Saturday, January 29, 2011

Centre of Attention

A while back, I had a chance to work with some teachers with whom I did not usually work.  I noticed something that they did that back then that  I recently recognized as interesting.  The students would all be working on something independently, and these teachers would request a student to do something as if the class had been watching us all along.  I've done it too: the class is reading silently or working on something, an idea comes into my head, and I yell across the classroom for Bob to come over so I can ask him something. It is on the scheme of things no big deal, but it is something that I am going to try not to do anymore.  Why?  After all, it it my job to get kids to do something, and be the leader of the classroom?

Yeah, that's exactly why I'm going to try not to disturb the my students' learning with interactions that don't concern the entire class.  I expect the same thing of my students, (Hey you guys!  Can you keep it down?  I'm trying to work with Bob and I can't hear him, and he's right beside me), so why do I do such a bad job of modeling that expectation? 

I guess it is about roles.  I saw myself as the centre of attention in the classroom, and that I was the conduit of all learning in the classroom.  And that is exactly what my behaviour said in the classroom.  It was okay for me to interrupt the entire class even though I only needed to talk to one or two people because I was in control of everyone's learning.

I don't see myself in such a rigid and broad role anymore.  My students and their peers are taking responsibility for their own learning, and something as small as interrupting them unnecessarily works against that.  Don't get me wrong; I still do full group lessons where I am directing everyone.  There are appropriate times for this method of instruction.  But if I want my students to be more independent because I want my students to be constant learners (while at school or out of school), then I better begin to simulate situations and model habits that work toward self-regulation.  Blurting out unimportant information is not a step in the right direction.

Now what about people who come into my class and interrupt?  I guess it depends on why they do it and how often.  My focus will be on the students.  I won't interrupt them if possible and the other interruptions will reflect the interruptions of everyday life.  But I will try to lessen my own intrusions.

Big Writing Workshop
For the last couple of weeks, I've paired up with another class, and we do Writing Workshop in my class. 
Here are some things I've learned from the process so far:
  • It is really interesting to see how 46 kids and two to five adults all fit in my room.  Amazingly, we all fit because of the way kids spread out.  Some kids sit at desks, tables and the risers.  Quite a few stand at art easels and vertical bulletin boards to write.  Some work on the back counters to write or use the computers.
  • It works best when NO ONE speaks above a whisper.  Yeah, this includes the adults.  How do I get this kind of cooperation?  First, I have to learn to talk less, even at the beginning during the mini-lessons.  Now that we have students interested in writing, the teachers seem to do their best instruction with individuals or small groups that meet once everyone else is working on their own writing.  Second, you make sure everyone knows what they are doing before the work begins.  Everyone has their spots and materials.  Everyone knows the expectations.  Everyone has a task (drafting a new story, editing an old one, working with a teacher, reading to get ideas, etc.).  Third, you give them interesting and manageable things to do.  The latest exciting trend is writing in comic book format (email me if you want some of my really basic templates).  Fourth, you build in breaks.  You allow students to talk, to stretch, to share, to get a drink after a 20 minute block of near silent work time. 
  • Kids love choice.  Students pick where they write, how they write, and what they write.  It is great to walk around the room and see a girl on a riser, writing a song about a flower or a boy on the back counter, creating a comic book about what he knows about beavers.  I love reading and writing stories, but I always question the wisdom of having kids write stories almost exclusively when probably none of them will be authors when they are adults.  Do I want them to have the experience with great narratives?  You bet I do, but not to the exclusion of all the other important genres.  Another important thing to note is not all kids are comfortable with choice.  Sometimes the teacher has to pare down the choices, or even at the beginning, make choices for students until they are able to make them on their own.
The Real Centre of Attention
The reason I went off on this sidebar on the big writing workshop sessions is to underscore this idea of the Centre of Attention.   If someone came into my room during these times, you wouldn't even notice the adults.  You'd be impressed by children scattered across the floor and every nook and cranny in my classroom engaged in some aspect of writing (not me, the teachers filling kids' heads).  And the reason why it works is because everyone, kids and adults, have bought in to the expectations of what we are doing and how we do it.  The extension of this is kids can do writing anywhere.  In fact, students request to take their writing workshop folders outside during recess times.  Though my intention for recess is for them to get exercise and run around, how could I possible turn down a request like that?  Kids have bought into the what and the how of writing, but it is sustainable because of the why: writing is what we do, and it is FUN.  Shouldn't that be the centre of attention in classrooms?  Kids learning.

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