Brief Thoughts About Classroom Closing Strategies

I am still processing the keynote speech that Tracy Zager (@TracyZager) gave at TMC16 and I hope to write a coherent blog post about it soon. One thought that is on my mind because of her is that I need to make a serious commitment to thinking more deeply about how my classes end each day. FAR too often they end with me, or a student, noticing that time is up (we do not have beginning or ending bells for our classes) and everybody packing up quickly and scurrying off to their next class. This has to stop. It is not fair to my students AND it undermines any habits of thoughtful reflection that I claim to be important for me and for my students.

At my last school I had an alarm clock app on my laptop that was relatively easy to manage. I programmed it every morning to sound with 3 minutes left in class. I had it linked to a portion of Steve Reich’sĀ Music for 18 Musicians on my iTunes library. What happened at this point was that the music faded in and increased in volume for about 30 seconds. This was our cue to start wrapping up class. My students got in the habit of using this time to slowly pack up their page while we tried to have a conversation about what went on in class that day. When I changed schools I changed laptops and I did not find a similarly friendly app. I also was not thrilled with how those conversations went so I sort of abandoned this idea. Looking back, I am pretty disappointed in myself about this. Whether or not I can find an appropriate timer app (I could, of course, just use something as direct as a kitchen timer) I certainly did not need to abandon this idea. We have been having conversations at our school about our schedule and about the busyness of each day for our students. Our classes are in three different building on our campus and there are many times during the day where the five minute passing time between classes is a stretch for some of our students. If they simply dash from one class to the next with no structured opportunity to pause and reflect, then we teachers should not be surprised when there is less than ideal recall about recent conversations and activities in class. I do not want to obsess about each minute we spend together and get defensive about the idea that ‘class time’ ends before the actual end of the scheduled class. Looking back at the habit I tried to instill at my last school, I think I was coming from a good place. I often framed these two to three minute chats just in the light of ‘What do we know now that we did not know 40 minutes ago?’ and I suspect that this is a decent place to start. However, as with most classroom practices, if I am not diligent and thoughtful about its implementation, I suspect that students will simply see my class as one that ‘ends’ three minutes sooner than it is scheduled for. I also think that they would be largely appreciative of this extra time to breathe, to dash to the bathroom, or to simply stroll to their next class at a more leisurely pace. Honestly, this little advantage in and of itself would not be a bad thing. But I have larger goals than that. I want my students to start to get in the habit of reflecting on our time spent together, to think about how we have grown as a group in our time together, to pause and reflect on an important problem we discussed, a surprising result we found, or a challenge that still lies before us. If I have any real hope of this happening, I need to be a disciplined and structured role model for this habit and, I think I need to be transparent about this. I want to discuss this as a goal at the beginning of the year and I want to refer back to this conversation. Recently I shared a document I created calledĀ How to Succeed in Geometry. You can find it here. It is a draft in progress and I intend to create similar docs for my other courses. I need to add in some more description at the beginning about how we will conduct discussions in class (thanks to the great TMC16 morning session run by Matt Baker (@stoodle) and Chris Luzniak (@pispeak)), how we will try to end our time together on most days, and how we are going to commit to paying attention to each other and not just to what old Mr. Dardy has to say on any given day.

Please help me flesh out and improve my ideas about classroom closing strategies by sharing your questions, comments, stories of success in this area either here in the comments or over on the twitters where I am @mrdardy