The Classroom Experiment

The Classroom Experiment is a two-part video that shows the theories and practices implemented in a Grade 8 Classroom for one term. The class featured is a mixed ability class and many students have low motivation. Teachers struggle to meet the needs of the bottom and the top learners. Professor Dylan William gets teachers to implement his ideas and researched practices in hopes to improve the quality of education for every student in the classroom.

The strategies and theories applied for the term were:

1. Lollipop sticks (If students’ name is pulled then they answer the question).

– The lollipop sticks are used to replace asking for hands up to answer questions. Dylan William believes that “if you’re allowing children to volunteer to participate or not, quite simply you are making the achievement gap bigger.” The problem with asking for hands up is that students will only answer if they know the answer. This means that often only the high achieving students answer the questions and other students can opt out. Students also spend less time learning from each other.

– The lollipop sticks made it so that no student could hide out. High achieving students had to get used to not being the center of attention and started to understand what it is like not to know an answer but be asked a question. Three of the top achieving students stole their lollipop sticks because they wanted to maintain their reputation as the “resident experts.” I was not surprised by this at all. As one of the high achieving students in my high school, I believe the lollipop sticks would have caused me high levels of anxiety. My identity revolved around me having all the answers (which I did not have). However, it is important to learn that mistakes are part of learning. The lollipop sticks do not only make it impossible not to participate but they make it impossible to hide from our mistakes.

– I would adopt this practice. Some of the teachers in the video adapted it to picking two sticks at once which reduced some of the pressure and made lessons go faster. I would practice ‘Cold Call’ using the attendance sheet. When you call on a student you put a check by their name and one of the benefits is you can see how many times you called on students and they cannot steal the sticks away. If any other data recording was happening at the time for a specific student it could easily be done on the same sheet. I also would still allow students to put their hands up sometimes, as I think everything is appropriate in moderation. If a student was called in Cold Call and gave part of the answer, I would then open it up for anyone else in the class to participate. That way everyone is involved without a choice but those who want to add more and are engaged can still participate.

2, Daily Morning Exercise

– Daily exercise is at the core of my teaching philosophy. I believe we need to take care of body and then the mind. As the video suggests, “a growing body of research from the US shows that a burst of exercise every morning can have an impact on students’ attention and learning throughout the day.” Daily exercise results in “more focused and  motivated students.” Not only does the research support daily exercise but it also makes sense. Furthermore, just a half an hour a day can change academic results and is easy to implement. On average, students in the video enjoyed the activity. This also impacts different learners, such as kinesthetic, positively. Discipline and behavior issues are also reduced for a number of reasons, including giving students things to do in the morning or noon hours (rather than them getting into trouble on their own). I like that the students in the video had heart rate monitors and log book so they had a purpose and were in control of their own effort.

– This video, ‘Shinning a Spotlight on Success Good Spirit SD Melville Comprehensive School” shows the benefits of adding daily exercise and food programs and it is right in Saskatchewan! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qYeqRWnVTQ). Daily exercise in schools changes the classroom culture. When students see they are being cared for, they want to come to school.

3. Mini-Whiteboards (Quick assessment to see if students understand).

– This was a quick assessment strategy that allows all learners to represent what they know. This is especially beneficial for the top achievers who want to showcase their intelligence to their teachers. Also, teachers can easily see what kids do not yet understand the concept. Instead of giving kids something to play with, I would simply implement the thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs to the side strategy to quickly assess where my students are. Along with my cold call idea where questions are originally asked to a student but then opened up to the class, I think this would accomplish what the whiteboards do. However, if that was not working I would try this method.

4. Traffic Light Cups (Green, yellow and red to assess if students understand the concept or need help).

– I thought this was very cool. Teachers were quite worried that the students would play with their cups but I believe students would respect the items because they would enjoy being in control of their learning. This also fosters slowing down, which is something I think all teachers need to think about. I hope to implement this into my future classroom. I liked the idea of grouping all the students who have red cups showing together and answering all the questions at once (since many would have the same question) to save time.

5. Student Feedback for Teachers

– Wow! This would be hard to do! I respect the teachers in the video for accepting this. When you think about it, it makes sense for students to give feedback. I like that the students were explicitly taught how to give feedback and still be respectful. Students watch us teach all day and they know what they need better than anybody else. Not only are they more in control of their learning but this engages them with the learning process and shows them that their opinion is valued. The students were the ones to suggest that everyone who showed a red cup should be grouped together and taught to save time.

6. Comments not Grading (Giving directive feedback rather than evaluative).

– Students seemed to have the most trouble with this. As a society we are hooked on marks. One student even said “that’s the only reason I’ve done it!” I think we need to show students that learning is more than about getting an A. If I am being honest, I used to think pass/fail was a joke and that marks were needed. I, too, am hooked on a grade. The more I study the topic however, the more I realize that grades do not tell us how to improve. Feedback, on the other hand, tells us what we did great, what did not go so well and what we can do next time. Also, feedback reduces most of the bragging and the need to evaluate students by comparing them to each other. Comments over grades allows each student to be marked as an individual with their own strengths, interests, needs and weaknesses. I think it is almost impossible to mark students as individuals when grades are the result. Students should also be part of the learning process but never will accurately assess themselves if it is for a number or letter. However, if they had to comment on their own work I think they would be honest. I’m surprised to say this, but I think I would love to have a classroom where comments are the focus! In this area, the video (and my third year classes and research) have shifted my commonsense beliefs about marks!

7. Parents to Watch a Class

– This seemed to be a great way to involve parents and help them understand what their child does at school. Parents and teachers need to work together for educational success and character building to occur. The more we can include parents in our schools, the better! I think this would also help bring more respect to the teaching field because parents could see the complexities of a classroom.

8. Secret Student with Positive Reinforcement (Picking a secret student for the day and observing their behavior. The student will either earn the group a check or an ‘x’ and after a certain amount of checks, the class gets a reward).

– I liked that the teachers still gave explicit reminders each day. I liked that students monitored each other. One student noted that “we’re a class as a whole and we need to work as a whole” and I think this is a wonderful lesson for students to learn. I also like that they shared the secret students at the end of the week, only if they got a check. The system seemed very positive. We had something like this in my school called ‘Random Acts of Kindness.’ Teachers watched specific students each day to see how they treated others. At the end of the semester, the student with the most kind acts got a monetary reward.

– One thing I liked about my school is that they reminded us to be kind to each other but they did not use this as a bribe. In the video if students were acting up they seemed to threaten the students with the secret student. This seemed very passive aggressive and I think it takes away from the lesson. Students should behave and be nice to others because it benefits the class as a whole, not because they are getting a prize at the end.

End Result:

These strategies were addressed slowly. It was integral that teachers continued to use the strategies, as they all built off each other and students enjoy consistency. Assessment is an ongoing process that does not go away. For example, when some of the teachers stopped using the whiteboards, the higher achieving students lost motivation because they could not show their teachers what they knew. The result was a significant improvement in math and English. Achievement in Science remained consistent. On average, student behavior and motivation improved. However, the highest achieving students showed the least improvement and often struggled with not being the center of attention. In the end, all students did benefit and got to work as a class and see that everyone has something to contribute. These strategies fosters a very inclusive and caring environment. I believe that these strategies are important, common sense things that all schools and teachers should be using (but adapting to their own needs).

For more information see: The Classroom Experiment by BBC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J25d9aC1GZA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iD6Zadhg4M

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