Creating High Performance Learning Environments

shutterstock_157788623-700x467

Every teacher strives to have a classroom that is the heart of learning. As educators, we should always be trying to make our learning environment more conducive to the educational process. In order to create the best possible learning environment, we need to set high standards for student performance. This means we should be expecting a lot from our students, and constantly upping those goals to further challenger our students.

One way in which teachers can set and maintain high standards of performance among students is by creating a high performance learning environment. In this environment, students are working together to solve problems while maintaining clear roles within their groups. Recently, I watched some videos related to this topic, and in this post I’d like to talk about some key elements of those videos.

(Stokes, 2015)

Roller Coaster Physics

physics

In this video (link), teacher Donna Migdol engages her students in a lesson called Roller Coaster Physics. As a STEM teacher, Migdol is tasked with helping students understand science, technology, engineering and math in real world scenarios. In this particular lesson, the students are learning about potential and kinetic energy. The students collaborate, with both their peers and their teacher, throughout the whole process. They design, computer test and finally build small roller coaster models to see potential and kinetic energy in motion.

(Teaching Channel, 2012)
Academic Expectations

It’s clear to me in the video that Migdol holds very high academic expectations of her students. Firstly, the high expectations are evident in the “chiming” exercise at the beginning of the lesson. In this part of the lesson, each group has a “chimer” who is tasked with telling the class about issues the group had in the prior class. This creates a very collaborative learning environment in which students are expected to listen, learn an participate in problem solving while simultaneously learning to value the opinions of others.

She has also created an environment where every student is responsible for different aspects of the project. Each group has an accountant, for example. This sort of set up means that there is a kind of no opt-out technique at work in her classroom. The students are clearly aware that they are part of a team and that everyone has a job to do. This creates the high expectation that everyone must participate.

Additionally, the academic expectations of right is right are clear in the students’ continued use of technical language during the lesson. Even while talking to other group members, the students are using key terms and vocabulary relevant to the lesson. This shows me that Midgol expects all her students to use the right terms in the right way, another high academic standard.

Behavior Expectations

Another key aspect of classroom expectations are behavior expectations. In the case of Midgol’s roller coaster physics class, I think it is very clear that she sets a high standard for behavior in her class.

While the topic of behavior is never directly addressed in the video, it’s clear to see how well behaved and on-task the students are throughout the lesson. I believe this has to be a direct result of the high behavior expectations placed on the students.

In a project such as this, it could be quite easy for students to engage in bad behavior. They are in a less structured environment, able to readily move around and have objects such as pipe insulation and marbles with which they could misbehave. However, in Midgol’s class, the students seem to be well behaved, to understand their roles, and to stay on task during the project. I believe this all relates to the high expectations placed on the students by Migdol.

Norms and Procedures

During the video, you can see several great examples of the norms and procedures put into place by Migdol in her classroom. Although we only see a small snapshot of Migdol’s classroom, it’s easy to see that she has strong norms and procedures in place that carry through to every lesson.

The first norm we can see is that the students are calm, orderly and respectful. Although it is never explicitly stated, it’s clear to see that Migdol has these types of norms in place. During both the chiming exercise and the group work, the students are calm, orderly, and highly respectful of both their peers and their teacher.

We can also see some examples of procedures in place in Migdol’s classroom. For example, we see the students “buying” the materials they need to build their roller coaster — this is surely a procedure Migdol practiced with the students before this project.

3rd Grade Chinese Math

chinesenumbers

The second video I watched concerning creating high performance learning environments can be found here (link). In this video, we can see a 3rd grade math class in China. There is a massive juxtaposition between this class and the roller coaster physics class mentioned above. In this math class, we can see students following their teacher in a teacher-centered format. We can hear a lot of repetition and chanting and much less focus on small group or the individual.

(Crystal Chen, 2011)

Academic Expectations

While it is never specifically mentioned in the video, I think it’s safe to assume that there is a generally high academic expectation on the students in this video. I can draw some reference from my own experiences working in South Korea. In East Asia, students are usually placed under high expectations for academic performance, and I know this to be the same in China.

More specifically, we can see that the teacher is placing the expectation of participation in the lesson on every student. This is clear because as the camera pans around to different students, we can see that each one is taking part in the chanting and hand motions. To me, this suggests that the teacher places a high expectation on the students to participate, and employs a no opt-out technique.

(Wei, 2014)

Behavior Expectations

When it comes to the expectations for behavior with the students in this math class, we have to draw a lot of conclusions because nothing is stated specifically about it. However, I think we can safely assume that the teacher sets a high expectation for good behavior in the classroom.

We can see that the students are sitting closely together on the carpet in the room. Even in this close proximity, I didn’t notice any students hitting and touching each other, nor distracting each other. I think this speaks volumes about the behavior expectations the teacher has for the students.

I think we can assume that many of the lessons in this classroom take place in a similar format, on the floor, sitting together. Therefor I can draw the conclusion that there is a high expectation of good behavior during these classes.  In addition, we can see that the students are following along with the teacher, keeping their heads forward and facing her, taking part in the chant (without one student shouting) and following along with the hand motions. All of these signs tell me that the teacher places a high expectation on good behavior in her class.

(Wei, 2014)

Norms and Procedures

Again, with this video being quite short, we have to draw our own conclusions about the norms and procedures in this classroom. The first thing that jumped out to me is the norm that when the students are together on the floor they should be respecting the personal space of others. I mentioned it above about the behavior expectations as well, but it’s clear to see that it’s an important norm the teacher has set in her classroom.

In terms of procedures, we can see that the entire math lesson has a pretty set procedure. The teacher is leading the lesson and the students are following along with their chants and arm motions. This procedure is highly ingrained in Chinese education, as math has been taught with similar chants for over 2,000 years.

(Wei, 2014)

Whole Brain Teaching

screenshot2014-07-14at7-09-04pm

In the third video I watched, linked here, we can see another type of high performance classroom using the whole brain teaching method. In this video, the teacher uses several aspects of whole brain teaching to keep her students involved and interested in the topic being taught. We can see the students moving around with their hands, arms and heads to make motions relevant to different parts of the lesson. We can also hear the students using chants and repetition for various aspects, like repeating the rules.

(Shayne, 2011)

(Whole Brain Teaching, n.d.)
Academic Expectations

It’s clear to note that the teacher in this lesson places very high academic expectations on her students. There is absolutely a no opt-out technique being used here. The students are being tasked with using hand motions to reinforce key concepts, and in this situation students have no choice to opt out. If they opt out, they will be the only student(s) in the entire class not making the motions. That means it’s easy for the teacher to see which students aren’t participating and to correct the behavior. In addition, this sort of technique makes the classroom feel very much like a team environment where all students understand that they’re in it together.

Furthermore, we can see that there are high expectations during the group work section of the lesson, when the students are reading and discussing the materials together. Again, the teacher is expecting all students to participate and use the hand motions together. We can also hear the students using the correct definitions and technical language associated with the lesson, showing us that the teacher has the expectation that right is right in her classroom.

I believe these factors show that the teacher in this lesson holds her students to high academic expectations in her classroom.

(Whole Brain Teaching, n.d.)
Behavior Expectations

I think the behavior expectations of the students in this video are perhaps the clearest of any of the videos discussed in this blog. We can see right away that the teacher has an expectation that students will be participating in the lesson, using the hand motions and following along in the lesson.

At no point in the video do we see any students looking away, not participating or fooling around with others. I believe this all points to high behavior expectations set by the teacher.

One of the best examples of high behavior expectations is when the students are repeating the rules together. This, I think, is a way for the teacher to say “Okay, we will go though all of these together on a regular basis so there is no ambiguity in what’s expected of you.” One of the most important aspects of setting high behavior expectations in your classroom is making the rules clear and easy to understand for the students. I think the teacher in this video does a fantastic job of exact that, by having all the students repeat the rules.

As mentioned above, I also believe that this sort of expectation gives the students a real sense of teamwork. In this way, the students can feel that they are part of something bigger, and that they have an expectation to behave well not just to their teacher but to their peers as well.

Norms and Procedures

I believe the classroom shown in this video to be one of the most well managed and interactive classrooms I’ve witnessed. So, it comes as no surprise to me, then, that the teacher has well defined and implemented norms and procedures.

The first norm we can see is that all students are expected to take part in the lesson, using the chants and hand motions. This seems to be a very well established norm in the room as the students seem to know it as second nature. Furthermore, we can see the norm of participation, as all students are following along with the teacher and paying attention to what’s going on. This all says to me that the teacher has a great set of norms in place.

Additionally, we can see a procedure for group work in place in this video. During the super speed reading section, the students seem to be quite familiar with the procedure and how super speed reading works. The students seem well versed in this procedure and seem to really enjoy it as well.

Overall, I think we can see that the teacher in this video has a classroom that is a well-oiled machine, with a solid foundation of norms and procedures contributing to the overall quality of the learning environment.

(Whole Brain Teaching, n.d.)

My Take

When I am in the classroom, I will be teaching secondary social studies. I plan to implement many of the expectations we’ve seen in these videos in order to create a high performance learning environment for my students. The value of these techniques outlined in the videos can’t be overstated. It’s clear to me that in all three examples the students were part of class in a high performance environment.

Firstly, I really like the idea that in all three examples the students has a sense of being part of something bigger and there was a real sense of community and teamwork in each lesson. I believe this is huge part of having a quality environment for education, as many academic and behavior expectations can stem from that sense of community. When students are respecting their peers and teacher, and seeing that they play an important role in the classroom, they most certainly will be motivated to achieve more.

Furthermore, I really like the use of chants and repetition in the later two videos. I have had a lot of experience learning this way, and I have always found it to be personally very useful. I believe that it’s important for students to speak what they are learning, and accompanying hand gestures help to stimulate the brain in ways that speaking alone simply can’t.  Additionally, this type of technique also further enhances the team environment that I find so critical.

I believe I will also employ a “chimer” technique like the one shown in the first video. I think this is a fantastic way for students to learn to respect the opinions of their peers, and also gives me as the teacher a great chance to see where difficulties are arising.

The whole brain method of teaching also shows a lot of potential for me in creating a high performance environment. The techniques outlined in this method are highly procedural, and therefore become a normal part of the classroom every single day. I think this is a great way to help students know exactly what to expect in every lesson and to create a team environment. On a personal level, it gives each student a great way to absorb and learn the information while feeling a part of something bigger at the same time.

As I strive to create a high performance environment in my classroom, I know it will be critical to draw on these sorts of techniques. I believe it is of paramount importance to have strong rules and procedures in place, from the start, as was evident in all three videos. I also believe that creating a team environment, with collaboration and participation by all, is critical to success in making a high performance environment.

Conclusion

Overall, I think it’s pretty clear to see the impact that creating a high performance environment can have on students. These sorts of examples serve to highlight how innovative teaching methods can help create an environment where students feel that they are part of something bigger, that they have high expectations to participate, achieve and behave well, and where true academic progress can be made.

I know that I will employ many of these techniques in my own classroom because, simply put, they just make a lot of sense.

 

 


Sources:

Crystal Chen (2011, June 13). 3rd grade Chinese–math class.Avi Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7LseF6Db5g

Shayne, R. (2011, May 31). Whole brain teaching Richwood high – the basics Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iXTtR7lfWU&feature=youtu.be

Stokes, L. (2015, February 4). Creating a high-performance learning environment. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from Annenberg Learner, https://learnerlog.org/acrossthecurriculum/creating-a-high-performance-learning-environment/

Teaching Channel (2012, September 13). Roller coaster physics: STEM in action Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-stem-strategies

Wei, K. (2014, March 25). Explainer: What makes Chinese maths lessons so good? Retrieved November 15, 2016, from The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-makes-chinese-maths-lessons-so-good-24380

Whole Brain Teaching. Whole Brain Teaching. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from http://wholebrainteaching.com/


Images:

High performance image, retrieved on 11/15/2016 from https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.eremedia.com/uploads/2015/08/03113417/shutterstock_157788623-700×467.jpg

Roller coaster physics image, retrieved on 11/15/2016 from http://kids.britannica.com/coasters/physics/physics.gif

Chinese math image, retrieved on 11/15/2016 from http://quatr.us/china/science/pictures/chinesenumbers.jpg

Whole brain teaching image, retrieved on 11/15/2016 from http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-SEYBXRFCDWk/U8RxOqTG5iI/AAAAAAAAFwQ/9BxL-Di_ius/s1600/Screen+Shot+2014-07-14+at+7.09.04+PM.png

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