DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.


   How as teachers can we ask our students the right questions in order to facilitate their own construction of knowledge?  How as teachers can we plan purposefully, create routines and imply democratic values so that our students get the most out of our class time? Throughout the various schools where I have student taught it has become clear that effective learning has to be a two way street. Students’ voices, discoveries and thoughts must inform all teaching decisions.



     The tone and climate we set in our classroom practice must allow space for students to be heard. We must foster a classroom that allows students to flourish as independent thinkers who are able to share their voices. After all according to M.I.T professor Noam Chomsky "in order for democracy to work there must be a well informed citizenry." With this in mind, I have developed several guiding principles in which to root my daily classroom practice.

Prioritizing Student Voices


According to Brian Cambourne the following eight critical factors contribute to successful learning : immersion, demonstration, expectations, responsibility, employment, approximations,  response and engagement (Miller p.35). In order to foster responsibility, response and engagement I made the decision to start each day with a student share. As part of our Morning Meeting (see Roles and Relationships) a different student would share a special project from the night before or a favorite book each day. While students read the message and agenda I would send our daily sharer to the front of the room. I made a conscious decision to start the day off with students voices rather than teacher voices. In this way, shares served as a kind of temperature check. Instead of imposing teacher plans and mandates before students even get to physically arrive in the space, the shares during Morning Meeting prioritize student voices and allow learners to show what they have to offer that day. It gives them the responsibility to communicate clearly and effectively with their fellow classmates in an academic setting. The listeners are often engaged in a different way than when the teacher is speaking.  In addition to communicating the importance of what students have to say, the ritualized share event implicitly and explicitly improves student oral presentations and listening skills.

            Another way I like to prioritize student voices as part of my classroom practice is through the use of accountable talk repeatedly over the course of a lesson. At the beginning of my spring placement at William D’Abate Elementary I had the habit of asking questions for the sake of curiosity during my science lessons. I was so excited about teaching layers of the earth and I wanted to excite students’ curiosity. I asked for guesses about the depth of the earth’s core, the temperatures of different layers and various other facts that I myself found fascinating. I was dismayed when many of these questions were met with a few slow silent hands, or sometimes, no hands at all! My mentor teacher and Brown MAT supervisor shared with me the importance of structuring these questions in a more interactive manner. Over time, my lessons incorporated more and more turn and talks, or “talk with your tables.” I allowed my questions to be the jumping off points for further student discussions. I began to develop an ability to sense when my students had been sitting quietly for too long. When this started happening my classes became more lively and students became more curious. Our discussion questions began to incorporate a variety of purposes: summarizing, analyzing, synthesizing and comparing. In this way I allowed for more students to contribute to the lesson at once. I also set up a classroom scenario in which I could move more freely in and amongst students in order to chek in on an individual basis.


Teacher As Coach


      Another principle that is essential to my classroom practice is the idea of Teacher as Coach. During my Brown summer practicum experience my mentor teacher Samara had advised me to make my lesson plans as thorough as possible in order to do  “more work beforehand so you do less work during the lesson.” If I planned a lot, I didn’t have to do a lot during the lesson. Classtime would be “easier”. However, I now think of doing not actually “less work” during class time when things are going smoothly, but doing different work during class time. This idea of “teacher as coach” really started to excite me during my time at William D’Abate in the spring of 2015. I get a great visual image when I say this term: a teacher is sitting or kneeling next to  a child and really listening to them. There is an interchange. The child is existing as an individual. This is not hand holding, but, maybe a more detailed, nuanced or thorough  explanation and differentiated questions.

     Teacher as Coach is a way to give as many students individual attention during the lesson as possible: “As one teaches, one has to pay attention to how one’s students are understanding and making sense of what one is teaching. Thus, teaching is learning and instructing simultaneously. If one teaches consciously, paying attention to the results of one’s teaching, then teaching becomes a form of research about learning, both one’s own and that of one’s students.” (p. 23) Kroll.  A few of the methods I used to free up my attention during class time were facilitated by pre-constructed baskets and the design of numerous centers and workshop tasks. Please see the artifacts to the right to learn more about this experience.



Sources Cited



Kroll, L. (2012). Inquiry as a Way of Being in The World. In Self Study and Inquiry Into Practice. New York, New York: Routledge.



Miller, Donalyn. 2009. The Book Whisperer. Jossey Bass, San Francisco, CA



DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.