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More Time For Those Who Need It

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In an effort to be more student centered, I decided to see how long I could go without speaking to the whole class at once.  Instead, I posted all instructions and spent my time coming alongside individuals and interacting with groups of students.    So far the results have been incredibly positive and there have been many revelations along the way.  

 

So far I have found that…

I have more time for students who need it.

 

One of the benefits of creating a student-centered classroom with student choice in assignment and reading methods was a high level of student engagement.  Nevertheless, when I went to calculate grades I was shocked to find a handful of student in each class who had hardly turned anything in. You have got to be kidding me!  They come in every day, appear to be engaged, they do not disrupt or appear off task and yet–nothing.  There were a few students that had actually never even logged in to Google Classroom.

 

No More Blaming The Student

In the past I would have left these students behind and would have blamed them for not doing anything.

 

This year, because I am not going any whole class direct instruction, I decided to create 1 group per class of student who needed a little extra help.  So, today I called a few students over to an empty table and got them all started.  I sat with each one and made sure each one was successful.  Some students were just afraid to ask for help others just found in comfortable not doing anything.  

Creating a Greater Sense of Urgency

I have been fairly lax with deadlines–giving two weeks to complete any assignment for full credit.  The problem with this, however, is that some students don’t feel the need to complete it that day, therefore, they don’t work very efficiently.  So, I broke the assignments down into bite sized chunks and told the class that they needed to finish part 1 because we will be doing part 2 next time.  Now, the majority of the class is working with a greater sense of purpose.  And, while everyone doesn’t quite finish in the allotted time, the bulk of the class is working with a greater sense of urgency.

 

Hopefully, the students that fell behind are now jump started into action.  I was a little surprised by the level of capability in some of the students.  Some just needed a little push, others needed to know what a verb was and how to find that out on their own.  Some just needed to be guided through some elements of our daily routine that we have spent six weeks establishing.  
Next year, I plan on taking this sort of remedial action sometime before week three rather than after week six.  

Students Really Can Teach Themselves

wpid-20150916_101450.jpgIn an effort to be more student-centered, I decided to see how long I could go without speaking to the whole class at once.  Instead, I posted all instructions and spent my time coming alongside individuals and interacting with groups of students.    So far the results have been incredibly positive and there have been many revelations along the way.  

 

So far I have found that…

 

Students Really Can Teach Themselves

 

Today I gave a staple assignment covering all the parts of speech, various sentence types and many other basics of English grammar.  In the past I usually took two days to “go over” everything on the assignment and we would do it together (i.e. I would write my answers up on the board and the students would copy it down.  

 

However, since I have made the commitment not to address the class, any type of whole class direct instruction was out of the question.  So, I simply instructed the class to do the assignment.  I provided a resource and instructed the students to ask each other or Google the answer.  I have to admit, I was quite unsure about how the class would respond.  I made my usual rounds and gave instruction here and there and soon the students started bringing me their assignments for me to check.  I was actually surprised to see a fair amount of students giving perfect examples of compound and complex sentences, appropriate semicolon use and grammatically correct lines of dialogue.

 

The students were getting it right, on their own, largely without my help or direct instruction.  Plus, my time was better spent giving each student on the spot, individualized feedback.  There are many things that students can simply teach themselves and each other if given the opportunity.

Easy Sub Lesson Plans

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We all know the old teacher truism: It’s more work to have a sub…and it WAS–for me anyway–until this year.  This year I have stopped addressing the whole class in an effort to be more student-centered.  This has forced me to write out and post all of my instuction daily.  I had to wean them off of teacher dependence.  But, once this happened students come in and immediately get started on the daily agenda.  If they need clarification, they ask a neighbor–or me (I’m circulating throughout the period).  This makes for a more effecient use of time.  Plus, I never miss a day of productivity when I need a sub.  In fact, sub plans are no different that normal lesson plans.  Furthermore, If I am no longer the sole distributer of information I don’t harm my students with my absence.  It’s now truly pleasant to have a sub.

Failure, Trials and Growth

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Today my lessons failed.  Students didn’t following directions (students didn’t read the directions), some were off task, others were distracted by their phone–people were more concerned about tonight’s football game than anything going on in my class.  In addition to this we had a new student and numerous quirky tech issues that required my attention.

I Didn’t Revert–I Didn’t Want To

I fought the urge to just say, “Everyone, shut up!” “Put that away!”  “Ok, since no one knows how to follow instructions, I guess I need to treat you like kindergarteners!”  But, the urge really wasn’t that strong.  If it was, I would have reverted to my old behavior–which is what I tend to do under stress.  But, I didn’t revert.  I didn’t make sarcastic remarks or engage in passive-aggressive behavior.  More importantly, I didn’t jettison the notion of a student-centered classroom.  This is when you know change has really occurred–when you are tested.  And today I was tested.  The system was tested, my classroom was tested.

I Found My Wins

I was calm and tried to address each need as it came up and now that I realize it, I had several wins in the process.  I engaged with an off-task student who had dug himself quite a hole–I don’t think he had done anything all year.  So, I told him I would give him credit for the first three assignments if he wrote up a proposal for a club he wants to start.  He said he would rather do a Google Slides presentation.  Perfect!

 

I got to sit down and talk with my new student.  Normally, with everything that was going on, she might have fallen through the cracks.

 

I helped several individuals do something tech-related that they had never done before.  And, some students were able to complete some assignments.

 

My biggest failure was instructing the students to engage in silent reading for the new novel I had assigned.  That…didn’t happen.  So we will need to modify that–probably go back to a student choice situation.

 

Slow down, practice

 

We will need to simplify the directions (there are probably too many), practice our routines and transitions a bit more (I have been introducing 1 new thing per day–that is way too much).

 

But, that’s ok.  I weathered the storm.  I believe in what I’m doing.  I’m not going to hide my failures.  I will share them and learn from them.  

 

Book Wall: If You Build It, They Will READ

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IF You Build it They Will READ

I used to think that students didn’t like to read.  I was wrong.  I became aware of this fact when I built my book wall.  Now, I have to admit–the motivations for building my book wall were a bit selfish.  I needed an easy and fun way to decorate my classroom, but I needed more space to store my books.  I frequent thrift shops, used bookstores and library book sales and simply do not have room at home to store everything I want to buy and I had maxed out all the shelf space in my classroom.

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Push Pins and Binder Clips

My wife told me about a teacher at CART in Clovis, CA, who used push pins and binder clips to hang books–simple and easy.  I just happen to have tons of binder clips so put up as many as possible–with no organization, rhyme or reason.  Then, something magical happened. Students started to ask me if they could borrow them.  What!?!  This wasn’t a part of any assignment I had given.  They didn’t need them for Silent Reading (our school got rid of that years ago).  They just wanted to read them.  

 

Plus, my students never asked me about my books when they were on the shelf!  Some teachers believe that books are not as attractive when only their spine is showing.  I think there is something to this.  We all know the old adage:  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  But, maybe an attractive cover can make the difference between being noticed and not–at least in a classroom. 

Choice is Powerful

Now, I make more of an effort to buy books students will be interested in–which has only increased the number of check outs.  Choice is a powerful thing.

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So now If a student wants to check one out I have them fill out a 3×5 card with their name and book title.  Now, I will eventually incorporate this into my class formally-by giving them some sort of class credit for reading.  But for now, it’s really refreshing to see this.  

Good things happen when you don’t tell HOW

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I Took A Big Risk 

Today, I took a big risk (for me) in creating an assignment for my students.  I told them to do something that I didn’t know how to do.  The students had to take a picture of an assignment from another class and upload it to Google Classroom.  The results were amazing.  I had students asking each other how to do it and there was an expert at every table.  I had one student show me how to do it and I learned something.  Last year I would not have even given this assignment.  

 

I used to think that I needed to be an expert in everything I was asking my students to do.  I assumed that they knew nothing and therefore, I, the disseminator of all knowledge and information (in my old TEACHER driven classroom) must learn and master the content so that I could show my students how.  

It’s NOT About Me

 

Even when I started to move to a STUDENT centered model I still felt the need to explain everything by giving step-by-step instructions that were two pages long.  This resulted in students not reading the instructions and asking one another or myself how to do something.  But, more importantly, it PREVENTED me from trying anything that I was not an expert in because I “Don’t have time to learn it.”

 

I ALSO have found that students are more creative when you loosen the parameters.  They find a way to do things, they use creative thinking skills, they do things you do not expect.  And, if given choice, they tend to go above and beyond your expectations.  They want to use color or add pictures or do a little bit extra because they chose the assignment and they feel like they have the freedom to do it their way.  

 

I used to HATE vague language.  I used to want clear, concise directions and expectations.  Now I like a bit of vagueness that spurs creativity.  I just tell them what I want–but NOT how to do it.  The results have been amazing.  

 

When I’m NOT Talking, Students Have Time to Talk to Me

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13 DAYS AND COUNTING!

In an effort to be more student centered, I decided to see how long I could go without speaking to the whole class at once.  Instead, I posted all instructions and spent my time coming alongside individuals and interacting with groups of students.    So far the results have been incredibly positive and there have been many revelations along the way.  

 

So far I have found that…

 

When I’m not talking, students have time to talk to me.

 

I can’t tell you how many meaningful conversations I have had this year so far that were initiated by students.  One student wanted to discuss early Stephen King with me.  Another wanted to know about my creative writing class–others the young authors faire coming up in the second semester.  

 

I believe that if I was doing a whole class activity or lecture, these conversations wouldn’t have happened.  Or if they did, they would have happened in a situation where the rest of the class may have been forced to hear it.  I can’t tell you how many times during a meeting that I have been annoyed by someone asking a question that is totally off base or only applies to themselves personally.  The entire meeting is put on hold while we hear an extended explanation regarding something totally inapplicable to our lives and situation.  Yet, I used to do this to my students ALL THE TIME.  
When I circulate, students feel comfortable enough to share with me, ask me for feedback or just tell me something about their weekend.  

Stop Interrupting Your Students

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In an effort to be more student centered, I decided to see how long I could go without speaking to the whole class at once.  Instead, I posted all instructions and spent my time coming alongside individuals and interacting with groups of students.    So far the results have been incredibly positive and there have been many revelations along the way.  

 

So far I have found that…

The Less I talk the more time students have for authentic, content specific interaction.

 

When kids are having content-specific, authentic conversation happens, learning happens–magic happens.  And I was interrupting them by talking.  It was almost comical at times.  I build this classroom around community building–with couches, bean bags and rugs.  Yet, there were times where I demanded that the students STOP and pay attention to me for a while.  I had built the environment to support authentic conversations but I wasn’t letting them happen.  

 

This year I taught the students to be self starters–to come in read the daily instructions and get started without me.  This has been a hard habit to break for some students.  Now the kids naturally ask each other for clarification or what to do next.  They talk about the assignments, they talk about stories and content.  If there is confusion in one area and walk over there and clarify.  I USED TO think thats a good question, if he has that question there may be others that have the same question and then I would interrupt the class and all those authentic conversations, get everyone’s attention and answer the one student’s question.  

 

The Value of Herd Mentality

 

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In an effort to be more student centered, I decided to see how long I could go without speaking to the whole class at once.  Instead, I posted all instructions and spent my time coming alongside individuals and interacting with groups of students.    So far the results have been incredibly positive and there have been many revelations along the way.  

 

So far I have learned…

 

The Value of Herd Mentality

 

During first period the other day, while the students should have been transitioning to reading time they were working on another assignment.  Why was this?  Was I not clear in my instructions, did they not read the instructions?  Or maybe because no one else was transitioning the others didn’t think it was time to do so.

 

Last year ago, I would have quickly utilized my teacher voice and announced to the whole class that it was now time for reading and probably something to the effect that they should have read their instructions.  But not this time.  I had made a commitment NOT to address the whole class OR use my teacher voice. So I approached a single group and quietly redirected them and clarified the instructions.  They quickly complied and–guess what–the class quickly followed their lead.  I didn’t need to stop everything, get everyone’s attention and browbeat the kinesthetic learners into submissive silence in order to announce what they should have been doing.  

 

There will always be times of confusion.  It doesn’t matter if your directions are clear or murky.  It doesn’t matter if you are specific or vague.  There will always be someone who isn’t listening or didn’t read the directions.  Why stop everyone in that situation.  Put the information out there and the ones who need it will access it when they need it.  The ones who don’t will follow those who will.

 

The Answer to Engaged Reading is Choice

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Today, we did the unthinkable.  We read “Young Goodman Brown,” in class–in a regular English class.  We struggled through the archaic prose at times but at the end of the day a non-reading student declared “This is a really good story.” It was a dream come true for me and it was made possible through student choice.

 

Many of my students openly declared during the first week of school that they “don’t like to read.”  So, I had a conversation with many of them and solicited feedback as to how we should “do reading” in the class.  Their responses were not surprising.  Some preferred the teacher read to them, others like to read on their own, others in groups etc.  These are all methods I had tried to varying degrees of success.  Last year I read whole novels to some of my classes.  This it hit me:  Why not try to accommodate every reading preference at once.  So we did.  At reading time, everyone was given a choice–they could either come over to the rug and have me read to them.  Or, they could read on their own or find a group to read with.  I even let them go outside and read under a tree–and some did.  

 

The Answer to Engaged Reading is: Choice

I also give each student choice in the assignment they want to do.  For every assignment I give there are three choices and an option to make their own assignment.  Therefor, I instruct the students to review the assignments prior to reading time and make a choice.  Then, they gather the materials they need and move to a location of the room that suits their needs.  And guess what?  Everyone is engaged and on-task.  The students who listen to me are focused.  The students who go outside are actually reading.  Now, I know that there are some students who go outside and probably don’t read.  However, they are probably the same student who would read in class and would be disruptive if forced to fake it.  If this student is asking someone else to summarize the story for him, then great!  Everyone has a choice in reading style and assignment creates instant buy-in and engagement.  

 

Plus, I allow choice in reading materials.  There are some novels that we will all read (in class and never for homework–I don’t assign homework).  I built a book wall and allow students to check out books at any time and I give them class credit for reading things that they are into.  So far, I have had 10 students check out books voluntarily.  If you build it they will come.  If you give kids choice they will read (at least more than otherwise).