It’s a familiar scene. I’ve given my students ample time, tons of resources, and lots of instruction. Now all they need to do is create a product that shows and applies their learning. They are in groups so they can help each other. They have access to and know how to find the resources I gave them. Yet, despite my multiple attempts to redirect them to the task and extending the work time for far longer than I had originally allotted, some or most of the groups are producing little to no work. When I ask the students, they say they need more time, but the more time I give them, the less they actually produce. Everyone is frustrated and I am exhausted from running from group to group putting out fires and redirecting behaviors. What’s going on? Below are eight areas to explore with corresponding questions to help you discover answers:
- Culture & Mindsets: Have you cultivated a classroom culture where mistakes are seen as valuable information and struggle is seen as part of the learning process? Have students had multiple opportunities to experience incremental and meaningful successes, to bolster their self-confidence and help them to fight back against the internal and external voices telling them they can’t? Do they believe that they can learn and that learning is worth the effort?
- Clarity / Exemplars / Rubrics – Do student know where they are going in their learning? Do they know where they are right now? Have them identified their next steps? Can they tell you and each other? Can they use exemplars and rubrics (or success criteria) to evaluate their own work and the work of their peers?
- Group Work – Do students know how to work in a group and why they are working in teams? Do students make use of norms, roles, protocols, goal/intention setting, and reflection as part of the structure of their work in teams? Do student-leaders have strategies to support their peers without telling them the answers or doing the work for them?
- Pacing / Modalities – Have you chunked the time to allow students to remember where they are in their learning and what their next steps will be? Does the pacing and chunking of time of your class account for the need for students brains to “cycle down” approximately every 15 minutes? Do you incorporate multiple ways to pause and process information, such as using movement, visuals, or talk, so that information can be digested and retained?
- Teacher-guided Reporting – Are your questioning techniques such that students are doing the thinking and planning, and you are guiding them through that process, or do you find yourself being prescriptive and directive? Is your goal to find out where students are in their learning or simply to get them back on task? (Pro Tip: Simply telling students what they should be working on and then walking away does not work!)
- Scaffolds- Are students using scaffolds effectively? Do they know how to use the scaffolds you have provided?
- Accountability – Do you regularly use various forms of public sharing of goals and progress that are not shaming but are motivating? Do you track students’ contributions to team and class discussions? Do you use randomizers when questioning the whole class or some other way to keep students “tuned in”?
- Surface, Deep, and Transfer Knowledge – Do students have a surface level understanding of the basic vocabulary, concepts, and processes need to complete the assigned tasks? Have you given students tools and protocols to help them relating concepts and ideas at a deeper level and to process information? Are students ready to attempt apply their knowledge to new contexts? Can your students accurately self-assess where they are in their own learning process?
So, that’s A LOT, I know. After doing several rounds of observations with teachers using the ELL Shadowing protocol, these are the eight areas that seem to capture the emerging themes of our learning. Choose one focus area and try something! Need more specific ideas about how to do that? Reach out and let me know!