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As teachers, our 45 minute class periods fly by as we attempt to get through all of the learning targets and activities planned for the day. Our students, on the other hand, using a different tune when it comes to the passage of time throughout the day. While their day is very busy, they constantly complain that it "feels like the school day is never going to end" and that the "class periods are dragging." I always consider it an #EDUwin when one of my students tells me our class period flew by. That means they were engaged in the content and not thinking about when they get to leave. #whatsup

This week, my classroom observations all shared similarities that created an engaging learning environment for the students. I would argue that every teacher had an #EDUwin during his or her class period as students were on task, invested, and motivated to complete various tasks. The class periods flew by, and students walked out the door with energy and new insights. Why, you ask? Let me share some of the instructional strategies I witnessed that created positive learning experiences for our students:

1. Incorporating Movement

Students were moving in every class I visited. They were actively doing something. As I shared a few weeks back, our students sit in classrooms all day long. When was the last time you did that? It is not fun. So, any opportunity we can give our students to get up and move is a way to energize our students and hopefully engage them in learning. For example, in Ms. Klimkowski's ASL class, students were reviewing words/signs with their peers. Instead of doing so in their seats, the class stood and circled up. Students were up and moving while practicing the skills they needed for the class's future assessment. Similarly, in Mr. Brouwer's Health class, students also stood and circled around the room during a class discussion, and each held a building block in their hands. As they participated in the class discussion, they were encouraged to toss the block into the middle of the circle. The added components of movement to the discussion made it a different,unique experience for the students. All were engaged; they had to be if they wanted to complete the activity.

2. Creating a Robust Agenda

As I shared earlier, teachers have the difficult job of trying to get through everything they need to in a short amount of time. An action-packed agenda can either work for you or against you. During my observations this week, I was extremely impressed with how our teachers used their time and kept the kids on track as they moved from activity to activity. While they provided cues and transitions, our teachers didn't leave too much time for distractions; instead, they smoothly transitioned to what was next in their lesson and made students accountable in some way for what came next. We all know that time flies by when we are busy, and keeping our students busy (to clarify...not busy work but just engaged in various activities/information) throughout the class period can keep their minds working and engaged in the content.

3. Accountability

I mentioned this word earlier in my post. How do we hold our students accountable besides just completing assignments? How do we hold them accountable for their daily involvement in our class? This can be hard to measure and even harder to improve. As teachers, if we want to hold our students accountable for their time, effort, and involvement in our class on a daily basis, we really have to pay attention to their behavior and constantly redirect them to make sure they are on task. This is a lot for one teacher of 30 students to manage. It reminds me of something my mom shared with me about parenting. She was strict during my teenage years and always made my brother and I accountable for our actions. Now that I am an adult and mother, she constantly reminds me that it was not easy to be that aware and involved. It took a lot of time, work, and energy, and she could never let up. Ms. Bien did this so well in her Chinese class. Students were reviewing for an upcoming assessment. The room was full of energy as kids moved (yay for #1 of this list) and wrote words in Chinese on a whiteboard. It was fun, yet informative for the students. When students started to drift off task, she constantly redirected their attention to the task at hand. Review games can easily cause a distraction, but she never let up, and her students benefitted from that. They were engaged and learning throughout the entire activity. Similarly, Ms. Binder asked her band students to be accountable for their role in the song they played during class. She directed them to reflect on what the band struggled with during the song and then empowered them to use their own critiques and fix it. She coached them through this process but did so in a way that made them all take ownership and be accountable for their role during the song.

4. Creation 

So powerful and so necessary in a student-centered learning environment. We need to give students opportunities to create. With creation comes creativity and critical thinking. They can show, not tell, what they are learning and what it means. It is rare to find a group of students that are not engaged during a class period when they are asked to create something. I've seen this in my own classroom and various classrooms around the building. This is one of the reasons I love visiting the fine arts classrooms. Students are constantly creating something. Whether its art or music, they are taking the reigns in these learning experiences and the teachers are there to instruct, model, and coach them along the way. Better yet, I would argue that with creation comes a positive mindset. I love watching our students' pride as they share their work. Ms. Sammit's students worked so diligently on their paintings when I visited her class. Most of them rarely looked up as they were so focused on their creations. As a few students finished their current projects, I complimented color choices and designs. The smiles that followed made my day. That sense of accomplishment is always an #EDUwin in my book!

5. Fun 

The best way to engage our students is to pump up the fun in our classrooms. A fun atmosphere promotes positive attitudes and relationships....both critical to the learning process. Providing enjoyable opportunities for our students will not only engage them in learning but also provide memorable learning experiences. My fondest memories of high school include fun activities, along with teachers that made me laugh and helped me enjoy some aspect of the class. In Mr. Brouwer's Health class I mentioned above, they ended the class period by completing a collaborative activity that asked students to walk "over barriers in life" represented by blocks and to use guidance from their peers (since their eyes were closed) to make it across the room. Students enjoyed this experience while still learning the importance of overcoming obstacles and positive relationships. While class might not always be fun, we have to let the fun creep in. Whether it is a competitive, relaxing, or humorous activity, finding ways to laugh with our students while learning will only provide more #EDUwins in the classroom.

I am always so impressed with the various lessons and activities I see when I visit classrooms around the building. The best part of the process this week was touching base with my students after these lessons to see what they thought of the experience. I would argue that probably the BEST way we can get our students on task, invested, and motivated to complete various tasks in our classrooms is to take and show genuine interest in their experiences in the classroom and out of the classroom. Creating positive relationships with our students should always be our first step when aiming for an #EDUwin. #whatsup