Monday, October 13, 2014

10 things I'd like to see in every classroom

So, we often say we want to see increased student engagement in our classrooms. We say we want to see kids owning the learning process. We say we want to see students cognitively engaged and not just simply compliant.

Here's the problem... these things we all want to see are pretty subjective at best and are pretty difficult to see in a quick 5-10 minute classroom observation without speaking with students and possibly even speaking with the teacher.

I'm fortunate in my position to have the opportunity to visit classrooms at all levels in my district K-12, and with all these visits I've come up with a more tangible list of 10 things I'd like to see in every classroom:

1). Students working collaboratively and working together in small teams/groups. Society definitely values those who can work independently, but it values even more the ability to work well with others in a productive and efficient manner.

2). Frequent and specific feedback to students as they work toward learning mastery. It doesn't matter if this feedback is coming from the teacher, coming from other students, or coming from the individual student, learning is most improved and increased when students are getting descriptive feedback on their learning.

3). Kids working on different things... it's far more common than not, but when we have kids working on the same things at the same times, it's impossible for us to say we are differentiating or customizing the learning experience. Unless information is being presented for the first time, there should very rarely be an entire class of students working on the same thing at the same time. Differentiating means kids working at their level at their pace and unless you're really lucky, that can't be happening too often.

4). Physical movement by both the students and the educator in the classroom. We know physical movement has positive effects on cognitive development and process, so we need to see more movement and physical activity in our classrooms.

5). Students actively engaging in conversation with the teacher and other students. Far too often we see students working quietly as something that we should aim for (there is a time and place), but kids need to have their voices heard and they need to be participating in an environment where they are asked to present a thought and then converse with others while justifying and evidencing/reinforcing their thought.

6). Learning targets and learning objectives clearly posted in the classroom visible to all students. Here's the catch though... these targets and objectives must be more than just posted. The kids and teacher need to frequently refer back to them and monitor mastery levels toward those learning targets and objectives, otherwise they are useless.

7). The usage of the most appropriate tool to accomplish the task at hand. Too often we see technology being used when it's not the most efficient or appropriate tool... sometimes good old fashioned pencil and paper are the best. Other times, we miss out on great opportunities by not using technology. Let's find and use the best tools to accomplish the task at hand.

8). Class time being used appropriately and efficiently with limited time lost during transitions. We've only got so much time and how we use that time is absolutely critical. Ensure that we are planning and organizing our time appropriately to ensure we aren't wasting any time in our classes.

9). Kids creating more than they are consuming... the creation to consumption ratio must be at a minimum a 50/50 split. Sure, our kids need to know things to do things, but let's focus on having them create just as much as they consume... it's like being intellectually friendly to the world of knowledge.

10). Great questions being asked and a focus more on questions than answers. A classroom where kids are asking specific and detailed questions is a class where students are cognitively engaged and interested in the topic at hand. It's also the type of class where kids feel empowered to take ownership of their learning while pushing the learning and conversation forward by engaging in thoughtful questioning rather than simply seeking out answers.