There are a variety of Developmental Designs strategies that you can use to steer students toward active learning at the outset of any class or in whole-group lessons. Consider using one of these active and interactive ways to structure a content-related task for students. Be sure to model and practice each task so that students will feel comfortable and competent.
Last year I toured a middle school in Reading, Massachusetts, and was struck by the peaceful, centered feeling in the place. Soon I discovered a cause: Classes had just transitioned, and every classroom was using a Do Now approach, suggesting a quick task such as a short reading or writing assignment to center students on learning even before the bell rang. I wanted this for my classroom and my school!
Each student is unique, but nearly all bring the same question to each class: “What are we going to do today?” During my 16 years of teaching, students asked me this question daily. Others asked classmates; still others, most likely, asked themselves. Their question reveals natural curiosity (What?) and a need for active learning (…are we going to do?).
Lesson plans that leveraged this curiosity and got students active were the most dependable paths to academic success.
I teach fifth grade general studies at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San
Francisco. Our school culture values self-expression through speaking and
writing. We want our students to succinctly express their thoughts and feelings,
and we strive to create democratic classrooms in which open sharing of ideas is
encouraged. This culture of openness also engenders a culture of talking.
To be a successful teacher, I must model, practice, and remain consistent about important routines with my students. Last year, the routine for entering the classroom needed improvement in my science classes. I wanted the students to enter calmly and quietly and begin working before the bell rang. Quantifying the problem I asked a colleague to observe as students transitioned into my first hour class, and then provide feedback. Thirty students were present that day, and I wasn’t pleased with the results:
Last summer, we were brimming with excitement as we began planning community-building Circle of Power and Respect (CPR) meetings to use with our seventh grade students. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a group that focused on relationships, trust, and fun?! When the school year began, however, it wasn’t as easy as we thought. We hung in there and would like to share what we’ve learned.
I’m an idealist. At the start of every school year, I dream about the amazing
community of learners I’ll be teaching. I think about building life lessons into
the curriculum to make my students better citizens and more responsible members
of society. But by November, my idealism is gone, and I think of my students as
a large group of hormonal teenagers who may or may not have any interest in my
lessons. Then I reduce the scope of my goals to creating a controlled