Last weekend I read a great blog post written by Grant Wiggins, who is a leader in the field of educational reform and is perhaps most well known for co-authoring Understanding by Design. This blog post wasn’t about UbD though, it was actually Wiggins sharing a story of a teacher turned Learning Coach. This Coach had done what many school leaders have been recommended to do but never find the time to try; she followed the schedule of a student for the whole day. She experienced school from the student’s perspective, doing the work, taking the tests, and participating in class. So I was motivated to try it myself…
This Coach made three key observations, disturbing observations in fact, about how kids were experiencing school. Now, to be fair, she did this with High School students so it’s not exactly aligned to the Middle School context but I was a little scared just the same…I mean, her “Key Takeaways” were frightening. So what did I find while I was a Middle School student for a day???
Let’s use her three takeaways to guide the discussion:
1. “Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.”
First off, I won’t argue the point that sitting is exhausting. It’s boring, your body starts to fall asleep, and your brain doesn’t get as much oxygen (think about how bad your kids, and maybe you, want to move – bouncing legs, rocking chairs, fidgeting and all!) However, in my day as a Middle School student I most certainly didn’t sit all day! In one class, I have to admit, we didn’t do much moving but I was still engaged in the lesson and didn’t feel too exhausted by the sitting. In my other three classes I was moving a majority of the time. I had a group project to work on with my four table mates which allowed me to get up and move around the room for about half the class. I had a Science lab that had me moving around for almost the entire period and I had a music lesson that had me playing for almost the whole class period. Honestly I was a bit tired, but not from sitting!
2. “High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their day.”
Now, as I mentioned, this woman was a High School Coach, but I think the worry is still the same for us – we don’t want our kids sitting passively all day long. So how was my day? Well, as you saw in the first takeaway, I was active for a good portion of the day. AND, even when I was sitting I wasn’t passive and listening the whole time. In one class we were sitting in our seats but having a lively discussion about the Daily Question which engaged us in the day’s topic and got us off to a great start. Overall I would say that I spent about 25% of my class time that day sitting passively and listening, a far cry from 90% and if spread out through the day in different classes then most certainly a tolerable amount.
3. “You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.”
I’ll explain this a little bit first. What she meant is that students are constantly being told “to be quiet and pay attention.” She also talked about hearing a lot of “sarcasm and snark directed at students”. These things are most definitely things to watch for and look to eliminate from your classroom. However, during my day as a Middle School student I have to say that I didn’t feel like a nuisance at all. This was actually an area that I was focusing on a lot; I was waiting to be told to be quiet but it didn’t happen once! That is not to say that my classes were totally silent and obedient the entire time but the teachers all had good communication skills and were able to bring their class back to focus without making the kids feel like a nuisance. I can honestly say, despite the fact that I was really looking hard at this point, I never once felt like the teacher was annoyed or found students to be a nuisance – it was a warm and welcoming environment all day long, something I know our kids appreciate!
So what does all this mean for you? Obviously this is a very small sample size (I hope to continue this practice). However, when you think about these three “Key Takeaways” and then think about your typical classroom, what do you realize? Are your kids exhausted, are they sitting passively, or do they feel like a nuisance? I strongly recommend that you take a look at this blog post and see some of the recommendations she makes to avoid these things from happening in your class. It is an inspirational piece in that regard, it makes you question your classroom and what you’re doing to help the students’ learning environment.