I have recently spent several days doing observations in teachers’ classrooms in several states. In every instance the observations, often done with other teachers and principals, were focused on student behaviors: “What are students doing?”. The approach we took was to assess if “what the students were doing” was likely to cause the student achievement the school was seeking.
In some cases we focused the observations on groups of students. If a school wasn’t meeting AYP with a certain subgroup, what did we notice when observing that subgroup of students?
A common pattern emerged for me. As the grade level I was observing rose, K to 12, the amount of student doing decreased. Kindergartners had more freedom to move and change the space they were in and choose to whom they spoke… than 5th graders who were more likely to be working with hands on materials and producing …than middle schoolers who were more likely to working in cooperative groups than high school students.
One of the teacher groups who observed K-5 classes pondered if the centers we saw in the primary classes might not increase the interest and effort of struggling fifth graders. Across the board teachers noted more student energy in math and science classes than in reading classes.
Jane Goodman, a professor at University of PA, recently wrote in Education Week a piece titled Anything a Child Can DO, a Teacher Shouldn’t. She sees an ever increasing list of opportunities for students to be doers.
In early grades students could take attendance, pass out and collect papers, snacks and notes,…eventually they might collect topics for class meetings, run errands, help in the office, answer phones, greet visitors…
Older students might lead class meetings, conduct building tours, select work for display, check homework and tutor.
Gaining experience students could advise on school safety, school appearance, and lunch appeal…..with supervision they might organize mural paintings, extra curricular activities, or the program for parents’ night.
Goodman suggests that increasing student authority and responsibility could produce these benefits:
*decrease the passivity and minimal engagement found in too many classrooms
* create an opportunity for real student leadership
* increase students’ sense of belongingness and loyalty
“As students do more of the controlling, the necessity to control them will lessen”
Joan F Goodman
I have always enjoyed reading about the MET School in Providence, Rhode Island and its founder Dennis Litkey. One of the elements of the MET is connecting students’ learning to doing….doing real work.
A recent question that @Dennis_Littky offered on Twitter made me smile..
What is learning? A reason given by many for why Jessica Watson,a 14 year old should not sail the world…How will she do her school work?
I am arranging several more observations of student learning by teachers. I’d encourage you to set up similar opportunities and see what insights emerge from the debriefings.