My district’s push to ensure all students are engaged all the time has caused me to re-think my practice of taking routine procedural questions at the beginning of class. Most days, until last year, a few students had questions that many students were not interested in seeing me work out. Those explanations could easily average 10 minutes per class period. That meant many of my students were tuning out for nearly 20 percent of our class time.
Last year I stopped taking questions those first minutes of class. Since all of my students have internet-accessible devices, I have been requiring students to submit homework questions electronically, either by email or by picture. I respond with video and text explanations. Even though I have 160 students, the process of responding to individual questions averages only about 20 minutes per night. Since students typically have the same questions, I copy my responses. If I ever get bombarded with email, I would address those questions the next day, but that has not happened yet. What I thought would be extra work in the evening saves my students about 20 percent of their learning time in class. Because I provide that individualized feedback electronically, I find myself needing less written feedback on paper. The trade-off is working very well.
The Common Core is slowly raising the expectations for high school students to learn modeling which is far more useful and engaging than fine-tuning procedural skills as a class. In order to have time for modeling, procedural learning needs to be more efficient. We have the technology to do that; and with such, the structure of our classroom time will begin to change.
Common Core modeling expectations fit well with my district’s emphasis on engagement, although making those shifts in pedagogical strategies and timing has been a huge change for me. Saving class time for exploring and probing deep questions has become a key strategy for my shift to more engagement. My observations of my students’ growth, engagement, and obvious enjoyment of the class tell me we’re on the right track.