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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

What Teachers Can Learn From Students

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 05, 2024 9 min read
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Today’s post is the latest in a multiyear series written by students. In this series, they share what they think all teachers can learn from what the students consider to be their best classroom experiences.

More Small Group Work

Sabrina Sultani is a junior at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.:

When I changed elementary schools after moving, I found it really challenging to make friends. It was a tough transition, and I often felt lonely during lunchtime. But then something amazing happened in one of my classes. Our teacher decided to assign us group projects.

At first, I was a bit nervous about working with new people. But the teacher was really good at creating a comfortable and supportive environment. He took the time to explain the purpose of group work and emphasized the importance of collaboration and communication.

He made sure to mix up the groups so that we had the opportunity to work with different classmates. This not only allowed us to learn from each other’s strengths but also helped us get to know one another on a personal level. The teacher encouraged us to actively listen, share ideas, and value each other’s contributions.

As we worked together on our projects, I noticed that my communication skills were improving. I became more confident in expressing my thoughts and ideas, and I learned how to listen attentively to my group mates. We had to discuss and negotiate different perspectives, which helped me develop empathy and understanding.

But the best part was that through these group projects, I made some amazing friends. We bonded over our shared goals and interests, and we started spending time together during lunch breaks and after school. It was such a relief to have a supportive group of friends who understood what I was going through.

Looking back, I believe that my elementary teacher’s decision to incorporate group work into our classroom had a profound impact on my social and communication skills. It not only helped me overcome my initial struggles with making friends but also provided me with a valuable foundation for future collaborations and relationships.

Based on my experience, I strongly believe that more teachers should consider implementing group work in their classrooms. Of course, it’s important to respect students’ preferences and provide options for those who may not feel comfortable in a group setting. But for many students, like myself, group work can be a transformative experience that enhances both communication skills and social connections.

istronglybelieve

Building a Growth Mindset

Anonymous is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

Throughout my school years, the best experience I’ve had in my classroom was building a bridge using only toothpicks and glue.

It was during 5th grade, where we were learning about different types of bridge structures. We were given a task to build the strongest bridge, and whoever’s bridge could endure more weight, would win. Without using any other material to cheat, I built a mini model using what I know about bridges. I was confident with my structure and, to my surprise, I won the task. All bridges were built with a space in between the beams or the base. That’s where a pencil goes through, in order to hook a box of weights on it.

As I watched my bridge being used, it fascinated me each time a student added a textbook into the box. Despite the huge amount of textbooks being added, the pencil broke instead of my bridge.

Through this experience, with the help of my teachers’ demonstration and leadership, I was able to use my ideas and creativity to build an endurable bridge I wanted. I think this assignment or task in general gave me the best experience because it allowed me to use my creativity by visualizing, critically thinking, and building (hands-on).

What other teachers could learn from this is to allow more hands-on activities for students so that they can express their creativity and do what they enjoy. Artistically, it doesn’t always have to be about drawing, painting, or coloring—it could be something unique, different, or beneficial.

I think being able to feel independent through guidance and enthusiasm during work in class makes school experience better for not only me but also other students. I think it’s one the most important ways for students to build a growth mindset.

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She ‘Made Me Feel Seen’

Clark Pittman is a member of the EL Education Student Advisory Council:

I used to get really anxious about going to school, tests, schedule changes, fire drills, and even other kids’ behaviors.

In 2nd grade, I had an anxiety attack one day, and my teacher, Ms. Petit, showed me how to make a paper crane and channel my anxiety into folding the cranes. Not only did it make me feel better, but I also started a new interest in origami.

Later, I ended up being able to go to the other older classes who were reading Sadako and the Thousand Cranes and I was able to share my story and teach them how to make paper cranes, too. I still do origami and make paper cranes whenever I am anxious or bored, and every time, it makes me feel good.

Connecting with kids is important. It doesn’t always need to be all about reading, writing, or math. Ms. Petit could have ignored my feelings or sent me out of the classroom, but she didn’t. Her small action helped me develop strategies for managing anxiety, allowed me to teach others, and is something I carry with me daily.

When my 6th grade teacher’s dog died, I made him a paper crane because I wanted him to feel better and that someone cared. He kept his crane on the wall, and all year, it was a reminder of the ways we can show care for others.

Even the smallest acts can change someone’s life. I am so grateful that Ms. Petit took time to connect with me as it made me feel seen, heard, and safe in her presence. Most importantly, it made me feel like I was somebody important and that it was OK to feel what I was feeling.

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Patience

Angie Ramirez Echeverria is a junior at Luther Burbank High:

My best experience is when the teachers are patient with us. For those of us who do not speak English, there are teachers who do their best and everything possible to help the students in the English language although it is difficult for the students.

The teachers do their best when students need help because they do not understand a problem and the teachers try to explain it to them. I did not know how to do a math assignment and I asked my teacher for help by giving me explanations. I managed to pass the problems and I was able to get a good grade in the exam, although my teacher did not speak Spanish.

There are teachers who are noble and try helping students with English and other students who are from another country like me. I like that the teachers come and help us so that we understand better so that we are not left wondering what this topic is about and I am grateful to many teachers who give us the support.

They do their best so that the students learn English better and that we are able to speak it and practice it with other people.

mybestexperienceangie

‘He Always Made Us Think About Our Futures’

Soraya Castillo is a senior at Luther Burbank:

My math teacher was someone that had a very big impact on me. He was one of those people who always checked up on me. He had a connection with all his students, he knew how to make a bond with us. Me and my friends still go to him whenever we need help with anything whether that be for educational purposes or personal life.

He encourages us to be better than we were the day before, he sees a future in each one of us. His motivational speeches are what always motivated me just a little more than the last one. He told us things about relationships, friendships, life, how to invest, how to save money, he actually taught us things we can use when we go off to the real world.

I appreciate him a lot for that, because in school they teach us but not things we use every day. I think having someone who always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself, really helped me to be where I am today. Yes I know all teachers say they believe in us, but my math teacher showed he really did care about us and our future.

When we would talk about our future to him, you would just see a big smile on his face. Talking about our future always made him so happy to hear, he was always so invested. Even if we didn’t want to go to college, he would be a little sad that we weren’t but would encourage us to at least try to go to college. He never down talked us for not wanting to go, he would still be there listening with a big smile ready to support us in any way he could.

He always made us think about our futures, what we think our lives are going to look like two years from now, five years, 10 years, and what we wanted to see for ourselves.

My family didn’t believe in me as much as he did. He is the person who made me believe in myself, who made me believe I can be someone in this life. All we need to do is keep walking toward our future and not give up even on our bad days, and that it is OK to have bad days, just don’t let that one day stop you from reaching what you want.

havingsomeone

Thanks to Sabrina, Anonymous, Clark, Angie, and Soraya for contributing their thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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.

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