Welcome to Week 1 of an innovative book study completed entirely online! Lauren from Life in Middle School will be hosting this study. Head over to her site to read other entries about this chapter, and please participate! If you have ideas, add them to the comments section! I’d love to learn from you.
This week’s strategy is No Opt Out. Essentially, this means that class participation is expected and strategies are in place to ensure that all students are engaged in the learning. This pretty much sums up my philosophy on how to teach. So, my no opt out strategies . . .
1. Overt Engagement – When I plan my lessons, I always ask myself what the students will be DOING. If I cannot see and/or hear them writing, reading, speaking, moving, etc. in a way that relates to the learning, then I planned my lesson poorly. So, for example, today I introduced new vocabulary words. I used a powerpoint with lots of visuals. I put a word and definition on the Smart Board. Students copied the definition onto frayer models while I read it aloud and offered a simply explanation. Then, they chorally repeated the definition. Next, I clicked to slide to show them pictures of examples and non-examples of the words. Students then turned to their precision parter and paraphrased the dictionary definition. Next, I ask one or two students to share their paraphrases. Finally, we add our explanation to our frayer models. Once students get used to this, it takes 2-4 mintues per word. This is just one example. I do my best to fill my class with Kagan and other engagement strategies.
2. Precision Partnering – Precision partnering is a great way of covertly engaging students. Before I ask just about ANY question to the class, I ask students to share with their partners first. This gives all students more turns AND provides a safe environment for students to take risks and share their answers with the class.
3. Safe Environment – Speaking of safe environment, I am like a broken record when it comes to this. Not that my kids have any idea what a broken record is, but still. “In my class, you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, I encourage you to make mistakes and learn. However, I do require your best effort. You have to try your hardest.” I say this constantly. We’ve also read some research on mistakes and the irreplaceable role they play in learning. I do my best to respect my students and respond to them with kindness. Today during warm up, a student pulled the “I don’t get it” card. I referred him to his notes and said I’d check back in the next 1-2 minutes. And I did. And the student had found the information he needed, remembered the lesson, and attempted the work with a fairly good success rate for something we’d only introduced on Monday. I praised him for finding the information and assured him that I’m always around to help him, but in my opinion, the best way to help him is to teach him how to use his resources. Many times, I’ve turned this into a power struggle with kids. They leave feeling like I don’t want to help them, and I start to feel they are too lazy to try. This is so wrong. They just don’t feel safe. So I reinforce my high expectations, validate their frustration, and provide as much praise and pseudo-support as I can. (Pseudo-support = standing and listening or watching a student help himself while he thinks you are really helping … it works wonders!)
4. Revoicing – If, after having a precision partner conversation, I call on a student, and she really doesn’t know the answer, I simply say, “We need more practice with this. I’ll come back to you.” Then, I call on one or two other students. If they struggle, I quickly reteach and start again from the partner conversation. Most of the time, though, the other students give an accurate answer. Then, I return to the student I originally called on. I’ve learned that when a student is truly clueless, she really cannot even revoice. This is a valuable learning tool, and it sends out some good messages: (1) participation is not optional, (2) it’s ok to make mistakes, and (3) we sometimes take longer than others to learn, and that’s just fine!
Your turn! What do you do to keep your students from opting out?