Byron's Babbles

Identifying The Thoughtful Classroom

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 25, 2014

20140521_091851I am writing this post while on the flight home from Las Vegas. I flew in this morning to be a part of a Data Driven Instruction professional development. During the professional development I was asked the question of what a highly effective classroom looked liked. I was also asked if I thought it looked different for face to face instruction or virtual facilitation of learning. While there are certainly modality differences, I said great instruction is great instruction. Period.

Then I went on to discuss the adjectives I would use in describing a highly effective classroom. I used these five: engaging, comfortable, collaborative, flexible, and safe. Really, all of these have to do with the physical environment of the classroom. There are then cultural forces that go along with each of these adjectives. To be engaging the teacher will use rigorous lessons that might include global connectivity and uses a relevant context that the student cares about. A collaborative environment has a lot of student to student interaction and might include partnerships with business and industry for enabling the students to solve/research real world problems. Flexibility is also the key – in a brick and mortar setting there should be no front or back to the classroom and in a virtual setting many different modalities of technology may be used. Finally, the environment must be safe. This safety not only includes physical safety and safety from bullying, but also a safe environment where students are encouraged to think creatively, be curious, and share those thoughts.

The routines and structures that guide the life of the classroom are also important to creating an engaging and thoughtful classroom. Instead of creating thinking -skills lessons, highly effective teachers must create rich thinking opportunities. It is important to create relevant content students care about. Relevancy matters! Relevant context must be the norm, not a discrete context disconnected from anything going on in the student’s life. Course themes and generative topics make learning opportunities relevant to the students.

Guiding questions help the students keep in mind the big ideas. With the standards it is easy to get bogged down with isolated bits of knowledge. We must remain aware of the forest even as we look at individual trees. Connecting course activity to big ideas enhances the purpose and meaning of the work for the students. In other words it gives them the “why” of what they are learning. How many times have we heard students, or even ourselves for that matter, say, “Why do I need to learn this?” or “Where will I ever use this?” This relevancy makes it easier to engage students in the thinking because they are actively exploring.

Having the students pose unanswerable questions will also foster engagement. Teachers should expect students to be independent thinkers, take risks, and show initiative. Again, why it is important to have a safe environment. Making assignments iterative is also very important. There should be several drafts involved in assignments. This will emphasize process refinement.

This all really means creating a student self managed environment. This includes student to student interactions that the teacher does not control. The teacher should be a role model of engagement in the context of the class. The bottom line is we must provide students with Thinking Opportunities!


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