What is your classroom intentionally messaging? - CT3
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What is your classroom intentionally messaging?

When I’m in classrooms, I see teachers spending a lot of time thinking about how students respond or react to their words and actions. However, teachers often don’t readily consider non-verbal messages that are sent in the classroom. As I visit schools, I often reflect on the unintentionally of messages and how to remove potential barriers. Today, I’m proposing a proactive approach to help teachers realize that messaging is a large chunk of relationship building with their students. Let’s delve into the specific teacher actions that intentionally create a classroom where scholars feel safe, thrive on productive struggle, and where mistakes prompt critical thinking.

It’s 7:30 am and I’ve entered a classroom that is messaging loudly (Tomlinson, 2014) – the room is orderly, clean, and focused on learning with student work proudly displayed. But what’s most interesting is, the room is empty! There are no scholars or teacher present. This gives me an opportunity to spend some time taking in the classroom environment and what message it sends even without people present – are there pictures of scholars? Are birthdays displayed? At this moment, I take some notes and hope to get an opportunity later to see the active classroom when scholars and the teacher are present.

Here are my notes:

Observations
1. Multiple seating arrangements – Large square seating in the middle of the room, kidney-shaped table in the back left corner
2. Celebrating accomplishments – Bulletin board with student work and accomplishments listed on post-it notes (i.e. “Kadiesha has mastered locating and underlining multiple pieces of evidence in the text to answer the question”).
3. Creating content examples from student interest inventories – Interest surveys posted with objectives/learning standards (SWBAT – Student Will Be Able To).
4. Creating groups from Do Now data – Do Now data posted with groups underneath (Working independently, Working in pairs, Working with Teacher)
5. How to take notes – There is an anchor chart on the board showing how to take guided notes with worksheets on students’ desks.
6. Sentence stems posted on the board – Sentence strips with sentence stems are posted on the board under the SWBAT. There are also more sentence stems posted in the back of the room with different topics. Example: When I reviewed your work, I noticed you did/didn’t…
7. Connecting skills students are learning to professionals – Pictures of professionals are posted on the windows with previous skills learned such as turning a fraction into a decimal.
8. Brain research –  Quotes posted around the room with tips for using the brain effectively. Example: The brain remembers 7 bits of information at a time. Chunk your notes!
9. Agenda with timer – Today’s agenda posted with the amount of time for each activity. Large magnetic timer is stuck next to the agenda.
10. Reflection on last month – What I learned about (student name)? Listed under each photo. Example: Devon wants to win the next school auction’s top prize. What students learned about me? I really like scary movies. Post-it Notes have student responses posted under teacher’s picture.

When I return to this classroom, it’s 9:30 am and the school day has quickly unfolded. I get a glimpse of the classroom routines as I stand inside the back door. The 6th graders are in the middle of a debate around the best strategy to use for solving the word problem on the board. There is a step-by-step protocol also listed on the board to keep track of the process. As I read the protocol, I realize they are on box 4 labeled “Response to Group’s Strategy” where students are using the sentence stems, “Using your strategy will help me solve the problem by doing… one question I have is…” I stop attending to their answers to simply take in the culture and climate of the classroom. Students were pensive, agreeing, disagreeing, often speaking more than the teacher, explaining their answer and rationale. It’s invigorating to see the dynamics of a healthy debate at play.

I exit the classroom thinking about my notes above. How does this relate to my earlier observations in the empty classroom? When I observed the class in action, the teacher had intentionally crafted the lesson to include debate. Based on the earlier observations I made and seeing the debate in action, I see that the classroom had been intentionally set up in such a way that student voice was not only celebrated, but used to create more opportunities for students to grow and be successful.  

I’ve restated the observations below with resources to assist with implementation in your classroom. Teachers who are being intentional about what they place into the classroom culture reap the benefits of its stated and unstated messaging all day long.

Observation Teacher Resources
1. Multiple seating arrangements – Large square seating in the middle of the room, kidney-shaped table in the back left corner Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Effective Classroom Seating Arrangements
2. Celebrating accomplishments – Bulletin board with student work and accomplishment listed on post-it note (Kadiesha has mastered locating and underlining multiple pieces of evidence in the text to answer the question) The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath
3. Creating content examples from student interest inventories – Interest surveys posted with standards (SWBAT) Learning Styles (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) self-assessments; Student Strengths self-assessments
4. Creating groups from Do Now data – Do Now data posted with groups underneath (Working independently, Working in pairs, Working with Teacher) Visible Learning by John Hattie
5. How to take notes – Template was provided for students to process and share the content Creating Independence through Student-Owned Strategies (CRISS)
6. Sentence stems posted on the board – Sentence strips with sentence stems are posted on the board under the SWBAT. There are also more sentence stems posted in the back of the room with different topics. Example: When I reviewed your work, I noticed you did/didn’t… Writing as Learning by Evelyn Rothstein
7. Connecting skills students are learning to professionals – Pictures of professionals are posted on the windows with previous skills learned such as turning a fraction into a decimal. CareerKey – career assessment
(Example: www.naviance.com)
8. Brain research –  Quotes posted around the room with tips for using the brain effectively. Example: The brain remembers 7 bits of information at a time. Chunk your notes! Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites by Marcia Tate
9. Agenda with timer – Today’s agenda posted with the amount of time for each activity. Large magnetic timer is stuck next to the agenda. Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen
10. Reflection on last month – What I learned about (student name)? Listed under each photo. Example: Devon wants to win the next school auction’s top prize. What students learned about me? I really like scary movies.
Post-it Notes have student responses posted under teacher picture.
Tribes: A New Way of Learning and Being Together by Carolyn Cahill et. al.

After reading, consider – What does your classroom look like? The hallways? The front office? What will you intentionally message with your students this week?

Reference:

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: responding to the needs of all learners(2nd ed.). Boston: Published by Pearson Education, Inc., by special arrangement with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

By Eyka Stephens, CT3 Associate

Click here to read more about Eyka’s background as an educator and here to read Eyka’s thoughts on teaching students to track the speaker

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