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).  

 

When Talking Becomes Droning

Kids are talked at ALL DAY LONG. I think we tend to forget this when we are the ones talking and “interacting” with students.  I’m an introvert but I love talking about my subject matter.  I used to pinch myself and say “Wow, I get to talk about World War 2 all day–what a job I have!”  And it was great fun…for me…and about 5 of my students.

 

It wasn’t until I observed other classrooms where the teacher just DRONED on and on as if they felt the need to fill up all the time from bell to bell, repeating, reiterating and listening to themselves talk, that it hit me.  THIS WAS ME.  But, because I was the one interested and talking, I didn’t realize it.  I thought I was interesting, I thought I was profound but…most of my audience wasn’t listening most of the time.  

 

I am also made aware of this constant droning in various meetings I am required to attend from time to time where the speaker or facilitator turns a memo into an hour and a half of listening to themselves talk.  I generally like listening to lectures BUT not when I’m less than interested.  Furthermore I am less likely to engage or participate IF I can’t discern the value of the conversation or if I feel like I’m making it last longer by contributing and just want to get on to someone else.  If I, as a mature adult, felt this way then I’m sure my students felt it times 100.  

 

I had kids act up, distract others or otherwise totally disengage.  So I would do things to try to prevent this like making them write it down and collecting it or testing them on it etc.  And I’m sure that some did this in order to earn a certain grade–but were they listening to me–highly doubtful.

 

So, last year I had a 5-minute rule.  I would only speak for 5 consecutive minutes.  But, I sometimes broke the rule because, hey I was talking about World War 1 or Macbeth so I fell back into some old habits.

 

This year I am in the process of placing a gag on myself–NO TALKING.  Well, no talking to the whole class anyway.  To the WWI junkie I can elaborate on the details of the Schlieffen Plan.  To the artistic student, I can tell him how to complete the assignment using Google draw.  And guess what–everyone is listening–and I’m still having fun and, I think, so are they.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Practice NOW–It’s a Process.

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Practice–It’s a Process

 

Today I had a sub and I didn’t change my lesson plans at all.  I was planning introducing chromebooks into the our daily routine so, I kept that as our daily objective–even though I wasn’t there to worry about the details.  I wrote up my instructions on paper and placed them at each table per usual.  Today, the students were required to figure out their username and password (which is a uniform combination of their name and student ID number), log-in and go to the class web page and Google Classroom.

 

For the students who could log in, they were able to follow the process fairly well.  For the ones who couldn’t, they were to write their name on a 3×5 card and describe the difficulty (so I could remedy the situation prior to the next class meeting).  

 

Then the students were instructed to return the chrome books and to plug them in.  I was able to return to the classroom by 5th period and this is what I found:

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Many students in 5th were experiencing low-battery issues and had difficulty negotiating the jungle of wires.

 

Everything went fairly well but it’s quite understandable that there will always be details that need to be clarified, ironed out and practiced.  Should I have described in great detail how I wanted the chrome books stored?  Maybe, but it probably would not have had a big impact.  I did tell them to plug them in–some did and some didn’t.  Guess what, I had to remind a few to read the instructions, I had to remind others what to do if they couldn’t log in, etc.  But we had a successful day because we did it.  

We met the challenge, we succeeded in many ways and fell short in others–but that is the learning process.  The students who forgot what to do will remember next time.  The ones who didn’t plug in their chromebook will do it next time (especially after I emphasize it in the directs and double check their efforts).

 

Failure and practice is part of the process.  

 

This lesson was a huge part of my progress as a teacher as well.  I need to let kids try and fail.  A year ago I would not have allowed the chromebooks to be used for the first time without me there.  A year ago I would have been frustrated at the “lack of respect” for school property. A year ago I would have waited two weeks to have all my ducks in a row before even letting my students try.  Now, I turn them loose as quickly as I can, so they can fail, stumble, learn and improve.  And I fail, stumble, learn and improve.

 

Don’t wait to try it–the quicker you do it, the quicker you will get over that learning curve, iron out the unforeseeable details and more towards perfection.

 

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I Had a Sub and Didn’t Change a Thing!

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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 had a sub and didn’t change a thing!

 

Today I had a training to attend and needed a substitute teacher to cover my classes.  Normally I would have had to modify my lesson plans significantly–either simplifying it, slowing it down or even just providing the class some extra time to finish old assignments.  Other times I would create busy work that is due by the end of the period in order to keep them occupied, thus making it easier for the sub.  


But, today I did NONE of those things.  In fact, I introduced new elements into our established routine.  This was the first day students were instructed to grab a chromebook and log in–and I wasn’t even there!

 

Normally I would have been too much of a control freak to allow my students to attempt their first login when I wasn’t present.  But, I had taught my students to come in and follow the posted instructions immediately (without waiting on me to begin) and helping each other if they were confused, so I had no worries.   

 

I was able to monitor their progress online from my meeting and I noticed a few of them did, however, join the wrong class in Google classroom.  I quickly sent these students a group email, removed them from the wrong class and clarified a few things on my web page.  I had done the same type of small-group redirecting that I would have done had I been physically present.  

 

I realize that some students might not be able to log-in and some might not start immediately and others will be confused but,  many others will do things as instructed, be successful and provide leadership for those aren’t.

This is a learning process and we are only in week 2 but we are building a foundation that will carry us through the year.  We try, we fail, we learn and then we help.

 

 

There Are More Effective Ways to Convey Information

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…

There are other, more effective ways to convey information
When I first began this experiment I simply asked myself, if there was another way I could convey this information.  On the first day I usually pass out my syllabus and “go over it” with the class.  Then I asked myself how many students actually pay attention to this.  Then when some students ask questions about all the hypothetical situations not not covered in the late work policy, how many students are listening…yeah, not many.  This year I had my students read it over in their groups and underline anything that didn’t make sense and add anything that they would like to see.  As I checked-in with each group I found some very thoughtful questions and I addressed them specifically. These are probably the students who would have been listening if I had “gone over it.”  This activity took a fraction of the time it normally would have. The students now have access to the information and will access it when they need it.

I Was Wasting My Students’ Time

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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 was wasting my students’ time

As I fought the urge to get everyone’s attention and tell them “just one more thing…” I realized how much I of an interruption I had been to my own students over the years.  Previously, if one student asks a good question I would feel the need to interrupt the whole class and answer it because “…if one student has that question then others most likely do as well.”  How many times had I interrupted my own class to answer an individual question.

 

 

Likewise, if a student become disruptive I had been in the habit of interrupting the class to “remind” everyone what proper behavior look like, often with latent threats involved.  Now, I just approach the individual and ask him what is going on.  Thus, he is not singled out and I am not grandstanding to the entire class.

My words are more valuable

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In an effort to be more student-centered this year, 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.    So far the results have been incredibly positive and there have been many revelations along the way.

 

So far I have found that…

  1. My words are much more valuable.

 

When I spend my time circulating through the room clarifying, redirecting and building relationships I find that my words are much more valuable. Whereas if I am going over my syllabus or waxing poetic on the meaning of life found in this Shakespearean sonnet, I have found that not everyone is listening.  I am a good lecturer, my lectures are insightful and profound but even at my best I probably only had about a third of the class’ meaningful attention.  Now my words are eagerly received and highly sought after and never fall on deaf ears.