Posts tagged ‘Classroom Environment’

Meeting the Whole Child through Cultural Responsiveness

“Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart. ” By Ed Koch

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post about creating a culturally responsive classroom and since then it has been a topic that I have been interested in. To further my practice and understanding of the Whole Child, I have been attending culturally responsive leadership meetings my district has offered, read books and attended sessions at conferences on this topic. I find it fascinating as I love learning about different cultures and how it plays into the education world. Below are some of my take-aways from my learnings over the last year. These are high level take-aways and I encourage you to think about if you are culturally responsive educator and how are you trying to improve your craft to meet the Whole Child.

  1. I was able to hear Manny Scott, an original Freedom Rider at ASCD conference in Atlanta. He was one of the best keynotes I have heard. He made me laugh, cry while also being able to push my thinking around culture responsiveness. Manny gave us a new lens to look through as educators and how one educator made a difference in his life. Here are some of my take aways/reminder from Manny:
    1. What a powerful reminder that dropping out is a process, not an event.
    2. You will not reach anyone if you vilify the things they find important. Become a student of your students. (think about their culture and background)
    3. Giving up on students is unacceptable. We might be the only chance some have in this world.
    4. Do not let labels of students determine your relationship with them.
  2. I thought The Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People was a captivating book. It really opened my eyes to how I look at things. Now I have a better understanding of myself and others. For example how often times we assume our culture is the right culture and make judgments based on our beliefs such as ‘this parent didn’t show up to a parent teacher conference, they don’t care about the students education like they should.’ Meanwhile the conferences are held during the teachers preferred time, not necessarily taking into consideration some parents work different shifts or multiple jobs so their child can have things they need.
  3. I have read a lot of articles/blogs but I highly recommend reading this great article: The Culturally Responsive Educator. It is about how culturally responsive classrooms is more than food, traditions and flags; “cultural responsiveness is a frame of mind in which we view the tasks of teaching through the lens of cultural diversity.” It offers great examples and ideas of things to think about in your classroom or school.


Ideas to Steal for Your Classroom

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”  By William Pollard

One of the best parts of my job is that I’m in many different types of classrooms every day and I see amazing things going on. I also regularly checkout Twitter, blogs, Pinterest etc and see amazing ideas! Todays blog post are the top ideas that I think are worth sharing so that my readers can steal for their classrooms.

1. Gamification with BattleShip:  I first saw Periodic Table Battleship on Pinterest and thought it was creative. You can have students do this with other topics such as vocabulary words.


Learning Battleship

2. Learning Pods: I recently went into a 1st grade classroom and she has learning pods that she created out of bins. The kids love them and it redefines the learning environment for low cost.

learning pods

3. Social Cue Cards: I have seen these cards being used in K-2 classrooms to help teach students social cues when working in a group.

4. Learning Carpet is a permanently gridded, 100 square floor mat (6 feet square and bound on all sides), on which children from Kindergarten to Grade 5, are able to develop their understanding of different concepts through kinesthetic learning. For example I have seen it be used for graphing, as a hundreds board chart, for geometry or for site words. The site has lots of resources and ideas as well.

5. Ted-Ed Clubs  supports students in presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks. Some students may even end up on the TED stage! Want to learn how to start a TED-Ed Club?  Download the TED-Ed Club information packet.  I have seen amazing student Ted Ed’s on all different topics from ‘Understanding How Vitamin D Works’ from a fourth grader to ‘Redefining Feminism’ by a 10th grader.



Multi-functional Learning Spaces in Classrooms

“Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s only way to work, really. Everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.” By Antony Starr

This past week I went to Edspace 2014. This was a unique experience as I have thought about what furniture a classroom needs but I never knew how much design really goes into schools and furniture. One session I went to I learned a lot about how to turn media centers into learning commons but when I started thinking about it, I realized it shouldn’t be limited to the learning commons but across classrooms.

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David Thornburg wrote an article called ‘Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century‘  (great read) and the presentation I saw was adapted from his work.  Learning Commons or classrooms should have different ‘primordial learning metaphors’ in layman’s terms =  zones. Here are the different zones Thornburg says you should have:

Campfire: This space is where you learn from instruction. It fosters conversation and sharing between teacher and students.

Watering Hole: This space is where you learn from peers. It is a space for collaboration and sharing to take place.

Cave Spaces: This space is where you learn from yourself.  It is a space where you can work on your own, reflect and think. This space is quiet and ‘hideaway’

Life: Is where you bring it all together and apply it to the real world.

I also learned the rooms need to be flexible, adaptable and have a variety. These terms are not interchangeable but have specific distinctions. According to the presenters, these terms were adapted from the book: The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools.

Adaptable: Allows for change over time. Ex. removing a low bearing wall

Flexible: Allows opportunities for users to change the space themselves over the course of a week. Ex. Movable walls, larger furniture that is on casters (bookshelf)

Variety: Allows users to change the quality of their space moving to another area daily. Ex. Chairs and desks that are on casters

I would love to know how you design your classroom space. I would also love to know if you have used Thornburg’s research, what are your thoughts and results from your experience.

Personalized Learning Environments and Classroom Management

“The ultimate goal of classroom management should not be on simple obedience, but on having students behave appropriately because they know it’s the right thing to do and because they can understand how their actions affect other people” by Carlette Jackson Hardin

Having classroom management is key to a successful learning environment. Teachers who are ready maximize student learning, minimize student misbehavior. As teachers make the instructional shift to a student centered and personalized learning environments we need to keep in mind classroom management best practices but also make tweaks to fit our new approach to student learning. Educators need to be purposeful about student’s space, time and materials is so that instruction supports student learning. Here are some tips and tricks to help support classroom management and personalized learning (PL) environments.

  • Rules and Procedure: Just because your implementing a PL environment doesn’t mean that your class should not have rules and procedures. The difference is the students should be involved in making the rules and procedures and it needs to be consistent. You will be surprised how many good ideas they have.
    • For example, one teacher told me she was having difficulty when the students transitioned into math workshop. She would put the groups up on the smart board and they would all run to get the materials and go to their spots. She addressed the class about this issue and one student suggested the first persons name in the group should get the materials. The class agreed and this procedure was put in place. This saved her 3-5 minutes of  instructional time because she wasn’t dealing with the ‘fighting’ over materials and she could get started with her small group right away.
  • Morning Meeting: It is important to establish a safe learning environment and set the stage for a successful day. Often times teachers think that morning meeting takes up to much of valuable instructional time that the students are ‘freshest’ but in actuality you gain more instructional time because the students have time to focus on the daily and build relationships not just with their classmates but teacher as well. Students are coming in with more ‘baggage’ from home and this time allows students to set up for success.
  • Noise Level: In a PL classroom, there is going to be noise as student are collaborating and moving about the room to different areas based on their needs etc. Gone are the days where you can say ‘shh’ as students are actively learning different ways. Here are some suggestions:
    • Have classical music on and explain if the volume goes over the music it is too loud.
    • Having a signal such as  hand up or peace sign gains the student’s attention to redirect them to think about their volume level without stopping the whole class.
    • Visual aide to display when kids are in group work areas. Example cups…green=great volume control, yellow= volume is getting too loud, red= volume is WAY too loud.
    • Having procedures when you are working in a small group such as using six-inch voices.
  • Call and Response: In a PL environment, there is not a lot of whole group instruction but sometimes you need to address the whole class. Having a ‘call and response’ procedure in place is important if you need to address them. Some call and response ideas:
    • Class, Class…..students respond with Yes, Yes
    • Holy….students respond with Macaroni
    • Stop…students responds with Collaborate and Listen (my favorite and what I used with my class, my age is showing)
  •  10-12 minute mini lessons: Mini-Lesson are key no matter if you are doing whole group or small group instruction. The mini lesson should be short and focused on one strategy, skill, or concept.
  • Turn and Talk: When one student is working a problem out on the board, the other students should not be sitting in the small or whole group watching the students. Instead, have students turn and talk and discuss how they got the answer with each other. Utilizing this time with not only improve the use of your instructional time but students feel more empowered that their work is important and are held accountable.
  • Stoplight Cards to check for understanding: Green= all is well, Yellow= I have a question, Red= I am stuck. This avoids the line forming around the teacher, getting interrupted during conferring or small group mini-lesson. It helps the teacher facilitate the learning of the class and allows students ownership.
  • Students rate themselves:  Have the students rate themselves on a mini-lesson or topic to guide self-reflection. 4- Expert: I can teach it to others. 3- Practitioner: I can do this independently. 2- Apprentice: I can do this with help, I understand parts. 1- Novice: I need help as I don’t understand this yet. (It is key to add the yet as they will eventually understand and takes away the excuse, I can’t do it.)
  • Consequences: The best consequences are reasonable and logical. A reasonable consequence is one that follows logically from the behavior and has students reflecting on their actions. Giving them silent lunch or no recess is not going to change behavior but having them reflect will. Here is an example of a great reflection station I saw in a classroom.

self reflection

Other Classroom Management Resources:

Ten Tips for Classroom Management (available in Spanish)

Class Dojo (Web-tool to manage positive behavior)

Facilitating Student Focus and Attention

I would love to hear your classroom management tips/tricks to help in a student centered personalized learning environments.

Tips and Tricks for Creating Learning Spaces

“The intention of the learning environment is to give children exposure to a range of materials, resources and experiences that give them practice in skill refinement, in language development, in creativity, and in play.” By Kathy Walker

Almost two years ago, I blogged about “The 21st Century Classroom Environment” and I still believe in everything I wrote and think it is still relevant but I also have learned a lot more about creating learning spaces, brain based research and learning within the last few years as well. Below I have compiled some tips and tricks based on what I have learned about creating learning spaces.

Tips and Tricks for Hacking Learning Spaces:

1. Student Designed: Let student design the learning space as this allows students ownership.

2. Make it flexible: Design the learning space to support quick transitions among different type of learning such as group work, partners and/or individual. I was in a classroom recently where the teacher called out ‘learning mode one’ and the students all turned their desks from partner pairing to small groups. This obviously took practice and procedures but only a few weeks into the school year and the students did it seamlessly.

3. Learning spaces should be comfortable: Students are in school for many hours, they should be comfortable when they are learning. Let them choose where they want to sit and learn. I am writing my blog from my couch with my feet up on my coffee table because it is comfortable for me; another blogger might like to stand as they write, we need to provide multiple learning areas so it is comfortable for the student.

4. Keep items at students eye level: I never thought about this before but when I took a webinar that @erinklein hosted on Learning Spaces, it made perfect sense. Now when I go into  schools and classrooms I notice how all the work that is supposed to help students is at adult hight. For example recently when at a school they had a “Read” Box but the books where not at the students level to be able to read what the other students wrote on why they should ‘read’ the book. If this was at students eye level, the students would be able to read the other students reviews.

 5. Technology: Technology needs to be accessible for students like dictionaries and encyclopedias were in classrooms. It should be fluid and not seen as a separate thing.

6. Declutter the Space: According to the latest brain research, having a room full of things such as posters and anchor charts over stimulates the students. As teachers we need to deduce what is learning information and what is decoration. With Pinterest so popular, it makes it easier for teachers to think cutesy equals learning. For example, a word wall is important for students learning. A word wall that is on chevron print is over stimulating for the students and is really just there for decoration.

7. Gender Neutral: Classroom colors should be warm and calming; not over stimulating and distracting.

8. Active Spaces: Classrooms should have active areas where students can be kinetic learners such as a Makerspace.

 Pictures of different learning spaces I have come across in schools:

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Other Resources for Designing Learning Spaces:

The Third Teacher

Classroom Cribs

Designing Spaces for Effective Learning A guide to 21st century learning space design

Design of the Learning Space: Learning and Design Principles

Classroom of the Future Wiki

I would love to hear  or see pictures of how you have changed your learning space, please share in the comment section.

The Shift of the Role of the Teacher

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” By Anthony Robbins

The last 100 years in the workforce we needed farmers and factory workers. It was okay for classrooms to have a teacher at the front of the room, who was the only knowledge resource besides books, as the internet did not exist. Desks could be in rows because it replicated the workforce.

But times have changed; we must prepare today’s students for a different workforce. We know today’s students will have to create their jobs, not look for jobs. They will compete with others around the globe. They will have jobs replaced by outsourcing and technology if their skills are easily replicated or duplicated.  To succeed, students will need creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. They will need to be able to adapt to change, be resilient and able to work effectively in a variety of environments.

How do we do this? We need to empower students to take ownership of their learning but we also need teachers to not be the sage on the stage but the guide on the side. I know what you are thinking, ‘but how to do we shift the role of the teacher as change is hard’ and you are right. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.

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Teachers, instructional coaches and administration need to self-evaluate where they are on the teacher continuum and be purposeful in making small scaffolded changes. Hard work does happen over night, as educators will need time and so will students. To be purposeful, we need to look at the instructional approaches to create personal learning opportunities for students.  

A few ways to make the shift up the ladder on the continuum: 

From Lecturer to Instructor: Start by creating mini-lesson for your students that are no longer than 10-15 minutes verse teaching your whole instructional block. Implement a workshop model such as balanced literacy, daily 5 or math workshop that have students complete work both guided with others and individually.

From Instructor to Facilitator: Start by incorporating a rotation model; if you have a few devices or are a BYOT school try a blended learning model such as rotation station. A rotation model allows you as a teacher to teach mini-lessons to small groups verse whole class. The students should be grouped based on learning needs according to your data and each mini-lesson should address those needs.  The data can be informal such as an exit ticket or formal such as a pre-assessment. You can also use the rotation model to do student/teacher conferences as well. If you were doing 20 min. rotations, the other 10 minutes you can conference with a few students each day after the mini-lesson. I used to make a schedule so that each week I would meet with the students at least once. (See Week Learning Guide Example and Week Learning Guide Template) Examples of the other rotations can be students are practicing the skills with manipulatives/games with partners at another station they can do independent work such as a playlist, contract or choice board. (*Note rotation station model is different than stations! Stations is where each student rotates through and are learning and practicing the same skills. Rotation station is when the students are going to the same places ‘station’ but are doing work on the skills they need.)

From Facilitator to Coach: This is the hardest shift and takes a lot of management. In this approach students get what they need, when they need it, not at a set pace. A teacher/coach works on the skills the individual student needs. Students and teachers together make action plans based on the students needs according to a pre-assessment. When a student finishes a unit they can move on to the next unit. There is no mini-lessons but small teaching moments during conferencing and facilitation. Students use playlists and each other to master the skills.

Other ways to help teachers make the shift:

  • Innovation and continuous improvement needs to be embedded in a schools/districts DNA.
  • Everyone needs to understand the ‘WHY’ this change needs to happen and be apart of it.
  • Administration needs to have a safe learning environment that looks at failure as a way to learn. They also have to understand that every teacher is different and will be at different places on the continuum.
  • Teachers need to be coached, supported and helped along in the process on making the shift into the different roles.
  • Have teachers visit other teachers.  Seeing it in action helps teachers visualize.

I would love to hear how you as an educator have made the shift in transforming your teaching or how you have coached (as an instructional facilitator or administrator) teachers to make the shift.

Using Consultancy Protocol to Ignite Change

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” by Barack Obama

Using  a consultancy protocol is authentic learning at its best. A consultancy protocol is a structured process for helping an individual or team think more expansively about a particular dilemma or barrier.  I believe this format is a great way to ignite change in a school and/or classroom, as it allows teachers and students voices to be heard. (Norms would have to be set and most take place in a safe environment.) Holding consultancy protocols helps build better school and classroom environments because it builds trust and relationships. Instead of listing problems and complaining like at a typical meeting, everyone becomes part of the solution and time is well spent. This could easily be done for students during morning meeting/class meeting or during a staff meeting for teachers.

Final Hands

Below is the process to hold a consultancy but know there are different variations out there as well. I adapted this one from a Bill Gates Convening I attended. Below are approximate times but I have done “mini” versions of this in 30 minutes. There are different roles and responsibilities for each person participating:

  • Presenter:  Person who brings the dilemma or barrier to the group and whose work is being discussed by group (Staff Member or Student)
  • Facilitator: Person who facilitates discussion and moves group through the Consultancy Phases (Facilitator can also participate in discussion) (Principal or Teacher)
  • Consultancy Group: Group of individuals that discuss the problem and provide the Presenter with feedback. (School Staff or Classroom of Students)

The Consultancy Process

Step 1: Presenter Overview  (5 – 10 mins)

The Presenter gives an overview of the dilemma or barrier with which s/he is struggling and frames a question to the Consultancy Group to consider  A write-up of the problem may be shared as well but the problem must be presented orally. Here are steps in writing about the dilemma or barrier:

  • Step 1: Consider the Dilemma This should be an issue with which you are struggling, that has a way to go before being resolved, that is up to you to control, and that it is critical to your work. It is important that your problem is authentic and fresh – that is, not already solved or nearly solved.
  • Step 2: Write about the Dilemma Here are questions to guide your writing:
  1.  Why is this a dilemma or barrier for you? Why is this dilemma or barrier important to you?
  2. If you could take a snapshot of this dilemma, what would you/we see?
  3. What have you done already to try to remedy or manage the dilemma or barrier? If so, what have been the results of those attempts?
  4. What do you assume to be true about this dilemma or barrier, and how have these assumptions influenced your thinking about the problem?

The framing of this question is key to the effectiveness of the Protocol. The focus of the Group’s conversation will be on this dilemma and barrier.

Step 2: Clarifying Questions (5 – 10 mins)

The group asks clarifying questions of the Presenter, that is, questions that have brief, factual answers. Clarifying questions ask the Presenter the “who, what, where, when, and how” of their problem. These are not “why” questions, and generally can be answered quickly and succinctly, often in a sentence or two. These questions are not meant to fuel discussion, but rather to make clear any important points of reference.

Step 3: Probing Questions (5 – 10 mins)

The group asks probing questions of the Presenter. These questions should be worded to help the Presenter clarify and expand his/her thinking about the dilemma or barrier presented to the Consultancy Group.  Probing questions get to the “why” of the Presenter’s problem. These may be open-ended inquiries, requiring answers based both in factual detail and the subjective understanding of the Presenter. The purpose of a probing question is to push the Presenter’s thinking about his/her problem to a deep level of analysis. The Presenter may respond to the questions, but there is no discussion by the Consultancy Group of the Presenter’s responses.  At the end of the 10 minutes, the Facilitator will ask the Presenter to restate his/her question to the Group.

Step 4: Group Dilemma Discussion (15 – 20 mins)

The Consultancy Group analyzes the problem while the Presenter moves back from the circle, remains quiet, does not interrupt or add information, and takes notes during the discussion. Possible questions to frame the discussion:

  • What did we hear?
  • What didn’t we hear?
  • What assumptions seem to be operating?
  • What questions does the dilemma or barrier raise for us?
  • What do we think about the dilemma or barrier?
  • What might we do or try to do if faced with the same dilemma or barrier?

Members of the Group sometimes suggest actions the Presenter might consider taking.  However, they work to define the issue more thoroughly and objectively.

Step 5: Presenter Reflection (5 – 10 mins) 

The Presenter reflects on what s/he heard and on what s/he is now thinking. S/he shares with the group anything that particularly resonated during the Consultancy.

Step 6: Facilitator Debrief (2 – 5 mins) 

The Facilitator leads a brief discussion about the group’s observation of the Consultancy Process.

This format allows issues to be addressed and solutions created. It allow students to use all their 21st century skills (Communication, Collaboration, Critically Thinking and Creating) no matter if they are the presenter or in the group. If you have done a consultancy protocol in your school or classroom, I would love to hear what worked and what didn’t, please share int he comments.


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