As a teacher I love to read about education, I know, I know it seems sad doesn’t it! But, in my defense I love teaching, education, learning and all things connected to it! Whilst I love to read about education I sometimes feel like there is a disconnect between some of the broad theories of education and the practice of the classroom. This often prompts me to think about exactly what constitutes great teaching – that elusive goal that we all strive for in our classrooms.
More and more as I think about it I come back to 2 things that form the core of my teaching: consistency and choice.
Consistency for me is central to my classroom management. From day one of the school year I have clear expectations of my students, and guide their expectations of me and these remain strong throughout the year. My students understand the benefits of behaving ‘well’ (for example persevering in their work, being respectful of others, showing responsibility, etc.) and with that goes the understanding that failing to meet these expectations will have consequences too. No exceptions. Once a rule is broken without consequence it no longer serves a useful purpose because my students don’t know whether breaking it will have consequences or not, and as such wonder if the rule is really all that important. It might sound a bit tough but it’s a pretty simple line of thinking to follow. For example if we take a simple rule such as ”No Climbing” and imagine a students breaks this rule without consequence. Surely they could assume that it must not be dangerous afterall? I’m not suggesting that this is always a conscious thought on the part of the student for a second! However, it’s an easy road to follow. Therefore my approach is clear – I remain consistent regardless of the circumstance. This isn’t to say that if a student makes a mistake or fails to meet a behavioural expectation there is no chance to explain and discuss it; in fact it is quite the opposite. What I want my students to realise is that rules, conditions and expectations are a part of life, as are choices and as the old saying goes ‘You are free to choose your actions. You are not free from the consequences of your choices.’ I also need them to know that I hold them to high standards not for my own benefit, but to help them to internalise the responsibilities we are practicing together. They should understand that being a good person means doing the right thing even when noone is watching because it is always the right thing to do.
Consistency also works on the positive side too! I always celebrate my students’ successes, they help celebrate mine and everyone feels like their own learning journey, their passions and their thoughts are valuable. Knowing that hard work will always be rewarded makes doing it just that little be easier and anchors it to all the positive emotions that go hand in hand with feelings of recognition, accomplishment and respect. I also treat my students consistently; whilst I don’t hide the ups and downs of life from them I always endeavour to treat them the same regardless of what else may be happening.
I also really value choice. In my classroom I use the Daily 5 model (if you haven’t checked it out I highly recommend you do so by clicking this link) which promotes the importance of student choice. This isn’t a choice of doing one task in avoidance of the other, but the idea of allowing students control over the order and methods they use to accomplish a task. For example I started this year with a VERY reluctant reader in my class, everyday he dreaded having to read. Yet by being allowed to choose when he reads, where he reads (within the room) and what he reads he feels some control and this has made the experience much easier for him. In fact, he’ll now happily read for 15-20 minutes a day, because he knows that for the rest of our ELA time he’ll get to do other activities that he enjoys much more AND he’s in control of his reading. If I’d told that same student that he must sit 5 pages from Book X and 10:30 he’d have fought so hard against it, but by offering him real, positive choices he takes ownership of the situation. I really don’t mind whether he reads at the start of ELA, in the middle or at the end; it doesn’t bother me where he sits, and I’d rather he happily reads something a little easier than detests reading ‘on level’. I’ve got my reluctant reader reading, and he’s got control of his situation – win win!
As alluded to in the example, these choices must be two things; real and positive. I certainly to not support the terrible choices we’ve all heard offered by exasperated teachers or parents such as ‘You can choose to come inside now or you can sit here ALL day on your OWN and cry!’ … really, you’re happy with them staying there all day? …. thought not! The choice must be one you are happy with regardless of which option they pick. A colleague of mine recently had two students refuse to return from the playground. She asked my advice and I gave her two choices to offer them. ‘You may come inside now with your classmates, or you may wait out here for 2 minutes and then come in – but you will lose those minutes from your next break.’ Either option was safe, the girls came inside after 2 minutes, but they had to lose break time later (consistency remember!) and so they’ve not tried to stay out again.
Back inside the classroom this is surprisingly easy to enact! Let’s say you want students to practice using full stops correctly in an English lesson. You have two activities set up for this; one where students edit a piece of writing to add in full stops, and a write and draw activity in which they write a sentence, include their punctuation and then illustrate the sentence (since they are likely to be young learners!) It’s an English lesson so you can add in a session of reading too! So if we say for simplicity that this lesson is 30 minutes your students will read for 10 minutes, pair up to edit the writing for 10, then work on their own sentences for 10. Likelihood is they need more help with the latter activity. If you let the students pick the order in which they complete them they will be more engaged, feel greater ownership and it will be easier for you to help out with the writing task, since fewer kids will be attempting it at once. This is obviously just one example, and it takes practice – but it makes a tremendous difference, especially when done everyday.
Obviously these two ideas do not and cannot form and entire teaching approach I do think they are incredibly important. As I continue to try and improve my practice everyday I also can’t wait to see what other thoughts, ideas and approaches will shape my teaching in the future.
What about you? What do you consider to be the core of your teaching? What do you value most in your approach?