Tag Archives: Barrie Bennett

Learning Clocks: Caveat

As I begin reflect on the semester that is quickly coming to a close, a thought occurred to me about using Learning Clocks in my classroom and the degree of success I have had when using them.

A few years-ish ago, I was a member of year-long ‘cohort’ that studied with / attended professional development with an education professor from OISE named Barrie Bennett. It was through these sessions that I was introduced to and became a convert of cooperative learning.  Bennett, however, provided a caveat: group work can be one of the most powerful forms of learning if done properly but group work done ineffectively can be almost destructive in a classroom.

It was this caveat that bubbled to the surface of my brain the other day when thinking about Learning Clocks over the last few semesters. Just to provide a little bit of context, I now engage in:

  • a lot of community building so students can become more familiar with each other,
  • my ‘standard teaching practice’, so to speak, involves a lot cooperative learning and student interaction,
  • I try to vary my teaching practices so that I am addressing V.A.K. on a daily basis when possible,
  • and I strive to incorporate ‘not-sitting-down’ activities to address
    the different multiple intelligences of students, particularly kinesthetic.

But there is something about Learning Clocks that puts in that same column of ‘complex group work’ that can be ‘destructive’ as Bennett described. And I’m not completely sure why.

I suspect that it appears like such a simple pair work structure but, like an activity such as Jigsaw or Academic Controversy, etc., it requires planning and forethought by the teacher — lest it go awry, as it has done for me. Here are some things I think I might change for the future:

  • The 5 Elements of Effective Group Work by the Johnson brothers
    would appear to be necessary here. (Positive Interdependence, Face-to-face interaction, Individual Accountability, Interpersonal &  Small Group Skills, and Group Processing).
  • But perhaps more importantly: A sensitivity to the social currents in the classroom. That is to say, I have discovered in current / recent classes that I have had ‘mortal enemies’ in my class and I / we have worked hard to get those enemies to a place where they are civilized and keeping their snide comments to themselves.  To then ask these students to participate in the set up of Learning Clocks which asks them to find anywhere from 3 to 12 learning partners means that there is a high likelihood that the enemies will be paired together or with friends / allies. But then worse than that, Learning Clocks are potentially long-term partnerships, and I think that it is this part of the structure that has the potential to be the most destructive, because these ‘enemies’ sense “I have to be her / him for how long?” and the activity is dead before it begins.
    *** Note: I am not suggesting that I allow bullying or ugly behaviour to exist in my classroom. I am, however, a realist and perhaps a pragmatist, as I feel a high school teacher has to be: to again quote Barrie Bennett regarding classroom management “Hope for the best but plan ahead for the worst.”

To think about next: Am I being too pessimistic or too quickly pulling the proverbial parachute escape cord? Because when it has worked, Learning Clocks can be very powerful… I should also be mindful of the Implementation Dip, learned again from Barrie Bennett.


Being Mean in Clock Partners

When my student teacher (teacher candidate) and I introduced the Learning Clocks to my grade 9 / 10 split class of 9 students today, I figured it would be tricky due to the small size of the class. I imagined that one student would be left without a partner so we’d have to improvise and then add that person to make a group of three people.

What I didn’t expect — and should have — was, essentially, some grade-school behaviour: as the available partners dwindled, one girl was trying to find a partner for one of her empty spots and attempted to ask a male classmate if he would be her partner, and, in a not very quiet voice, he said, “I don’t want to be her partner.” And her hurt feeling were apparent on her face.

What I should have had my student teacher do is what I do for virtually all ofther activities I do in class involving cooperative learning or community building: I ‘front-load’ the activity with either just a verbal reminder about including people to make them feel safe and welcome, or I could have created a slightly more formal mini-lesson on effective or appropriate group work as a discussion or even using “Looks Like / Sounds Like” where specific positive behaviours are brainstormed and written down.

Clock Partners / Learning Clocks can be a really effective way for students to hear multiple viewpoints on a topic, for all forms of assessment and for community building, etc. but it runs more smoothly when I take the time to follow Barrie Bennett’s advice about pre-emptively planning ahead for potential classroom management or social issues

Inside Outside Circles

Inside Outside Circle


Inside Outside Circle is a kinesthetic activity that involves all students in the class and that facilitates short exchanges between students.


The teacher forms two concentric circles containing the same number of students. Students in the inside circle face a partner standing in the outside circle… Read more here.

Motivation: It must come from within

In her newest book “Tuned Out: Engaging the 21st Century Learner”, Karen Hume writes, “The long-term motivation needed to develop competencies in any area of life must be intrinsic — it must come from within the individual.”  This echoes the quotation I have on the front page of this blog and has been the elephant (or 800 lb gorilla) in the room for me with my teaching: I want students to be engaged in my classroom from within.

That is to say, for a variety of reasons, it is my goal to create a culture inside my classroom where students don’t hate and even enjoy coming to English class.

How am I trying to achieve that? Well, that is the question, isn’t it. I am trying to use the following:

  • Treating the students with dignity.
  • Presenting information with enthusiasm.
  • Using humour in a positive and even self-deprecatory way.
  • Employing teaching methods / strategies / structures that have been tested and vetted by educational experts (such as Robert Marzano or Spencer Kagan), and always striving to integrate these strategies and structures as much as possible, as Barrie Bennett suggests.
  • Weaving choice into the classroom wherever and whenever possible.
  • Deliberately employing team-building / community-building activities
  • Using assessment as and for learning everyday and oftentimes multiple times in a day.
  • Responding to the feedback I receive from students to either offer effective corrective teaching or to offer multiple entry points to learning via their interests, learning profiles, or their readiness.
  • Using ICT in the classroom whenever it is appropriate, including Web 2.0.

These are some of the ways I am trying to engage students in my classroom so that they actually might come to class with a mindset of wanting to learn. Plus, to be selfish, there is a job satisfaction element here as well: battling students each day is not the way I want to spend the next 15+ years of my career.


Focus On: TEDx Talk by Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

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Diana Laufenberg, in her TEDx Talk “How to Learn? From mistakes” asks a   powerful question, which I will paraphrase: If our grandparents and parents went to school to get information that only existed in the school and in the … Continue reading