Think back to a time when you were a student in a classroom.
Yes, I know some of us, including myself, don’t want to think back that far, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s try it.
I remember, quite vividly, sitting at desks which were all neatly lined up in rows, with the teacher at the front of the room. I would stare at the back of someone’s head, with very little eye contact. And forget about communicating with my peers because that was a no-no during most of my years of schooling. The teacher would write letters, numbers, or facts on the chalkboard. I was expected to repeat and recite them. This “drill and kill” activity might have then been followed up with a task of copying these same facts onto a piece of paper. Later, I would take them home and memorize them for an upcoming test.
Occasionally my teacher would say, “ok we are going to play a game today.” I would get so excited because something different was going to happen. My teacher would pull out a set of flashcards, and hold up each one as we called out the correct answers. The child with the most flashcards at the end of the game was the “winner.”
This would take place week after week, in each of the subject areas, and we’d be tested on these same facts each Friday. If you, like myself, were really good at memorizing facts, you would ace the tests. You would then get your report card with all of those A’s, and everyone knew you were going to succeed at life because you were a good student. Sound familiar?
I think it’s safe to say this was probably a pretty common scenario for many of you. You, like many students across the U.S., would work your way through school, memorizing information in each grade level, but were you really learning it?
The answer is most likely no, or at least not in the way that would actually promote critical thinking and communication. This focus on memorization has obstructed true learning, where children learn to solve problems, to analyze, to reason and think, and then to apply this new-found knowledge to their everyday life. If information is applied or actually used to solve problems, students will leave school with a much richer education. This transfer of knowledge (rather than just memorization) is crucial to getting students ready to succeed in the modern world.
Have we moved entirely away from this traditional model of rote learning? From my experiences of being in the classroom as recently as two years ago, I can say that the answer is no. There has certainly been a great deal of progress and the shift has been made in many areas, but I don’t think we are entirely there. I have begun to see less rote learning and more of a focus on cooperative group learning where children are expected to solve problems, to design projects, and to use knowledge learned to deliver a presentation.
So the question is, where do we go from here? How can we make sure that we are doing more than rote “drill and kill” activities and encouraging our students to become critical thinkers?
Close-ended question: “What color is this?”
Open-ended question: “You used a lot of blue on your painting. What does it remind you of?”
Close-ended question: “How many teddy bears are on the block?”
Open-ended question: “What are those teddy bears thinking about?”
Close-ended question: “What’s your doll’s name?”
Open-ended question: “Your baby is so beautiful! Tell me about her.”
You can use this method to identify areas where your students need assistance and areas where they are doing well. Collaboration should be followed by a group discussion where students can converse about their perceptions and findings.
The more intentional we are about encouraging students to explain their thinking, to solve problems, to analyze situations, and to apply knowledge to their everyday life, the better off we will be at preparing our students to succeed in the modern world.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.