"What Are We Doing Today?"
Helping Students Focus on Learning
How do savvy middle grades educators keep students focused on learning without squelching the energy that makes them so endearing? Here are some basic tried-and-true methods:
Daily Agenda: Students need guidance and direction when it comes to daily expectations. Post the objectives and tasks for the day on a front board. Think of a class period broken into four segments:
- Introduction: Agenda, warm-ups, announcements, and mini-lesson
- Engagement: Class participation in the same learning activity
- Processing: Practice of acquired skills as individuals or in flexible groupings
- Conclusion: Debriefing, assessment, or exit passes to determine effectiveness of instruction. Rather than getting distracted about what's "coming next," students can simply look at the board and know what to expect.
5-Minute Warm-Up: Give students an activity to do as soon as they arrive in the class—while you are taking attendance, passing back papers, or having a quick conversation with an individual student. A journal prompt, skill-drill activity, or brain-teaser will ease students' transition into the day's instructional agenda.
Classroom Folders: Organization is not always a young adolescent's strong suit. Provide each student with a three-prong pocket folder for classwork. Label the left side pocket with "To Do" and the right side pocket with "Ta Da!" Students keep ongoing and unfinished classwork in the "To Do" pocket and completed or graded work in the "Ta Da." Give them a spreadsheet-like document to record dates, assignments, and assessment of each task. Hole-punch it and attach it to prongs in the middle of the folder. The record-keeping sheet helps students track and observe their progress.
Color and Symbol-Coded Groups: Recognize and play to students' strengths. Place labels or stickers with different symbols or colors on the back of each student's classroom folder based on characteristics such as reading level, leadership skills, or interests. When you create groups for cooperative or project-based activities, use the labels as a guide. For example, "Students with a blue circle on their folder will be the spokespersons for their group during the whole-class discussion."
Exit Passes: How do you know if what you are doing is working? Formative assessment practices include spot-checks and anecdotal records of learning. Provide students with a prompt or question to answer at the end of the class period as a way to determine their understanding and the effectiveness of your instruction. Exit passes can be single sheets of paper that you collect as students leave, tallies gathered through electronic student response systems, or even posts on a classroom's daily blog.
These simple strategies can help you support your students' learning by recognizing the importance of clarity, consistency, and compassion in the middle grades classroom.
Sandy Cameli is a teacher at Konawaena Middle School in Kealakekua, Hawaii. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education