Teachers are committed to students and their learning is Core Proposition 1 of the National Board Standards. How do you demonstrate your commitment to your students and their learning? As the demographics of my community changed I realized the practices I used to engage students weren’t as effective as they were in the past. I wasn’t doing a good job of meeting the needs of my African American students nor the needs of my English Language Learners. It wasn’t about the kids not getting it – it was about me not getting to the kids.
Knowing I needed to change my practice to support my students and their learning I researched best practices in engagement strategies. During my research I found the work of Dr. Sharroky Hollie focusing on culturally and linguistically responsive teaching. What I love about Dr. Hollie’s work is the philosophy behind each of the teaching strategies. Basically, the idea of no opt out. Kids can not opt out of the learning based on the practices of the teacher. For example, in a typical classroom setting the teacher asks a question to the class, a few students raise their hands, the teacher selects one of the students to respond, and the teacher knows that one student knows the answer. One student. The teaching strategies Dr. Hollie advocates are those which require all students to be engaged the learning.
Many of the protocols utilized by Dr. Hollie seem similar to cooperative learning strategies. The underlying principle, however, addresses the unique needs of underserved student populations. Culturally responsive practices engage underserved student populations and they support the learning of all students. In addition, the strategies work with Kindergartners and high school seniors. The protocols are classroom routines that need to be explained (why are we doing this) and practiced. I found the protocols for small group and large group instruction to be particularly effective in engaging all students in their learning.
The protocol I find to be especially effective in supporting the learning of all my students is Inner Circle/Outer Circle. The protocol provides an opportunity for students to practice cultural norms of mainstream society, effective speaking and listening skills, and supports 100% of the student participation. It also provides a natural movement break as the students will move to share their thinking. In Inner Circle/Outer Circle the students prepare their thinking around a topic, text, etc. individually. The students form two circles – the inner circle faces the outer circle. The students shake hands and introduce themselves (cultural norm of the mainstream society). The teacher tells the students they will each have a set amount of time to share their response and who will share first. One student shares, the other student listens then the roles are reversed. The teacher will have either the inner circle move or the outer circle move and the students will repeat the process. I’ve used this protocol with second graders who shared their learning about continents and countries and I’ve used this protocol with high school juniors in government class where they shared their knowledge of the Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Changing practice to engage all students in the learning process is one way I continue to address Proposition 1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning. If you are looking for ideas to increase student engagement and academic achievement I recommend learning more about culturally responsive pedagogy and how to utilize the protocols effectively in the classroom.