Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whiteboarding and Classroom Climate

I have been using modeling in my 9th grade introductory physics class for a few years now, with whiteboarding being an integral part of the class.  One of the byproducts of whiteboarding, if done well, can be a classroom climate that feels very safe to students.

During my first year of modeling, I was searching for additional question stems to help students politely ask questions of each other (even though they all love "Have you considered . . ."  !).  I found this document at Edutopia, which was a help.

Last summer, I read An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger, and got some more ideas from that book for making a better document which I give to my students.  Berger discusses his methods of critique, which parallel whiteboarding techniques, on p.92-95.

You can download my document (it's in science notebook foldable format) but here are the contents:

I don't let students slide on politeness.  They all know that I will not hesitate to halt the conversation and direct the question-asker to page 12 of his or her science notebook so he or she can find a more polite way to ask the question!

I have a quite powerful story about this from class last year.   A new student (let's call him Joe) arrived in my classroom towards the end of the first semester.  A few days after Joe arrived, we did a whiteboard session on an assignment.  As Joe was working with another student on their whiteboard, I gave him a quick run-down of how whiteboard sessions work.  Unfortunately, I left out the polite questioning techniques.  Half-way through the whiteboarding session, Joe raised his hand after the presenters asked if anyone had a question.  Joe then made an unkind comment about their whiteboard instead of asking a polite question.  The effect on the other students in my class was immediate and obvious.  Jaws dropped and brows furrowed as they whipped their heads to first stare at Joe and then at me.  Class mores had been violated and the students were obviously wondering what would happen.  I politely said, "Hey Joe, we try to ask questions politely when we're whiteboarding.  Could you rephrase what you said to be a little more polite?"  Joe complied, and we moved on.  I kept him after class, gave him a copy of our discussion guidelines document, and a had a short non-confrontational pep talk about what the expectations are during whiteboarding.  Our conversation went well.

The very next day, when we were finishing up the whiteboard session from the previous day, Joe made the same sort of snarky comment that he had made the day before.  The other students appeared incredulous that he would go down the exact same road as the day before.  I asked Joe to step out in the hallway and asked the other students to continue the whiteboard session (which they're absolutely able to do).  I had a stern, yet calm conversation with Joe about what our class expects student interactions to look like.  After we were both on the same page, we went back into class, and continued on.

The next time Joe participated during class, I could see the other students tense up before he spoke.  After he politely spoke, I watched the tension in the room visibly dissipate.  We had no problems from there on out for the rest of the year.

You, as a classroom teacher, absolutely impact your classroom climate by the expectations you set.  These expectations may the become the expectations of your students as well.

1 comment:

  1. I've had trouble getting students to participate more during whiteboard sessions. I'm going to give these question stems a try and see if they help. Thanks for posting!