Tips for Facilitating Classroom Collaboration Without Disturbing Other Classes

QuietIt can be a constant battle to create dynamic, collaborative lessons that engage students without disturbing neighboring classrooms that may be in need of quiet for testing, writing, lecturing, or other, more subdued activity. I loathe nagging or yelling at students to quiet down, especially when they are loudly engaging in my class content!  Today I’m sharing a few tips, but we’d love to hear your strategies for striking that balance, so feel free to comment below!

1. Noise Down App: Noise Down is an app for iOS devices, available through the iTunes Store. It allows you to set a limit on the noise level in the room. An alarm goes off when the noise level is surpassed to signal to students to take it down a notch.

2. Lights Low: I’m not sure the exact reason this works, but extensive experience tells me that when the lights are low/off, students tend to stay quieter. The trick is keeping the lights low enough to have an effect, but high enough for students to see what they are doing.

3. Softly Spoken Instructions: When the teacher speaks quietly, students must be quiet to hear instructions.  It also unnerves them a bit, which helps maintain a lower noise level.

4. Online Collaboration: You can cut down on a lot of the noise of student discussion, by bringing the conversation online through collaborize classroom, google presentations, schoology, or other discussion platform. (Click on the links for more on each tech tool.)  Sometimes, I project the live feed of the discussion as a classroom tool so we can stop and chat at times and then take the conversation back online.

5. Change of Scenery: When I do certain collaborative projects or Socratic seminars, the lobby of our school gym or green spaces around campus (when the weather is right) can be perfect alternatives to my normal stuffy classroom.

5 Things Teachers Should Probably NOT Let Get Under Their Skin:

skinAs teachers, we fight so many important battles to help students become socially, academically, and emotionally ready for adulthood. Many times we act as educator, parent, social worker, and mediator.  As hard as we work to help every student succeed, there are a couple of things I think we need to let go of.  In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t waste our energy on small, annoying little bits that cloud our busy days with negativity.  Below are a list of things I think we need to NOT let get under our skin.  I’d love to hear your opinions or additions to this list in the comment section below.

1.  Electronics during non-instructional time: The local schools in my area have a very strict electronics ban at school. I could be wrong, but I think busting kids for texting between classes or checking instagram at lunch adds another impossible task to our already over burdened to-do list.  Students must learn to use electronics responsibly and attend class without distraction, but to me, it’s time to give a little electronic freedom back to students during non-instructional times.  We have a lot more credibility when we try to control only that which can be controlled.

2. Bad “reviews”. If you hear around campus that you are known as the uncool, hard teacher, take that as a compliment.  We should be kind and fair, but we are not called on to be easy or cool.  We are called on to teach.

3. Dress Code: There are some dress code violations that are very distracting and potentially unsafe (e.g. in a science lab).  Those issues should be addressed.  Minor dress code infractions should not take up space in our minds or minutes in our classrooms.  If anything, refer it to the proper administrator and keep teaching!

4. Minor Attendance Issues: Major attendance issues must be dealt with according to the situation, but we can’t drive ourselves crazy tracking down minor attendance problems.  Let the attendance office handle it and move on.

5. Change: Everything changes.  Whether it be curriculum, policies, hairstyles, language, or any other cultural or academic change, try not to get so caught up in the old way of doing things that you can’t adapt.

Do you agree? What would you add to this list?

Anchor Papers: A Journey Toward Better Student Papers

anchor

I’ve recently had an ah-ha moment about teaching writing at all levels using anchor papers.  Anchor papers are basically a set of papers that each represent the characteristics of a particular grade range. For example, given a writing prompt about Native American mythology, I could have a set of anchor papers in which 1-2 papers are solid As, 1-2 papers are solid Bs, 1-2 papers are solid Cs, 1-2 papers are solid Ds, and 1-2 papers are Fs.  When we are finished with our literature unit on Native American mythology, I can have students write on the prompt with a clear rubric.  When the papers are complete, I can give students the unmarked anchor papers to categorize and grade based on the rubric.  After we have discussed which papers received which grades and for what reasons, students can self-assess their own papers with clarity. Then I could use a similar rubric with the next paper on Puritan literature, allowing students to self-assess without anchor papers before they turn it in for my grading.

Anchor paper strategies are common in the test prep world, but I think they can be just as helpful in our regular curriculum.  I teach  juniors, so at the beginning of the year, we do the Score Write activity from college board and I have seen a marked improvement in their SAT essay style writing as a result of the anchor paper technique.  Preparing anchor papers for ourselves can be a daunting task, but I think the long-term results will be well worth it.  Below I am sharing reasons to try anchor papers and tips for preparing them.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to use anchor papers:

  • Anchor papers elevate the concept of modeling. Instead of just modeling unattainable perfection, anchor papers help students at all levels see the range of essay skills.
  • Anchor papers show that there is more than one way to achieve a rhetorical purpose. Showing students papers from a variety of writers with multiple perspectives, helps students see that good writing comes in many forms and realize that their unique voice is valuable.
  • Anchor papers clarify the directions. Anchor papers can help students grasp MLA, paragraph formatting, and other directions and help students pay closer attention to the rubric.
  • Anchor papers develop metacognition skills. Metacognition and self-assessment are incredibly important skills for students to learn. Anchor papers force students to pay attention to the way that they think about the topic and the rubric without just throwing something on paper and letting the teacher sort it out.

Tips for Preparing to Use Anchor Papers:

  • Embrace the process. It may take you a year to gather anchor papers to be used next year.  You may have to dig through old portfolios.  Don’t pressure yourself to have it all together  immediately.  Make a goal and stick with it to see long-term results.
  • Consider getting permission and taking names off papers. Personally, I like to get permission from previous students before I use their paper as a model or anchor and even with permission I take their name off to avoid any awkwardness from current students who know previous students.
  • Creating a range is important. I’ve heard arguments for showing only the top papers, but I think that students learn a lot from seeing what doesn’t work in addition to what does.
  • Set up an atmosphere of respect.  Be sure to have a game plan to preface the anchor paper grading activity, so that students know how to grade on the rubric with objective, appropriate language.
  • Authenticity is best. I don’t know if any teacher in the world has time to write 5-10 anchor papers for a prompt, but even if you do have that kind of time and energy, I think authentic papers will work better.

What do you think?   Need more resources for teaching writing?  Check out Essay Architect!

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