I am currently reading Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics: 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning (Corwin, 2021) after three recommendations. The book organizes “each chapter by exploreing one of the 14 optimal practices, beginning with a deep dive into what are the institutionally normative practices that permeate many classrooms around the world. It reveals how each of these practices is working against our efforts to get students to think, and then it offers a clear presentation of what the research revealed to be the optimal practice for each variable, unpacking it into macro- and micro- practices. These descriptions are punctuated by excerpts from the data, anecdotes from teachers, photographs from real K–12 classrooms, and responses to frequently asked questions (FAQ).” Each chapter provides micro and macro moves that I have been considering and implementing into my classroom. The first thing that I did was to decenter my classroom and randomize the seating daily. Every day, students sit with different classmates. Desks are arranged in pods of three. This has been the first game changer since there is no front of the classroom anymore and I am teaching from every direction. Secondly, I have no complaints about seating or collaboration.
The next pivot I made in my classroom was teaching vertically. Liljedahl states in the book, “One of the most enduring institutional norms that exists in mathematics classrooms is students sitting at their desks (or tables) and writing in their notebooks. This turned out to be the workspace least conducive to thinking. What emerged as optimal was to have the students standing and working on vertical non- permanent surfaces (VNPSs) such as whiteboards, blackboards, or windows. It did not matter what the surface was, as long as it was vertical and erasable (non-permanent). The fact that it was non-permanent promoted more risk taking, and the fact that it was vertical prevented students from disengaging. Taken together, having students work, in their random groups, on VNPSs had a massive impact on transforming previously passive learning spaces into active thinking spaces where students think, and keep thinking, for upwards of 60 minutes.” This means that the more time students are able to stand, think, and actively engage with the material the better.
How does this translate in the ELA classroom when students are reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening versus completing math problems? Here are four different ways to shift learning vertical that I have been utilizing to optimize learning.
Gallery Walk – This discussion technique allows students to be actively engaged as they walk throughout the classroom. They work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to meaningful questions, documents, images, problem-solving situations or texts. Use a Gallery Walk at any point in the lesson to engage students in conversation, I tend to use them at the beginning of a lesson to showcase and examine mentor texts and model writing/reading passages. Teacher can also use gallery walks after reading a text to discuss ideas, themes, and characters. Gallery walks can be text based on visual texts.
Grafitti – Similar to a gallery walk, items are posted around the room: images, questions, ideas, concepts, or scenarios. Large sheets of paper or chart paper are placed on the walls of the classroom. Students write their responses, draw pictures and record their thoughts on the given topic on the graffiti wall. Students are encouraged to use colored markers to make the wall interesting and to identify each student’s work/response.
Use a Gallery Walk and the Graffiti format for students to get feedback on their work. Hang student products, such as drawings, visual representations, poster projects, and or one pagers. Students, individually or in groups, rotate around the room and provide feedback to the creator of the work. Students are required to record one thing they like about the work displayed, one thing they wonder about it, and one thing the creator could do next or improve.
Four Corners – Students are presented with a controversial statement or are asked a question. In each of the four corners of the classroom, an opinion or response is posted. Students express their opinion or response by standing in front of one of four statements, and then talking to others about why they have chosen their corner. Four Corners promotes listening, verbal communication, critical thinking, and decision-making.
Question Trails – My reading specialist and colleague introduced me to these on your feet activities last year and I am obsessed. A question trail is an engaging activity that allows students to move around the classroom and complete different tasks. Students follow the “trail” of multiple-choice questions that will show what they have learned from unit of study, a text, or reading. Question trails can be collaborative or individual. It is really up to you the teacher to make that choice. The basic premise of the question trail is for students to understand the material the teacher has provided. The students answer a series of multiple-choice questions. If the questions on the trail are answered correctly, students will be prompted to move to the next question. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will end up at a question they have already answered which means they will need to backtrack to see where they made an error. They will need to determine where they went wrong. To learn how to make your own question trail you can visit Creative ALS Teaching.
Tomorrow when my students walk into the classroom we will begin class with a gallery walk of questions about feedback for them to read and respond to on big chart paper. Then students will watch Austin’s Butterfly and take notes about what effective feedback is and is not. We will discuss as a whole class what good feedback look and sounds like before we meet with writing partners to get feedback on the writing we are working on. There are a few teaching moves that I am implementing from Thinking Classrooms to allow students to actively engage in the lesson and use their mind for thinking deeply.