Confessions of a First Year. Part 2.

Ever have those moments where you feel like you are a broken record? That’s the day in the life of a teacher 99.9% of the time – or so it seems. As I continue on sharing some confessions from my first year something else I have come to realize, and very quickly at that, is that no matter how many times I repeat something, it is never enough. Also finding it slightly ironic that as I type today’s post I currently sound like I have a frog in my throat.

In classrooms today we face many more difficulties in regards to obtaining the the attention of our students. While some may say, then just don’t allow phones in the classroom, it is not that easy. Technology is the center of today’s world and there are so many beneficial applications to be used to enhance learning. If I were to not allow phones in my room it would be hard to utilize these avenues as not all students have their own laptops, but almost all have their own phones.

I used to become highly discouraged at the amount of times I had to repeat myself during the day. I started to associate the repetition with my own worth and effectiveness in front of the classroom. It took several conversations with coworkers and other teacher friends alike to help me realize that repeating myself did not mean I wasn’t a good teacher. It simply is… part of the job. But me being me, this answer did not suffice. I began to take note throughout the days and weeks in desperation to figure out how to repeat myself less and in doing so I learned a lot about what affects student attention.

  • Time of day
  • Weather
  • Technology
  • Information overload

Time of day has a huge impact on engagement levels, but time of day has many more layers to it as well. It is not easily categorized just by am or pm even though at first this is how I would separate it. 1st block I started to anticipate would almost always be rough because students were not yet awake. Then there’s 5th block, I would begin to feel as if the kids were plain checked out and ready to go. I noticed my mindset towards these blocks sometimes being more on the “negative” side, especially as the trimesters were to progress on. Eventually it hit me that it is not fair to generalize simply by time of day since each classroom environment and makeup is different. This was reassured to me as of late because currently lunch time is the “worst” time of day and last trimester first block actually was the class I had to repeat myself the least. It also can vary day to day. What I’ve learned is that I have to feel out each class individually, and sometimes even daily, as the class makeup determines how time of day impacts student attention. Unless it is 5th block before a break or 3rd block of a half day, they consistently lack focus (lol).

Weather. The thing that has a way of impacting us all in one way or another, teacher or not. However as far as repetition and teaching goes what I have learned is that ALL weather affects the students. I loose their attention spans in rain, sleet, gloom, snow, and sunshine. Telling you people…ALLLLL the scenarios and being in Michigan do we have many of them. Rain and gloom typically create a somber mood in the class room where I have students dozing off or spacing out. Nice weather makes students just want to be outside and not cooped up in the room with their minds racing to anything and everything but school. Again, this is student dependent. Time of day, I also have noticed can go hand in hand with what mother nature happens to be throwing our way. Whilst not perfect at this because some days you have to just go with what is, I try to heighten student consciousness by means of music and movement. Both of these things were heavily emphasized during my Masters program. After seeing them in practice in the classroom, I can definitely speak to their importance. I’m not sure about you all, but the majority of my students love music. If I have popular (clean) music on during a gloomy day their moods tend to be lifted. If I can take my class outside to work on a nice day I like to do so because it makes them not feel as confined or trapped. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to do this recently (thanks Michigan!), but I did it as often as I could in the fall and hope to again these last couple weeks we have left.

I slightly touched upon technology earlier and while there are many benefits to a technology based classroom, phones are an inevitable distraction. I can typically assume who is going to ask for the instructions again once completed because their faces are buried in their phones. Playing the “waiting” game for all eyes on me to begin instruction sounds like a flawless plan, but if I stood and waited everyday to have full attention in every class I would get through probably half (or less) of what I needed to for the day. I allow students to listen to music during work time – once lecture is complete – however I have started to notice that this can create for confusion and missed instruction. If I give an “FYI” mid-class students at times miss this due to not removing their headphones. This results in repetition because they later will ask for clarification. In an effort to combat technology, and to save my voice a little, I make sure that information is provided in several different formats. There are 3 ways at minimum that students are given information; physically in the classroom by me, on Google Classroom (daily powerpoints loaded and edited in real time), and lastly on the whiteboard in the front of the room. Now funny story about the whiteboard… It has been in my classroom since day 1 of school, yet I JUST started using this bad boy and part of me now wonders why it took me so long. It is very efficient to throw a reminder note or clarification up there for all to see and without interrupting the use of my projection screen (usually housing the agenda, assignment details or a timer). I can also easily tell students to reference the board and ask for clarification further if needed.

I am very fortunate to work at a PBL (project based learning) school inspired by Henry Ford’s “Learning by Doing” philosophy that prides itself on incorporating more student engagement into lessons over instructional time. Our administration directs us to never talk for more than 15 minutes at a time. I think this plays a large role in less students tuning out. Something I have noticed over the last year is that when the students feel what I would call information overload you lose them more times than not. With this you also lose them all at different places. I have noticed that my more meaty lessons are the ones where I have to repeat myself the most. While I have observed several classrooms that incorporate the PBL structure flawlessly I am still trying to find my balance. There will always be days where lecture takes precedence, but I want to keep challenging myself to find creative ways to chunk my lectures ensuring I am not throwing word vomit at my students.

One things some of my coworkers have shared that they utilize in their rooms is the “ask 3 before me” philosophy. What this means is that they tell students who may have missed out on something to ask 3 of their classmates before approaching the teacher. This is something I want to try in my classroom next year. It would be amazing to create a culture where this is automatically know and done, like a well oiled machine. My only reservation is if this would turn into the telephone game of sorts and as a result students would miss out on pertinent information. However, in conversations with other teachers they reminded me that is why I have the information in at least 3 other places for the students as well and it is not that I am refusing to give the information they are just to try to figure it out on their own first. Portraying it in this way piqued my interest into incorporating this idea. I do work to create a sense of personal responsibility in my students and this falls in alignment while saving my voice!

I realize repetition will always be apart of the job, but there is no harm in trying to hone in on some tactics to help reduce it. I feel as if the less I have to repeat myself the more fluid my classroom may run. What sorts of things do you to to cut down the amount of times you have to repeat yourself?

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