New classroom approach in 27J: Talking

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By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — Students at West Ridge Elementary School are beginning to take a more active role in their education.
    This year, teachers at the school have been capturing their student’s attention and engaging them in meaningful discussions with a new teaching model called the thinking classroom.
    “The thinking classroom is really about the kids,” said fifth-grade teacher Julie Schwab. “It’s the kids doing the thinking, the kids doing the talking, the kids doing the learning, and it’s about us getting out of the way.”

    Schwab sees the role of the teacher changing to more of a facilitator role and letting the students go so they can show you what they can actually do.
    Fifth-grade teacher Ana Marlatt said implementing the thinking classroom has been about learning the state’s new standards and integrating them across the curriculum. She’s also been developing essential questions so students can make connections with the subject.
    Marlatt has found that learning becomes very natural for students and that students are bringing topics from previous lessons — such as Christopher Columbus — into the lessons they’re learning now about Jamestown, which wouldn’t have happened previously.
    “They are connecting things outside of me telling them to do it and they’re bringing that up and they’re making these connections in their head,” she said. “To me, it tells me that they understood what I wanted them to understand about Christopher Columbus.”
    Emily Madison, also a fifth-grade teacher at the school, said the thinking classroom allows students to explore the topics they’re interested in at their own pace, a change over the previous way of teaching.
    “I think the kids are just more engaged in that if they have some say in what they’re learning and some passion about it,” she said.
    Principal Carie Brock said the thinking classroom approach is “trickle-down effect that empowers everybody.
    “I think that it’s about empowering teachers to make decisions and using their professional judgment and expertise, which trickles down and empowers kids to make their decisions about their learning and set goals and be thoughtful and intentional about what they’re doing and thinking,” she said.
    Fifth-grader Nathan Steinberg said this year his class is having more group conversations and educational arguments back and forth.
    “I’d say time flies a lot faster this year because of the fun things we do,” he said.
    Fifth-grader Marisol Espinoza said during math, her teacher will teach a lesson a day but lets everybody work at their own pace. She said they’re allowed to help other students and receive help from other students and the work gets done a lot faster.
    Fifth-graders Jake Connolly and Evan Stearns said they like that different subjects such as reading and writing will be incorporated into their social studies lessons.
    “One thing I like about my class is we’re kind of tying in our reading with social studies because we’re doing ‘Blood on the River’ as a reading book, and I think our teacher had a really nice choice on that one because it’s really suspenseful at the end of each chapter,” Stearns said.
    West Ridge Elementary is one of many 27J schools implementing the thinking classrooms after the new teaching model was adopted districtwide this year.
    “We’ve done this in preparation for the new standards because the new standards are going to require more rigor in classrooms,” Chief Academic Officer Kelly Corbett said.
    Corbett said he will often walk into a classroom where he will see the teacher working really hard but the student just sitting there.
    “I want the teacher to own the learning, I want the students to own the learning and I want us to be asking better questions … us being more thoughtful of teaching concepts, not facts,” he said.
    He said the teaching classroom is about getting students to remember the conflicts that caused certain wars and what the indicators that occurred were instead of memorizing the dates of those wars.
    Corbett said the work students and teachers in the district are engaging in is meaningful, relates to the real world and is relevant. He also said he’s seen evidence that the implementation of the thinking classroom is working ant that people are energized by it.
    Brock believes classroom instruction at the school has grown the way of the thinking classroom, before it was implemented district wide. She said school staff and officials are excited to see how the state’s new common core starts to be infiltrated into the TCAP.
    “Our fourth-grade team was selected this year to pilot the social studies TCAP, so as one of the pilot schools, we’re really excited to see what kinds of things they are asking social studies questions,” she said.