The classroom community matters

Interesting research on brain activity suggests that students’ brains will synchronize when they’re all paying attention together…. and that students will be more “in tune” with one another based on some contributing factors.

Article: How sitting through the same class gets your brains on the same wavelength (Smithsonian Magazine)

One factor noted in the article is student personality – the more you like being part of a group, the more you will think like the group. Double-edged sword, there. (So “groupthink” really is a neurological thing.)

Second factor is face time: students who interacted with another classmate before the learning session began were more in sync during class.

My takeaways: the culture of the learning community is really important. A harmonious classroom encourages joint attention. Allowing students their between-class minutes for socializing without begrudging them that time may pay off in better attention (though with teens, I’ve found that interpersonal stress destroys attention).

A question: As teachers, when and how should we use brain-sync to enhance learning, and when might it become a liability?





Give students a place to air grievances

A good piece by John Warner about methods he uses to give students a place and time within his classroom to air their issues with the course, the process, the assignments, even the grading structure. When students have a say in the process, they are much more invested.

More importantly, this kind of teacher-student dialogue builds trust if the teacher is willing to listen and change. That takes humility – always a good trait.

The Airing of the Grievances (Inside Higher Ed)

Making room for introverts

The six biggest mistakes of managing an introvert – Quartz.

^ Good read.

There’s been a lot of good popular writing lately (online magazines, usually) about how to work with introverts without misjudging them for the very qualities that make an introvert an outstanding employee: thoughtful, reflective work.  It’s not hard to accommodate the particular needs of introverted folks:  give them a chance to think before demanding an answer, provide peace and quiet, retool the way you form teams for collaboration.

The individual learners who make up our classroom communities can benefit from similar accommodations:

  • Create physical space in your classroom for those who need to be a little further from the action, and places where those who need peace and quiet to work can find that.
  • Insert time and space between questions and answers — for example, ask a (chewy) question but make everyone jot down answers on a paper or in a journal for a few minutes before allowing the class to respond. This gives people time to process, and introverts often prefer written communication to off-the-cuff answers.  Allow students to read what they’ve written if they prefer.
  • Consider pairing introverts together for group projects. You’ll encourage them to step forward as a pair or team to do presentations or other “public” work instead of being overshadowed by the extrovert in their group.
  • Allow your coursework to ebb and flow between quiet personal work and busier, louder, more active engagement.  It doesn’t have to be a learning zoo all the time.  Model introspection and taking time to think before speaking.
  • Encourage groups to talk as much as they need for making decisions or analyzing the problem at hand, but encourage them to move into developing ideas (individually, perhaps, and then returning for a group discussion) and individual implementation to allow introverts a break from personal interaction.

There’s an equal danger, of course: that school, with its rows of desks all in a line and emphasis on order and rigor, can squash extroverts just as much as it wears out the introverts with public speaking and constant collaboration.  For the extroverts, being forced to sit down, shut up, keep quiet, stay on task, stop bringing up new ideas — all of that reinforces the idea that only the boring, orderly kids are going to do well at school.

So – as always – lesson design must accommodate both.

How Dissecting a Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment | MindShift

Cool read! Applying design thinking principles, the maker ethos, and curiosity to very mundane activities, across the K-12 curriculum. Real teachers, real examples, and really encouraging!

How Dissecting a Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment | MindShift.

via How Dissecting a Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment | MindShift.

Trust in the classroom

The job of helping young people grow into well-educated and independent adults rests upon the relationship between teachers and students, teachers and their administrators, the community and its school staff. And yet many of the rules governing schools are about control.”

The millennial generation of students is often criticized for being impatient, unfocused, entitled and lazy, but Luhtala said that’s an old-school way of looking at a group of kids who have grown up in a dramatically different world than their teachers. “I don’t think kids are unfocused,” she said. “I think they can be super focused if you give them something to do. And I really mean DO, not listening or watching, but really physically doing something.”

Creating learning opportunities that don’t rely on lectures, textbooks or sitting quietly goes against established educational patterns and can feel foreign to many adults who learned that way themselves. It requires trust, but once given, can often produce incredible projects from students that might never have materialized without giving them the freedom to think and act independently, Luhtala said.

“Passive learning is really not an effective way to teach these kids,” Luhtala said. “The reality is that kids will retain less than ten percent of what we say in a lecture setting. So we need to empower them to become independent learners.”

Excellent read.


Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory

As long as there is little to no time in the high school schedule for teachers and students to see and celebrate each other’s shared humanity, too many students will feel that school is something that is done to them, that teachers care more about their subjects than they do about the kids. As long as teachers have 120-150 kids on their course roster, and there is little continuity year to year so that relationships cannot be maintained, too many students will be on their own when they struggle. If we build schools where teachers and students have time to relate to one another as people – if we create pathways for students and teachers to know each other over time, so that every child knows they have an adult advocate in their school, we make schools more human — and more humane – for all who inhabit them.

via Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory.


For the new teachers out there

John Spencer writes a blog that serves as one of my absolute favorite places on the Internet to find a good read. He’s thoughtful, insightful, humble, honest.  Start at the beginning and read the whole thing.

But if you’re in a hurry, and especially if you’re heading into your first year of teaching, read John’s warm and encouraging letter to himself as a first year teacher:

A Note To Myself As A First-Year Teacher (Education ReThink)