I began in a 2nd grade classroom where students were learning how to write “opinion pieces” and were watching a short video on the critical elements of that type of writing. “An introduction has 3 parts – start with ‘a hook’, name your topic, and give your opinion”, the video directed students. In an aside to me the teacher said that hearing and seeing it on a video was reinforcing the lesson she had previously taught. I noted that all of the students appeared to be intently watching and listening, despite the fact that there were visitors (me and the principal) wandering around the room.
The next class I visited was a kindergarten class that was engaged in “making books”. I know from my own teaching days that this is a case where language really matters. If we ask 5-year-olds to write a story they will often say they don’t know how to write, but most 5-year-olds know they can “make stuff”. I chatted with a student who told me the title of her book was “Everybody is Different”, and indeed I could make out those words in the letters she had added to the cover of her book. She shared with me the page she was working on which had a bunch of circles. She read that page to me, “Everybody has a different face.” The circles were going to be the faces, she was still working on those. I asked her where she got the idea for her book and she said a teacher had come in and done a lesson on “everybody is different”.
My next stop was the middle school where I talked with some students who were working to identify the theme of Refugee, a book they had recently finished reading. The students told me that they had brainstormed together some possible themes (hate, injustice, violence were a few ideas I heard), and were now narrowing it down to one choice and providing evidence from the text to support that choice. I was impressed with the depth of their thinking and with their engagement in the assignment. I wasn’t surprised as I follow this class on Twitter and read their regular blog posts and I know that they have really been digging into important topics. The class is co-taught by the language arts and social studies teacher and includes both 7th and 8th graders.
I moved down the hall to the middle school math class where students were engaged in “warm-up” activities. Each student was working in a math notebook to complete 4 review problems. One of the students told me they start each class session with this as a way to get their brains ready to learn. The teacher was circulating and providing feedback and support, and all the students were working hard.
Each of these classrooms was very different and yet all students were deeply engaged in their learning. In three of the classrooms flexible seating options were available while the other had the more traditional desks-in-rows design. In two of the classrooms students were working independently, one class was participating in a whole-class lesson, and in one class students were working in pairs/groups. All of the students were willing to chat with me about their learning and I was impressed with their level of engagement and excitement. I know that all of these lessons were crafted by teachers who had a clear understanding of what their students needed to know and be able to do, and who had considered how their students learn best when designing their lessons.
Did I mention that visiting classrooms is one of the best parts of my job?