Sunday, June 23, 2013

From the Mgmt.

A friend and fellow teacher recently asked if he could ask me a few questions about my classroom management style for a graduate course in education he is currently taking.  And with the school year all wrapped up, this is a perfect time to reflect on not just what I do in the classroom but why I do what I do.  So I thought I would share a little bit of how I responded to my friend's request:

My Management Style - 
So two guiding ideas that have shaped how I establish my classroom community have to do with transparency and flipped instruction.  In terms of transparency, I believe that students and parents should be able to access and interact with whatever it is that we are working on in the classroom even when they are not physically in my class.  This is why I feel it is important to use my web presence not just as a place to post my assignments, but to get students interacting.  We blog our writing pieces, we use online discussion tools, take our tests/quizzes online and review class responses after everyone has finished, all so that student work is not done in isolation.  Students are writing online and posting for an audience other than just their teacher.  I've seen that this can help students in terms of how they construct their written pieces.  When writing for an audience other than just their teacher, students understand that there is a real purpose and audience for what they are writing.  Also in an effort to make what we do in the classroom transparent, students are given all their assignments for a particular unit at the beginning of the unit along with the rubrics for all assignments.  My goal is that students can see from the very beginning of a unit our objectives for learning and where we are headed.  To do this, I rely on ideas of backward design as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design. Last, I live video stream out every class every day.  I use the webcam on my laptop to stream out every class. The camera points to the front of the room so that students are not captured but viewers can hear what is happening in the class.  The first week of class and at our Back to School Night for parents, I give out the link and password to access our live video web channel.  Only those with the password can watch the class live or watch the recorded videos of our class.  I have found that students mainly access these recordings the days we do quiz/test reviews as a way to review once they get home.  Parents (and even some grandparents) access the stream on presentation days to watch all their student's preparation come together. By striving toward transparency, my hope is that students and their parents feel more engaged in the work of our classroom, but more importantly that we come to understand the classroom as a community.  It is not just "my" classroom but "ours".

The other guiding idea that I try to incorporate stems from the flipped classroom movement and the idea that class time is better used as a place for the teacher to act as a mentor/coach while students use time to practice and refine their work on writing pieces and projects.  A few years ago, I was sitting in a session at the annual NCTE conference and a presenter asked the audience if we spent more time planning our instruction or giving instructions.  This struck home with me as I noticed that my handouts were incredibly wordy.  I spent a lot of time giving instructions.  So, this year in particular, I moved all my didactic materials and instructions to video. Instead of asking students to complete writing assignments and group projects as homework, we did them in class so I could work with them, acting as a coach.  As homework, students watched videos that introduced assignments, vocabulary and literary terms, and gave directions. Most of the time, their homework was either to watch a video or complete reading homework. This meant that we could use class time to draft and revise. Flipping my instruction freed up class time for more discussions, practice, and presentations. It also meant that I did not spend as much time standing in front of the class (because I stood in front of a camera instead), so the physical set up of my classroom changed as well .  Desks were organized in pods if we were working on group work or in the shape of a U to better facilitate class discussions. Flipping my instruction also flipped a great deal of my organization and management style.  Not only that, it flipped how students thought about our classroom.

My classes are not quiet.  You will not often see students sitting in rows listening to a teacher at the front of the room.  In fact, walk into my classroom on any given day, and it might look a bit chaotic. There might be a group of students, laptops open, working on a Prezi for an upcoming presentation while another student sits on the counter reading quietly to herself, three students might be in the hallway video-taping a re-enactment of a scene from the book they are reading while four others are in the class on their smartphones doing research. But this is not chaos.  This is learning. Over the course of one semester, most of my students will post between 4-5 blog posts, teach the class 3-4 times, present research to an audience outside our classroom, submit at least one piece of writing for publication, use Skype to talk with multiple authors and publishers, and use a variety of tools to create, connect, and collaborate with others inside our classroom and those halfway across the world.  This is teaching and learning 2.0.
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