This is the fifth blogpost expanding on the TouchPaper Problems first discussed at #Researched2013 and due to be tackled at the first TouchPaper Problem Party.
Question #5 – What are the necessary and sufficient conditions under which students will enter a classroom and most speedily engage in productive problem-solving?
Education is a zero sum game. We have a finite amount of time and once it’s used up, there’s no more. Every second a student is doing something they shouldn’t be in a lesson, we are losing them. This sounds harsh, I know. Children do have the right to daydream, rebel, fight us, make friends, and so on. BUT, as teachers, our job is to try our best to rein in those inclinations, or even use them purposefully, for the few short hours we get each day and push as much energy as possible into the pursuit of expanding knowledge and skills. That expansion should leave students less afraid in the future of new things, and may even open areas of passion and interest. It’s a good power that we yield.
But, we don’t always do it effectively.
In particular, the starts of lessons can be tough. Thirty individual learners, each with their own pathway to your door, each bringing their own anxieties and excitements, all need to come together within a few minutes and be operating as one body. We are basically trying to perform a magic trick of turning lone wolves to turn into an ant colony.
It is this analogy – wolves into ants – that made me first think about TouchPaper Problem 5. Question is: How do we do it?
Over the years I have seen some very effective techniques for getting students into their lessons and calmed down. Greeting at the door is sometimes considered important. But what if this means taking attention away from students inside the room who then start thumping ten bells out of each other? Other teachers have books already laid out on desks, but how long does this take? Does it mean the students are out in the corridor longer? And does that even matter? (After all, if 10 seconds longer on the corridor means the lesson starts 30 seconds more quickly than otherwise, we have ourselves a winning situation).
Furthermore, I’m not sure any of these techniques is necessary. I’ve seen great lessons that started with a teacher who didn’t say a single word. They didn’t greet. They didn’t move. They didn’t speak. So what did this classroom have? Arguably, it had trust. But how do I know that? Can I measure it? Could any observer see it?
Of all the problems in the series I think this might have the most unpacking to do and could yield the most specific answers. If it did, it would provide a very useful “rule of thumb” for teachers when they meet their. It’s also possible that there are differential points for types of room, age, frequency of being in the room, etc. I suspect it will also be a topic area with very little written about it – so if we want a solution we must think carefully, how will we find it?
It’s not an easy one Question Number 5. But it’s fascinating. I look forward to hearing what people think.