In the second installment of this series, I revealed the first three steps for you to find your signature classroom sound. My signature sound is creating written lab reports. Now, in the finale of the series, I present to you the last three steps to rock your classroom. Get ready to feel inspired and change the “Color and Shape,” of your classroom.
Make Subtle Shifts In Instruction
- Connect the segmented pieces to the overarching theme.
- Make small, subtle changes to the normal flow of the course.
- Employ calculated shifts in instruction.
- Highlight, support, and strengthen your signature sound.
Select a key concept to cover in detail as a part of your signature classroom sound activity. Shorten the lecture covering this topic by eliminating an in-depth analysis of that item. Present only the broad strokes instead of an exhaustive exploration. Notify your students of this change. During the signature sound piece, you will have time to conduct face-to-face discussions with your students on this central concept. Highlighting this modification stresses the importance of your signature sound and adds value to the topic.
Be the Producer
The work you do in the classroom is similar to that of a music producer in the recording studio. You are providing feedback to your “band” to move the creative process forward. A music producer sets the band up for success while building each track, and might say to the musicians: "More bass here, the drums are too heavy, or the lead guitar is overpowering the vocals." (More cowbell!) You are making similar observations and putting them into action, thus ensuring success with your signature sound.
Putting It Into Practice
Connect your signature sound into the content delivery for your class. I reduce teacher instruction time when a major concept is mentioned in the lecture notes for my signature sound. I provide some general guidelines for the concept. I inform the students that the concept is essential in the application during the formal written lab report. I circulate the room during the lab activity, and students notify me when they have collected data on the fundamental concept. The following supports this strategy:
- Students understand the concept is crucial.
- Students know it is their responsibility to check in with me.
- I let them know they will have questions, and I am there to support them.
As a result, you are making students more independent, and shifting your role from that of teacher to facilitator.
There is Value in the Struggle
5) Learning to Fly:
- Anticipate student struggles and student questions when conducting your signature sound activity.
- Capitalize on teachable moments.
- Value the struggle, where real growth occurs.
- Create the glue that makes learning stick.
Teaching Towards Independence
Envision the lead guitarist in the band working a riff and not being happy with it until lo and behold, the bassist swoops in with the idea that encourages the process. Teachers can anticipate the moments of pain that lead to student growth. Educators, however, must walk a fine line between interference and interjection. Wean students off the pursuit of constant teacher directives, and point them down the path of independence. Allow them to become comfortable with developing their problem-solving strategies.
Helping When Needed
Like the previous step, this is akin to the educator playing the part of a seasoned producer. A producer is well versed on the strengths and weaknesses of each band member, and is ready to assist depending on the dilemma. The producer is here to help the work flow and not solve all the band’s creative conundrums. A producer wants the band to work together and find their way. Some of the best musical breakthroughs have been birthed out of what was initially seen as a creative setback.
Putting It Into Practice
Support the creative process by providing a boost in places you know students will struggle. During lab activities, I anticipate that students will struggle taking the raw data from the experiment and transforming it into an analysis and conclusion. Therefore, I prompt students that, “once you have completed your data table for part one of the lab, call me over for a verbal check on what you have collected.” When a group notifies me of that benchmark, I have a few calibrated questions that I ask:
- What trend do you see in the data?
- Did you anticipate this in the hypothesis?
- Is there anything from the reading or what you already know that is similar to this?
Motivate each group to utilize each other. Use professional experience, a grasp of content knowledge, and an understanding of group dynamics to help guide them along. Help students develop valuable problem-solving skills.
Constantly Reflect and Refine
6) Go With the Flow:
- Take informal notes to improve the signature sound activity for the next go round.
- Jot down ideas as the students work.
- Identify what worked well through observation.
- Note areas of the activity that were completely off the mark.
No One Gets It Right The First Time
Improve the experience for the students, the dynamics of your teaching, and the quality of work being done in your classroom by starting now. Don’t wipe the slate clean each year. Make small, but important changes with each iteration of the activity. Day to day, things may not appear varied in your classroom—but each year your signature sound experience will feel dramatically different for the students as you stick with it. You will learn what works and what doesn’t. Remember, a touring band works out their musical performance over a series of shows on a tour. A similar process develops in the studio, as the band refines their signature sound with repetition and reflection.
Putting It Into Practice
Use reflection and refinement to improve the signature sound for your classes. These understated changes can be incorporated over varied time frames. Here are some things I do to help me refine my activity:
- I print a copy of my signature sound activity info packet and put it on my clipboard as I walk around and observe the students interacting with each other.
- I demonstrate interest and ask questions about their work. Students often seize the opportunity to volley questions back to me about the activity. I jot a few things down on my copy in pencil for each class.
- I reflect on these items for improvement in the next iteration of the signature sound activity. I may incorporate them immediately through an announcement at the next class session, or I may incorporate them later by modifying the guiding document used for the activity.
- Some items I have written in the past relate to clarity of instructions, best practices of the students, or extension items to add based on student interest.
Finding your signature classroom sound will enable you to become a better teacher, as your students become invested participants in the entire learning experience. You will become energized as they see the vision for the course and grow with you.
Who’s your inspiration?
Where did you find your inspiration to search for your signature classroom sound? Connie Wells from Kansas sparked my imagination to use labs as a valuable teaching tool. Dave Grohl, of the band Foo Fighters, inspired me to identify how I found my signature classroom sound over the past fifteen years.
I’d enjoy hearing about your inspiration for change as an educator. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug will be regularly contributing to a series for educators on Wiley Exchanges offering practical advice and instructional strategies.
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