Classroom Management: Tactile Learning and Insisting on Mastery

They’ve been given a piece of paper with random concepts and diagrams. These ideas relate directly to the lauric acid lab they just completed and to the content they will be reading about in their next homework assignment. This is a tactile experience engaging students in the content of Changes of State and the Kinetic Theory. The instructions are to cut the vocabulary terms and the sentences describing and the diagrams illustrating what particles are doing during each phase change and in-between.  Then, they are to glue them in the proper order beginning with “Solid” making the correct links between the words and the diagrams.

As soon as they pick up the scissors they are smiling. They read the words out loud as they cut. Then, they spread them out. “Do you think this goes with that picture?” Intensity fills the room as students concentrate to figure out the connections. First a comparison with each other’s work and then a final check with me before the final gluing. This gives me a chance with each individual to assess whether they are mastering the concepts. It is clear they are still struggling to make a connection between temperature and changes of state.

They are given the additional task to write what is happening to the temperature at each phase of their developing diagram (a direct link to the lauric acid lab).  These instructions are given verbally and written on the board. However, as soon as their last paper is glued down,  they are “done”. The chatter and joking and distraction begin and most of them simply ignore these additional instructions.  So, how do I get them to do it?

“Your exit ticket today is for me to see your written sentences regarding the temperature on your diagrams.” Suddenly they become productive again. They value their break time and do not want to be stuck in the class figuring out temperature and phase change connections. Hastily written sentences are shoved in front of me.  Instructions such as “I can’t read that, please make it legible” or questions like “What is actually happening when you add energy at this stage of your diagram?” or  “What is happening to the atoms and how does that relate to the temperature?” send students returning to their seats in a flurry. Some return three or four times before getting it correct. With each return to the seat there are heavy sighs and murmuring complaints. But once I give that final “OK a huge smile spreads across their faces. Grinning from ear to ear they insert their completed and accurate diagrams into their binders. Some even thank me. All of them cheerfully say “good-bye” as they head off to their well-earned break.

After a couple of months, they are already trained and fewer and fewer are needing to return for “redos” when we have similar activities. They realize I’m actually looking at their work and expecting mastery. Thus, they are making the effort to get it done correctly the first time. And, more and more are asking questions earlier on in the activity to make sure they understand.

Since this activity we have moved on to other topics but the discipline we have been developing is beginning to pay off. Many of the behaviors I described in my previous post have completely disappeared. They still have their moments but there is definite progress. And, my last assessment with them yielded individual ‘bests’ for all students and a drastic overall class improvement in performance at this stage of a unit. My genuine exuberance and expression of pride in them made them laugh at me but I could tell it also made them feel good.

My message from this experience? Give them a chance to “handle” the material, even if it is content but do not let it stop at being a ‘fun’ activity. Stay the course, not lowering standards, and insist that they demonstrate mastery. The results? Developing discipline and leaps in learning!