Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 22 2011

100% Student Engagement Is Possible

I’m having a hard time not doing cartwheels down the hallway right now.

I don’t know what order to spew all of this in; I don’t even know all of the things I have to say. I’m REELING from the success of whole brain teaching in my classroom today.

They LOVED it. They were smiling and laughing and they were all participating! I should probably go run  off some steam (good steam) before I write something I’m going to expect people to read and comprehend, but I’m too excited and I want to share EVERYTHING with you.


- woke up at 5:00 am because I wanted to run before school. Stumbled to the bathroom wondering “WHY am I so tired?”
- woke up again at 6:20, thinking HOLYGUACAMOLEI’MLATEI’MLATEI’MLATE.
- showered & dressed while planning to make the 6:50 bus to get to school right before 8am.
- looked at the clock again. It was not 6-something am. It was 8-something. Whoa. whoa. This is a whole different ballgame. School starts at 8:45.
- cursed a little
- called a teacher at my school; no answer.
- called a cab.
- Got to school riiiight before the last bell! Success #1.

My lesson plan was a list of items, like a to-do list, with checkboxes. Quite as detailed, but not as structured as the ones I  wrote for Institute. It was PERFECT. I never forgot what was coming next, I never said, “what was I about to say?”… Everything transitioned smoothly and it was SO nice. Definitely going with that lesson plan structure from now on.
I taught 4 periods today (1, 3, 5, 7). I started out by having them fill out just the address/name/phone number part of their survey and hand it in to practice handing in papers. We set up just the very basics of our binders. And THEN, none too soon (because usually at about this point kids would start talking while I was talking and swearing in conversation with each other), I explained the scoreboard at the front of the room.
“We’re going to play a game,” I said. “It’s me vs. you. If I win, I get to assign you more homework.” (insert lip-smacking and general loud discontent from the class here) “BUT if you win, you get less  homework.”
My fifth period was all OVER it, asking all sorts of clarifying questions about how to win points and whether it was more problems or more assignments. I received the suggestion from every period that it should be “less homework” and “No homework.”

“The Class/Yes is the first way you earn points,” I told them. “Have you done Class/yes before?” no. duh. I don’t know why asking that question was so satisfying. I explained the Class/Yes, and lo and behold! They did it! I would have about five or six kids in every period sitting out contemptuously at this point, wondering whether their teacher was really going to be this childish, wondering whether it was worth it to be this silly in front of their peers. Thinking they would hold out and not let me tell them what to do. I let it go for now.
I then explained that I’d read some interesting research over the summer that said students learn more when they talk more. The Class/Yes, I explained, was the beginning of how I was going to get them to speak in class almost as much as I did.
Then I said I’d also read that students learn more when they move more, as well. And that this was another way they could earn points for their class. I used the five rules to show them what it would look like for me to do gestures, and to show them that they could earn more points if they gestured when prompted.

The rules went really, really well. I probably spent almost five minutes with them, having them recite rules out of order at me with gestures. I gave them points for things done well, gave myself points when I saw people not participating, and BASKED IN THE GLORY of watching my students peer pressure each other into doing what I wanted them to do.

I said, “So we know these two things about student learning. Talking and Moving help. We’ve known for a while that teaching something also helps you learn it.” So then I introduced the Teach/OK and had them teach each other the five rules. It was fantastic to watch.

At this point, I handed out the syllabus and went over it WBT-style. I’d mention the key points of one or two sections, then summarize and have them teach each other. I went overboard with the points in first period and really had to reel it in at the end–it was a little rocky learning the balance of giving/getting points. I got much better at it by seventh period, but they were SO on top of it that I really had to fish for something to give myself points for (the goal was to ‘win’ the first day so they all completed my student survey at home, along with getting the syllabus signature).

We did a crossword puzzle I made online built from personal facts about me and a whole bunch of important stuff from the syllabus. Because I’m not a first year teacher, I knew when I made this crossword that I’d have to tell them how to spell “referral” and “interrupting” and “gestures.”

I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS YEAR. WE ARE GOING TO LEARN SO MUCH. If I can keep them at this place–if I can stay on top of Whole Brain Teaching and on top of doing all the things I’m not done with yet (long term plans, a bunch of systems materials in my classroom, tracking, and a cascade of other tantalizing but time-consuming and hard-to-prioritize items), I can HAVE THEM. One of my students asked about SAT prep with me of his own accord. The mood in my classroom was incredible. I wasn’t fighting or arguing against anybody. Breathe. This is just the first day of school (and I get ANOTHER first day of school tomorrow, which I’ll actually wake up in time to videotape for you all)–but Whole Brain Teaching has CHANGED EVERYTHING.

P.S. The other thing that has changed everything? A multi-color ballpoint pen with a caribiner-clip that attaches to my lanyard. ROCKED MY WORLD.

P.P.S.   .. .and HOLY oh my heavens. It may be that as a second year teacher I’m suddenly an explicit instructions badass, or it may be that seniors are just worlds different from sophomores–but either way, the kids I taught today followed more complicated instructions more correctly than any of the kids I taught all last year. I passed out a piece of notebook paper for them to use as their homework logs–and I felt a sense of impending doom as I drew the columns up on the board and told them to make their own log. Yes, this would have unraveled my classes last year, unless I’d planned out perfectly what to say and when and how much time to allow. But for my seniors… they did it! Correctly! Every one of them!
And when I handed a couple of them my black markers to write their names on their binders since they weren’t on my roster, they gave them back! I ended the day with exactly the same number of black markers that I started it with! Seniors are CRAZY-COOL!

5 Responses

  1. G

    I did WBT today too! Works like a charm, I tell ya! Can’t wait to completely integrate it!

    So glad you had a terrific first day!

  2. Brother #1

    I am proud of you!

  3. What’s the best book / resource on whole brain teaching?

    • Wess

      Go to http://www.wholebrainteaching.org, and download the free Ebooks! There’s a million and one. I’d recommend starting with “Industrial Strength WBT” if you teach secondary, or “Whole Brain Teaching for challenging kids (and the rest of your class, too)” if you’re elementary.

      • debryc

        Fantastic, thank you. I’ve downloaded the recommended books (and then some) and am excited to dig in! The first five pages of “WBT for Challenging Kids” has made me pause and skedaddle over to my learning goals to create a learning goal about being leaders in the classroom, with meeting expectations being the “Alphas” and exceeding expectations being the “Leaders”.

        I’m excited to supplement a second year that’s off to a fantastic start for me, as well!

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