So my friend CajunCart, a beautiful writer and thinker and teacher (with her own blog), challenged me with this question after my last post about formative assessment and yoga:
So, I responded that I’d write a post to address this question. I think there are lots of ways that teachers can do this, but I’ll just list below a few ideas I have.
One general idea to stick with, however, is that students should be the ones doing throughout most of the class and the teacher should be floating and helping throughout most of the class. If the teacher is talking/doing more than the students are–or if the student’s main job is to take notes (assuming note-taking is not the main learning goal, which, if it is, then note taking the whole time would be perfect!), then it will be much harder to implement a classroom with formative assessment.
In English, I actually have experience with this idea. I taught my 8th grade class in a much more traditional way last year when it came to assigning writing and “teaching” writing.
However, in my writing workshop class, my students are cranking out some amazing writing in the style that we might call “research paper.” Yet, these essays, on a public blog linked above, are not drudgery for the students or the teachers. Nor, by the way, are these essays terrible- which is what most other middle school research papers turn out to be. Here is why:
1) The students choose the subject of their writing. It must be tangentially related to the topic of our course, but other than that, they’re free to bring their own interests in. See post here about climate change and the olympics. Wow. Yes, a middle schooler wrote that. No, we did not give her a lib guide.
2) The students write on their own time, but then they bring a draft in for conference before they post to the blog. It is during these conferences (held for us in OH), that most of the really good writing learning gets done. (Note: If I were to use conferences outside of office hours, I would schedule time with students as they’re writing in my class. I would also refrain from scheduling papers to be turned in all on the same day. I’d make staggered deadlines for writing or I’d have the kids set their deadlines within a 1-2 week period so that I could give more individual feedback without the time crunch.)
3) Our students write in class almost every day for about a fourth of the class. It is, after all, a writing course. It makes sense that a good chunk of the time the kids would be, well, writing. We don’t always give feedback on this writing. In fact, we don’t give specific feedback on most of it, but we walk around the room and look over the shoulders of the students as they’re working, and every now and then we stop or comment on what they’ve said in these journal times.
The students get to practice, practice, practice. Moreover, we don’t give grades on the papers we conference over, so the pressure in conferences is zero. Yes, ultimately, at the marking period we grade their writing, but we’re lucky that our class is on a pass/fail reporting system so we can focus more on the learning the rest of the time and less on trying to “get enough grades in for the marking period.” A frightfully common problem for many teachers.
Assuming you teach in 55 minute classes (my suggestions would change entirely if you have longer blocks), a yoga-style math class might look like a mini-lesson at the beginning of the class (5 mins or less) and then 50 minutes of students working individually or in groups on the concept with the teacher floating around and helping. If you can work some real world application in, even better!
In Science, it looks like labs. Labs, Labs and more labs.
In Language it looks like the students in conversation in small groups in their specific language for the whole class while the teacher floats around, popping in to conversations and helping out. Or like Skype.
In PE it looks like yoga. They’ve mastered this art.
In History, where delving into historical content and facts often makes up a large portion of the class, it might mean focusing on driving questions like “How does geography impact history?” and then having students do research on their own or delve into a project of some sort in order to figure that out. Students will get the content when that is what they need to “get” in order to achieve a different goal. Rarely are students motivated by content alone, but give them a problem to solve, and by golly, they’ll ask you a million questions about the content.
I’d love to continue the conversation about different ways of achieving this type of classroom. All I know is that the more I teach like this, the more my students get better at what they’re learning.