Backstory #1: I am trying a new bell work procedure this year. In short, I walk around the room with a handful of green fork pens. When someone finishes the bell work correctly, they get a green star and a green pen. Now they are qualified to coach and star papers for other students, and so on, until everyone is done.
Backstory #2: I had an interesting conversation with a colleague recently. She mentioned that our German exchange student is used to finishing his work early. In Germany, he was always expected to help students who were still working. He observed that we don't do that much in our school. I rarely have students with nothing to do, but it made me think about how to more intentionally utilize students who "get it" to assist those who are struggling.
Fast forward to yesterday . . . My students were working on word problems.
I told students to do just one problem, and raise their hand to check it with me. In my mind, I was thinking that I wanted to make sure everyone was on the right track before moving on. But I had nothing else for them to do when they finished. Some were struggling away, and others were finished, twiddling thumbs, and otherwise disengaging.
In my head I was reminding myself . . . Always, ALWAYS, have something for next.
Then, light bulb! It occurs to me that my little green pen bell work procedure would be perfect for more than just bell work.
I picked up my supply of green fork pens and walked around the room answering questions as usual. When someone finished I gave them a green star and a green pen and the instructions -- "Now, look for someone (near you) who could use your help". They already knew what to do, since we've been doing this routine for bell work. Some of them amazed me with their ability to help someone else. I was helping one student when I saw another hand go up, so I directed someone with a green pen to head over there. I overheard the green pen student helping the other one find the mistake. I couldn't believe I was just going to have them sit there doing nothing for a few minutes while I ran around like a crazy person trying to answer all these questions and check all these papers.
I have tried to create a classroom culture of students coaching other students. I have my desks arranged in partners, and I talk about how everyone in the room is a teacher. Students are encouraged to ask their partner a question before me. Still, I have some students who are reluctant to request help from the person sitting next to them and other students who prefer not to be bothered.
I realized yesterday that I need to give students specific opportunities to coach someone else, and specific instructions on how to do so. What if completing a problem and checking in with your neighbor became the norm? I also discovered that my more advanced students are so much happier and more willing to help someone else AFTER they have had an opportunity to complete the problem on their own.
As an extra bonus, I also learned that the green pen has sort of become a status symbol of accomplishment in my classroom. Handing a student a green pen is a pat on the back, a passing of the baton, a rite of passage in the form of a writing utensil.
I hope to keep an eye out for students who never get a green pen in their hands and try to make it happen. I saw a struggling student light up yesterday when I handed him a green pen. "I've never gotten a green pen", he said. Sometimes it is the smallest things . . .