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Getting Students Out of the Chill Zone
Alecia Pulver
Friday, August 31, 2018

A student sits politely in the back of the room, eyes forward on the teacher, nodding along from time to time in agreement.  Is this student following along in class, gleaning all the necessary information? Or have they mastered the art of hanging in the Chill Zone - that sweet spot where they appear to be focused, but are miles adrift from classroom discussion?

On August 21st, Stanley teachers worked with national presenter, Dr. Kevin Feldman, learning multiple engagement strategies for use in their classrooms. Dr. Feldman’s engagement strategies and professional feedback forums have been coined the “Academic Literacy Program”.  His strategies, all based on research, are being utilized in Minot, Fargo, Devils Lake, Jamestown, and smaller districts in between.  Teachers from Watford City, Trenton, and Grenora joined Stanley teachers for the in-service day.  The strategies teachers learned are designed to keep all students active and involved.

Traditional lecture-filled classrooms with students raising their hands to answer questions can actually be detrimental to some students. Those students that choose to be involved in discussions reap the benefits, while those that would rather not participate get further behind.  Studies show that often only 20% of the class is participating while 80% is waiting for the first group to answer the questions. Many students figure out that if they appear to be paying attention, they can get by with minimal participation and minimal effort.  The hallmark of a highly engaged classroom is having all students ‘doing the doing’ - answering and asking questions, volunteering, etc.  Dr. Feldman uses the expression “Everyone does everything.”

Part of the engagement process is to make all learning visible, whether that is through partner discussion or quick writes.  Teachers can employ techniques such as “Think, Link, Ink” where students are given one minute to think of an answer to a question, share it with a partner, and write it down. Another engagement strategy is called  “Give One, Get One” where students go around in groups, giving solutions to a particular question while the receiving ideas from a peer. 

With engagement strategies, students are taught the skill of listening.  Listening does not simply mean not talking.  Listening is an active cognitive process.  Teachers need to work to structure the act of listening by assigning jobs to the listener. This can include the skill of paraphrasing, which actually improves comprehension across the curriculum and builds proficiency in other content areas.  Students are supported in the processes with prompts such as:

            You think that…..

            You said that that….

            So what you are saying/suggesting is….

            In other words, you believe that…

Studies have shown that when students spend time working in groups in class they enjoy school more, have an increased sense of belonging, and feel they are missed when they are not at school.

Dr. Feldman will visit the school multiple times during the school year.  In upcoming visits, teachers receive additional instruction in the engagement strategies.  Teachers also receive support through peer observation and feedback.  Classroom teachers invite their coworkers into their classroom to provide supportive feedback on instructional practices. Teachers have stated these learning walks have been incredibly helpful to supporting the development of engagement strategies in daily instructional practice. Asking teachers to observe each other, to plan together, and to adopt shared teaching methods can dramatically improve teaching and learning within a school.  Stanley Public School’s goal for this year is to use engagement strategies in all classes, in every grade, every day.