Let’s examine learning from the student experience perspective. This approach can dramatically change the ways in which we deliver instruction and provide a pathway to a truly dynamic student experience. Isn’t that exactly what our students want? Consider the difference – do students want to go through each, with little consideration of their voice and perspective, or are they energized by a dynamic classroom experience that supports them to be fully present and engaged? We can meet every student’s needs by shifting our approach in this way, but it requires teacher commitment, courage to innovate, and the ability to view our work from the learner’s critical perspective. 

What is a Dynamic Classroom?

As we think about the concept of a dynamic classroom, the following definition is helpful guidance. A dynamic classroom is one where the learners: (Ciaburri, 2022)

  • are clearly involved in the learning
  • participate in the prompts and activities provided by the teacher
  • actively provide continuing thoughtful and robust responses
  • experience excitement and confidence as they assess their own learning
  • eagerly await “what is next” in the learning

Outcomes in a Dynamic Classroom

It certainly can be challenging to establish all five elements in a classroom and they do establish a high bar. And it requires time and planning on the part of school leaders and teachers to cultivate these types of outcomes. That being said, just think about the outcomes. Energy creates energy. When students feel and know they are moving ahead in their learning, they participate more freely, there are fewer behavioral issues and disruptions in the classroom, and (no surprise) attendance goes up. Students actually want to be “in school.” This is a great accomplishment when our students want to be in our presence, and provides the essential conditions for us to create clear pathways to support each learner in achieving their unique potential.

How do you create a dynamic classroom environment?

Let’s connect to the body of research supporting the importance of dynamic classrooms. This is an important part of how we base our learning designs at PLC Associates. We look to Marzano’s “What Works in Schools” as our basis. We also consider the early research which coined the term OTR (Opportunity to Respond). This involves teacher behavior that prompts or solicits a student response. OTR might include asking a question, providing an example, or using other strategies to invite student responses (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008). In 2011, Archer and Hughes took this concept further as they identified 16 elements of explicit instruction. They indicated that three of these elements – “requiring frequent responses, monitoring student performance closely, and providing immediate affirmative and corrective feedback - can further embed OTR into any classroom.”

A Framework for Classroom Design and High-Quality Instruction

In Total Participation Techniques, Himmele and Himmele (2011) explain further “… unless you intentionally plan for and require students to demonstrate active participation and cognitive engagement with the topic that you are teaching, you have no way of knowing what students are learning until it’s often too late to repair misunderstanding” (p. 4). They developed a powerful matrix for guiding planning, classroom design and high-quality instruction.

Continuous Engagement in the Classroom

According to Carolyn Tinsley-Tremmel of PLC Associates, an expert in simultaneous and continuous engagement, Holley Central School District provides a great example of how to create structures, practices, and systems that support the dynamic classroom. She explains that Holley Elementary School has successfully adopted a school-wide practice of simultaneous and continuous engagement. The practice includes staff consideration of three dimensions on a daily basis.

  1. Emotional Engagement - How are students feeling about the task? Are they confident? Are they willing to try? Do they have a growth mindset? 
  2. Cognitive Engagement - Are students ready to take on new learning? Are they ready to try new things?
  3. Behavioral Engagement – Are students attentive? Are they on task? Do we see evidence of learning behaviors?  

Brendan Keiser, Director of Teaching and Learning, Holley Central School District commented: “One of the reasons why Holley has found success is because our administrators conduct regular learning walks that are aligned to specific areas where our teachers have received professional development. These learning walks create an opportunity for administrators to provide teachers with specific feedback that helps strengthen their teaching practices, ensuring that students are experiencing student-driven learning experiences that are highly engaging.”

Ms. Tinsley-Tremmel shared: “The entire school has embraced this concept and we have seen remarkable changes in both student responses and their learning behaviors. Student agency has improved. One of the most compelling protocols adopted by the school is the Ripple Effect from Total Participation Techniques. Teachers and leaders alike deserve considerable credit for not only adopting this shift in practice but evidencing true fidelity of implementation. Teachers compare notes on a regular basis; leaders and teachers together participate in learning walks to further identify evidence of the practice and keep it strong as a school wide strategy. Their commitment is fierce – ‘this is our school and this is the expectation.’”

Teacher Feedback Strategy: Using the Ripple Effect Protocol

As an extension of Ripple, the teachers of Holley Elementary School utilize a three-part feedback strategy. It includes:

  • Wow - kudos and positive feedback to individual students and collectively to the classroom
  • Notice  - opportunities for doing things “better the next time”; this may include challenges
  • Wonder - possibilities for “taking learning up a level”; “What if we…” “How might we…”

The Ripple Effect protocol is an integral part of the services we offer at PLC Associates as part of our Tier 1 instructional strategies, the Foundational Five©. Schools like Holley are seeing rapid gains in student achievement as a result of this offering. Our PLC Associates Foundational Five includes a comprehensive set of strategies like the Ripple Effect that are game changers at the classroom level.

I invite you to read more about our Foundational Five© and consider, how might you cultivate more dynamic classrooms in your school or district?

What are the best ways to put these protocols into practice?

If you would like to cultivate more dynamic classrooms, I suggest you bring these questions to your next faculty or grade/content area strategy session:

  1. Have we intentionally designed our lessons so that information is shared by the teacher utilizing dynamic approaches with intentional invitations for high-quality student thinking and responses? David Sousa’s research points out that going beyond ten minutes of information sharing or modeling without a two minute pause can create serious disengagement. Students need planned processing time.
  2. Have we designed question prompts at various levels of rigor, whether are  using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, Blooms Taxonomy or Costa’s questioning techniques? Each of these, although different in design and nomenclature, provide a clear picture of what it looks like as we move our questioning to higher levels of thinking.
  3. Does each classroom have a ready list of student engagement protocols, putting in place key strategies that are understood by all students? These might include anchor charts around the classroom which promote routines, reduce transition time, and most importantly, protect student time on thinking tasks.

The dynamic classroom is worth the time, effort and planning. When your students leave the classroom, leave the school, graduate and go on to their life’s pursuits, you will always be “that teacher.”

You can learn more about the Foundational Five here.

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