Happy New Year! Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season. I certainly enjoyed spending extra time with family. I am ready now to get back to our school visits.
Prior to the holiday break, I had the opportunity to visit New Lexington schools. Jenny Shiplett, the union President at New Lexington and a second-grade teacher, had been trying to schedule a visit with us for a while, but we were not able to make it until Dec. 18 – yes! The Monday before holiday break. She warned us that things might be a little chaotic that day given that it was Reindeer Day and the students were going to be practicing for their Christmas program. I was amazed though at how well-behaved and on-task the students were during the visit.
As I have mentioned before, elementary classrooms are incredible places to visit. The teachers pack learning into every nook and cranny of the classroom and turn normal every day tasks into learning opportunities. Take, for example, morning check-in in Jenny’s second-grade classroom. sure, she could just do a normal roll call, but instead, she has a board at the front of the room where children sign in by solving some kind of problem each day. If you look at the picture above, you will see that Mondays are Marvelous Math Mondays. To sign in on that particular day, students had to think of a three digit number that was greater than 102 and less that 212 – and they could not duplicate someone else’s answer. What a great way to review math concepts and jump start the brain for the day.
Another picture at the top shows one wall of Susan Teal’s fifth-grade classroom. She has over 2,000 books in her room sorted by series and/or author. This inviting set-up can only encourage students to read one book after another.
The second picture in the top row shows two students talking about their four-square drawings in Janice Coleman’s first-grade classroom. The drawings are a way that students reflect upon a story as it is being read to them. Janice stops periodically throughout the book to let them fill in the squares. In the middle of the page, the students write the title of the book. Then, in the first square, they draw a picture of what the think the story is going to be about. In the second square, they draw the character. In the third square, the setting. In the fourth square, the ending. Prior to the ending of the book, the students flip their papers over and predict how the story is going to end. This four-square activity not only keeps students involved int he story, but also embeds important literary concepts. And it is fun so the students want to do it!
The bottom right picture shows Heather Spafford’s kindergarten classroom. As I always try to do, I talked with the kindergarten class about all they have learned this year, and we read a few stories. I wanted to get a picture of the classroom though to show another example of how teachers are being creative with space. So often, I hear people talking about how our classrooms have not changed in decades – that students are still sitting in rows listening to a teacher provide content. This simply is not true. Our teachers are creating learning environments that are comfortable, inviting, and crammed full of learning opportunities.
All the above examples are just a sampling of all the great teaching that is happening at New Lexington Schools. Where I spent the most time during my visit though was in two second-grade classrooms, Jenny Shiplett’s and Tammy Cook’s, watching how they use whole brain teaching. Jenny had mentioned this to me during an earlier visit with her prior to beginning of the school year, and I had been wanting to come back to observe ever since then.
I am a novice to whole brain teaching, but first became intrigued by it a few years ago when I attended a workshop help but he Cleveland Teachers Union. Even as an adult, the techniques used during the demonstration were engaging and kept me involved during the entire session. I had never seen a whole lesson taught that way though so was thrilled to have a chance to observe at New Lexington.
On the day I was there, Tammy’s class was reviewing nouns and verbs. The first thing I noticed was how Tammy got the class’s attention. She used a call out and answer system where she would use the word “class” and they would answer with “yes.” Seems simple but the active engagement part of this is that they had to answer in the same way that she called out. For example, if she “Oh class, oh class,” they would answer, “Oh yes, oh yes” or “Class,class,class” would be answered with “Yes,yes, yes.” This simple but effective strategy makes the students an active part of the class. They have to both listen to what has been said and make a verbal response, not just take a passive action.
Tammy then used hand gestures along with a verbal definition to review the concept of noun. A noun is a person (thumbs pointing at shoulders), place (palms down pretending like you are smoothing out sand), or a thing (hands patting the desk). she repeated this several times with the students mimicking the words and actions with her. They then used the hand gestures with several nouns to practice (Ex – teacher is a person so thumbs pointing at shoulders, North Pole is a place so hands smoothing sand, gift is a thing so hands patting desk). These hand gestures help the brain process the information so that the students can better remember.
After several times together, Tammy says, “Now teach.” the students then turn to a partner and teach each other what they just learned. This process of teaching each other both reinforces the learning (if you can teach something, then you really understand it) plus is also a quick formative assessment for Tammy to see who really got it and who didn’t.
As a final piece, the class comes back together for final review. Tammy calls on students to give examples, then the class together gives positive reinforcement for right answers (a verbal firework, a backwards swoop, lots of fun possibilities).
The beauty of this whole process is that every student is engaged during every piece of the lesson. There are constant verbal callouts, hand gestures, teaching each other, verbal rewards – all done by every student in the class. The energy that Tammy puts into this is incredible but seeing the children so engaged makes it worthwhile.
Of course, this lesson is just a small example of all that goes into the whole brain teaching. I was curious how all this fits into a bigger picture. Can she see a difference in her students now as opposed to before she started using the whole brain approach. She says yes. AN example she gave me is the quality of writing that students are now doing. She had the class teach me about how to turn a blah sentence (The dog barked) into a spicy sentence, an extender sentence, and a genius sentence. Then how to apply the same concepts to writing a paragraph. Tammy said that since she started using whole brain teaching and embedding concepts like these through verbal definitions linked with actions, the students writing has greatly improved.
Jenny Shiplett’s class was equally interesting to observe. Since I did not have as much time in there, I did not get to observe a whole lesson, but Jenny did some review with students on sentences. The class sang a song about sentence structure to the tune of All the Single Ladies (quite catchy) which included hand gestures for things such as a capital at the beginning of the sentences and a period at the end. Like the other second-grade class, she then had them “turn and teach” each other and then did a class review with verbal praise. Again, the interesting piece to observe is how Jenny is able to keep all the students actively engaged by using verbal cues, hand gestures, teaching to each other, and shoutouts from group for individual praise.
I honestly was thoroughly impressed by the enthusiasm and energy that both Tammy and Jenny infused into their classes. And zero discipline issues – not even minor infractions – on the Monday before Christmas break! To me, that is a testament to the power of the strategies that these teachers are employing.
So here’s a #PublicSchoolShoutout to Tammy Cook, Jenny Shiplett, Susan Teal, Janice Coleman, Heather Spafford, and all the New Lexington Teachers. You are another reason why we should all be #OHPublicSchoolProud.
To all my readers, I wish you a very happy new year. Need a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution? Commit to visiting a public school classroom this year and share what you see. There are incredible things happening in classrooms every day. Let’s commit to lifting up these stories and sharing our pride in our public school teachers.
Interested in having us visit your classroom? Please contact Jill Jones to schedule.