Musings from the Middle Kingdom
There was a time in my career in which silence was important to me in the classroom. I strived to achieve that. I had sanctions ready, posters ready, support ready. I even had a silent time display card flashing on the screen. And I achieved that, students would come in, listen to me, watch my demo, practice what I preached, three or four students would always have their hand up during plenaries and they would go out.
If I observe my classroom right now, it's chaos compared to that. I talk at the start - maybe less than five minutes. No demo and then all hell breaks loose. Students talk, often walk in the classroom to each other. Noise levels go up. I wander about talking to them and the bell rings and no one is logged off or wants to log off or is in a rush to leave the classroom. I herd them out and let the next lot in.
What brought on this drastic change? To an external observer, my lessons would look like a complete mess. What's the teacher doing? How are the student's learning? Classroom management? Epic fail?
Or is it?
The bulk of my teaching occurs before the lessons. Recording / finding videos, lesson instructions on Google Classrooms, website links, different pathways, online assessment, online work submission, collaborative tasks and so on. I use tools like Quizlet, Google Apps For Education (GAFE), Edublogs, Thinglink, Edmodo, Nearpod, Socrative and many more.
Before a topic starts, students are given a pre assessment to measure their prior knowledge. They are then grouped accordingly.
Students have been given lessons on how to use this approach to learning and the tools that I use. New students have a booklet/ lunch session to support them when they join.
Flipped learning homework/blogging
There are only these two types of homework that I give. Blogging / reflecting about their learning experience each week is their permanent homework. Flipped learning comes in when prep is required for a particular topic.
Start of the lesson
Short introduction or Q/A session on the topic to clarify misunderstandings, set the agenda for the lesson.
Students use the majority of the lesson to work towards the task set. I observe, comment, question, assess and target support as necessary. The key to this is talking to them and observing them. If a group struggles then I intervene or adapt next lesson's pathway to take that into account. Students are allowed to seek help from any source and support each other. Show but not do. They often use videos that I provide them but the pattern seems to be that a few seek help from others who have watched the videos as they feel comfortable that way.
The conversations are about what they learn and the buzz is invigorating. Yes! I do feel tempted to get the noise levels back to silence occasionally but I suppress that feeling as this is the true sound of learning of my students.
Non existent as the blogging activity is my plenary at home. It allows me to pick up on what each student has retained and their level of understanding. It also gives them time to reflect on their learning and further embed it.
Remember, this approach is customised to my current context and the current group of students and perhaps in a different school with a different set of students, the sound of learning will be different. It does require a bit more work at the outset but the benefits to student learning are immense. The students talk about my lessons in the playgrounds and the blogs show collaboration examples, peer assessment and feedback.
The one thing I am still working on is getting them to improve past work after a topic is over. To ensure that learning concepts are further embedded they need to be revisited and refreshed regularly. Perhaps an approach I will try this year is to allocate lessons later in the year to revisit topics covered earlier on.
How did I end up with this approach to learning?
Experience, CPD, Twitter, sharing ideas with other educators, observations of other classes, videoing my own lesson, reading about pedagogy, talking to the students and so on.
I think the key word is reflection.
Now I still end up with silent classrooms from time to time, these though are not by my own design but by the students.
I am Sunny Thakral. If you are here on the site then you know a bit about me. If not then I am a teacher and these are my musings. Hope you enjoy them.