Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Growing Great Classrooms with Best Practices

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Deia Sanders

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Student Achievement Best Practices: Growing a good classroom is like growing a good garden.
Deia Sanders teaching pre-algebra
I think a side effect of moving to Mississippi is that you feel the need to grow a garden.  Well, at least I did! With the only horticulture experience in my life being a cactus and venus fly trap I had as a child, (both short-lived) it was probably foolish to have the high hopes I did for my garden.  Much like you would probably expect I didn’t bode much success. While they grew big and leafy, not a single plant produced even one vegetable. When I asked around to find out where I went wrong, I discovered they weren’t getting enough sunlight.

Another addition to my life after moving to Mississippi was feeling called to become a teacher.  I am an alternate route teacher, which means I came from the business world and crossed over in to education.  I was fortunate enough to have great bosses during my marketing career and learned many lessons that have helped me as a teacher. One lesson I learned was that if I got a big account, to ask them why they went with me.  My boss’ reasoning was that if I didn’t know how I got the money, I could have just as easily lost it. Also, if I didn’t land an account, I had to make the tough call to find out where my shortcomings were so that I was ever-improving.  Although it seemed superfluous at the time, it built good practice for my future. Thanks to this training, it was only natural when I became a teacher  that if a student correctly got an answer, I needed to find out how they knew it, and if they didn’t it was my job not to let that happen again, which could only come from understanding my shortcomings.

At the beginning of the year when I started going in teacher’s classrooms I was shocked to see teacher’s ask a question and when the student responded they would say “yes, that was great!” or “no” and call on another student.  We never knew why they got the correct answer, or where the confusion was on the students with the wrong answers.  I was floored! Had this many people never thought this mattered?  It reminded me of my professional training, but also of my gardening experience, although things may be growing, they weren’t producing the high hopes we had intended.

Follow-up questioning and higher order thinking became my focus for our teachers very quickly this year.  We began working on building habits of never accepting one answer.  Simple questions such as “Can you tell me how you got that?” or “why wouldn’t it be…” have begun to become routine. Teachers have started seeing that this practice has spun off high level thinking discussions because other students want to express how they got their answers.  We are having educated debates over optional answers. This leads to opportunities to make connections between student’s comments and build a since of community in the classroom.  We are also hearing deep discussions and students using key skills such as justification and reasoning… and they don’t even know it!  The growth of new and veteran teachers who have incorporated this practice has been superb!  It’s comparable to planting 3 rows of vegetables and harvesting four.   In the same respect that my garden needed more sunlight for the energy to grow vegetables, effe
ctive questioning has added a new energy to our classes that has begun to produce students who are sprouting deeper learning.

In the spirit of learning from my mistakes, this past weekend I planted vegetables in a field with plenty of sunlight.  I’ve sacrificed the unsuccessful benefit of having the garden in my yard, to driving across town to a field with plenty of sunlight.  And with good professional practice, when I ask why higher order questioning worked in most classes and in a couple it never took off, I can see the changes I need to make to see this growth through in every class next year.   In the classes that it worked, they had established good classroom management and were able to facilitate the discussion that came with follow-up questions.  Inversely, the classes where this was less effective were classes with poor classroom management where the discussions were easily swayed off topic.   I understand now that while this is a best practice, we will have to invest, fertilize, and focus on more growth in the teacher before we can expect great growth in their practice.  Once we have this established in every classroom, I fully expect a large crop of great growth next year!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    what you mentioned in the post, I have been doing that for years in my classes. My students have developed this habit of explaining how did they got the answer. As a whole class, we discuss all the possible answers and make sure that those who got it incorrect get chance to discuss their reasoning and fix their answers.