The Writing On The Wall


In traditional math classrooms, teachers spend far too much time answering questions for students. Our hints and suggestions often limit the amount of time our students spend engaged in productive struggle. As educators, we typically spend far more time thinking than our students.  If we want to maximize the impact that learning experiences have on our students, we must strive to teach more effectively in our classrooms. And it’s not about working harder, it’s all about working smarter.

Over the last several years, St. James-Assiniboia School Division has worked with Peter Liljedahl in an effort to further the process of building thinking classrooms within our schools. We’ve brought Peter to Winnipeg several times to engage in ongoing work with various groups of teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Peter Liljedahl’s name has appeared on this blog numerous times due to his research in the area of vertical, non-permanent surfaces and the role they play in requiring students to demonstrate their understanding of curricular content.



The Key Ingredients

One of the strategies that can have a dramatic impact on increasing student learning is using visibly random groupings to have students work collaboratively. A deck of playing cards can prove very effective in quickly and efficiently directing students to a vertical workspace. When used frequently, visibly random groupings can have a profound impact on increasing the sense of community within any classroom.

When requiring students to work collaboratively in vertical spaces, it’s essential that we provide our students with rich tasks. Problems that have a low floor and a high ceiling will allow for multiple points of entry so that all students can feel successful.

Why work vertically?

There’s a growing body of research that attests ‘sitting is the new smoking’ and there’s a variety of strategies that teachers can employ to encourage students to actively move about the classroom in meaningful ways. The expression ‘when the bum is numb, the brain is dumb’ clearly articulates the value of getting students physically involved with the learning process.

But there’s far more benefit to having students writing on the walls than simply increasing physical movement. The ideas that are generated and shared in vertical, non-permanent spaces spread quickly around the room and can lead all students toward deeper learning. The increased knowledge mobility can support all students with developing a better understanding about how big ideas are connected to one another. When student work lives on the walls, the teacher can readily identify gaps in learning and support students in reaching learning targets.



Making Learning Sticky

Non-permanent surfaces (including whiteboards, windows & Wipebook flipcharts) remove the stigma of making mistakes as students feel liberated to take more risks with their learning. In this context, the teacher becomes the facilitator and is afforded ample opportunity to assess student performance through the products, observations and conversations that are generated through the process of writing on the walls.



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