My classroom is student-centered and instruction is blended. I’ve got 23 Macbook Airs in my room. I don’t know for sure but I imagine this is my students’ first experience in a student-centered blended classroom. I say that because their reactions to my classroom indicate pretty clearly the type of classrooms from which they have previously been a part.
In a very general sense, my instruction runs in three phases: Instructional, Practice, Assessment. It’s a lot more fluid than that, but that’s enough to understand the purpose of this post. The instructional phase represents the time that I offer the most support. Perhaps it’s the phase that appears most like a 20th century classroom. I incorporate a buffet of opportunities for my students to dive into the skill or concept. The next phase represents the biggest phase, from the standpoint of time. During the practice phase I often gauge the level of support needed by my students by the number of hands up in the classroom. During this time, I rarely address the entire class as a whole, rather I spend most of the time down on a knee beside one student or a group of students. I issue the daily agenda through our learning management system, Canvas, and this allows me to spend more valuable time with my students. As I said, during the practice phase, students generally get my attention with a raised hand or a verbal cue. During the class, I find myself constantly gauging the level of support needed by the class, diagnosing common weaknesses, and identifying common strengths. This means I occasionally need to stop and address the whole class.
I’m realizing, through observation and conversations with students, that the number of hands and verbal cues I’m receiving during the practice phase doesn’t necessarily indicate the level of support students need, rather it indicates the level of support students want. Putting the problem back on the students means I have to intentionally exercise caution during my interactions with students in order to continually put the problem back on the students. Most importantly, I have to employ the right kinds of questions when dealing with students. Questions that require them to think, because it’s likely they would prefer that I respond in a way that liberates them from thinking. See, the number of hands up during class more accurately indicates the lack of thinking. The system I have put in place in my class arms each student with opportunities to learn. In general, I’m finding that they view these opportunities, even using Google, as a way for me to stop teaching.
Ultimately, I’d like for my students to develop resilience, grit, and perseverance that empowers them to relentlessly dig at their problems before giving up and seeking support from me.
This goal is not achieved without a teacher that is intentionally aware of the effects of each interaction with students seeking support. It requires the teacher to act more as a coach. A coach empowers his/her students to hone the skill of learning by putting the problem back on the students. The right questions are key for a teacher or coach to put the problems back on the students. For example, one of my students held her hand up for 15 minutes in class this week waiting for me to make it around to offer support. When I made it to the student, her question was “Is this a negative sign or a minus sign?” First, bless her heart for holding her hand up in the air for 15 minutes. I’m afraid she worked harder holding her hand in the air than she did in solving her problem. My response could have easily been “that number needs to be treated as a negative” and I could have walked away and moved on to the next student. That would have done nothing to foster resilience or risk-taking in that student. The situation that exists with this student depicts the struggles in all of my students. She has never been empowered to take control of her learning, take risks, and accept failure. These skills are critical to success in today’s global society, yet they are perhaps the most neglected in today’s classrooms. Students have been conditioned to believe that arriving at the right answer is the only measurement of achievement that matters. Risking failure or making a mistake is shameful and not something that is embraced by many of today’s classrooms. The following tips can help you begin to empower students to embrace failure as part of the learning process. This is critical to putting the problem back on the students.
- Be aware of your language and the impact that it has on cultivating learners. Praise and encouragement are not the same thing. Too often praise is given as a result of the product. It’s more effective to provide encouragement during the process. Be sure you’re emphasizing the process over the product.
- Questions, questions, questions. Your questions are key to empowering students to leverage the tools available to solve their own problems. Your questions should require reflection and risk taking. Too often students are spoonfed the answers, rather than provided opportunities to think.
- Can you draw a picture that may help?
- What would happen if you tried it?
- Is there a similar problem we’ve done that may help us understand this one?
- Have you Googled it? Yes, that’s right. Teach your students to leverage the tools they will use in the real world. If you don’t want your students Googling your answers, then start asking better questions.
- What have you tried that hasn’t worked?
- Talk about a growth mindset. Our students should know the term and understand that growth is not limited by prior experience or our genetic makeup.