What our students see

Today I was walking the around our school thinking about the fact that in less than 2 weeks the halls will be full of almost a thousand 5th and 6th grade students.  Many of the classrooms that I walk past are still in various stages of preparation for all of those students.  Thinking about those students got me excited!  But as I walked through the halls today, I tried to look around with a different perspective.  Instead of walking around with the eyes of an adult, an educator, or an administrator, I tried to look around and see what our students might notice.  What do the things that are posted on the walls say to the 10, 11, and 12 year old students who will be walking these halls?

Many times as educators, we put things up in the hallway or our classroom because we like them.  We might intend to share something of ourselves with a student, we might intend to be funny, or we might intend to set up expectations that we have for our class and our students.  Unfortunately, our students can’t read our mind and know our intentions.  Sometimes your students may see that sign that you think is setting expectations, and instead see it as harsh, judgmental, or possibly even confrontational.  Think about what you have hanging up both outside and inside your classroom. How will it make your students feel when they walk into the room?  Are they going to feel welcome, or are they going to feel intimidated?  Does your room encourage them to be a part of the learning process, or does your room discourage their participation?

From The Thinker Builder: http://www.thethinkerbuilder.com/
From The Thinker Builder: http://www.thethinkerbuilder.com/

I saw a recent post on the blog The Thinker Builder that had a pretty cool idea (at least I thought so).  Instead of covering his bulletin boards with amazing decorations to set up a classroom, the author begins his year with a blank bulletin board and puts a reserved sign on it (I have a screenshot of the sign to the right).  If you’d like to see his post, or be able to download the sign, check out this post – “Reserved” Signs: A Bulletin Board Stress Reliever.  What does a sign like this say to the students and parents that walk into your room?  To me, it shows that you value the thoughts and opinions of the students who will be in your classroom.

Remember, your students will notice what you have posted on the walls both inside and outside of your classroom before you have said one word to them.  Based on what they notice, they are going to form opinions about you.  They will create expectations about what this school year is going to be like.  They will also decide whether they feel that the classroom is a place that they are safe to express themselves and become part of the learning community.

One of my takeaways from the book Mindset by Carol Dweck was that a person’s environment can play a role in what mindset they take.  Posters that use terms that make us think in a fixed way, or make us think that we don’t have any choice or control will generally lead us to behave in a manner that shows a fixed mindset.  On the other hand, things we display that show phrases that encourage a growth mindset will lead us to behave in a manner that shows a growth mindset.

Kids Deserve ItThis year, as you are preparing your classroom, take a few moments to take stock of what kids will see in the hallway outside of your room, as well as when they walk into your room.  Do the words on those posters have a positive connotation, or are they negative?  Are they giving your students an idea of what they will be doing, or of what they will not be allowed to do?  We only get one chance to make a first impression!  Make sure that the impression that you make sets the students up for their best possible year!

Continue the conversation in the comments below.  What are some things you are planning to do to help your students feel welcome in your classroom?  How will they know that they are a valued member of the learning community?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Advertisements

What our classrooms need

Summertime is one of my favorite times of the year.  I’m able to spend more time with my family, play with my kids more, and have the freedom to do some of the things that there just isn’t time for during the school year.  With all of that fun, I also make it a point to spend some time learning too.  During the school year I don’t always have the time to read the books that have been piling up on my desk, or delve deeply into new ideas and ways of thinking.  Luckily, the summertime allows just that.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

This summer, in addition to the learning that I did on my own, I was able to participate in a couple of different conferences, and the learning opportunities that were provided to me there continued to reaffirm that we are on the right path.  Throughout the posts that I have made to this blog in the past year, I have constantly referenced the Best Practice Model.  When we look at the HSE21 homepage, we see the following statement to describe learning in HSE:

We must ensure that our students develop a strong academic edge through experiences with rigorous academic content and effective information, communication, and technology skills. Our students’ future education and career choices require critical thinking, creative problem solving, and the ability to work together with others to successfully compete in today’s world. In HSE classrooms, students think deeply and critically about content knowledge and complex issues. Students regularly collaborate and actively investigate real-world problems. Hamilton Southeastern Schools is dedicated to implementing curriculum and learning opportunities that build the skills and abilities necessary for our connected society. When students graduate from HSE Schools, they will be ready for their future and equipped for excellence. (from http://www.hse.k12.in.us/ADM/academics/hse21/)

So…  What does that mean for our classrooms?  Here are some things that I think we all should expect to see in a classroom:

  • Voice – In the summer before my senior year at IU, I took a class, and the mantra of my professor was “Learning is social!” This is just as true today as it ever was.  Our students need the time to co-construct their knowledge.  They need time to share their learning, and to learn from one another.  Empower your students to speak up in your classroom so that they are able to use their voice when they move beyond the classroom.
  • Choice – Students need as much choice as possible. Allow your students times to choose what they learn, how they learn, what they produce as a result of their learning, etc.  How many of you struggled early in your undergrad years, only to do much better as you moved along in college?  Why does this happen to so many?  It’s because as a freshman or sophomore in college, so many of your courses are prerequisite, not something you chose, rather something you are required to take.  What happened as you got into classes that were more directly related to your degree?  If you’re anything like me, you did much better.  These are the things you were interested in and the learning was more relevant for you.  The choices we give students helps make their learning more relevant!
  • Time for Reflection – John Dewey is quoted as having said “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” That time for reflection is so important!  We need to be intentional in building that time in for students, and we also need to build it into our own practice!  I know classrooms are busy places, and we are busy people, but a few minutes of reflection allows us to really think about and understand what we have learned.
  • Opportunities for Innovation – When our students are passionate about something, the learning never stops. If our students are playing a video game and get stuck, they aren’t going to give up – they’ll find a way to beat it (maybe a YouTube video, help from a friend, a cheat code, etc.).  How can we create that attitude for learning?  Help students to find the curiosities in your subject matter, or give the students the time to explore their curiosity, and then let them innovate in that space!
  • Critical Thinkers – One of the hallmarks of the educations system has been the idea of compliance – this came about as part of the factory model of education. This factory model and expectation of compliance does not allow our students to be critical thinkers.  Our students need to be taught how to respectfully ask questions and challenge ideas of others for the sake of helping us all move forward. Hemingway once said that “Every man should have a built in automatic crap detector operating inside him.”  Our students need this skill in these days of social media and internet hoaxes.
  • Problem Solvers/Finders – While at a Pure Genius workshop this summer I heard a story of a high school student who saw that families who were part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who were often unable to use their benefits to purchase healthy food for their family. The student began working with the Noblesville Farmers Market to find a way to allow families to use their SNAP benefits at the farmers market.  As part of her project, the student created wooden coins that she designed and printed using technology available to her at Noblesville High School.  Now families can take their SNAP card to the farmers market, swipe the card for the amount of benefits that they wish to use, and receive market currency in that amount to be spent on items at the farmers market.  One thing I know about most kids – they recognize things that they feel are not just.  Allow them to identify those problems, and create learning opportunities in the classroom that allow students to find solutions to the problems they see in our world!  Then, help them take that learning outside of the classroom.
  • Self-Assessment – Earlier I talked about the importance of reflection – on the day to day level, that reflection allows us to better understand new information, but on a long term level, that reflection allows us to see our own growth. A portfolio is just one way that students can look back and see their own growth.  Students can see where they were and how far they have come.  It is a valuable skill for all of us to be able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses.  We need to provide students with opportunities to assess themselves.  What might a digital learning portfolio look like for your class?  If you’re struggling to visualize it, let me know and we can try to come up with a plan that would work for your classroom!
  • Connected Learning – When we encourage students to be problem finders, we might run into some issues. What if the problem that students want to solve is something you know nothing about?  You might feel there is no way you can guide them to a solution.  That may be true, but in today’s connected world we can use technology to connect to experts who are able to support your student’s learning.  Though Twitter, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and others, our students can create connections that allow them to learn.  Imagine if your students were connected with students at other levels with more background knowledge, or maybe even with people who have gone much further.  Who would you rather learn about space from?  A teacher or an astronaut?  With social media like Twitter, that astronaut is only 140 characters away!  With technology we can teach students how to facilitate their own learning.

In addition to all these factors, there is at least one other factor to success for our students in the future.  Our students need to be good people.  I don’t care how smart you may be, if you are unkind and disrespectful you will never find the same level of success.  In most schools we talk to students about their actions as a choice.  Remind them that it is always important to choose kind (if you follow me on Twitter, you will see the hashtag #choosekind a lot this year!).

What have I missed?  What can you expand upon?  Keep the discussion going in the comments below!  Enjoy your remaining weeks of summer, and be thinking about what you can do to make your classroom the best environment possible for your students!