The New Normal

The New Normal

I was fortunate to spend time at Ridgewood Elementary on Friday. I had the opportunity to visit four classrooms. Not just pass through and see what they were working on, but really observe the shift to student-centered practices in action. I was able to watch both math and language arts lessons in classrooms ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. Really good teaching is a lot of work. Teachers in a student-centered, standards-based environment know that if they do their work up front, the students will do the heavy lifting during the lesson. What I learned from my visit to Ridgewood Elementary is that our teachers and students are moving along the student-centered continuum where students do the majority of the talking and work. What was once new is now becoming our practice and it was evident as I visited several classrooms.


The first two classrooms I visited were a great example of the work that precipitates a student-centered lesson. Both classrooms were working on readiness for a math activity. In Mrs. Stone's second grade classroom, the teacher was working with her students on predicting and it was evident she had put in a great deal of work before the students arrived for the day. The students started out in whole group on the carpet in front of the Smart Board as they discussed the activity. Constantly checking for understanding, Mrs. Stone had her students "turn and talk" with their "elbow partners" on the "why" when an answer was given. Mrs. Torres' second graders were doing the same. The students dicussed the strategy and the teacher modeled use of the term, "I noticed" in the discussion. I was intrigued by a "Class Participation Number Line" in Mrs. Stone's classroom. Once her students understood their success criteria (identified on the back of their paper so they could make sure they were on track), they went to work in their groups. Each collaborative group had the picture below to help stay on task and let them know if they were successful. The lesson took a lot of up-front work, strong discussion, and checking for understanding when they were together on the carpet ("thumbs up if you understand, thumbs down if you need to hear instructions again") before they could even get started on the collaborative group task. This lesson was ambitous, and Mrs. Stone's students met her high expectations. 

Both classroom        Group Participation

I also visited a kindergarten classroom to see student-centered learning in action. In Mrs. King’s classroom, I was immediately drawn to a poster that looks like it was created as part of a lesson that delineated the group roles in her classroom. It made me curious and I wondered how it came to be, and whether it was part of their classroom practice. Mrs. King started the lesson on the carpet with her students as they discussed their study of polar bears. She made sure the students were ready for their work by checking for understanding but not before they discussed it among themselves. The teacher asked her students to “turn and talk to your peanut butter and jelly partner,” and once they had discussed their study of polar bears, to “thank your partner for the conversation.” Once the teacher checked for readiness and discussed the “learning target” with her students, she released them to their groups but reminded them to discuss their plan of action together before they started their work. When a student came up to the teacher with a question, she reminded the student about talking to one of the members of her group first. Mrs. King’s students were engaged, on task, and busy doing their work -- together. I believe kindergarten is the hardest job in all of education. The work it takes for Mrs. King’s students to be student-centered is likely an incredible amount of effort on the part of their teacher. The dividends were evident as students were engaged in the task as part of a collaborative group.

collaborative group1        collaborative group2

In Mrs. Ryan’s classroom, the scholars were studying text structure in informational text. This lesson was a textbook example of an excellent student-centered lesson. Although the teacher started the lesson in a traditional way at the front of the room, the groups were soon doing all of the heavy lifting. Rather than asking for a raise of hands to see who knew the five different types of informational text, Mrs. Ryan asked her students to talk within their groups to see if they could come up with all five before bringing the classroom back to check for understanding from each group. The students also discussed their scale, the level, and when Mrs. Ryan asked what she was going to make them do, the answer was an emphatic, “Have evidence!” Before she let them move into their group work for the next phase of the lesson, the teacher asked the students to discuss the success criteria for working in groups amongst themselves before coming back to the full class. This lesson was a wonderful example of a standards-based, student-centered lesson. You can’t fake what these students were doing. This kind of instruction only happens with a tremendous amount of up-front work, expertise and risk taking by the teacher.


students were doing 1        students were doing 2

students were doing 3        students were doing 4

My friend (@hawkeyebearsfan) posted the below graphic on his Twitter timeline yesterday. It’s an excellent visual of the shift that happens when we move from teacher-centered to student-centered. The days of asking our students to sit in rows as the teacher pontificates from the lectern are over. Our students and the new world economy are rapidly changing. We must continue to evolve with them. 



Ridgewood Elementary is moving. The teachers are changing their instruction to benefit our students and it shows. Our district has been on this journey because we believe in rigorous student-centered, standards-based instruction. There is a new normal that is coming into focus for our teacher-leaders and students at Ridgewood Elementary. I am impressed by the work they are doing in the classroom, together. 

I am really looking forward to my classroom visits at Wells Elementary on Thursday.