A teacher creates the culture in a classroom, and, as such, everything the teacher does within the classroom should be done with intention. To create a healthy classroom dynamic, there are many different elements that should be given careful thought.
A classroom can be divided in many ways – by interest, by ability level, by learning style. But no matter how you look at it, one big question remains the same – how are you going to measure your success in the classroom?
This begs a series of related questions. What defines success? What does success look like at the end of a 50-minute class period? At the end of a week? A year?
In any classroom, you will inevitably have some students that are shining beacons of success, and others who have to work a little harder. It is up to the teacher to figure out how to create a classroom environment where all of these students can engage in learning together.
The environment should be collaborative; the purpose of a classroom is for students to work together. Individual work can be done on an individual’s time, and it should play a very limited role in the classroom. In fact, teachers should be trying to take advantage of every moment possible in that shared space to help their students learn and grow from one another.
The goal – in any type of classroom - is to make students feel engaged with the material. When they are fully engaged, they will be more inspired to put their best foot forward, and that is when they will truly learn.
A healthy classroom also prepares the student for when he or she is no longer inside it. On a daily basis, this simply means making sure that that students are able to complete their homework in a different environment. Did what they learned in your classroom translate, or was it in one ear and out the other?
This brings us back to the first question. How do you measure whether or not your classroom is successful?
If there is one thing we do know, it is that the answers to these questions are not found through tests, quizzes or class participation.
There are dozens of scholarly articles that confidently report that timed testing is a waste of time. It measures how a student tests. What it does not measure is knowledge, or, crucially, how a student is connecting to the material.
And because every student is different, it is necessary to have multiple methods of determining success.
The first step is to help students identify their strengths and their weaknesses. This is an extremely important exercise, because the teacher can then help teach them how to use their strengths to compensate for the areas where they are not as strong.
Let’s scrap the idea of deficit management. It’s not realistic. Instead of forcing a child who is bad at math to take an excessive amount of remedial math courses, why not find something he excels at and work on improving those skills even further?
That’s how life works. Not everyone is great at everything. A student should master the basics, but even more importantly, he should learn how to compensate for his weaknesses with his strengths. For example, if a student has a bad working memory, she might find it helpful to write everything down.
A teacher should consider himself as a coach. You want the maximum amount of growth for each student, and you want a way to measure that. You want to be able to tell each student how far they’ve come, and how much they can still improve.
This can be done using two types of feedback: formative and summative. 70 percent of feedback should be formative; it should not be a part of a student’s final grade, but it should be a continuous process of improvement, constantly giving the student the chance to improve his or her work. Much of this feedback should also be qualitative.
This formative feedback has the added benefit of giving a teacher a sense of the student’s working style. And with this much formative feedback, the final product, the summative feedback, is likely to be at a significantly higher level.
A mark of success for your team, for your classroom, is getting everyone to perform on as high a level as possible.
Throw out the bell curve – it’s outdated. It’s pure preposterousness that if all of a teacher’s students get an A in the course, it’s considered a problem. That should be what we all aspire to!
We don’t need to compare our students to each other. We need to compare them to themselves. If everyone has mastered the material, has internalized and connected with it and can take it home with them, then everyone succeeds.
And that should be a teacher’s ultimate goal.