Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal Lessons: Powerful Teaching Strategies Seen in the Royal Wedding

Okay, I admit it!  Like 2 billion other people across the world, I tuned in to the Royal Wedding last Friday.  Well, I recorded it since it took place at 2:00 a.m. Alaska time!

As I watched the Royal Wedding, I was struck by some Powerful Teaching Strategies that were on display.  I know, it seems odd, the Royal Wedding showcasing Powerful Teaching Strategies! 

The First Powerful Teaching Strategy Seen in the Royal Wedding:

The Power of a Common Experience

While watching the Royal Wedding, I saw people from around the world who had gone to London just to participate in this experience.  I also knew that at the moment of the wedding, a few billion people were all sitting somewhere watching the very same thing.  With all of the turmoil that is currently taking place around the world, it's amazing that so many people across the globe could be brought together for one event...the Royal Wedding.  

This one event brought together everyone who was watching by giving them a Common Experience. No matter where you're from, if you watched the Royal Wedding, you have something in common with people you may never otherwise associate with.  We may not be from the same Country, Religion,  or Social Class, but we now have something in common that could bring us together.

So how does this impact teaching?

Providing Common Experiences in a classroom setting does 2 very important things:
  • Builds Community
  • Levels the Playing Field 
 Building Community With Common Experiences

In the classroom, we see diversity all the time.  Students enter our classrooms with various interests and backgrounds.  We need to find ways to bring them together.  Every time we provide some type of Common Experience for the class, we accomplish this goal. Students who may never speak to each other, now have something in common. This is one reason it's important to regularly do Ice Breaker and Brain Break activities with our students.  

When you do Ice Breaker and Brain Break activities, you can just do them for fun or you can include content.  You should use these activities both ways.  For the sake of building community, it's important to have times where you do things just for fun.  Doing activities like this also help students view the teacher in a different way.  It shows that you care about and want to learn more about your students and their interests.  It also shows that you know learning is about more than Content!  Yes, I said it!!!  Learning is about more than Content!  However, it's equally important to use these types of activities with Content.  This shows students that you believe learning should be an enjoyable experience.  These activities can also serve as a means to gather valuable information about student's knowledge and understanding and/or to consolidate learning.
When I was in the classroom, a favorite activity of my students was Which Would You Rather?.  

Here's how you play Which Would You Rather?:
  • students begin by standing in the center of the room
  • the teacher asks a question like "Would you rather eat a worm or stand next to a snake for 5 minutes?"
  • the teacher designates a side of the room for eating worms and a side of the room for standing next to a snake
  • students move to the side of the room to show their answer
Note:  Sometimes, you can have a student ask the questions.  They LOVE that!  Just give a list of questions to the designated student.  This also frees you up to either play with your students or to question students about their thinking.

As you see, this activity can be very fun!  You can also use it with math content.  When including content, Would You Rather can be used to:
  • assess prior knowledge
  • conduct formative assessments during teaching
  • review previous learning
Here are few ideas for incorporating math content into Would You Rather (or a variation of it):
  • Would you rather be get a quarter of million dollars or half of $750,000?
  • The right side of the room represents 1/4, the left side of the room represents 1/3.  Which one is larger?
  • The right side of the room represents a circle with a radius of 5 meters, the left side of the room represents a circle with a Circumference of 20 meters.  Which one has the smaller Circumference?
  • The right side of the room represents Area, the left side of the room represents Volume.  Which one of these would be used to find the amount of water in a fish tank?
 When doing this activity with math content, you could pause in between and do the following:
  • have students share their thinking with someone standing next to them
  • call on students to explain their choice to the class
  • have students on each side of the room debate their choices
Note:  Some students may just follow others in the class because they are not sure of the answer.  As long as you have students discuss their thinking, everyone in the room still benefits form the activity.  If you choose not to have students explain their thinking during the activity, you could have them do some type of reflective activity later.

Leveling the Playing Field with Common Experiences

As mentioned above, our classrooms can be very diverse.  We learn by making meaning.  Prior experiences are key to making meaning of new learning.  So the more diverse your classroom, the more difficult it becomes to reach ALL learners

When teaching we may use vocabulary and examples that have no meaning to some students.  This is especially true in math.  Most of our students don't come to us with the background they need to be successful in math.  It's up to us to Create Common Experiences that give students a basis for their learning.  

Each time we create a Common Experience for students, we're putting them on equal footing by providing all students with the same foundation on which they can make meaning.  The final Circumference Activity referenced in my previous post Circumference:  The Evolution of a Lesson is an example of how a common experience gives all students the same background knowledge in which they can build further understandings.  By having all of the students measure the hula hoops, they all had a basis for understanding Pi and Circumference.  We were also able to reference the activity throughout the year because everyone had participated in the Common Experience.

You can find more examples of Creating Common Experiences with Math Content in IGNITE Student Engagement in Math:  3 Simple Strategies for Making Content Memorable.

This is the first in a series of posts titled Royal Learning.  In the next post of the series, we'll explore another Powerful Teaching Strategy that was evident in the Royal Wedding.

Leave a comment.  We'd love to hear what you think of this article or how you use Common Experiences in your classroom.

1 comment:

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