“Seeing a student completely zone out in front of a screen and letting the computer lead the learning is not where I hope education is moving…Let’s just remember that in “personalization” is the word “person.”” ~George Couros
…are they bringing their own energy and passion into those tasks?
…how is their ability for a self-driven life impacted? Are they more or less equipped?
“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.”” ~William Stixrud
…do they get the chance to discover the power of their own voices?
…is there any room left for curiosity, when so much energy is spent on compliance?
“How do you view the learners in your class?Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?” ~Edna Sackson
…is there time for reflection and metacognition?
…do students feel they are making personal discoveries worth discussing?
“I want the students to sit on their own shoulders – watch themselves, notice their responses and listen to their self-talk. I want them to slow down, press the pause button and review their actions. I want them to ask: “what am I noticing about myself in this?” “What did I just do/say?” “What is this telling me about myself?” “What could I do differently?” I want them to bring an inquiry stance to learning about themselves as people and I want them to carry that disposition into the rest of their lives.” ~Kath Murdoch
What small changes can we make to better help students learn to own and drive their learning?
One of my favorite parts of family vacations is that we are ALL together ALL the time (incidentally, by the end of the week, that also becomes one of my least favorite parts, but we don’t need to focus on that…)
It is delightful to watch my kids play together and to learn more about the ways they are learning through play.
Here are a few lessons they have taught me about play that I can apply to the classroom when I return.
1. Sometimes, they really do need ALL those toys. In my tendency to get overwhelmed by clutter, I’m often tempted to go into edict-issuing mode. Only one bin of toys may be played with at a time! If a new toy is desired, the first bin must be cleaned up first! But over time, I’ve come to realize that when I make it solely about my preferences, I can stand in the way of valuable tinkering, connecting, and, well, learning. See photos below.
2. Sometimes, they DON’T. When we recently babysat another 3 year old, I thought about getting out the bin of play food/utensils, but I got distracted. By the time she left, I discovered that the preschoolers exercised resourcefulness by using the loose parts box that was out. I loved how this gave them the opportunity to think creatively and use their imaginations.
3. The richness of play lies in its foundation of connection and relationships. In The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes, “Indeed, playing games and laughing together are far more educational than drilling kids on their ABCs on the way to daycare.” The most meaningful moments with my kids are when my daughter and I try to “out-pun” one another, or when my son and I chant and act out “Peel, bananas, peel, peel bananas,” or when my baby and I play peek-a-boo. I believe this is all because these moments are all about each of those kids — finding ways to surprise and delight and engage them — rather than about me and my agenda.
4. Interaction through play is where we can “gain confidence” in our children’s learning. I recently came across an advertisement for a kindergarten preparatory program that included this parent endorsement: “I am so confident in my child now and know that he is 100% ready for kindergarten.” Far from providing buy-in, I found this to be a heartbreaking statement.
Of course, I, too, was once enveloped by the kindergarten readiness frenzy, so I understand the way it can blind us from the very learning taking place before our eyes. I also understand the worries of being a working parent and not being present for that learning as often as we’d like. However, I’ve found that if we treasure any opportunities we get to play with our children, we will grow in our confidence in their capacity to learn and grow.
5. Time for play is an investment we’ll never regret. It isn’t always fun to be chastised that I’ve put the wrong car in a “garage,” or that I’m using the wrong kind of voice, or, heaven forbid, that I’ve assumed the wrong pretend name. But ultimately, these prove to be our best moments filled with learning, love, and invitations to remember what matters most.
What lessons has play taught you? How can we apply it to the classroom?
As parents, we tend to expect that our kids will pick things up from classmates at school.
Like comparing who has seen what movie, who can afford some new gadget, who is allowed to have a phone, or even who knows what swear words.
But I never fathomed that rape might join the list of discussion points among first graders.
I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her, asking her where she had heard that term.
She told me that before school had gotten out a couple weeks ago, she heard another student dare a kid to rape a classmate.
She had also heard the word used by the Witch in a song in Into The Woods, so we added alliteration and non-literal word usage to our list of sophisticated topics of the day (thanks a lot, Stephen Sondheim).
Once I recovered from the initial shock that I was having this conversation with my 7 year-old, it wasn’t as difficult as I would have imagined (had I actually been able to anticipate that conversation to begin with, of course).
And I realized that there were some important lessons to be shared as both a teacher and a parent when it comes to these “unexpected extracurriculars:”
#1: Keep the communication channels wide open at all times. This advice shows up in the parenting books so often that there are probably readers out there rolling their eyes right now. But let’s get a little more specific with this.
Had my response to questions about sensitive subjects in the past been met with embarrassment or shame, I seriously doubt my daughter would have been willing to ask more.
We also needed time together when she felt comfortable striking up the conversation — for some parents, that’s in the form of a bedtime routine that includes specific questions like, “What made you feel happy today?” or “Was there anything that made you feel confused?”
#2: Build off your child’s existing schema. Part of me wondered, is now the time for the talk? But I knew I did not want her introduction to the topic to revolve around sex at its very worst.
So, instead, we built our discussion around concepts with which she was already familiar. In this case, I focused on the notion that we have always taught her that she is “the boss of her body” (meaning that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission). Thus, the information came across as a more natural next step in an ongoing discussion, rather than an onslaught of bombshell-style information she may not have been ready for when she asked her innocent question.
#3: Revisit the idea of safe adults.This entire facet of our conversation reminded me just how complicated it can be to ask our children to talk to adults when someone says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. What if it’s a friend who says it? How do we know when we should just walk away, or when we should get help? How do we tell if what they are saying is actually threatening people’s safety? Who are the safe adults at school we should talk with?
These and other questions are essential and not nearly as straight-forward as we would hope. But as long as we keep it an ongoing discussion, we can hopefully increase the odds of our child learning to correctly discerning the answers.
As we become more aware of the unexpected lessons our kids and students face, we will be better equipped to help them navigate them. Please share ways you have approached these kinds of lessons with your kids at home and/or in the classroom.
Last month, I followed Pernille Ripp’s 7th grade English class’ progress through a project on refugees. I even pointed to it in a recent post as an example of Twitter’s potential for learning. And on Tuesday, Microsoft shared a beautiful Youtube video of their experience:
After witnessing how all this learning and growing has unfolded, I was saddened to encounter the following comment on the Youtube video:
It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of rhetoric, nor will it be the last. The “reading, writing, ‘rithmatic” camp is still alive and well.
However, what those who are of this mindset still don’t understand is that this is English in today’s world.
A world in which current events no longer sit quietly in the morning paper, and instead are loudly debated at all times from the devices in our pockets.
A world in which the negative is amplified and distorted truths go viral.
So when the standards instruct us to “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.1), is it beyond English instruction to tackle an issue that is very much a part of their lives?
Or when we’re to teach students to “Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.3), is it beyond English instruction to seek out civility and compassion to help bring clarity to current events fraught with misinformation?
The truth is, we can’t just direct our students to the encyclopedia anymore. The volume and quality of the information our students receive every day from the Internet is staggering, and we simply cannot pretend that it does not shape their learning process. Especially since with greater global access comes greater global citizenship. Thus, dramatic is the difference between asking a student from 1990 vs. 2016 to “Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.8).
In the complexity of teaching and learning today, 21st century educators know that we are tasked to teach our students how to think, not what to think.
Or, as Pernille put it so well herself at the onset of this project,
“My job is not to make you think a certain way, my job is to make you think. So whatever your opinion may be, all I ask of you is to have one based on fact, rather than what others believe. Keep your ears open and ask a lot of questions. That is the least you can do as the future of this country.”
Keep up the great work, Pernille, and all other teachers dedicated to helping their students make sense of this dynamic and exponentially shifting world!
Your students always have to wait on you to know “what’s next.” Picture this hypothetical: your class returns from PE before you get back from a quick bathroom break. What scene do you anticipate facing when you walk into the room? If your vision resembles Lord of the Flies, consider that there may not not as much trust in place as there could be. Let them in on the plan. Ask for their feedback. Consciously strategize to break down the all-too-common game of “student vs. teacher.”
You see choice only as a reward for positive behavior, rather than a means to promote improved behavior. What if, at the beginning of the year, you tell your students that you trust them to choose right now? What if you tell them you’re there to facilitate learning–not to command it? What if you spend more time coaching them to identify and reflect upon their personal learning needs, and less time on determining the daily learning? When you commit to searching out meaningful student choice in learning space, time, and process, classroom management better falls into place.
Your voice is on more often than your students’ voices. There’s a difference between teaching students polite listening skills–and expecting them to have all their attention on you nearly all the time. We can better strategize to give them more time to digest, experiment, and work one-on-one with teachers. One teacher even committed to actually timeher blocks of instruction time, keeping them to 10 minutes or less with her 7th graders.
You’ve done little to create parent buy-in. Do you contact parents about the positive more often than the negative? Do you keep a class blog to give them greater insight on the learning in your classroom (or better yet, do your students blog, giving parents, grandparents and other relatives to leave comments on their work?) Do you have a well-organized system for parents to volunteer? If the answer is no to one or more of these, you might be fighting an uphill battle on the home-front.
You rely heavily on treats, tokens, stickers, and other extrinsic rewards. As effective as these extrinsic motivators may seem, they actually tend to diminish students’ authentic motivation to learn and discover. Instead, seek out ways to cultivate more intrinsic motivation.
Many of your assignments are worksheets. Translation: little student-driven learning and inquiry is happening. If you’re feeling pressured to show “student progress” in benchmarks, open up communication channels with your administration to gain their support as you work to move away from drill and kill, and toward lasting and authentic student involvement in their learning.
Your routines are lacking. That’s not to say that you need to hammer down explicit routines for every minute thing (see my thoughts on bathroom permission), but if chaos ensues in the morning, end of day, and every transition in between, consider what you can do differently. A reliable signal and a united sense of purpose can go a long way–especially when you need to deviate from the norm.
You rely more heavily on formal, summative assessments than daily formative assessments. If you don’t have meaningful, daily practices in place that help you gauge student progress, you are missing precious opportunities to inform your teaching. Here are a few strategies that might help:
You do not greet students at the door. It’s less about the doorway, and more about reminding your students that they are your daily reason for being there (see more ideas for building student rapport). If that message ever falters, you can be sure that behavior issues are sure to follow.
You do not hold class meetings. Or an otherwise community-building time that helps build a sense of shared ownership over what happens in the classroom. You may ask yourself if you can afford to spend the time–but you might just find that you need to ask yourself if you can afford not to spend the time.
The Daily 5 and 3 for literacy and math: perfect for addressing some questions I’d had on inviting more student choice and ownership. Unfortunately for me, my school adopted it the very year I began my extended parental leave. However, I was thrilled when I was invited to mentor a student teacher that fall, allowing me to still test out the Daily 5/Daily 3 waters for myself. And after a few weeks, the students and I agreed that it was a worthwhile change.
Meanwhile, not everyone at the school welcomed the transition with such enthusiasm. Some worried about not spending enough time on spelling. Others worried about students squandering time. Others were simply entrenched in their existing routines. If you are considering either program, here are some tips to keep in mind to foster a smooth transition.
Allow a LOT of training time
This is no joke. Most students have learned “school” pretty well, but that tends to be more of a teacher-directed perspective. The autonomy of evaluating how they need to spend their learning time is going to be quite novel for most of them. Take each Daily 5 or Daily 3 choice one at a time, emphasizing not only stamina, but metacognition to support their ability to reflect upon their own strengths and needs.
Use status of the class–especially starting out!
One of the recommendations in the current Daily 5 book for monitoring which Daily 5/3 choices students make is roll call or status of the class. It enabled me to track their choices and to offer brief feedback so they could learn to really plan their time well.
Many teachers I spoke with felt it would be too time-consuming to call out each student’s name for their response. However, after a period of training on this process as well (we even timed ourselves to make it a competition), we were able to finish in under 2 minutes. Especially for older students, over time, you may be able to eliminate this step and let students simply move their name or picture on a choice board (such as the example below).
However you decide to track their choices, avoid the temptation to regularly assign them to stations. This eliminates one of the fundamental purposes of Daily 5/3, which is to foster students’ ability to determine how they need to spend their learning time.
Make the schedule work for you
Don’t be intimidated by the way blocks of time are outlined in the book. Interruptions to the school day are almost always a package deal, but the good news is that Daily 5/3 are designed to be flexible.
If the time you have available for student choices time is a bit shorter than ideal, add one more Daily 5 block (without any whole group time) during the day for them to choose another station to revisit and catch up on. See the example schedules at the bottom.
Don’t skimp on wrap-ups
Despite the flexible nature of Daily 5/3, don’t skip the wrap-up! This moment of reflection is invaluable both for you and students to gauge the progress, problems, and successes.
Stagger the mini-lesson one day and assignment the next
If you don’t have enough student choice times for all students to get to a station that includes an assignment based on the mini lesson, simply give the assignment the day after the corresponding mini lesson.
Make an assignments board
Simplify where students should look for Daily 5/3 assignments (and possibly a reminder on essential agreements) by designating a bulletin board or a corner of your whiteboard. See below for a great example.
Don’t drown their choices with teacher-centered worksheets
It may be especially tempting in Math Daily 3 to make each of the stations different kinds of worksheets from the lesson manual. However, keep in mind that one goal for Math Daily 3 is to foster more hands-on learning experiences. Both “Math by Myself” and “Math with Someone” are intended for games and exploring math manipulatives (see next tip). “Math Writing” is appropriate for students to show their understanding on paper.
Create a running bank of games/activities for math
As students learn each new game or math manipulative activity, write down the title on a sentence strip. Then, for Math by Myself & with Someone, you can just pull out familiar games for new concepts (or for review, especially at the beginning of a unit). Examples:
This teacher has prepared gallon ziplock baggies of games ahead of time for partners to play together. Her examples are geared toward grades 2-4, but the concept is great because it reinforces having a bank of games the kids are familiar with. This would be a great parent volunteer activity!
If the noise level is reaching a distraction for students in independent stations, seek out solutions as a class. For instance, they might find limiting the number of partners that can work during a block to be helpful.
EXAMPLES OF SCHEDULES/CHOICES FOR 2 DIFFERENT CLASSES:
When you set up your classroom, is democracy a mindful priority?
I’ve never forgotten the story of how one of my favorite college professors was begged out of retirement to teach 2nd grade–the evening before school started. When she walked into her classroom on the first day of school, it was to bare walls, stacked desks, and puzzled students.
They sat down on the floor together. Eventually, a 7 year-old timidly shared that things felt a little off, to which the others agreed. When my professor asked them what a classroom should consist of, one girl raised her hand and said, “Well, last year, we had chairs.” They set to work arranging the furniture, and then regrouped. Then, another boy offered, “We also normally have pencils.” Together, they procured a supply. And so it went for the first part of the school year.
I’ve always remembered the ending to her story: that those students owned that classroom as none of her students had before or since. And with a wink, she added that she didn’t necessarily recommend having zero preparation before the school year started–at least for the sake of school administrators’ sanity.
The Set Up
The idea of incorporating classroom jobs centers around ownership. This is more than about classroom management or clean-up–it’s about empowering students with the understanding that the feel of their learning environment is in their hands.
Hold a class meeting early in the school year to discuss the shared nature of your classroom’s physical, emotional, and academic space. Brainstorm tasks you all feel are necessary for smooth maintenance, safety, and support. You may opt to show students your list from the previous year, and then allow them to help you modify it based on their unique needs. Or you may choose to go the way of my professor, and allow your students to start from scratch!
Pass out a job application so students can list their top choices and reasons they believe they would qualify for the job.
Additional options to consider:
Interview each student before assigning jobs. I’ve had groups that enjoyed dressing up for a more formal and “official” experience.
Set aside “job time” at the end or beginning of the day for those students whose jobs require some time; you may choose to have the other students read, journal, etc., during that time.
List of Job Ideas
Whatever your approach, below are jobs that have all been tried by my fifth graders (with the exception of a “social media manager,” which I plan on trying out as soon as I resume teaching)! The number to the side is how many students I’ve typically had doing the job, but be sure to base things on your class needs and size! Also note that some are combos based on how much time some jobs took. Feel free to share these with your students to help them get inspired!
Paper Passers/Absentee Buddies:
Description: Passes out any appropriate papers daily and picks up papers from groups. During job time, they get materials gathered for any students that are absent, write down assignments for the day, and leaves them neatly on their desks. (2)
Description: Files all graded papers and handouts into each student’s file of papers that are to go home. (2)
Qualities: Memory skills, FAST
Description: Carries lunch basket daily. Also gets the room ready for projector use when needed by quickly pulling down the projector screen, turning off the lights, closing the blinds, and turning on the projector. During job time, they check all the walls for repairs & remind tables to clean up desks/floors. Takes care of all other classroom maintenance as called upon. (2)
Qualities: Strong, lines up quickly at beginning of line, tall, takes initiative
Description: Checks all planners at the end of the day during job time. They also check for completion of the homework journal/project each Friday morning, and reports and missing work to the teacher in the morning.
Qualities: Responsible, thorough, organized. (1)
Description: Makes birthday cards for each student on their birthday/half birthday, and then get signatures from everyone in the class.
Qualities: Good handwriting, artistic, thoughtful, AMAZING memory! (1)
Question of the Week Keeper
Description: Comes up with brainteaser questions and answers for the Question of the Week and lets the payroll know who gets bonuses for getting it right. (1)
Qualities: Good handwriting, likes puzzles, organized. (1)
Description: Updates the daily schedule and keeps the monthly calendar correct.
Qualities: Tall, memory skills, VERY neat handwriting (1)
Assistant Event Manager
Description: Assists the event manager with anything he/she needs help with.
Description: This person will need to erase the board after each recess and whenever else it is needed. Thoroughly cleans the board during job time. (1)
Qualities: Tall, strong, pays attention, neat
Description: Reminds all students to add their paychecks to their check registers every payday. They also check with students who have bonuses each day during job time to make sure they’ve recorded in their check registers. (1)
Qualities: listener, math money skills, honest
Description: During job time each day, they check with any students who have fines to make sure they’ve recorded them in their check registers. (1)
Qualities: organized, listener, math money skills
Description: Handles money during the class store by helping students write checks and subtract from their check registers. Assigns prices to class store items. Also stands and leads the pledge every morning. (1)
Qualities: honest, math money skills, organized, memory skills
Behavior Recorder/Assistant Room Manager
Description: Writes down daily fines and bonuses and then records them on the board during job time. Also assists the room manager with filling in for absent students. (1)
Qualities: responsible, great memory, honest
Description: Makes sure that everyone is doing their job daily. Also fills in for any job if a student is absent. (Must know responsibilities of all jobs) Takes care of all other leadership/management tasks as called upon. (1)
Qualities: Organized, attentive, fast Learner, leadership
Description: Leads the line daily. Learns assigned places to stop & keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file. (1)
Qualities: listener, respectful
Description: Ends the line daily to all destinations and turns off the light as class leaves. If any student has to return to the classroom to retrieve a forgotten item, the line ender is required to go with them. Keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file.
Qualities: Fast, good listener great memory, respectful
Class Journal Keeper
Description: Updates the class journal each day during job time with a description/illustration of the day’s events. (1)
Qualities: Artistic, neat handwriting
Description: This person must have access to a digital camera that he/she can bring to school on a regular basis. They are in charge to taking pictures of exciting experiments, debates, parties, and anything else; they then need to email pictures from home to me occasionally. (1)
Qualities: Takes initiative, very responsible, photography/technology skills
Description: Runs any notes or errands throughout building throughout the day. Collects Mrs. Wade’s mailbox items from the front office every job time. (1)
Qualities: Knows school and different teachers, communicator, fast walker, polite, honest
Description: Also, each morning makes sure all students have moved lunch magnets and then counts/writes down how many for each option. Moves the magnets back at the end of the day. (1)
Qualities: organized, memory skills, fast
Description: Using disinfectant wipes, cleans all desks, tables, (and if time), chairs at the end of each day during job time. Cleans other surfaces as needed. (2)
Qualities: Attention to detail, helpful, respectful to others’ belongings
Description: Helps keep the entire class organized; organizes the guided reading desk/teacher area as needed, helps other students with organizing their desks, organizes other things around the class when it gets cluttered. (1)
Qualities: Um, organized. 🙂 Also, takes initiative, meaning they don’t need to be asked to notice & jump in to help.
Class Medic/End of Day Caller
Description: Keeps band-aids in their desk and distributes to students. Also makes sure everyone takes home their lunch boxes/coats/backpacks.(1)
Qualities: Fast, memory skills, reliable
Description: Straightens up the clubhouse and sorts the books during job time every day. Checks for any damages to books and fixes them or reports them to the teacher as needed. Maintains all other clubhouse materials to keep things looking nice. (1)
Qualities: Organized, respectful to books
Scribe/Word Wall Attendant
Description: On Monday Meetings, this person will write down all the items of business discussed and report at the end. This person also maintains the word wall chart during job time by neatly writing great words we encounter as a class. This person will also take notes whenever we go over important things, remind the teacher of things, and advance PowerPoint presentations during lessons. (1)