Focus On: Learning Clocks

During the de-brief of the October Learning Classroom session, the topic of using Learning Clocks came up, the question of how to use them, and it was suggested that my Grade 10 Applied students were able to move seamlessly from their ‘home desk quad’ to their Learning Clock partners and then back again.

What I have done differently this year, or what I have done more consciously and deliberately, is I told the students on the first day of class was that my priority, my target, was for every student in the class to be successful, whatever ‘successful’ means for each student. And nothing would please me more than for each student to earn the credit.

In the past, I have usually begun the year with a slide show about ‘These are the class rules and the school rules and if you don’t follow them you won’t be successful and these are the consequences’. I was inspired, however, by something I heard from having the wonderful opportunity to meet with and learn from the inaugural Learning Classroom team of last year. Someone from the team said that, on the first day, they try to focus on the positives and then model that positive tone that is such a critical part of a differentiated culture in a classroom. When I heard this, it scared me, to be honest. It meant taking a risk; I have always started with, for lack of a better term, the negatives: rules and consequences.But, I felt like taking a risk and I did. I started with a slide show about the positives.

Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t cover the rules and consequences on the first day, and I’m definitely not saying that teenaged high school students don’t need structure and rules and consequences — they most assuredly do. What I think I tried to do differently this year was to start focusing on the positives: I told the students that I want all of them to be successful, and anything we do in this class this year is for that 40, 000 foot goal.  I told them that, yes, there are rules with consequences, but those rules are there to keep all of us safe, because a person who feels unsafe or threatened is, obviously, under a lot of stress, and that kind of stress prevents learning and success.

How does this connect to Learning Clocks? I was upfront with my students: I said we are going to doing some cooperative learning activities in this class fairly frequently, and I know from your Learning Profiles and our Class Profiles that some of you don’t like this kind of activity. But, brain research by researchers over many years has shown what is on the Learning Pyramid: when you work and talk with other people in the class instead of just hearing me talk at you, then your rate of retention can go from 5% to 50%. And if you help another person to learn, then your rate can jump to 90%. And everyone in this room wants to get this credit and get as high a mark as possible, so why wouldn’t we try some of these things some of the time — not all of the time — but some of the time?

And so, I just pressed on and ‘just did it’, almost from Day 1. And if a student were to give me ‘push-back’, I had that explanation of ‘their success is the most important thing in this class’ ready to go. Whether is was the pre-emptive explanation or that my desire to do this activity or my belief that it actually can work or some type of ‘vibe’ that this is just the way it is in this class, I’m not sure, but both of my classes are willing to try something like Learning Clocks because it may contribute to their success and who wants to say that they don’t want to be successful?

And so, I have just used them every so often and not apologized for using them and the students have just become used to them, I suppose.

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