Category Archives: inquiry

Sticky Learning

I recently gave a TEDx talk about this topic but for those of you who like to read….

Tradition and intuition play a big role in how we teach but our observations of student learning and research suggest that we might be wrong.  Traditionally we teach in units:  2, 4, or 6 weeks (albeit they sometimes stretch into 8 or even 10 weeks).  We think that if we teach the kids all they need to know about one subject (multiplication, persuasive writing, levers, time, the colour wheel etc) and give them lots of practice about this one topic, over and over again in a 2-4 week period of time, then they will learn the stuff.  Except, they don’t.  Students don’t tend to retain concepts they only learn once a year very well.

Our observations of student learning show us that this is true.  If you teach fractions, usually taught in a 4-6 week unit in the spring, you know this.  It feels like every year is like starting over.  I’m sure that you can think of many other concepts where the learning done last year doesn’t “stick”.

There is cognitive research that does tell us a lot about how people learn.  Two concepts, spaced learning and interleaving, are well-documented in the research but hold little traction in real classrooms.

We typically teach in a “massed” practice where we teach kids everything about one topic in a short period of time and then test them.  Students do well in testing situations immediately following the learning, but test them a few weeks later and they don’t remember very much.  However, when material is learned spaced over time, retention of concepts is much greater.  This positive effect has been documented in the literature since 1885!  John Hattie, in Visible Learning, listed it as the 13th most positive effect on learning out of 138 possibilities.  You may wish to consider what would happen if you took a big topic, like fractions or division or proportional reasoning, and instead of teaching it all at once, you spaced the learning out over multiple  opportunities over the course of the year.

We have found spacing the learning out to be very beneficial to our students.  For example, instead of our intermediate students reading just one novel over 6-8 weeks (and really, as a real reader, who does that except maybe for War and Peace?) our students read between 6 to 10 novels over the course of the year, spending between 2-3 weeks on each.  They learn all the same skills about analyzing literature, but they have multiple opportunities to practice the skills over the year.  We do the same in mathematics, returning to problems in proportional reasoning, for example, a few times every month instead of in a 3 week unit.

The other piece of research that has huge benefits for learning, but doesn’t really hold much traction in our school system, is interleaving.  We tend to block the curriculum into discrete units of study, studying each topic one at a time:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, division ; OR, fractions, decimals, percent; OR, persuasive writing, descriptive writing, report writing.  The problem, when students learn this way, is that they don’t learn to see the similarities and differences between the topics.  We hope they will make connections, but really it is left up to them to do it on their own.  When we teach like this it is called “blocked practice”.

But if you interleave the learning, you teach similar concepts all at the same time.  A writer’s workshop model allows students to explore a variety of forms of writing all within the context of writer’s craft.  If students were faced with problems in mathematics involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at the same time then they would be forced to develop an understanding of how the concepts are related and to know when to apply each concept.

I call teaching in this spaced and interleaved way spiralling.  While provincial and state curriculum  say they “spiral”, meaning that students learn about fractions, for example, once every year, I argue that the spiral loops are too big.  If we tighten the spiral so that students have many chances to learn the big ideas over the course of the year, I think we get to learning that is sticky.

Of course, spiralling is not easy to plan for.  Teachers like their units.  They like to be “done”.  Spiralling the curriculum really requires that teachers adopt a new mindset about curriculum design.  It isn’t easy…but the teachers that I work with wouldn’t ever go back to teaching traditionally in longer units.  Not only do we get sticky learning, but our students are much more engaged.  Every day is a new challenge for them and they have to apply their learning to specific and varied contexts.

If you want to give it a try, think about doing just a bit at a time instead of revamping your entire curriculum.  Try something new; no one will die.

 

 

 

 

 

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Classroom cultures that support, not just teach, social skills and well-being

While we know that we are responsible for the 3Rs and other curriculum stuff, we also know that teachers have a role to play in shaping students as they grow into healthy and competent adults.  I met with a woman this week who is interested in developing a program for schools that teaches kids about skills such as growth mindset, autonomy, resiliency, autonomy, kindness, empathy, persistence, etc.  I liked her ideas but it did make me think how do we actually go about doing those things in schools?  After all, over the years there have been a number of “programs”.  There have been posters and puppets and film clips and blackline masters.

It is important that teachers know the skills we want kids to develop, but I am not convinced that they learn them from a course or a binder of lesson plans.  Sometimes when a school adopts a particular program it is useful to have a common language, but if that is all there is, it doesn’t change much.  What does work?  I suspect that when you are able to shape the teaching in the school to support the development of the skills is when you get the greatness traction.  What types of things do we do and how might they help students to develop these important life skills?

When we have multiple opportunities for students to try things in our classrooms without being graded, without needing to get it “right” the first time, and with our trust that they will figure it out, I think that we help them to develop growth mindset, resiliency and persistence.  For example, they know in Maker Space that it is not about getting the project to be done, or to be the best, that is important, but understanding the science behind the mistakes that is important.  They know in problem solving in math that students will solve the problem in a variety of different ways.  They know that they may be asked to share their answer that is incorrect, and that is ok.  They know that we will give them immediate feedback on their writing so that they can improve it BEFORE it is graded.  When we listen to student groups and do not take the lead, or participate as an equal, or make a small suggestion and walk away, we are saying “I trust you to figure this out”.

Empathy, kindness, and autonomy (being in charge of yourself) are also developed in our classrooms.  When our students recognize that different kids get different supports it helps them to develop empathy.  When we have them read novels with strong characters or complex issues, they develop kindness and empathy.  When we allow them to make choices that are good for them in their work, they develop autonomy.  When they have opportunities to redo and retry they develop grit and persistence; they get to know themselves as learners.  When they see us treating students with kindness, respect and understanding, even when that student is struggling, they learn about kindness, respect and understanding.

I do not think that students develop all of these social and well-being skills through lessons alone.  An anchor chart on growth mindset will not ensure growth mindset if the classroom environment doesn’t support it.  A lesson on empathy won’t have any impact when students don’t see their teachers showing empathy and understanding.  But when we purposefully shape our classroom instruction and environment so that students have many, many opportunities over the year to experience the effects of these skills, and we, at times, name them and celebrate them, then I do think that students learn them.

Programs may guide us and help us to know the skills but the program alone won’t make the difference we want it to.  Students will always be learning social skills and personal skills in the context of the classroom.  We can choose which ones we want to develop by how we shape the instruction in our classroom:  a room that is about competition, compliance, completion and grades or a classroom that supports problem-solving, multiple attempts, and challenge.  A school of rigid and unbending rules or a school where staff model inclusiveness, empathy, understanding and kindness.  It may be worthwhile thinking about how we do this in a planned and purposeful way.

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Student choice vs. “you are still the teacher”

Sometimes when we adopt new ideas in education, it takes a while during the implementation stage to figure out where the balance is.  Some of you may remember “whole language”.  While the actual research into whole language pedagogy never suggested that phonics was not an important part of reading, the early implementation of the pedagogy got a little messed up.  Once we took the ideas of whole language and developed a more balanced approach to learning, things got better.

As the educational community has moved more towards “student-centered learning”, “learning by doing” and “student voice and choice”, we do need to remember that teachers can still tell kids that there are “must dos”.  It is choosing when and where to implement the “must dos” that is tricky and requires extensive teacher knowledge and professionalism.

Recently my math teachers and I went to a session with Marian Small ( a well-known mathematics guru).  A teacher in the audience lamented that her grade 9 students couldn’t cope with proportional reasoning because they didn’t know their multiplication facts.  Small’s response was:  Teach them.  As a more problem-based math environment is being implemented in Ontario there is confusion about math facts.  And, students who are perfectly capable of knowing them with greater automaticity arrive in grade 7 without that skill.  It makes fraction work very difficult.

In primary language classes across the western world, primary students are encouraged to write long before they know how to spell or use proper capitalization and punctuation.  This is a good thing.  The problem is that at some point there needs to be an expectation that they apply correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization as they are writing.  We get students arriving grade 7 believing that it ok to write without any capital letters, periods or paragraphs until the revision stage.  It is an efficient practice and no writer I know would ever make so much work for themselves.

So we have decided two things:  we will insist that most students learn their number facts and students will write using periods, capitals and paragraphs as they go in the first draft.  It is not a choice.  Students need to know how to do this.  We will see what happens.

It makes me think, however, about when and where student voice and choice should come into being and how we interpret this as teachers.  It reminds me of parenting.  I always gave my children a choice about the pajamas they wore.  I never gave them a choice about going to bed.  In classrooms we want to make sure that we are providing multiple entry points into learning and opportunities for students to express their voice through choice.  But, we also need to remember that we, as teachers, get the big picture.  There are times when we need to have “must dos”; when we need to ensure that students are having the specific opportunities that we know will ensure success.

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Assessment in a collaborative inquiry model

Of course good things (like having kids collaborate in groups) often cause us to rethink a whole bunch of other things (like assessment).  In traditional teaching models assessment was pretty straight-forward.  I taught and each kid wrote their own test, did their own essay or project, and then I marked it.  Check, done.  I knew what each kid knew.

Now we are having kids collaborate to inquire, research and create.  How do we assess these final products?  What is the role of peer and self assessment?  How do we help kids to be effective listeners during group presentations?  We know that the grade we put on the report card needs to be a reflection of what an individual student can do independently.  How do we figure that out if students have worked collaboratively on the final product?  Let’s look at one possible example:

Students are working together to create an iMovie as a final assessment to demonstrate understanding of the topic covered in class.  You have co-created a rubric so that they know what determines a successful iMovie.

As the students are working on their iMovie your observations and individual conversations of how each student is participating and understanding the process of creating the iMovie can provide you with some summative assessment data.

Before submitting the iMovie or the final showing, each group could show their iMovie to another group and receive feedback on their movie, using the rubric as a starting point for the conversation.  This peer assessment is used for students to be able to make changes to their iMovie before it is finished.  The peer assessment is not part of the final grade.  This process of looking at another movie may also help students to make revisions to their own movie.

As the group of students submits their final product, each individual student could mark the rubric for their iMovie and provide specific reasons or examples from the film as evidence for how they rated the film.  You could use this as part of your summative assessment to see how well individual students understood their product in relation to the rubric.  You cannot use the self-assessment of the rubric only—it is the individual student’s ability to provide specific rationale for their rating that provides you information about their understanding.

The iMovie can be shown to the entire class or handed in to the teacher.  Only the teacher can mark the rubric for iMovie and return it to the group of students.  However, this mark CANNOT be used as part of each individual’s mark as you cannot be certain who contributed what.  However, students do need feedback on how well they collectively completed the task.  It is important to recognize that individual group members may have varying degrees of understanding about the final product.

If the iMovie is shown to the entire class, you could ask each individual student to fill in a graphic organizer as they watch that would demonstrate their understanding of the media piece.  Perhaps the GO asks students to identify effective angle shots or how music was used to enhance the iMovie.  Perhaps the GO asks students to determine what the overall message or theme was.  Perhaps the GO asks students to identify key concepts included in the iMovie.  This could be used for your summative assessment as students are providing you with their understanding of the media presentations.  It is not a peer assessment.  It is not an assessment of their iMovie.  It is however an assessment of their understanding of the process of creating the final task.

You do need to have individual students explain about the making of their iMovie to demonstrate their understanding of the process, and content.  This could be written or through a conference.  This will be the main part of your individual assessment for this final task.  Students should know ahead of time that this will be part of the assessment.  These questions allow you to know that each individual student had an understanding of the process and the final product. Perhaps you ask questions such as

  • How did your group decide which scenes to include?
  • Which scene in your iMovie is the most important to your overall theme?
  • What were the key concepts about the topic that your group decided to include? Which concepts did you decide NOT to include?
  • How did your group decide to choose the music?
  • Give examples of three different angle shots in your iMovie and explain why they are effective.

We want students to collaborate and work in groups.  We know this is engaging and deepens student understanding.  The trick is determining, at the end, the individual understanding of each student.  In all collaborative endeavours we need to understand that collaboration is a tool FOR learning or FOR doing.  At some point students must demonstrate their individual understanding of the content, concepts and skills.

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Student Engagement is More Than Having Fun

At a workshop last week, the speaker reminded us that “student engagement” is not the same thing as “having fun”.  Student engagement is one of the current catch phrases in education.  We know that engaged students are more likely to learn more.  But what is student engagement exactly and how is it different than having fun?

Vygotsky talks about engagement as a sense of “flow”.  That state when you are so engaged that time flies by.  It is described as an optimal challenge—not so difficult that anxiety kicks in but not so easy that boredom sets in.  When I think of “fun” activities, I don’t usually think of challenge as necessarily being part of the fun although I have often found challenges to be fun.  So what can teachers do to create situations in which there is high student engagement?

  1. Ensure sufficient background knowledge.  A grade 8 class will be starting literature circles in a few days.  The novels have themes that the teacher feels will be complex or foreign to the students.  He arranges for the students to do some background knowledge research on the topics before they start reading.  The students are surprised by some of the information they discover and now are keen to start their novels.  The teacher has ensured that the students will not get lost in the plot because he has provided the students with sufficient background knowledge.  Without the background knowledge many of these students would have ended up confused in their novels.  Confusion does not lead to engagement.
  2. Encourage curiosity. A 3 year old is curious about everything (Why? Why? Why?).  We see less of that as time goes by.  But I don’t think that people grow less curious. Perhaps the school system is too rigid to encourage curiosity and students quickly learn that school is about doing what the teacher wants, not asking questions.  Although, as the teacher, you need to follow the curriculum and can’t really go off in any direction at all, you can create conditions of wonder.  You can start the science unit with an experiment instead of the theory (I wonder why oil and water don’t mix but salt and water do); you can pose a question in geography (I wonder why people choose to live in cities instead of the country).  And your wonderings don’t have to be big questions.  You could bring in an odd object and have students figure it out (like a dragon fruit or an old rotary phone); you can ask a question (I wonder how ducks talk to their babies to warn them of danger) and have students use google to search possible answers.  Here is a great article about the power of curiosity and learning:  http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/The-Case-for-Curiosity.aspx.
  3. Provide opportunities for social learning. When we are really interested in something, we like to talk about it.  We like to bounce our ideas off others and this helps us to refine our thinking.  Conversations which are the most engaging are those where there is a free exchange of ideas and no obvious answer.  Watch a group of kindergarten students trying to build the tallest tower with blocks.  They spend a lot of time talking about the problem.   When students work together to solve easy math problems, usually the faster student does the work.  But when students have a problem to grapple with and their collective math knowledge is required to solve the problem, they are very engaged.  When students engage in literature circles that mimic adult book clubs (I have never been handed a role card at book club; we never talk one at a time around a circle), they love their books and deepen their understanding.  One grade 7 class is so engrossed in their dystopian literature circles that the librarian has had to start a wait list for books that students want to read.  Not only are students talking about their books in their own literature circle but they are talking among circles about books.  In that class, reading is a social event (except when you walking in during reading time you can hear a pin drop).
  4. Tell stories: Everyone loves stories and when we can present content in story format, students tend to remember it longer.  We know that the narrative format helps to create visual imagery for students.  Use analogies; show movie clips or photos; tell them about your own experiences; think aloud as you are reading a novel.  Next time you listen to a good speaker at a workshop or on a Ted Talk, take notice of how he or she uses narrative to illustrate a point.  “Let me tell you a story…” is an engaging technique for everyone, even adolescents.
  5. Make it real. Kids know busy work when they see it.  They will do it because you told them to; they might enjoy it because who doesn’t like to do the occasional word search; but it isn’t the same as engaging.  Be careful that you aren’t just creating one “fun” or “cool” activity after another.  Engagement happens when students can connect their learning and know that they are developing their skills.  Not only do we want to create optimal challenges but we want students to feel successful.   Knowing that you are getting better at something that was challenging creates engagement and a willingness to persevere.  Sebastian, age 13, told me today that BEDMAS with integers was “easy schmeasy”.  I know that two weeks ago he did very poorly on the same assessment.  But his teacher continued to provide optimal challenges and returned to the concepts over and over.  Now he feels confident, successful and engaged in mathematics.

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Collaboration in the Classroom that works…7 ideas.

Collaboration sounds like a good idea.  You are keen.  You have watched the video.  Your desks are in groups.  And…it isn’t going as well as you’d hoped.  Your students are not acting like the kids in the video.  What are some of the factors that you need to consider once you have decided to try collaboration?

  • The Task. The task you ask the students to do needs to be meaningful and challenging.  There is no need to collaborate if the answer is apparent.  There is no desire to collaborate if the problem is irrelevant.
  • Summarizing or gathering information is not collaboration. A few years ago I was taking a course on line and we were supposed to collaborate in a wikispace.  The problem was that usually the task was to summarize the chapter.  Philip, another participant, always did that first.  After he had done it there was really nothing more to say.  There are lots of reasons for students to share summaries or compare summaries or write a summary together but that is not collaboration and you need to recognize that.  The same goes for dividing up the work load to gather information.  It is sometimes a good practice but it is not collaboration.
  • Collaboration needs to be knowledge building. A great structure for building collaboration in your classroom is to use knowledge building circles.  If students are working towards collectively answering a collective question (e.g. Should the tar sands be developed?/ How can we best protect the swamp habitats?/ What is the best design for a paper airplane?) then having them share their learning as they go creates a collaborative culture.  In a knowledge building circle, students react to each other and not the teacher.  While the teacher may begin the conversation with a question, the student who contributes first then chooses the next person to contribute.  If you have never tried this, the following link will get you started:  http://www.naturalcuriosity.ca/pdf/NaturalCuriosityManual.pdf
  • Background knowledge and curiosity are key. It is hard to collaborate and work with others if no one has any background knowledge about the topic.  If my girlfriends and I were asked to collaborate about fixing a car engine, I suspect that we would get off topic fairly quickly.  Students also need to be curious about the topic if they are going to proceed with the inquiry.  If I am in a group that is discussing a topic in which I have no interest, I probably will not collaborate.  Check out this article for more information:  http://goo.gl/TECxKu
  • Organize your group members carefully. Depending on the topic you may want heterogeneous or homogenous groupings.  Groups that don’t collaborate well, however, often have a member with considerably more knowledge or interest than the others.  Groups with similar interests or similar skill sets may work better at collaborating.  I rarely let kids choose their own groups.  It is not that some kids won’t choose a group that works well; it is that some kids will never be chosen to be in a group and you have already lost if members of the group are feeling unwanted.
  • You are still the teacher. Collaboration doesn’t mean that kids will figure everything out on their own.  You are there to guide, facilitate, ask questions, fill in the tricky bits, lend a hand, suggest an alternative, listen, summarize, find the teachable moment, join in, model.  There are still times when you will need to stop the whole class and do some direct teaching.  Collaboration is not a replacement for good teaching.  It is a pedagogical tool that supports and scaffolds learning for students.
  • Relax. Groups are social.  When you go to a meeting, are you always on task?  Does your group get off track or make jokes?  Of course you do.  Do we need to have higher standards for students than we do for ourselves?  Kids are kids.  Kids have been trained through years of schooling to NOT talk to each other.  If you are introducing collaboration after years of individual silent work, you will have to teach them about collaboration.  It might not go well at first.  But, take a deep breath, regroup and try it again.  If your expectation in the classroom is that this is how we do things, it will work.

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Six reasons you want your students to collaborate

Collaboration is the new buzz word.  Sometimes it is hard to keep track of them all.  Why do we want our students to collaborate and work in groups?

  • Learning is a social construct. We learn best when we need to articulate our thinking.  It does not happen in isolation.  We learn when we connect the dots, ask questions and synthesize new learning with previous knowledge.  It is hard to do all of that all by yourself.
  • More heads are better than one. When the task is problematic and challenging (and this is key to collaboration), more heads are better than one.  Each student brings his or her own background knowledge to the table to solve the problem or complete the task.  And because learning is a social construct, students can learn from one another.
  • It provides immediate and effective feedback. When you work in a group you receive constant feedback about your ideas.  As heads nod, people smile and listen to your ideas, you know that you are on the right track and explaining yourself well.  When eyes scrunch and brows furl, you know that you are not being clear.  When you present your idea and someone else presents a contrary idea, the feedback is that there may be a hole in your thinking.
  • It creates empathy. As students learn to work with others, they learn that other people may have different ideas and ways of looking at the world.  Learning to listen to and respect others’ ideas is at the heart of empathy.
  • It scaffolds learning. It is really, really hard to learn something new or to apply a concept to a new problem.  When students can work together in developing new knowledge, they are supported in their learning.  Teachers are the same—when you try a new teaching idea, it is best when you can walk across the hall and work through it with a teaching partner.  When we try new things on our own, without any support, we are more likely to give up in despair.
  • Collaboration is pleasurable. Of course we have all had the experience of working in a dysfunctional group.  But, usually human beings find groups to be enjoyable.  If learning is fun you are more likely to stick with it. (And, if you are worried that your students sometimes get off topic, think about the last meeting you went to where you collaborated—you probably made jokes, went off topic and did some socializing as you did the work).

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Knowing Stuff: The balance between content knowledge, and the inquiry processes

Every year our board produces a video.    I got to watch it (twice) this week.    It is very good.

One of the messages is about how our board prepares students for a very complex future.  I started thinking about how education has changed (or not) in response to our global community where information and knowledge is at our fingertips 24/7.  Historically the teacher was the keeper of all knowledge.  If you didn’t go to school and listen to the teacher, you didn’t know stuff.  But, when was the last time you wondered about something and didn’t find the answer instantly by googling it?  Today, it is easy to find out stuff.  So what is the teacher’s role now?  And, what about the stuff—don’t kids still need to know stuff?

Kids do need to know stuff.  They need to know how to read and how to read critically because there is more information to sift through.  It is far more efficient to know your timestables and addition facts than to pull out your phone (I almost wrote calculator!).  But, I would pull out my phone to solve 3425/49, knowing though, whether the answer was reasonable or whether I’d mis-pushed the buttons.  It is helpful to have an understanding of the geography of Canada, our history and how the scientific elements are organized.  We can’t get along without knowing stuff.  When you know stuff, then learning other stuff makes more sense.  When you know stuff you can access more.  When you know stuff, you can talk to people.

But other things are also increasingly important to know how to do.  It is important to be able to solve problems creatively, especially since most of the jobs our students will do have yet to be invented.  It is important to be able to think critically.  It is important to know how to find the other stuff you want to learn and how to synthesize it with what you already know.  It is important to be able to work collaboratively.

In the days when the teacher was the holder of all knowledge, it took a long time to pass all the knowledge on and we sort of left the other stuff until later, maybe.  The idea of school was the transmission of the stuff.  Today we need to find a balance of learning the stuff and the process of learning.  That’s your challenge.  Sometimes we think that in the “new” way of doing things is only about the process and that we aren’t supposed to teach the stuff.  We think that we have to have kids doing inquiry, doing projects and collaborating all of the time and that means we don’t have to worry about the stuff.

We do need to worry about the stuff.  First of all, rich problems, rich inquiry and rich collaboration all work much better around a strong knowledge base.  And, the problems, the inquiry and collaboration are the processes for arriving at the stuff.  When we have students work in pairs or groups problem-solving in math, the ultimate goal is that each student will learn the stuff.  When student develop inquiry questions in the social sciences, they are learning the stuff as they answer their questions.  When students engage in the process of writing for a specific audience and purpose, they are learning the stuff of the writer’s craft.  In the past, we taught the stuff and then let them do the higher order thinking.  Now, we learn the stuff as we are doing the higher order thinking.

So, the teacher’s role is still about getting kids to know the stuff.  But the process by which students learn stuff has shifted.  Instead of telling kids the stuff and having them memorize and regurgitate, they learn the stuff through the processes of inquiry, collaboration and problem-solving.  As they are learning the stuff, they are also learning to think creatively and critically, to solve problems, to synthesize and evaluate information and to work with others.

As you begin your year, think about how you set up your students to know the stuff through processes which develop their creativity, flexibility, and curiosity.

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Classroom environments can support an inquiry approach

As the year winds down, mostly you are thinking about July.  But, should September creep into your thoughts at all, certain environmental changes to your room may help shape your practice to be more inclusive, more collaborative, more community-based.

  • Think about starting the year with the desks in groups.  When you start with groups as an expectation of how we do things, as opposed to a reward, you are sending a different message to your students.
  • Think about moving your desk, or maybe even getting rid of it altogether.  How you position yourself in the classroom can say a lot about how you view your role.  Are you an authoritarian or a facilitator?  Where is the space where you usually work?  Is it separate from your students or among your students?
  • Think about how you will set up for student movement.  Will it be easy in your classroom for students to move about and work with others or will everyone have their regular “spot”?  Can you easily change things in your room so that students can sit in a knowledge building circle?
  • Think about how you will organize supplies for students.  Do you get tired of students asking for pencils all the time?  Is paper available?  How are your books organized?  How do students access technology in the room?
  • Think about your guided learning table.  Can you sit at it and see the rest of the students?  Do you have supplies nearby that you will need such as little whiteboards, pencils, scrap paper, magnets, math manipulatives etc?  Do you have a spot to keep some assessment data close by so that you remember to keep anecdotal notes when you are working with small groups?
  • Think about the bulletin boards/walls in your classroom.  How will you use them to best scaffold student learning?  Store-bought posters tend to quickly turn into wallpaper.  If you have a poster up in your room right now that you did not refer to on a regular basis this year, likely it is not useful to your teaching practice.
  • Think about how you will communicate learning goals to your students.  While we do not want the learning goals to be a secret from students, we do want learning to be inquiry-based and exciting.  Think about how you can uncover learning goals with the students and make learning an adventure.  Learning goals can be visible in your classroom in many different formats:  co-created anchor charts, checklists (Good readers…/Good scientists…/Good athletes…/etc), exemplars, questions, inquiry-boards, rubrics.
  • Think about where you will be in the classroom at different times.  Could you sit among your students during lessons and sharing?  How could you organize groups of tables so that you can easily join them?

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