Back to School Teacher Moves that Build

This is the last week of a fabulous link up for Back to School hosted by Fancy Free in Fourth, Ramona Recommends, and Not So Wimpy Teacher. It’s all about STUDENT ENGAGEMENT! My {quick} strategies are about keeping students engaged during the lesson! Enjoy!

As a middle school teacher, there is always drama! It’s part of the gig. #truestory Therefore, my job is to keep students engaged during the lesson so that they are not off in “the fifth dimension” thinking about the drama. The best way to do this, is to use your teacher moves! My bottom line is to make sure that Every is ALWAYS ON! We vow to “make every minute count” in my classroom. That means we keep the flow of the class moving and students thinking. It DOES NOT mean going too fast so that students can’t keep up with the work, but rather thinking about what EVERY student is doing at each moment during the class, assigning a “thinking job”, and effectively calling on students to share/check their thinking. Below are moments when some students might be OFF, and the teacher move(s) I use to keep them ON!

OFF Example #1: Calling on ONE student to think about AND answer a question

We’ve likely all been here before. The moment you call on a scholar to answer a question and then wait, sometimes awkwardly as they get to their response. In the meantime, half of the class appears to be patiently waiting and listening, but are actually thinking about … lunch,  a text to send,  drama that happened during class transition, what’s happening on Instagram, their next FB status update, ect. There’s another subset of students who are becoming frustrated with the student you called on.
Consider this:
Before calling on a student, ask the question, have students think about their answer, and use the cold call strategy to identify the student who is going to answer. This sounds like, “How does the author use imagery to contrast the feeling between x and y?…WAIT TIME!!!!! Call on a student.” This ensures that everyone has thought about the question, and has an answer. To keep the other scholars involved say, “Listen to <insert student name>’s answer, I am going to call on someone to evaluate their response”  Now, everyone in the class has a thinking job. Depending on how quickly the student is able to answer, continue to cold call other students to help them out, or do a quick turn and talk so that students get to share their ideas and then cold call on a student to share and evaluate their partner’s idea!
OFF Example #2: I DON’T KNOW (also known as IDK)
We have a no-opt out culture. Meaning you might not know now, but you will. In my first years of teaching students would say “I don’t know” and I would just move on to another student. YIKES! Nothing kills an academic culture quicker than the belief that there’s an opportunity to opt out of the lesson. 
Consider this:
If a student says, “I don’t know” and you’ve done a lot of set up already (refer the example above), call on a student who likely knows the answer and give the entire class the thinking job of “evaluating” their response (one of my favorite tools). After the student gives the answer, quickly call on another student to summarize what they said, and then come back to the student who initially said, “I don’t know.” Ask this scholar to answer the initial question based on what they’ve heard.  Important Consideration: We have to use our teacher judgment in determining whether or not the student opting out is doing so for attention, or not. I err on the side of assuming the best, and try to ensure that my tone, body language, and eye contact is positive. I don’t want this to become a teacher vs student showdown! If the student is still confused, I’ll quickly clarify for the student, and create a note to follow up with the student as they practice. 
OFF Example #3: Teacher Talk 
This is often called ratio. As teachers, we have to think about the amount of time we are doing the “heavy lifting.” A key indicator for me is the way I feel after class. If I am exhausted physically and mentally, it was likely because I was doing too much of the thinking and practice. In my experience, nothing turns students off quicker than sitting for extended periods of time while the teacher pontificates about the lesson, or does all the work for the students. 
Consider this:
When planning lessons, think about when and where students are doing the thinking. Be proactive in including back pocket questions, or questions that you can ask if students are not able to answer the question you ask. More importantly, plan for misconceptions. Thinking about misconceptions enables me to write better back pocket questions and prevents me from talking too much because I am prepared for the misconception. 
I’ve included a few quick {non-exhaustive} examples and considerations of how to keep students engaged during my lessons using teacher moves. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, and be sure to hop around for more wonderful strategies!  



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Picture of Tanesha B. Forman

Tanesha B. Forman

I'm a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!

Behind the Blog

Hi, I'm Tanesha.

I’m a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!




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