Friday Reflection: Be the Change We Need

This week’s reflection asks students to think about school and classroom climate and to consider what they can do to create an accepting, helpful and kind learning atmosphere. When I originally wrote this piece, it was spurred by a study published in the Review of Educational Research showing that positive school climates can narrow achievement gaps, especially for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet, our civil unrest in the week following this election brought new meaning to this weekly reflection.

Not What I Planned, but it Happened

On Monday, I showed the short film and we discussed what the main character does and his effect on others. Kids loved it; they thought parts were funny and inspiring. We began a discussion of theme, and noticed other literary elements that help us construct understanding. Kids were prepared to carry the positive message into the week. Tuesday, my kids were shell-shocked. I listened. I told them they were safe. I explained checks and balances… and as much as I had prepared, I was not prepared.

On Wednesday, we watched Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. We looked for their main messages, the language used to portray that message, and who their intended audiences were. I did this because it matters. I have never been the kind of parent and teacher to protect children from the truth. I am the kind of parent and teacher who will explain the truth in age-appropriate ways.

As the week wore on, we began discussing the protests and and acts of racism they’d been seeing in the news. We read articles about positive things other kids were doing to help their communities. My students were shaken- many have parents who are illegal immigrants. One student worried his family would have to break up. Others wondered what would happen to their health insurance. Others said that they have gay family members and they couldn’t understand why people were so upset by that. These questions told me that my students’ parents had been worrying all week too. This short film and our theme anchored us for the week; I’m thanking my lucky stars because it was by a miracle I’d happened to use it. It is light enough to provide hope in a trying time and serious enough to matter. And the characters are Thai. In subtle and direct ways this short video showed exactly what we needed it to show this week.

By Friday, after days of discussing, reading, writing, and discussing more, my kiddos had figured out which social issues matter most to them and which one issue they want to research and discuss in-depth next week. As I’ve said before, I teach very small classes of kids who were reading anywhere from 2-7 years below grade level when we began our work this year. Our work together this week grew them years in terms of their thinking. The fact that they’re so interested in fixing the social injustices they see- that they’ll read and discuss and act on what they learn? That will grow them years in terms of their reading. And the human rights lessons we will teach each other and others along the way… insurmountable. Uncountable. Undeniably life changing for them and for me.

I hope that your students find comfort and can see themselves in this short film. I hope your discussions fill them with a sense of “I can do this too” and “This is the world we want.”

I hope.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme, media, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for individual students or for us a group. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Media

In this weekly reflection, we use two types of media. First, is a short film on being the change you wish to see in the world. Next is an NPR interview with Natalie Hampton, a high school student who created the ‘Sit with Us’ app so students can find someone to eat lunch with rather than eating alone. Another example of kindness I plan to share with students is this story of  student, Amanda Moore, who used Google translate to ask a new classmate to sit with her at lunch.

One of my students showed me the video for this reflection! How could I pass that up? The short video follows a man on his daily route through the city. Without fail and always with a positive spirit, this man helps others, shares anything he has with those in need, and looks at problems with the mindset to solve them!

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for all levels, but please view it before showing it to them.)

*My students will watch this video once before we reflect on Friday. As we view it, we’ll make note of the Notice and Note Signposts to analyze character motivation, predict plot, and uncover themes. We’ve been using the signposts for several weeks now, so students will be able to recognize the signposts and ask and answer the questions quickly with this film. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompts

  • If you could make one change in our school right now, what would it be? Describe
    why you would change it. What ideas do you have on how to change it?
  • What kind actions can we do for each other in class and others in our school on a daily basis?

Discussion

  • Discuss what you noticed the man doing each day. How did those actions affect the others in the video? How did they begin acting differently following his kindness and generosity?
  • Discuss how things would have been different if the man in our video would have been annoyed with the woman and her child begging for money, or not even noticed the woman who needed help with her cart. What would the effects have been then?
  • Any compliments for anyone? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

Reflecting on our learning, behavior, and feelings and making plans for our next steps accelerates growth in all areas. In our classroom, students reflect often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. Without fail, we take time every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals. What types of reflections do you do with students? Share what’s been most effective or pieces of the reflection process you and your students are struggling with. The more we share, the more we grow.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done with your students to help them feel safe, understand what is happening, and work on social justice issues. Feel free to comment below or send a message. Thank you.

Increase Thinking: 3 Simple Changes Will Make a World of Difference

Truth:  I am not a “quick thinker.”

Truth:  My mom and dad wouldn’t agree with that admission. Growing up, I was certainly “quick to react,” and I was described as having a “quick tongue.”

Truth: Reaction is what happens in the absence of strategic thinking.

Strategic thinking- thinking that maneuvers, changes, and grows can only happen if we are offered time. Time to process new information, synthesize it with prior knowledge, rethink, rearrange and revise, and decide how to share. In a classroom of 30-40 students, allowing each child that time sounds impossible.

Another truth:  I loathe the silence that happens after I ask my students a question.  For example:

“So, I’m thinking we should take extra time to read independently today since we had to cut it short yesterday.  What do you guys think?”

Blank stares.  A cricket under the bookcase.  Someone’s mom calls, and his phone vibrates.

Me again, kneeling on the carpet, “Seriously guys, do you think you need that time? Or do you have it covered at home?”

Someone raises her hand.

I bite.  I’m desperate.  I cannot wait for think time.

“Can I get a drink?”

Truth: Some students feel uncomfortable being an integral part of their learning.

Truth: Some students sit and wait for us to speak for them.

Truth: We’ve taught them to do this.

Here are few simple changes, to how we ask students to share their thoughts, that will make a huge difference for all students:

  • Wait time:  We all know what it is, but do our students?  Create a thinking culture by explaining why you pause after asking students a question.  Let them know you value “thoughtful thoughts” and not just their first thoughts.
  • Think About It:  Instead of asking “Why do you think…”, ask “Think about why… and photo- sky thinking best onewhen you have your thoughts ready, raise your hand, even if you don’t want to share.”  Once the majority of students are ready, say, “Keep your hand up if you want to share your thinking.”  It’s incredible how quickly this one works.  Students who never want to share, will begin thinking instead of letting others answer. They’ll also start sharing after only a few rounds of phrasing questions this way.
  • Turn and Talk:  It should be named “Turn and Process” because that’s really its purpose.  This strategy is tried and true, but it isn’t used nearly often enough.  I’ve found it particularly useful during lessons in which I’m modeling a certain skill. For example, pausing to allow students to turn and process what they notice me doing as I revise a sentence in a piece of writing, helps them pinpoint the important moves I make as a writer.  They are keen to observe once they realize their observations are important to their classmates.  Turn and talk very clearly places value on all thinkers. As kids are talking, be sure to confer with groups, and catch pieces of what students discuss, so that you can ask them to share out when the class comes back together. Letting them know that you value their thinking will open the door for sharing.

Simple changes.  Big impact.

Looking for a BIG change?

This week students began running whole-class discussions without raising hands.  We’ve worked on it for a couple of months, and this week they’re ready to run with it.  Teaching students how to have stimulating academic discussions without teacher direction at each turn makes a pointed statement to what we value:  their thinking.  More to come on the steps we took to get here.  Thanks to Alfie Kohn and his column ‘Your Hand’s Not Raised? Too Bad: I’m Calling on You Anyway‘ on Alternet.org.  It was a reminder that the small changes written about above lead to big changes once students begin valuing their thinking too.

Teachers, what do you do to get every person thinking in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your ideas and tips no matter what grade level- preschool to college!  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design Matters: Creating a Place for Thinkers

Three Truths and a Leap of Faith

TRUTH:  I get a lot of flack from friends and colleagues about the time I spend designing, arranging, decorating, and rearranging my classroom.

TRUTH: The flack is well deserved. I should be more efficient; but efficiency is not one of my strengths, and I have far too many other inadequacies that I should improve first!

TRUTH: The time I spend figuring out what types of spaces will best promote reading, writing, and thinking for my students really pays off.

The Leap:  We need to give our kids a glimpse of these professional lives by letting them see, act, and feel these lives for part of their school days.

  • If we want kids to be writers, we must create authentic writing spaces.
  • If we want kids to be scientists, let’s create authentic science labs.
  • Mathematicians?  Let’s consider mathematical sciences careers, and redesign our classrooms.

After all, don’t our kids get that authenticity when visiting the art room, band room, gymnasium, and STEM room each day?

Planning Classroom Design

As I began planning my classroom design this school year, I thought about the types of places and spaces that contribute to my creativity:

Which places in my home foster deep discussion? I pictured growing up around our kitchen table, and then my mind flashed to my own family around our kitchen island, with my kiddos in their spots and my husband and I leaning in and chatting.

Where do I go to write? I’m usually at our kitchen island with my laptop- my feet elevated on another chair or sitting “crisscross-applesauce” in my chair.

Which place is my favorite reading spot? I get comfy in my reclining chair that sits next to my grandmother’s end table.  There is sure to be no overhead light; just the soft light from the table lamp.

I began to look at my classroom with the same lens.  I began to design spaces that authentically fostered thinking, creativity, reading, writing, and discussion.

And I did a lot of Googling.  I searched “alternative classroom seating” and found Setting Up for Second which reminded me of how we all love to gather around a good, old coffee table to chat, so I decided to lower two of the trapezoid tables I already had.  I also researched types of seating for students who need movement for focus and found Stabili-T-Stools.  I combined these ideas with my experiences about spaces that work for me as a thinker, and this is the plan I designed:

  • Students would work in groups of 3.  These would be learning groups that could potentially last for 8-9 weeks or longer (If the group and I felt that they worked well together, then they could last as long as the relationship was productive.  If it was not a good working relationship, we would try new strategies and readjust if needed.)  This would allow students to form working relationships with each other. Productive relationships (both personal and work-related) are founded on experience and time with each other, mutual dependence, and successes earned together.  I wanted to give students time to earn that, even if the relationships were rocky or uncomfortable in the beginning.
  • We would have a mix of seating options with the goal of students trying different options and reflecting on what might work best for their personal learning styles and the type of work being done (independent reading, group discussion, and etc).
  • We would group kids based on reading level with the intention of placing readers with others who can discuss the same book choices they make and various texts from class (Reading is the crux of the language arts curriculum in my classroom, and it is crucial for students to be able to have the time to think and to create understanding with peers at like reading levels.)

I scrounged for, gathered, begged for (Seriously, I posted on my neighborhood FB page, to which I had ZERO replies!) and bought the following items: traditional classroom desks and tables, short tables with beans bags, camp chairs with lap desks, cubes, Stabili-T-Stools, and mats.

Take a look:

 

Upon Reflection:  Three Truths and a Leap

Different, isn’t it?  A colleague who taught for me one day, when my own children were sick, teased, “She has NO desks!”

TRUTH: I’m not encouraging teachers to throw out the furniture and follow this lead.

TRUTH:  I do want us to think about our classroom designs.

TRUTH:  I asked myself what I  wanted my students to feel when they were in my classroom. I asked myself what settings promoted reading, writing, thinking, and discussion.  I wondered what students needed.  I examined my personal comfort levels.

THE LEAP:  About halfway through the school year, I asked students to complete a brief survey about the alternative seating in our room.  One-hundred percent of students liked having alternative seating options and believed that it helped them focus on reading and writing and contributed to discussions.  Ninety-five percent of students liked their current seats. Here are some student comments from the survey:

I like these types of seating because it kind of makes you feel a bit more independent. Sometimes the lack of space is too little if kids are at traditional student desks. I think kids should have a bit more space.

IMG Discussion 2
Memory foam mats are a quick and easy way to offer alternative seating.

I like this seating because there are various ways you can arrange. It helps me learn because when I can get comfortable in different positions, then I can focus better.

IMG_campchairs
Camp chairs are great in the classroom.  They’re comfortable, lightweight, and easy to move anywhere in the room.

This seating is very comfortable. I think the more comfortable I am, the better I can learn and pay attention because I will not be fidgeting and trying to get more comfortable

IMG_0149

This seating style has helped me learn because I like to move around more than just sitting, so the stability stools allow me to do that.

The comments and reflections from students on this survey, and from my observations and conferences in class, will keep me on this alternative seating path. Finally, another truth? At the end of the survey, I’d asked students if there was anything else they’d like to let me know about our classroom seating.  A few students suggested bicycle chairs, ball chairs, and bungee cord chairs (I’ll propose those ideas to my administrator.)  A couple of other students suggested we switch partners more often (I’ll figure out what’s not working on Monday.)  And one student suggested we add more windows to our classroom (I’ll let the student figure out the fundraising needed for that endeavor.)

What classroom designs work for you?  What spaces and places increase student thinking?  I’d love to get this conversation going.