Sunday, February 26, 2017

In Pursuit of a Learning-Oriented Classroom

About fifteen years' ago, while interviewing for a teaching position, the principal asked, "Describe your classroom management strategy."

I gave a relatively standard answer, "Good lessons are the key to maintaining a well-run classroom. A lesson that is engaging and well-planned will keep students busy and on-task, meaning classroom management won't be a problem."

Indeed, engaged students tend not to disrupt learning. But, in all honesty, my answer reflected a traditional work-oriented classroom where I confused compliance and on-task behavior with true engagement and meaningful learning. Sadly this was the prevalent approach to teaching and learning. Under pressure conditions, teachers used controlling practices that led to passive student learning. Meaningful learning took a backseat to maintaining order.

Thinking was a bonus add-on in the work-oriented classroom. We should strive or learning-oriented classrooms where the focus shifts from being on-task and looking smart to BECOMING smart. Doing so means taking risks and relinquishing control; embracing chaos and vulnerability.

Work-Oriented Classroom
Learning-Oriented Culture
Student errors and mistakes should be avoided as they indicate incompetence on behalf of the teacher and students.  
Mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and grow.
Learning is coercion-based.
Teachers listen to and act on the various opinions in the classroom.
Instruction follows a predetermined, mass-produced curriculum planning guide.
Give students the power to pursue their interests. Recognize the diverse needs and interests of students and make appropriate adjustments.
Students participate as passive learners
Students are appropriately challenged and are in control of how they spend their time.
The teacher maintains high-levels of order and control.
Encourage divergent thinking in students who drive their own learning by asking and seeking answers to their own questions.
Students learn through memorization and practice.
Meaningful, lifelong learning is chaotic and students must think about or act on ideas.
Assignments and projects are overly prescriptive and often presented as a checklist.
Assignments emphasize the learning that will occur and students are given freedom to choose how to learn and demonstrate their mastery.
Students learn in isolation.
Learning is a social endeavor.
Classroom tasks/assignments are broken down into 20-minute chunks.
Students are given time to wonder, to explore, and to dive deep into learning.

Humans have a natural curiosity to learn. Too often this curiosity is squashed in what Paulo Friere termed banking education where the teacher transmits information to students. As teachers we must assume responsibility for student learning by encouraging and increasing student autonomy and self-control, allowing our students to create, discover and explore. 

Please share how you create a learner-oriented culture. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Responsive Classrooms

Two relatively innocent actions taken by Ms. Irving in her Biology class reminded me of something that it takes far too many educators to learn or act on. 
After her students set up the room for an interactive, movement and team-based Kahoot! Ms. Irving stopped, “This isn’t working quite right. I need to make a change…” Then she turned to the students, sought their opinions and put what to do next to a vote. 

In the matter of 30 seconds, she “violated” two old-school rules--rules that should never have been rules. 

Myth 1: Never admit mistakes in front of the students.

Myth 2: It’s your classroom.  

Reflecting back on my first year, I remember several veteran teachers, who shall remain nameless, challenging me to take more control. “It’s your classroom.” “Don’t listen to them [students].” Of course, this was also followed by, “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving (or for the real hardened teachers until Christmas).” 
Ironically, the year BEFORE I joined this school, teachers had studied the work of William Glasser. Anyway, back to Ms. Irving….

In the matter of 30 seconds, Ms. Irving modeled reflection and self-improvement (Let’s change this up to make it work better) and established a responsive, shared classroom approach (What should we do?)

Of course, she’s not alone in establishing a responsive classroom. Ceding control, whether it's in regards to classroom management, curriculum decisions or assessments, requires confidence and risk-taking, but the results speak for themselves. 

Responsive Classroom Practices
  1. Student choice, whether in how to learn, where to learn, or how to demonstrate learning.
  2. Working to get to know your students beyond your classroom through conversations with students, counselors, TDT or teaching colleagues, families, etc.
  3. Remaining positive and focusing on student strengths while embodying a growth mindset
  4. Modeling the behaviors we desire.
  5. Establishing logical rules, procedures/routines and consequences, so students know where they stand and feel safe.

What are some of your favorite responsive classroom practices?

Responsive Classroom Principles (from
  1. The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
  7. How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.