Teacher Preparation

TEACHER VOICE: My classroom is the loud one – and the students are thriving

How “controlled chaos” works

My classroom is the one with lots of noise and activity from students.

We like to get out from behind our desks, move around and have some fun — while learning.

Moving and having fun helps to create a positive classroom culture. And I feel that a positive classroom culture is fundamental to learning.

I’m not alone. Researchers from the Institute of Medicine found “children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.”

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School climate is associated with safety, healthy relationships, engaged learning and teaching and school improvement efforts. School climate has been shown to affect middle school students’ self-esteem, mitigate the negative effects of self-criticism, and affect a wide range of emotional and mental health outcomes.

Just like my students, I like to try new things. Towards the beginning of the most recent school year, I took my students into the gym with laundry baskets, scooter boards and balls for life-size game inspired by the classic Hungry Hungry Hippos game.

The students chose partners. One partner lay down on a scooter holding a round laundry basket. The other partner held up the scooter rider’s legs, steering the scooter around the gym to collect balls. (with permission from my principal and PE teacher.)

Once our time was up, the students counted their balls. For every red ball they collected, they had to answer a multi-digit addition problem. For every yellow ball, a multi-step story problem.

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Most of the time, our controlled chaos is found in the form of the actual learning process.

When reviewing concepts, I tell my students that they are the teachers. I sometimes place them in groups based on individual interests and assign them a narrowed topic.

They love teaching their fellow classmates about topics — deepening their knowledge of these topics at the same time — through songs, posters, plays and structures.

I also let them create their own Kahoot questions on their topic, which I assemble into a full-class review.

Movement and fun doesn’t always have to be present in academic units only. My kids fell in love with the Cha Cha Slide, which we did in between lessons as a class, along with our favorite video routines from GoNoodle.  They also love quick ten-minute review games of Multiplication Knock Out as we transition into daily math instruction.

I make sure my students realize how our brains work and that it’s okay to not be a quiet, still learner. We also loved diving into the growth mindset video series by ClassDojo and Stanford University to discuss that it’s OK make mistakes and not understand concepts sometimes.  My students always know that if I ask “Is it OK to not understand?” the answer I’m looking for is “Yes! As long as we’re trying our best.”

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Building a positive classroom environment isn’t just about what happens inside our classroom. Parents play a big role in reinforcing learning at home, encouraging creativity, exploration, and action outside of the classroom.

Technology is making it easier for me to share with my students’ parents what activities we did that day, and how they can extend the learning at home. Using the Class Story feature on ClassDojo, I am able to share video snippets of the students engaged in the activities and include links and instruction via messages or attachments that may further student learning outside of school.

A lot of parents seem at a loss when their child is struggling with a concept and won’t listen to their help at home.  I love finding innovative games and activities to virtually send parents that are differentiated for their children. It’s safe to say that it’s the kind of noise and possibly running around at home that parents don’t mind.

When you see children “play school” at home, it usually consists of filling out worksheets and sitting in rows.  I hope and truly believe that if any of my students ever play school, it looks (and sounds) a whole lot different.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Ashley LaGrow is a fourth-grade teacher at Mable Woolsey Elementary School in Knoxville, Illinois.

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