Coming back from Winter Break can be tricky. Everyone’s been away from their routines for two weeks. Maybe they’re not as sharp as they could be. And maybe by mid-year it’s not just winter break that has led to decreasing follow-though. My colleague Jen Kim offered up this very useful discussion of clip we recently watched that could be useful in sharpening things up a bit in the days just after break and building student understanding and buy-in at the same time. Jen writes:
January is upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you know that this is the time for resolutions and reboots, especially in the classroom. Coming back from break is the perfect time to sharpen things up a little bit, so I wanted to share with you a clip of a sixth grade literacy class of Caitlin Reilly’s at Excellence Girls Middle Academy in Brooklyn.
The clip shows how to reinvest your students in a system that you may already have in place. (No worries, if you don’t have a longstanding system, these techniques are just as effective work to rolling out new systems in the New Year).
Watch Caitlin, and as you watch, consider, what is effective about how Caitlin revamps her system?
Some thoughts: The clip begins with Caitlin asking the question, “How is oppression different from cruelty?” She then gives her students a generous dose of Wait Time in which to think about their answer. As she asks for responses, she generates some momentum by narrating hands: “Two three, four, five six. Nice job, track Tian.” Things are looking great, until she notices that not all of her students are tracking (or looking at) Tian.
Tracking is an important system, as she is about to explain to her girls, and so she takes a minute to maintain and support it by practicing and re-explaining it. She uses a quick Do It Again to make sure all of her students are with her, but she still senses sluggish follow-through. It’s one of the first days back from summer vacation and her students are wondering: “Do we really have to do this tracking thing?” The mojo is low, they’re tired or they’ve forgotten the reasons why it’s important to track. Of course, kids do that, especially after some time away, so Caitlin decides to take a moment to re-frame the system and its rationale.
Her rationale is grounded in Purpose Not Power-she’s answering the “why.” Her students are asked to follow through to show respect for one another. After her crisp and compelling explanation, the shift is visible. As soon as Caitlin asks her students to track Tian for the last time, you see the girls turn their bodies even to show that they are tracking and listening to what their classmate has to say.
Also, notice how quickly Caitlin was able to reboot a system and re-invest her students in it: less than a minute. You can tell that Caitlin had planned for this moment. She had the rationale explanation it in her toolkit ready for when she needed to use it so when she had to deliver it, it was spot-on.
As you think about the new year, welcoming back your students from winter break, think about whether you could apply some of Caitlin’s moves to your classroom. Pick a couple of Systems and Routines, and consider: Why is it important that your students do them? Script out how you would roll out a reminder or re-explanation to your students. Maybe even practice it with a colleague! Most importantly, store it in your teacher toolkit, and have it ready for the new year! These little moments have a huge impact into building the classroom that you wish to have for you and your students. Cheers Caitlin!