The Language of Learning

The Language of Learning

The purpose of this blog is to share our practice with each other and the community. Our educators work extremely hard at their craft. We have been on a journey to move to rigorous standards-based, student-centered instruction . Student-centered instruction differs from traditional teacher-centered instruction. In a student-centered classroom, the learning is collaborative, relevant, and driven by students. Students are encouraged to direct their own learning and work with classmates as they interact with the standard they are working toward. Our world is always evolving, and our students need to learn how to work together and interact with materials that interest them.


I had the opportunity to visit Bowlesburg Elementary on Friday to see our student-centered classrooms in action. I wanted to see the interactions between our teachers and students, but even more, I wanted to see the interactions between students. As I visited the second classroom of the morning, it occurred to me that there is a language of learning at Bowlesburg Elementary. I immediately highlighted some language I heard from the first classroom and continued to do so in the rest of the rooms I had the opportunity to visit. There is a profound culture in these classrooms that is centered upon student-centered learning. 


I heard the kindergarten teacher discussing the “task” and the “target” with her students. Better yet, I heard students in their small groups using those same terms to orient themselves toward what needed to be accomplished, with no teacher around. Mrs. Tapscott also had the “success criteria” on the Smart Board for the task they were about to accomplish and used this language with her students. Did I mention this was in a kindergarten classroom? 


Our 1st grade students and second grade classrooms were using “turn and talk” or “turn and talk to your partner” regularly. They did a “mix, pair, share” activity to work on student readiness for the lesson. Mrs. Miller asked her 1st graders, “What is our purpose?” The second-grade students in Mrs. Harris and Mrs. Anderson’s classroom were working on an activity where they would need to rely on their partners and check for understanding, while using the term “model.” 



Our PE teacher, Mrs. Docherty, worked with her students on goal setting by doing a fun, fast-moving activity. I observed students reporting to their teacher what their “goal” was, and reporting to each other how they would “readjust their goal.” They even celebrated their accomplishments at the conclusion of the lesson.



Our 3rd grade students were using the term “success criteria” with each other to remind their classmates how they would know if they were successful. When the students had a question the teacher would ask, “what’s our target?” “Turn and talk” was also a regular part of the vocabulary in both Ms. Alaniz and Mr. Wilken’s classrooms. In one 3rd grade class, the teacher discussed having a “growth mindset” and “embracing the struggle.” In each of these classrooms, the taxonomy was at an advanced level and our students were interacting with information in their teams.



I was also enlightened by the risks our teachers were taking with their teaming structures. When I came into teaching in 1994, I used the Harry K. Wong classic, First Days of School, as a resource to set up my classroom and procedures. My goal was always that the classroom should be able to run without the teacher because our students would know exactly what was expected. I had the daily objective on the chalkboard and my students knew what we would accomplish each day. But what I saw at Bowlesburg on Friday took me out of my comfort zone -- and I loved it. Bowlesburg is taking risks.That’s not an easy thing for educators to do, we are structured and like to be in control. But the teacher-leaders at Bowlesburg were forging ahead with risk-taking because they know their students will benefit. 


After leaving the 1st grade classroom I had questions about the teaming structure that was being used by the teacher. It felt “messy.” The instructional specialist and principal told me that was exactly how it should have looked. They informed me that Bowlesburg has been working on their teaming structures and rather than assigning students and giving them a role, they are working toward our students having “choice and voice.” Mrs. Miller did a great job of modeling with her students before setting them free to move into groups of their choosing. All students knew the task and the “success criteria” for moving on. Again, this was a 1st grade classroom.



Harry K. Wong would have had made sure I had groups and tasks pre-arranged -- and it would have hindered the growth of our students. I was heartened by the conversations our students were having in their teams. This only happens with hard work on the front end by our teacher-leaders. Bowlesburg Elementary has a very specific language of learning. It’s evident as you walk in and out of classrooms. I am proud of our teacher-leaders for creating this culture around learning and the risks they are taking at Bowlesburg. We have amazing educators and I learned so much from them on Friday. Learning can be messy, but the dividends are paying off. 


I can’t wait to visit classrooms at Ridgewood Elementary this week.