Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Engaged and relaxed.

My principal walked through today's 8th grade class. We are in the middle of the musical theatre project that I have used in the curriculum for a couple of years. My room looks like this:

Yes, I know there is an overhead projector in my room. Please don't judge. It was the level of technology that happened to work for a project. Moving on... So, the learning targets are in Classroom along with the rubric, and a few graphic organizer ideas. Students were all over the classroom. They know they can sit where they can function best.

After a walk through teachers receive an email with a short report of what the principal saw. Everything was pretty typical, until the last point. My principal stated: Students were engaged and relaxed.

The idea that students were engaged and relaxed made me stop for a second. I have never really thought about making it a priority to ensure my students are relaxed in my classroom. We have comfortable places to sit, but relaxed? So, then my brain went into overdrive. What does it take for a student to feel relaxed in my classroom? Why shouldn't that be a goal? So, what is needed for a student to feel relaxed in a classroom?

I think the following things can allow or not allow students to be relaxed:

  • Environment
  • Clarity
  • Investment
Environment - Each classroom is going to look different because each classroom functions differently. How can you shape your learning space to be most inviting, most welcoming? In what ways can you students be in an environment where they can choose where they sit, how they prove their learning, and how that learning is evaluated. I guess you could go as far as to say environment can be substituted with culture. How can you nurture a culture of learning where the playing field is flat, and you and your students are partners in learning.

Clarity - I struggled with this word. What could I say that meant students were clearly aware of procedures, expectations, and quality of learning that didn't come out as "predictable?" There are similarities between the words, but I think the difference is in the fact that predictable is out of my control. If my students and I agreed on these procedures, expectations, and quality of learning is necessary for our room to run efficiently, they have voice and ownership.

Investment - I touched on student voice in clarity, but how invested are our students in what they are learning? How can we encourage them to invest more? I teach two sections of this 8th grade exploratory class. The class from today has no issue with the structure of the class. I have four units. They are all in Classroom. They have targets, expectations, options for proving learning, and rubrics. This class can invest in that. They ask me if they can change certain aspects of the project, I ask them how they will plan and manage the change, and off they go.

The other section...not so much. We launched into our first project this trimester, and they basically refused to put any effort into the work. I pushed, I "threatened" their grade, I thought I could make them learn they way the other section did. This just in... I can't. So, we downshifted. I bagged the unit and jumped into 100% time. This is 20% time; just all the time. I gave them three days to learn whatever they wanted. As students presented, we evaluated the quality of the learning, not the project. We talked about how the student could have made it better. We compared and contrasted projects to see they best parts of each.

When we were through all of the projects, I said, "we have to get connected back to music." I asked if they were interested in a musical theatre project. They said no. I asked if they were interested in watching Phenias and Ferb. That got them. But, when I asked if they wanted to use the learning targets I had used, they replied flatly, no. So, we built a new "rubric" that highlighted what needed to be in their project. I said no to none of the suggestions they voiced. This is what the first class' rubric looks like:

And, here is what the second class' rubric looks like:

This flexibility allowed both groups of student to invest in the project. It allowed them to relax.

Think about your students ability to relax in your classroom. Relaxed is different than comfort. Comfort is a state of the body. Being relaxed is a state of mind.

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

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