for the opening or even use throughout the work
Use near pod by visiting www.nearpod.com
Play Doh Ideas
After you set expectations for play doh do-s and don'ts (you might have napkins and hand sanitizer prepared), ask students to create a model of some concept that they have been learning or some new subject they will study for the day. You might ask them: When I say the word _________, please sculpt what comes to mind.
Think, Pair, Share
This is an oldie but a goodie. Pose a question to students that relates to the content for the day and have them think about them alone for a set time period (and write possibly), then pair with a partner. After a set period, students can share aloud as a class from the information they have learned as a pair.
This interactive website allows you to see other classes and instructors modeling strategies that can be used in any part of the framework, especially the opening. If you are a visual learner and one who learns by watching, this website is the place for you. Visit www.teachertoolkit.com for more information.
If you're studying content with opposing or contrasting views, pose a question that relates to your content but that allows them to take a side. Make sure you ask them to back up their viewpoint with evidence, whether personal or textual in order to practice gathering evidence.
In a K-W-L opening, students create a three columned chart on their paper. In the first column in which K stands for Know, students write what they know already about a particular topic. In the second column on their paper W, which stands for Wonder, allows students to engage themselves in what they wonder about the topic. L, which stands for what I Learned, is an excellent tool to use at the closing where students write what they have learned after the lesson has ended.
Journals are an excellent way to involve any content across the curriculum. Often, they are most effective when you give students a length goal (perhaps a half page or page) and are connecting the content personally. This week, in order to help students think philosophically about authors' perspectives a collaborative pair plans to ask students, "Are individuals born good or are individuals born evil?" This will allow them to help students think about the contrasts of Anti-Transcendentalism and Transcendentalism. This question also applies to a collaborative team in history that is examining opposing viewpoints of two political theorists.
This site can be used either with a mobile phone through the texting interface, or it can be used using a computer. In this site, the teacher designs a poll question, and students answer using their cell phones or another device. This can be designed as multiple choice questions, writing response questions (although limited by space), or a range of other type questions that can apply to the classroom for various content. In an opening, it can be used to ask students to explore a particular question or as a formative assessment to understand students' prior knowledge. The possibilities are endless.
Give One-Get One
In this opening, students spend a set period writing an idea from a prompt. They then rotate around the room, giving their idea to a person and getting one in return to write down on their paper. This can involve movement, which helps us learn. It's also an excellent brainstorming exercise.
If you'd like more ideas, check out this chart that offers many more ideas on openings, or activating strategies:
And when it comes down to it, the more need kids have, the more important it is for us to use activating strategies. If we look at Maslow's triangle, the fulfillment of basic needs allows individuals to progress to the next level. Each level in which they are fulfilled serves as a floodgate into the next level of the triangle. The cognitive level does not even occur until after students have basic needs and feel belongingness. Openings allow us to foster that belongingness in order that we may push students toward cognitive thought. In an environment where students may lack even the barest biological elements of Maslow's triangle, we certainly must be superheroes in our implementations of openings that fight against the world's kryptonite and engage our students to the fullest. We have a large job to do. Share some ideas that have worked amazingly well for your class. Glad we're in this together.
Keep up the great work, Bulldogs!
And if you have questions on implementation or just want another resource, feel free to contact any of us at the Coaches' Corner.
Additional information on Maslow can be found here: (http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html)
In the land of education, what are essential questions (EQs) and why are they so essential, besides their role of permanence on our boards? The guiding part of a lesson that envelops the standards, learning targets, and content, EQs aren’t just handy dandy board decorators, nor are they sentences chosen from a standard game of twenty questions. EQs are by nature a type of generative question whose purpose is to create even more questions and research in the classroom. Not meant to create a set answer, essential questions should excite students and serve as a catalyst for exploring the possibilities of an idea through your content area.
Here are seven characteristics of a good essential question, taken from ASCD.
A good essential question:
When we create the EQ, we want to help students connect their outer lives with our curriculum, so try to create your questions to connect their world with the content area. If I’m learning about logos, ethos, and pathos (three elements of effective persuasion), I might ask for the EQ: How do we use our words to manipulate others or change their minds? If I’m talking government and its three branches, the EQ might ask the following: How do we guard against individuals taking advantage of the power they have? It’s not so much about creating a philosophical quandary as much as it is making your content approachable to students in a way that they can ponder its value and engaging to them in a way that they want to know more.
When it comes to creating EQs and learning targets (as we’ll discuss a bit later), if we’re drinking the lemonade of instruction, the EQ is the container or glass that organizes all of the individual elements of a lesson such as standards, learning targets, and our content in order to make it have purpose. More later on what it takes to make that instructional lemonade perfectly balanced…
Until then, for more information on essential questions and how you can make them even better, visit http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109004/chapters/What-Makes-a-Question-Essential%C2%A2.aspx. or swing by A.E.Beach’s The Coaches’ Corner for one-on-one advice.
Keep up the good work Bulldogs!
Imagine walking down a Parisian street in the hustle and bustle of activity; it's your first trip overseas and you're lost in terms of where the best local fare will be. So, naturally you decide you will use your innate ability to connect with your fellow human beings (because you've got mad teacher skills) and find out what the best option will be for lunch. But, you find when you approach individuals and attempt to find out all of the local information, although your French is absolutely impeccable, individuals still do not seem willing to help. And, you're confused. Very confused. Quite simply, you may speak the language of the land, but you're lost in terms of their routines. And I'm guessing you won't learn the information you need: looks like the local McDonalds for lunch.
We hear the word all the time in education-ease: Routines. So what are routines and where do they belong in the classroom? As a teacher just entering the ranks of public education years ago, I heard the words used in walk-throughs, professional development, and more. "Make sure you have rituals and routines in place," said almost everyone. But in reality, for many years, I just carried a superficial understanding of what they were.
In their basic form, routines are quite simply patterns of activity and/or behavior for both individuals and group members that help guide learners and scaffold learning. In their best form, they are firm, fair, and consistent and reduce confusion in the classroom, paving the way for student engagement. In Ritchhart's Creating Cultures of Thinking, there are several forms of routines that we follow in the classroom:
Management routines are what teachers generally consider to be their routines in the classroom. They help students understand what to do and how their behavior aligns to expectations. For me, I used three simple directives for a management in the classroom and deemed them "Expect Respect." Students understood the following: 1. One person speaks at a time. 2. Positive Language is used at all times and 3. Touch only what is yours and what you are permitted to touch. For me, these routines worked well because they were placed in a positive context, emphasized consistently, and were simple enough for students to internalize. As I've noticed in the Academy and in our own faculty meetings, teachers raise their hand in order for students/teachers to know it is time to settle down. Some management routines are not as explicit. Lights in the classroom can become directives. Is the opening and closing brightly lit while the work session is dim? Is the individual writing environment different lighting than the group environment? You don't have to "one, two, three, all eyes on me" them, but it's important to have some signal for drawing their full attention back to you. In fact, if "any task has to be done over and over again in a classroom...it is generally helpful to have a routine for it" (Rictchhart 191). But, do make sure that positive student relationships serve as foundations for these routines.
Instructional routines include teacher styles and approaches as well as practices and procedures that take place when carrying out instruction, and they often mold to the teacher's personal preference. Here at Beach, the instructional framework is the consistent routine we use in our instruction. Our openings excite students and hook them into the learning that is to take place, while aligning with our Essential Question (EQ), our standards, and student learning target (such as an I CAN statement). It is important to place this framework implicitly into the class session, and explicitly on the board so the students can track where they are in the framework for the day. Work sessions are our routines for allowing students to direct their work, guided by teacher modeling and support. Closings, student-led of course, allow them to raise questions and share findings about what they have learned for the day, allowing teachers to assess learning. Essentially, if students have been creating a bracelet of thought in your class, with the opening represented by the first knot and the individual beads standing for all of their thoughts and understanding, you've got to tie another knot to keep that learning together so they don't lose the beads of understanding. That final knot is the closing.
Interactional routines give structure to student-teacher interactions as well as student-student interactions in the classroom. Of course, raising hands is a simple interactional routine, but there are others such as Think-Pair-Share that allow students to first think on their own, then share with a partner, then share out as a class on a particular subject. Another interactional routine that builds class relationship and teammanship is a feedback routine. It might be a "boom-boom-clap" after someone reads or shares an answer or perhaps your own created feedback response. Students could even create a feedback routine for their class. Regardless, these interactional routines are important because "students' social and emotional learning is also supported ... by providing them structures for positive interactions rather than leaving those to chance" (Ricthhart 193). Yes, as teachers, we must even teach students how to interact positively with one another and adjust themselves to different environments, learning time and place.
And finally, thinking routines are similar to cognitive strategies and can involve tools that facilitate student thinking. If we think about a common thinking routine we use here at school, the thinking maps curriculum certainly comes to mind. These maps provide students with an internalized and explicit way to see their thinking. They help students describe, comment upon, classify, analyze, synthesize, and draw analogies in the content they are learning. We shouldn't think of the maps as yet another item on the list to implement, but rather thinking routines they can use throughout their later education and life. In fact, "as we create opportunities for thinking, we must also provide our students with the tools they will need to do that thinking" (Ritchhart 194). And while you are creating other routines, let this question direct your planning: "What kinds of thinking do I need students to do with this content, and how can I best scaffold their thinking?"(194). Let these routines "demystify" the process of thinking and make it a visual for students.
What routines have been especially effective for you in your classroom? Which routines would you like to know more about?
Keep up the good work!
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools.
As the daughter of a father from the North and a mother from the South, (I'm more like my father), I always moved a little bit quickly when it came to wait time in the classroom. I remember from my student teaching that more wait time was the one suggestion I nearly always was given when it came to feedback for improving my classroom and instruction. As time passed, I became better at providing time in my classroom, but it was always a painfully conscious process.
In Creating Cultures of Thinking, Ritchhart centers his book around 8 forces that educators truly need to master in order to transform our schools. One of those forces is time. He notes that using time wisely creates relationships and when using time, "Attending to the building of relationships with students is fundamental to good teaching, and it is important to do this at the start. Teachers can't wait until later to build those connections; they may have lost students by then" (90). One of the ways that we build this relationship factor is using time in order to communicate students' value to them and deliberately arranging time in our classroom to allow students to make their thinking explicit and seen.
In terms of wait time, the way in which we use it specifically communicates to students whether we value their thinking in the classroom. But if you're like me, in the back of your head are always those questions: "Am I wasting time? What else do we have to get through today? Are we able to fit this lesson into 40 minutes if Johnny keeps talking?" In reality, however, we must understand that the time we provide students to think communicates to them that thinking is important and valuable, and we are allowing them to model thinking for each other-a life skill they will need in their future professions.
So, what exactly is wait time and how does it work in the classroom? Rowe's (1986) research on the relationship between time and thinking gives us some idea. In her research, she found that there are two types of wait time. Wait Time 1 is the time we as teachers spend after we have asked the question, before calling on students. Wait Time 2, on the other hand, is the time we spend after the student has finished speaking; it ends when we comment again or give the student feedback. The average teacher wait time is usually about one second. In all reality, could you create a thoughtful, detailed response in only that short time frame? What usually ends up happening is students turn such interactions into a classroom competition, trying to get the right answer, rather than the thought-out answer.
And the solution? Rowe (1986) found that increasing wait time by even five to seven seconds was associated with an increase in the length of student responses, greater use of evidence (and we need that for the GMAS), an increase in explorative thought (imagining possibilities), increases in the number and types of questions students asked (think higher DOK levels), better listening skills and more responses to the comments of others, increased confidence and participation, and better achievement on written tasks (we need that too!).
So how should we see our classroom, and what should be our goal? Imagine watching a game of one-on-one, where the ball is thrown back and forth, back and forth by only a couple of participants. How many of us are ready to pay tickets for that affair? Well...maybe if it's our team. But, then, imagine there is a game in which we have lots of players, taking turns with the ball, rather than passing a ball repetitively back and forth? What differs? The players are more engaged. The audience is more engaged. All of the players are improving their skill, instead of just the two. Each and every player is growing in his or her practice. It is a fascinating and interactive exchange, and it involves all of us, physically, emotionally, mentally...everything regardless of what role we play. And now, think: What if these games were our classrooms?; which team would you rather represent? But, before you answer, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait :)
Extend your wait time to at least five seconds and see what happens, and then comment if you've noticed anything. What does your use of time and wait time communicate to your students?
Keep up the good work!
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools.
Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait-time: Slowing down may be a way of speeding up. Journal of Teacher Education, 37 (43), 43-50.