Let’s talk about student engagement, collaboration, and teacher observations. I’ve been around long enough to remember the evolution of teacher observations - the dreaded occurrences which have been called “dog and pony shows” by teachers everywhere. The pendulum swings back and forth and gives birth to new acronyms and catch phrases every year, but it should all lead to one end – student engagement.
“I’ve never seen a teacher who appears to be doing so little with this level of student engagement, learning, and interaction happening in the classroom.” This was an actual comment from an administrator during one of my observations. At first, I had to think about whether or not this was a positive comment, but after I caught my breath, I realized that yes, that is exactly what I want to achieve as a teacher. I’m not about working harder than my students. It’s their learning experience, and they need to own it. We are so concerned with delivering content that we often overlook the benefits of collaboration and student-led learning.
My teaching style has always been one in which students are actively engaged and taking ownership in the learning process. My class ran on collaborative learning experiences, hands-on workshop writing lessons, technology integrated units, and critical thinking activities to foster independent and higher-level thinking. All of this in a community-of-learners style classroom established from the first day of school. I owe a lot to my training for gifted and talented classes, but I realized early on that those same strategies were good for all students.
One activity that I used on a regular basis when I had a scheduled evaluation was what I called, “Word Connect.”
It worked well before, during, and after we read a story, novel, or literary selection. The strategy promotes vocabulary development, recognition of and practice using prefixes and suffixes, dictionary skills, drawing inferences, as well as making connections with text. That’s a lot for one activity!
The more I used Word Connect, the more I realized it was a perfect learning experience that involved thinking, collaboration, writing, speaking, and listening. My students worked in groups which meant that they were out of their seats, exchanging ideas with peers, justifying their thinking while being held accountable to the group. It’s important that students understand ahead of time how to work in groups and the expectations for participation and behavior.
Word Connect is one activity that helped me “appear” to be doing so little while my students were actively engaged in the learning process. Students followed up with a writing assignment to demonstrate their understanding of the lesson. It’s still a favorite of mine.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post and hope you’ll share some of your own classroom wins!
Until next time,