Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a talented fourth/fifth grade teacher at my mentor school. I wanted to observe her conducting a morning meeting where the classroom does collaborative problem solving because I had witnessed the other fourth/fifth teacher facilitating the same type of meeting a week earlier. I was able to compare and contrast these two teachers styles more effectively by attending parallel activities. As students transitioned to morning meeting, the teacher immediately hooked student attention by engaging higher thinking. The vernal equinox occurred on this day, so she invited students to share their knowledge on the subject. The students didn’t have much knowledge of the vernal equinox so she moved quickly into sharing her knowledge with the students. She concisely explained the vernal equinox using the world globe as a model to support student understanding.
Keeping the meeting at lively pace, she prompted the students to begin their procedure for opening every morning meeting, a compliment circle. Even though the compliment circle is a daily routine, she opened the circle by saying that they do this exercise to express how much they appreciate and value one another. As the students pass the talking ball, they share specific compliments to acknowledge one another’s contributions. The students give a compliment to the person on their right to ensure that all community members are recognized.
Then, the teacher introduced the problem that the class would discuss that day. She didn’t define the problem, but only says that foursquare has been challenging lately. Then, students took turns sharing their perception of why foursquare is problematic. I think the strategy of having the students define and assess the problem themselves sends a message to the class of high expectation and trust. As each student had their turn to share, she took notes, and thanked each student. After the students had each had a turn to share, the teacher read a summary of what the students perceived the challenges to be with playing foursquare. I liked that each student had an equal voice in the matter, regardless of whether or not they choose to play the four square game. I often address the specific students who are having a challenging time with an activity. But, I realized when a challenge is reoccurring it affects the whole community negatively. A couple of students expressed that they would choose to play four square if it was played fairly. If the teacher had chosen to address this problem in an informal and isolated way, without the representation of the entire community, this valuable input would have been missed.
This teacher has a firm with-it, yet kind approach to classroom management. She uses mostly open-ended questions; and provides a clear structure for allowing students to construct knowledge relevant to the learning target. In this case, the learning target was to collaborate on possible solutions to a problem that has been negatively impacting the community. She uses effective discussion strategies to encourage students to say more as each community member shares a possible solution to the problem. At the close of the meeting the class agrees on three changes they will be implementing to make the foursquare game fair and enjoyable. The teacher communicates high expectations for all students to uphold the agreement, and schedules a follow-up meeting for the purpose of checking in to reflect on the effectiveness of the new agreements. It is evident by how smoothly her class flows that she shows up prepared for the lesson of the day. Yet, she is distinguished in her ability to lead students in taking ownership of new knowledge.
Overall, I am impressed and inspired by this teacher’s talent. She creates an engaging, safe, and productive learning environment where every student helps to construct the curriculum and culture.