Occupy Your Classroom



Pause to Reflect…

Teachers in today’s “reformed” schools often are pressured by time, mandates, and test scores into lessons that:

Post the objective.
State the objective.
Explain the objective.
Practice the objective.
Test the objective.
Evaluate the objective.
Move on or reteach the objective.

Sometimes we can add art into the lesson.

For instance, after learning (see above steps) Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization, students demonstrated the objective with the following process.

Note: a frame provides the foundation to focus on the object and to save time; it provides the outline into which the students creatively add their characterization responses. Students:

  • Wrote the title/author in the top frame of a character frame template.
  • Read the pages describing the character’s physical description, and drew the character within the picture frame template.
  • Added into the character’s hands the most important prop for that character relevant to that story.
  • Listed the most important personality trait for the character on the bottom frame of the poster.
  • Explained the evidence from the text for that trait in the left side frame.
  • Explained how the character’s trait affected the plot in the right side frame.

What happened:

Within this art lesson, the students who usually just make the standard even after several reteaching sessions, were shining. They created a text-based image including not just an appropriate, but pointedly relevant prop. They helped others discover the best prop for their characters. Where usually these students fail, just this twist of objectives that allowed them to “visualize” through art this story and their characters, they demonstrated a deeper level of understanding into more than Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization. They discussed cause/effect, setting, plot, and character while reminding others of the story events from the particular point of view in which their little minds work.

Play to Learn…

In our mandate to teach all the standards to mastery, time is the enemy. Pressure forces lessons to cover enough objectives so students can pass The Test that determines student progress, school-wide growth, and teacher effectiveness. Differentiation seems to demand lessons that meet the needs of students who think and work differently, who need a different framework from which to understand the objective and its required response. This lesson differentiated the product so students who struggle with strictly linguistic responses could demonstrate that they did understand the character development. However, this project took time, time from other objectives because art takes time. How many students think in ways that prevent them from answering textual questions in written responses? How many are retaught and re-skilled over and over in ways that don’t meet their needs because of the lack of time to plan and implement lessons that would open their pathways to expressing comprehension and application of the objective? How much is the pressure of classroom mandates affecting the learning community?

Differentiation is not individualization; it is knowing student readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Flexible grouping and respectful tasks provide the vehicle through which students and teachers in a community of learners can successfully learn standards. Our goal is for all students to shine. Start slowly; build differentiation. Occupy your classroom for the students. Differentiation is one way. Take the time.

Resources for differentiation:






Robert Sternberg Differentiation pdf

2 thoughts on “Occupy Your Classroom

  1. Very powerful, Sheri. It can be so easy to think we’re being rigorous because we pump that test skills language into each lesson. But, those lessons only address some of the students, and in my opinion, the ones who either already know it, or are just hard workers because they want to please others.What about the rest of the class? Like you said, the instruction needs to be differentiated for them because they have different backgrounds and prior knowledge, different learning styles and strengths, and motivated by different things. Differentiation is an absolute must. However, if it’s not something that we as teachers have learned to do, then we need to start with slow steps. My suggestion is to start with how we check for understanding. Toss out the popsicle sticks. Toss out calling on one student at a time. Try think-pair-share. Try a journal response, then share with your partner with tips on what to look for such as a WOW and a Wonder (something that is a specific praise and a question meant to guide them to think about one way they can improve). Model it. It builds in the accountability to listen to someone else and share, and it lets the kids know that their voice matters. It’s a simple and small step, with huge impact.If any administrators are reading this, they should try this too at a staff meeting because if they model it for others, their teachers will be more willing to give it a try.Kind regards,Tracy

  2. Tracy, I love your Wow and Wonder strategy. I just read the Washington Post article on praise ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/in-schools-self-esteem-boosting-is-losing-favor-to-rigor-finer-tuned-praise/2012/01/11/gIQAXFnF1P_story_1.html ) So WOW can acknowledge the struggle as much as the accomplishment. The Wonder then can encourage further stretching. I plan to apply this in class and in professional development sessions. As always, thanks for helping me to stretch my thinking!

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