“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin
Holding students accountable for learning is a key characteristic of effective classrooms. This doesn’t have to mean exposing students to numerous worksheets, assignments, quizzes or tests to check for their understanding. There are many ways to hold students accountable by involving them in a community of learners. Having a room full of engaged & involved students is our primary goal as educators.
Recently I’ve been demonstrating strategies in quite a few classrooms. I thoroughly enjoy my time with the students and teachers. Yet, I’ve noticed a few differences from my own teaching days. First, as a part-time Instructional Coach in three buildings, I may recognize students and they recognize me, but we really don’t know each other. I try to make it a practice to visit their classrooms at other times just to start to get to know them. I’ve also found that I’ve been relying too much on calling on students with their hands raised. This has felt very uncomfortable, since it wasn’t a practice I used much in my own classroom. In this blog I will outline a few past practices and some new ones I’ve found to help keep students engaged, involved and accountable as a challenge to myself to start adding them into the demonstrations I provide. English language learners, students on individual educational plans, as well as all students, benefit greatly from a wide variety of cooperative learning and active participation strategies.
- When I taught I either used cards or Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them. With both I included the students’ names twice and made the teacher rule that I could shuffle the cards or mix up the sticks at any time leaving all names to chance. One other twist, that my students seem to like, was the inclusion of my own name. Students loved it when I had to call on myself to answer a question! Neither the cards and Popsicle sticks were meant to make students feel uncomfortable or put on the spot. As a teacher, I built a level of trust and risk taking among my community of learners.
- I recently found an online Random Name Generator similar to the cards/Popsicle stick idea. I may give this a try in the future to add a little novelty to a common practice once I’ve built a relationship with the students.
- One of my favorite cooperative learning structures is Numbered Heads Together. The strategy is best used when you are asking complex questions. The video below does a nice job explaining the process. A variety of directions can also be found on the internet through a search for Numbered Heads Together. In the video the teacher numbers each group and each student. I typically assign each group a letter and number each student to avoid some confusion. Last year I used an online spinner and dice to add another twist. (Both the spinner and dice are adjustable to assist with a variety of group sizes and labeling needs.)
- There are many other cooperative learning strategies that can be used in the classroom to engage and involve students in the learning process. Two resources I have found helpful include this website and Jim Knight’s Cooperative Learning Coaching Manual. The manual can be found on the Big Four Ning (on the left side).
- Two key educators in the field of active participation strategies that I am familiar with are Dr. Anita Archer and Dr. Kate Kinsella. At the link provided for Dr. Archer there are three video clips that provide demonstrations of various active participation strategies. At the link provided for Dr. Kinsella you will find a variety of strategies. Dr. Richard McGrath introduced me to one set towards the middle of the web page entitled Language Strategies for Active Classroom Participation, after having the opportunity of learning from Dr. Kinsella at a conference. This power point presentation explains these strategies as Precision Partnering. Another helpful websites that explain these strategies and more can be found at the Santa Clara County Office of Education. I was able to witness teachers successfully using these strategies after Dr. McGrath introduced them to his elementary teaching staff. I was amazed by the academic language and formal spoken English that came from students in a school with an over 60% ELL population.
Sometimes the word accountability takes on a negative connotation. Many see it only as a word used when it comes to standardized test scores. Our goal as educators has always been to provide students with the best education possible. Providing opportunities for students engagement helps ensure that learning is taking place. The strategies here only touch the surface in creating environments where students are engaged, involved and accountable.
How do you engage and involve your learners?