Instead of having 1 teacher, students now have 30


Christopher Luciani, Holy Spirit Catholic School, WCDSB

I was first introduced to the idea of vertical non-permanent surfaces, #VNPS, at mathematics PD sessions for Math Lead Teachers, organized by Sherrie Rellinger and Nancy Snyder, Numeracy Consultants (@MrsRellinger @snyderteach), WCDSB,  exploring @pgliljedahl's #thinkingclassroom.


Big thank-you to Sherrie and Nancy for organizing professional learning opportunities to investigate and learn about Peter Liljedhal's framework. I think that we have always been fortunate at WCDSB in that we have an abundance of forward-thinking individuals at all levels of leadership, who see real value in collaborating and co-learning concepts, which are key elements of Peter's #thinkingclassroom approach.


I for one was immediately hooked on the #thinkingclassroom teaching approach and below are some of my thoughts and key observations on it.


  vnps_6 wipebook_flipchart thinkingclassroom

Working together and sharing throughout the class  

Since implementing #thinkingclassroom methodologies in the classroom, I noticed that my interpretation of "collaboration" has shifted



  • Students working together and sharing their thoughts and work at the end of the class;


  • To students working together and sharing throughout the lesson.


The outcomes of the latter have been truly inspiring, and has totally shifted my teaching mindset from individual, to small group, to the classroom as a whole.  



Instead of having 1 teacher, students now have 30

Another key thing that I noticed: @pgliljedahl's #thinkingclassroom requires students to continually draw upon what they already have been exposed to in order to push their thinking forward.  


Not only does #VNPS allow students to engage MORE quickly and remain immersed in a task for a much longer period of time, in comparison to solving the same problem on paper and pencil, with #VNPS, students are able to share their thinking in real time because  random groups are dispersed visibly throughout the the periphery of the classroom.



Given this visible working environment, students can, for example, take a simple look around the room to observe what others are doing.  This often creates a spark and allows connection to something in the student schema, and in turn can allow for entry into a task if they are stuck, for example, this can allow students to advance through a “stop-thinking” moment.  In other words, the "visibility" can provide a "jumping-off" point for those students that need it.


Another thing, when working on challenging problems, students often cue their thinking from each other; it only takes one representation, model or calculation to spark a connection that solidifies their thinking.


Hence, instead of having 1 teacher, they now have 30.


To be more specific, in a recent proportional reasoning task, we explored connections between representations, and we noticed that students easily transferred their thinking from one context to another when using #thinkingclassroom, more than likely because they could see and hear similar "thinking" around them, helping them build their conceptual understanding of the problem at hand.




Pushing #thinkingclassroom to the home

There is no question that #thinkingclassrom and #VNPS requires a shift in our mindset, as both educators and students embrace the role of co-learners.


But this concept can be stretched beyond the classroom.


For example, we noticed something really remarkable at a recent community function hosted at our school.  We exposed families to the idea of #VNPS and prompted students to engage in a math task with their parents.  


It was amazing to see the children collaborating with their parent’s to work through  challenging problems. And before we knew it, we were witnessing rich math talk between parents and their children.


We EVEN overheard some comments like “We need to do this at home!” “Math is so much fun this way!”



vnps_2 wipebook flipchart vnps_X

There you have it

Some interesting observations and benefits that I’ve noticed thus far in my experiences with the #thinkingclassroom model:

  • Students generally end up working together and sharing their thoughts THROUGHOUT the lesson as opposed to at the end;
  • Because of the visibly random group configuration, instead of having 1 teacher, students now have 30; and
  • Looks like the #thinkingclassroom and #VNPS could help with math problem solving at home as well.


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