Sometimes, Silence Truly Is Golden
I have always been an inquiry-based teacher. I like projects, questions, and organized chaos in my room. I like hearing students’ thoughts and processes: the quiet “hum” of busy-ness means that knowledge is being gained and learning is happening. Right?
Well, not necessarily. Sometimes being busy does not mean being productive. Before I started using an Agile framework in my classes, I learned this lesson the hard way. Sometimes I walked around the class to meet with my students and found that they had no clue what they were doing: they might be doing research by copying and pasting the text from a quick Google search, uploading irrelevant pictures from Google images, or blatantly copying a friend’s notes. They did not have a clear roadmap for what skills and knowledge they were expected to acquire. They just knew that they had to get a certain number of facts or pictures into a Google Slides presentation so they could show a beautiful slide deck to the class. This was my fault. I decided to become a better inquiry-based teacher. I wanted to make better rubrics. I wanted my students to become better note-takers and researchers by asking better questions. I decided to use an Agile framework to help us achieve our learning goals.
After implementing an Agile framework in my classes, the feel is just different. The students are organized into self-directed teams. The rubric used to tell them what content to include; now it tells students what skills they should be acquiring through their activities. This pivot makes a big difference.
Before they asked, “Mrs. Jackson, how many facts do I need?” I replied, “the rubric says you need 5.” And just like you’d expect, they stopped at 5 facts even if they did not understand the concept. But now, my response to this same question is, “well, you should include enough information to be able to compare and contrast the differences between the 1960s Space Race and the current Billionaire Space Race, especially the rationales behind them.” Their response is, “Oh, I get it. I’ll do more research.” In addition, we are able to have a conversation about the historical context of what was going on in the world during the 1960s versus today that includes cross-curricular analysis and application of content.
With these conversations occurring, one may wonder why it is so quiet in my room. Well, it’s quiet during certain times. At the beginning of each class, the students have a quick meeting to check in with their teams to evaluate each other’s work in progress. This 5-10 minute meeting serves a few purposes: (1) it focuses their attention, (2) it is a transparent way to make sure that all members of the team know what to do, (3) it is a visual reminder and incentive for all team members to do their part and not slack off, and (4) it provides an opportunity to make changes to an original plan of action if the team sees that more time or coordination is needed to achieve a goal.
The team’s goals and tasks are based on an Activity List for the Unit, which is a list of activities that I prepare to help students understand and dig deeper into the content. Students can choose which activities they want to do from the list to help them attain the desired skills identified on the rubric. This part of my process is based on “Students Taking Charge In Grades 6-12: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom” by Nancy Sulla.
The 5-10 minute meeting at the start of each class is loud, chaotic, and fun. I love hearing their conversations, reflections, lessons learned, corrections, and new goals. And then, the silence comes. They are focused. They are not wasting time. They are all about getting the tasks done. When I go around to do my status checks, I sometimes get the “why are you bothering me look.” I ask some quick questions to make sure they are on track, apologize for the interruption, and get out of the way! Does this mean that direct instruction is gone from my classroom? No. Students will always need a brief lecture followed by time to tinker with the information and then time to reflect on what they have learned. Time to tinker and reflect is key in ensuring that students have truly learned and can apply the requisite skills and content.
I am learning to love the silence. It is a signal of productivity. I want other teachers to learn to enjoy that silence as well. Because sometimes, it truly is where the magic can happen.
Are you interested in learning how you can achieve those golden moments in your class? Message me to learn more about how you can implement an Agile framework in your classroom.