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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What if You Only Had 5 Minutes to Inspire a Student?

By Peter DeWitt — September 04, 2013 3 min read
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First impressions are important. We know this. We’ve heard about it in commercials and read about it in books. The statement, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” is a popular statement that is ingrained in our psyche. As much as we often think this only means adult-to-adult relationships, it also pertains to the relationships we have with our students.

In an excellently written Education Week Teacher commentary, Pernille Ripp wrote that “most of us make our biggest mistake on our very first day.” That’s not the greatest way to make a positive first impression. To explain, Ripp went on to write,

Sure, I laughed with the students and made noises about our "class community." But as the all-important first week of school progressed, I went about dictating rules, establishing who was in control, and setting tight boundaries for the year."

As a former teacher, I can relate to Pernille’s commentary. I set out on the first day to establish rules with my young students. Sure I would take their input, but I knew that most of them would come up with suggestions that would please me. At a very young age kids know how to say the right thing. In Ripp’s commentary she goes on to give excellent advice on how teachers can avoid mistakes on their first day (click here to read the whole commentary)

But what about the days after that?

The very first impression we make with students is the most important but every day we have the opportunity to make a first impression...on their learning. New material is introduced to students every single day (we certainly don’t want Groundhog’s Day over and over again) and teachers have five minutes to inspire students to stretch their thinking and follow their own path to learning it.

At least that is what Mark Barnes thinks. Barnes is the author of Role Reversal and The Five-Minute Teacher, which is one of the new books in ASCD’s Arias series. In The Five-Minute Teacher, Barnes writes,

Highly motivated students may be better equipped to listen to lengthy lectures and 30-minute lessons, but they'll learn the material equally well, and perhaps better, if they investigate the content after instruction that lasts five minutes or less. Reluctant learners are prone to become disruptive as soon as a lesson surpasses the 300-second mark. In fact, you'll probably lose them much faster if you don't engage them immediately."

Let’s face it, we can all relate. Many of us have had to sit in trainings because of new accountability measures where we have to listen to a presenter talk about compliance measures that are coming from the state and federal level. There is nothing more mind-numbingly boring than spending more than five minutes listening to speakers who are really just trying to do their job...albeit in an un-engaging way. We are thankful for the ones who try to get us to think outside the box.

What Perinille Ripp and Mark Barnes are both pleading with educators to do is involve the students in an authentic way. Involving students in their own learning should really not be a controversial practice but too often students are told what to learn and do not get a choice in it. With strict national standards and increased accountability measures we are more at risk of this than ever.

What is a Five-Minute Teacher?
Barnes explains The Five-Minute Teacher by writing,

I recognize that the term five-minute teacher might imply direct instruction that only lasts for five minutes. In other words, five minutes of teaching followed by student work for the remaining time. Although some days might look like this (depending on the activity or project), the term actually refers to the idea that the teacher should never stand and deliver content for more than five minutes at a stretch."

Barnes goes on to say, “Instead, instruction should occur in brief increments, allowing students to explore content independently and collaboratively and to use rich project-based activities, collaborative conversations, mobile devices, and digital tools.” If you take the time to read Role Reversal you will also learn that Mark is less about grading and more about providing effective feedback.

Barnes and Ripp, much like many great teachers...trust their students. They have supports in place to make sure students continue to learn at their pace, but they provide them with the autonomy to follow their own paths, which is very exciting for students and for teachers. Most students will rise to the challenge when they know they have the support of their teacher.

And there is great research out there to support what Barnes and Ripp believe...

John Hattie (2009) has been researching student autonomy for years. In one of the largest meta-analyses done in education, which took place over decades, Hattie points to student autonomy and choice as a tool that has a high effect on instruction.

In Visible Learning, Hattie writes,

There is much value anticipating when student motivation is at its highest. Dörnyei (2001) noted that motivation is highest when students are competent, have sufficient autonomy, set worthwhile goals, get feedback, and are affirmed by others. He also challenged educators to seriously consider student demotivation caused by, for example, public humiliation, devastating test results, or conflicts with teachers or peers (p. 48).

In the End
Barnes writes,

An important aspect of being a five-minute teacher and creating a student-centered classroom is the willingness to promote autonomy among students. Within collaborative projects, such autonomy can manifest when students are given options to demonstrate their learning and the ability to choose their own partners--something many teachers are often reluctant to do. However, it's difficult to promote autonomy when students are constantly told exactly what to do and with whom to do it."

Can you find the thread weaving through Ripp, Barnes and Hattie? It’s about letting go of the control and trusting students.

The Five-Minute Teacher is one of ASCD’s first released arias that only has about 55 pages. The point behind the arias series is to provide practical steps that teachers can use tomorrow. Barnes is all about providing teachers with concrete examples that they can use in their classrooms immediately.

If you’re looking for a quick read, you should definitely read Pernille Ripp’s commentary for Education Week Teacher and download Mark Barnes’ The Five-Minute Teacher. Your students will thank you...on the first day and every day after that.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.