The Bow Tie Boys

The Bow Tie Boys

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Notes Based Classroom

Last week I described a current, inquiry based math classroom that puts emphasis on student involvement and discussion. Today I am going to talk about a class that isn't quite on that level, one that has little student involvement and mainly consists of taking bland notes.

This class is built upon notes, which take up at least half the class. The notes are based directly off the SOLs (Virginia's version of The Common Core). Before notes, there is either a discussion of homework from the night before or a quiz using an outline of sorts. The homework discussions are very thought provoking, usually occurring in our small groups before being opened up to the whole class. The discussions can clear up confusion and can involve the whole class into a debate. The quizzes on the other hand, are simply a preview of the material for that day and to me, doesn't serve much value. The quizzes being graded also forces students to often spend way more time than necessary on outlining and making it far too long, thus preventing the skill of outlining from being effectively conveyed. Simply having the outline as homework and checking the outline without the quiz allows the teacher to give constructive feedback and the students can stress less about the quiz and focus more on a short yet detailed outline.

This class has the same everyday structure, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Organization is critical to any human endeavor, but there should be some variation each day to make each day feel new and exciting, not the exact same. The class has this everyday structure, yet never strays far away from it, making each class feel like a repeat of last. This organizational pattern is written on the board each day, therefore accomplishing the "Frame the Lesson" aspect from fundamental five.

On most days, only three of the fundamental five are used in this class. Those three are frame the lesson, recognize and reinforce, and write critically. The two fundamentals missing are working in the power zone and frequent, purposeful, small group discussion.

Small Group Discussion:
This critical fundamental can help break up the class and refresh student attention. Trying to concentrate to lecture/notes for 60+ minutes in a row is near impossible. These small group discussions not only can refresh students but also provide a quick period where students can reinforce what they just learned by discussing it and thus, building a in depth understanding. The lack of these discussions have resulted in more memorization in the class that is immediately lost after the test. In this class, simply discussing what we just learned in the notes for 1-2 minutes can not only help students retain attention, but also retain information and provide understanding, not just memorization.

Power Zone:
The power zone refers to the area immediately surrounding the teacher. Working the power zone refers to the movement of the teacher across the room to impact and include all the students in the power zone. Moving around like this has several advantages over teaching from a stationary position. The constant movement makes students feel a true constant presence of a teacher and will pay attention knowing that they aren't "safe" in the back of the class. The constant walking also makes the class room higher energy. This, coupled with frequent, small group discussion, leads to a class with high energy and one where attention span isn't a problem. In this classroom, where the teacher doesn't work the power zone, the students don't feel the presence of the teacher. This results in both lack of attention and the feeling that the teacher isn't there to help. It seems like a silly thing, but just moving around the class can bring a sense of energy and enthusiasm to the class.

On a final note, this class to me, is directed toward the average student. The class doesn't do well accounting for the students who are not average.  In the words of Linda Rief, "Workbooks don’t address the unique learning styles, the extraordinary ideas, the honest thinking or the prior knowledge each child brings to the classroom"(Seeking Diversity, 1992). There is nothing in the class that allows students to chart they own path (under teacher guidance). We haven't had one project or anything that lets us chart our own course. Just having some choice is far better than having no choice.

Nothing in human existence is perfect, and can never be. Yet, all of us should work to make our lives and the lives of people around us better regardless of who we are. As a student, I work and push myself not only to do well in school, but also in running and to be a hardworking member of the Bowtie Boys. No classroom will ever be perfect, but it should be the job of teachers to make a classroom as great as possible.

Cain, Sean, and Mike Laird. The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction. Place of Publication Not Identified: Publisher Not Identified, 2011. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

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