Two weeks ago we had our monthly session for the Missouri Teacher Academy. This month’s topic was student engagement. We combined our group with the Missouri Leadership Academy cohort, which is made up of local principals and district level administrators. Our leaders conducted the session as if we were students in their class–we actually participated in the activities they were teaching us. It was a great day of learning and I took away many ideas to use in my own classroom.
As teachers who spend all of our time in our classrooms with students, we sometimes lack new ways to engage our students. It’s not that we don’t want to make every lesson great, but as individuals we only have so much time and creativity to come up with innovative lessons. That’s what’s so refreshing about the Missouri Teacher Academy: it brings together teachers from all levels, all subjects, and all districts so that we can share our ideas with each other. Moreover, the Academy leaders model what good learning looks like by engaging us in the learning instead of simply regurgitating information to us. Sadly, this kind of professional development is missing from most schools. In fact, in only the first part of this year I have gotten more out of these monthly sessions than I ever have at my own building professional development.
I walked away from this month’s Teacher Academy session wanting to try many new ideas. So this past week I did just that. I rearranged my classroom so that my desks are no longer in traditional rows, but rather in groups like tables. I always assumed that I couldn’t do this with the types of desks I have, but low and behold there was a way. It’s amazing what rearranging the classroom can do to liven up the mood and give the students more energy. With students in tables, you can have them turn and talk to different partners. In pairs, two students might not like each other or they might not be able to help each other with the learning. In tables of four, there is more flexibility and I could see right away how much more comfortable students felt sharing their answers and talking. It also made it easier for me to walk around and check in with each student, because I only have six groups to go to instead of 24 individual desks.
I also purchased baskets of supplies for each table that make conducting engaging activities easier. Inside each basket I put dry erase boards, markers and erasers, group cards, and dice. This was just to try out a few activities right away, but what’s great is how flexible these baskets are. I could put vocabulary cards in them, props related to the lesson, or other games to play when students finish work. The big advantage is how much time they save with handing out and collecting those supplies. Again, I mistakenly thought that these baskets would feel too elementary for my high school students but that wasn’t the case at all. Students adapted to the changes quickly and enjoyed the activities.
One specific activity I tried was called “quiz quiz trade.” I printed off strips of paper that had a Spanish word on one side and the English definition on the other. Each student taught a word to the class by acting it out. We practiced those out loud as a group a few times. Then, students walked around the room quizzing each other on the words by asking them to the give the definition in English. If the student didn’t know the word, the quizzer could act it out as a hint. I didn’t have to keep students on task at all–they loved quizzing each other this way! Then, after only two minutes, they felt confident with 20 new vocabulary words. What a cool way to get students engaged!
I’m so happy that I joined the Missouri Teacher Academy this year. I’m excited to continue trying out more new ideas with my students, because becoming a better teacher is a never-ending process.