Apryl Taylor
Apryl Taylor Community Member Posts: 6 ✭✭✭
It is time for the classroom to mimic the courtyard. Students demonstrate great motivation, engagement, and commitment when participating in extracurriculars. If we approach our lessons like a practice, the classroom environment will transform in five ways:
  1. Teacher talk will be replaced with student talk.
  2. Monitoring will shift from compliance to understanding.
  3. Fixed mindsets will turn into growth mindsets.
  4. Isolated lessons and assignments will become part of a bigger picture.
  5. Perhaps most importantly, the classroom will evolve into a community.
Teacher talk will be replaced with student talk.
Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, many classrooms have fallen into the habit of relying on direct instruction. I understand the appeal of direct instruction when things feel chaotic but I promise there is a more appealing alternative! Consider, why do we get so excited about extracurriculars? Think about what happens at these practices after school, whether they be artistic, academic, or athletic. A thread that connects these activities is agency. We are eager to be more active players in our own lives, “main character energy” if you will. It’s a characteristic not often applied to the class periods that make up a student’s day. Consider the classrooms on your campus. Who is the “main character?” Where would the camera be pointed? At the teacher or the students?

Monitoring will shift from compliance to understanding.
This is not to say that the role of the teacher is less important. On the contrary, the teacher holds the most important responsibility as observer and facilitator. Think about an athletic coach. While the players are practicing, the coach is checking in on them. The coach certainly ensures their players are compliant with the task given to them - but they do so much more than that. Coaches consider: Are the players progressing with the skills they need to be successful in this activity? Would they benefit from practicing alongside a specific player? Do they need to do some drills with the coach? Are they ready for a challenge? Can they do more if they work together? Within this framework, the energy of the teacher will move around the classroom, targeting those most in need.

Fixed mindsets will turn into growth mindsets.
The thing that is so great about practice is that, well, it’s practice. The artists, competitors, and players are not meant to demonstrate excellence on the first try. Nor is it realistic to expect them to always win. That’s why there’s practice! Whether performing in a band, conducting a mock trial, or running over hurdles, students in extracurriculars are aware that their abilities will improve over time. Growth mindset is embedded into all of these extracurriculars in a way that is often not matched in the classroom. The choir listens to their last performance, the debater reads through the judge’s ballot, and the athlete watches the play-by-play. Reflection and action planning are normed in extracurriculars.

Isolated lessons and assignments will become part of a bigger picture.
“When will I ever need to know this?” will be eliminated from classroom discussions. That may be optimistic. It will at least be met with a clear and consistent response: “You will need to know this tomorrow.” Extracurricular practices certainly address specific skills but they are typically connected to a larger context and can be implemented immediately. A choir practices its scales so that its vocal range is better prepared for the next piece being introduced by the director. A football team practices tackles so that its plays are carried out safely at the next game. There is a purpose to practice, a purpose that the participants recognize is in their own best interest.

Perhaps most importantly, the classroom will evolve into a community.
As a teacher, one must know their students. Getting to know their personalities, interests, and motivators improves relationships. To create a productive community, students must know and respect each other. As a debate coach, I experienced a community of students who supported each other before, during, and after tournaments. Students could not wait until they would see each other after school. They wanted to have practice all day, every day. Each week it seemed like there was something they wanted to celebrate together, whether that be a victory, a birthday, or a Tuesday. I enjoyed taking pictures of the team as they practiced, when they won a trophy, and during their huddles. Consider, how many picture opportunities are there in your classroom? What would that picture look like?

Where do we start? Have a conversation with the baseball coach down the hall or the band director in the next building or the chess club supervisor who parks next to you. You could start with, “I noticed how close your team is and how excited they are about coming to practice. I’m working on adjusting the structure of my class and was wondering if you had any tips on how to build that community.” None of this happens overnight. It is a mindset shift that impacts planning, instruction, and grading. It will take time. After all, practice makes perfect.


  • Donna M Neary
    Donna M Neary Community Member Posts: 1 ✭✭✭
    Yes! Thank you for these reminders that we can "mimic the courtyard" to create engaging learning environments. Well done.
  • Xatli Stox
    Xatli Stox Community Member Posts: 10 ✭✭✭
    I particularly enjoyed this post and the practical samples to encourage change in the classroom. You are right, it takes time, but practice makes perfect! A few steps at a time would create a new environment to support student growth. Students would also be more aware of their learning process and their role in it.
  • Walter McKenzie
    Walter McKenzie Administrator, Moderator Posts: 753 admin
    @Apryl Taylor thank you for helping us make mind connections about learning connections!
  • First Jamaica ASCD
    First Jamaica ASCD Community Member Posts: 12

    Apryl this is a fabulous well-written piece. I enjoyed reading. Potent points! Kudos to you!

  • Apryl Taylor
    Apryl Taylor Community Member Posts: 6 ✭✭✭
    @First Jamaica ASCD Thank you so much for taking the time to read this!