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Small Changes: Little Things Add Up

posted Nov 5, 2017, 1:57 AM by HSD Principal
The Chronicle for Higher Education has published a series on small changes that teachers can make to increase student learning. While the Chronicle is intended for university audiences, most of the ideas in these articles can apply directly to high school learning.

My favorite idea from the article on what you can do in the minutes before class begins: create wonder.

Drawing inspiration from the "Astronomy Picture of the Day" — a NASA website that posts a new and fascinating image from the cosmos every day — he suggests that instructors post an image on the screen at the front of the room and ask two questions about it: "What do you notice? What do you wonder?" Before class starts, let the image direct the informal conversations, Newbury argues, and then use it to guide a brief discussion during the opening minutes of class.

One of the ideas from the article on using the first five minutes of class time: get them writing. The author suggests having a question, prompt, or other discussion starter (possibly connected to the idea above) posted before class that students will begin to write answers to as they enter. Those prompts get the students' minds in the right place to take on the content for the day. He has found that:

Frequent, low-stakes writing assignments constitute one of the best methods you can use to solicit engagement and thinking in class.

And finally, on using the last five minutes of class well, one idea is to have students make connections between the content learned and life outside school. The question they often ask, "When will we ever use this or need to know this?" can be given back to them to answer individually or in pairs.

Finish the last class of the week five minutes early, and tell students that they can leave when they have identified five ways in which the day’s material appears in contexts outside of the classroom. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they can come up with examples when this activity stands between them and the dining hall.

The whole series of articles is worth the read; there are other articles on helping students make connections, allowing students to give input on instruction and assessment, and more.