This gem ambled across my Twitter feed this morning.
Just wondering, from those who visit a lot of classrooms. How diff are they? Can you tell about T’s pedagogical beliefs from visit? #MTBoS
— Andrew Gael (@bkdidact) January 11, 2016
Oh, baby. What a great question.
How different are classrooms?
There are nearly 500 classrooms I can visit on the clock. I’ve probably set foot in half of them, and I regularly hit the same 100, because as the only EdTech Coach serving 13 K-12 schools, I go where I’m called.
Three things are observable whether my jaunt in a classroom is 30 minutes or 30 seconds:
Regardless of age, demographic, or ability, those three things let me infer something about the class.
The door closes behind me and the class is noisy, yet calm. The talk I hear as I weave between student desks is littered with vocab terms mixed in with casual language.
“Yeah, but what about … theorem … mad at Mrs. Frizzle … Prussian independence … monks built them to trade … article after the subject… no idea why… centered on the page … son las diecinueve de diciembre… the fuzzy part on the line.”
Noise in an effective class is fine; it rarely rises above a hum when focused on the material. Seasoned teachers can tell when it gets too loud, and it’s usually due to one group that isn’t focused.
Rather than yelling over the din, “Hey, I need you all to bring the noise level down!”, seasoned teachers mosey over to Francisco’s group and just stand there.
Conversation drops off as all students silently stare at their desks. Maria picks up her pencil as the teacher asks, “Whatcha guys talkin’ about? Sounds fun.”
The girls avoid eye contact and Francisco grins, “We’re talking about how the verb in the sentence is jumping and we’re thinking about how to make a new sentence.”
“Sounds great! Carry on,” and the teacher leaves.
I’ve watched fantastic Kindergarten teachers herd a whole room of 5-year-olds to the carpet and read through a book, unbothered by their noise along the way.
Teacher: On Monday, he ate one apple, but he was still hungry…
Students: I don’t like apples. I had an apple for lunch yesterday!
Teacher: On Tuesday, he ate through two oranges, but he was still hungry. Marco, keep your hands to yourself.
Students: My gramma has an orange tree in her yard. My favorite car is orange. I’m wearing orange socks today.
Teacher: On Wednesday…
Noise is not the enemy, which leads me to number two.
There are loud classes that are hard at work and there are silent classes bored out of their skulls and doing nothing.
I walked through four classes this morning.
- Silent, diligently working on a computer assessment
- Loud chattering about a Twitter war between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton
- Light chatter, grading a sample student’s performance task in pairs*
- Cacophonous covers of Justin Bieber in “Modern Music” class
Four very different noise levels, all with students focused on the task at hand, productive.
Those four classes differed greatly in the Mood, though.
For the classes above, the mood was palpable in each case.
- Entered silently in a single-file.
- Tumbled in, got right to their seats, and took out their notebooks.
- Stumbled through the door, stopped at their friend’s desk to say hello, and ruffled the hair of their crush on the way to their seats.
- Digging out their song lyrics and iPods before they even entered the bandroom.
The mood of a class is the toughest to quantify, but the easiest to notice.
Teachers who had militant, Draconian mentors early in their career might have a mood that is subdued and frightened.
Teachers with youth-ministry training might attempt to be “the nice teacher,” and get their ass kicked for the whole first year.
But teachers who value student voice tend to be unbothered by noise.
Here is where many teacher preparation programs fall short. Pre-service observations focus on “noise level” and “students on-task,” but the third category directly informs the other two, and a focus on the classroom mood naturally leads the teacher to discover how much noise they prefer.
And students will work hard in a room where they feel safe.
~Matt “The Nice Teacher…Usually” Vaudrey
*Yes, grading a sample performance task. So they know how performance tasks are graded, so they know how to score highly on the performance tasks during the SBAC test. It was a real bummer.