Opening Bell is a strategy I use to start class every day. I start by asking students to "clamshell" their computers--closing their devices almost all the way--and then I give a whole-class greeting. We spend the next two minutes checking the review section of the class agenda and preparing for the whole-class mini-lesson, announcements, and/or administrative tasks. Given that my students spend a significant portion of each class working independently or in small groups, Opening Bell gives us the opportunity to come together as a whole-class community before students start working on their own.
To take a quick pulse of the class I may do a fist to five (students hold up a fist if they had difficulties or were unable to get in synch with the rest of class to a five which means they felt successful and are ready to transition to the next station). This Likert scale type voting gives me the opportunity to be responsive to specific student needs and quickly ascertain which students need my immediate attention or which student’s work/submissions I should review. There are also times when I feel it is appropriate to hear from students and give them the opportunity to exercise their student voice. During this exercise I take both volunteers and non-volunteers to give me their “thrills and chills/roses and thorns/high and lows of the day”. I think it is important for students to see me receive critical feedback or praise and be able to appropriately respond. It is extremely powerful for students to make a suggestion on how our class should operate and see it implemented almost immediately.
When I am the teacher-artist, I consider the personalities and work ethic of students. If there are chatty students or students who are going to end up in a conflict, I cannot put them in the same group because of the nature of not being able to facilitate all of the students at once. In this instance, it is more important to create groupings that promote a harmonious learning environment. There are times when I form groups based on pre assessment or skill deficits. When the instructional focus is writing or the writing process, I found that grouping students with the same instructional need for that particular set of writing prompts has produced the most gains. These homogeneous groups allow students to practice a skill with their peers and for the small group instruction to be more targeted and specific to the needs of the learners. There may be a group of students who are struggling with the thesis statement for a particular prompt or may have difficultly connecting the content to writing process. These students would be placed in the same group.
At the beginning of each Independent Learning Zone class session, I do a quick review of Independent Learning Zone Expectations. This strategy encourages the whole class to come together as a community with common expectations in mind before students begin working independently for the remainder of the class.