Stay Silent on the 1st Day of School: Create a Student-Centered Classroom

With the start of the new year I’ve committed to becoming a more reflective teacher by blogging at least once a month. Here’s my first post of the year which coincided with the start of a new semester at my high school.

NOTE: I’m well aware that this activity might not work for teachers of all grade levels or settings but I wanted to share my experience in case it is useful to you.

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Whether you’ve long admired John Dewey or you’re trying to live up to Danielson’s definition of a highly effective teacher, many teachers, myself included, are working to build a more student-centered class. Here is one way you can start the journey from the moment your students walk into your class on the first day of school.

Be prepared to push yourself and your students out of their comfort zones by avoiding all the things we normally do at the beginning of the semester: Don’t stand in front of the class, Don’t review rules, Don’t lead the class through a series of activities.

In fact, do nothing.

Instead, let students lead the class, make a plan and guide their classmates. Set the tone from the very first day that students will be at the center of the classroom experience.

Before students walk into class have the following instructions projected on the screen:

Welcome to Mr. Chokshi’s class!

I’m conducting a social experiment to see what students can do on their own.

  1. Please take your Chromebook according to the list on top of the cart and your seat according to the chart at the front of the room.
  2. By the end of period you should:
    1. Know the names and a unique fact of everyone in your group
    2. Create ONE class Google Slides presentation introducing your partner:
      1. One thing your partner is proud of (e.g. skill, character trait, etc.)
      2. A major challenge they have overcome (e.g. family, socially, academically, etc.)
      3. Greatest academic strength
      4. Greatest academic challenge
    3. Present your partner to the class
    4. Return your chromebook to the correct location
  3. If time remains, learn the names & unique fact about another group. You will be expected to know everyone’s name and something about them by the end of the week!

Then, as students file in, greet them but give no instructions. When the bell rings to mark the start of class, say nothing. I find it helpful to take a seat on the side of room so they know you won’t be guiding them.

While students struggle with finding their seat & Chromebooks, creating a shared presentation, and figuring out how to connect their computer to the projector it’s absolutely critical that you remain silent. Not a word. If your students know you’ll swoop in and save them whenever they face a challenge they won’t become accustomed to seeing their peers as their first resource.

Other than creating the norm for student centered learning, such an approach helps you learn within the first moments of the school year which students enjoy leading the class and which students prefer to play a more supportive role.

Doing this activity on the first day of school does require a little more prep work such as having a roster and seating chart prepared in advance; however, most teachers have these ready before the first day of school anyways. The most difficult preparation is mental: realizing that we’re not the most important person in room and that the class can function without us leading them.

Investing time to create a student centered class pays dividends throughout the year as students follow instructions with minimal guidance from you, ask their classmates for help first and, above all, direct their own learning.

8 Takeaways: Global Axis Summit 2017

 

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend and present at the Global Teachers Institute Axis Summit. The summit was focused on education in South Africa but teachers from all over Africa and America attended. Here ere are some of my key takeaways from the summit:

  1. Dawn Oler: Personal Connection & Reflection are vital. Use a personal Venn diagram to create relationships with students by finding what you and your students have in common. At the beginning of the school year share your life story and have students complete the diagram to see what they have in common and explain what’s unique to them. Also, have students monitor their own progress towards mastering unit objectives. This process is key to empowering students to own their learning.

2. Amanda Burton & Linda Korbus: Expect, inspect & respect mistakes. Create a class culture where mistakes are celebrated and become a regular part of the learning process. The metacognitive process of evaluating your own learning & mistakes is vital to deeper insights.

3. Baba Bantu: Decolonize our minds. Critically examine how Eurocentric narratives & institutions have formed over time. Actively seek counter-narratives and passionately immerse ourselves in cultural practices (languages, traditions, etc.) even if they are not considered “mainstream” or “normal.” Encourage our students to explore and celebrate their own cultures and develop pride for their identities.

4. John Gilmore: Set personal & professional goals every year. Our personal & professional lives are intertwined . Share your goals with others to keep us accountable.

5. Pam Bylsma: Make your values transparent. Nearly every activity and critical decision made in school should include a conversation about values. For example, hallway monitors can recognize students’ citizenship when they pick up trash that’s not their own. Teachers can encourage citizenship by debating social issues in classes & clubs.

Administrators can keep values (such as those highlighted in the Character Counts program) front and center by referring to them when resolving conflicts between staff or making controversial decisions transparent to parents. The following ethical frameworks can help students, teachers and administrators make tough decisions:

  • Harm/Beneficence: Does it do less harm and more good than the alternatives?
  • Publicity: Would I want this choice published in the newspaper?
  • Reversibility: Would I think this a good choice if I were among those affected by it?
  • Code of Ethics: How does this choice relate to the ethical standards of my profession?

SOURCE: Computing Cases

6. Tania Ham: Understand Special Needs. Can you imagine trying to draw with your eyes closed? Describe a painting you had never seen before? These types of exercise can help educators experience the types of struggles some students with special needs experience. By better understanding the challenges students face, teachers can better differentiate & scaffold learning activities.

7. Sunarku Clifford Sykes: Connect & Network. Be a teacher warrior for your students—-the challenges many of them face motivate us to give it our all everyday. Nearly every problem we face has already been solved by someone, somewhere—connect & just ask!

8. Kurt Minnar: ring your passions into your classroom. Connect your passions outside of school to the subjects you teach in school. Even subtraction & dancing can go hand-in-hand. Keep students engaged and moving, then they won’t have time to get distracted.