#notalkWC for Owl Pellet Dissection

I was recently captivated by Alice Keeler’s #notalkWC – No Talk to Whole Class approach. This teaching method employs individual, partner, and small group lesson designs that students can complete without a teacher’s whole-class instruction.

I originally discovered this approach out of sheer necessity in 2012, when working with a bright, creative, lively, and oppositional group of high school students. Although this class was motivated to learn and had positive interactions with me as individuals, any whole-class instruction efforts I initiated quickly imploded. Large-group instruction triggered many of the students in this class to act out, and their disruptions were so severe that they completely derailed lessons that had worked for every other class I’d taught before.

So I shifted my approach. When students arrived in class, I greeted them individually, provided learning materials, and gave one-on-one instructions for how to get started on the lesson. During the whole class, I circulated from table to table, providing follow-up instructions and answering questions. No more acting out. Problem solved.

Time passed and I forgot about this trick. Then I read Keeler’s post at a crucial moment, when my 39-student 7th grade class was giving me clear feedback that I needed to change gears. Enter 2017 #notalkWC.

This Tuesday, when students came to class to learn about predator-prey relationships for local owl species, I welcomed them individually and pointed to the bellringer: a screenshot showing how to find our lesson in Schoology.

Schoology allows teachers to set up a series of pages and assignments that students complete sequentially. Students opened the lesson folder and went through each step of the lesson without needing whole-class announcements to prompt transitions. I was able to incorporate a web-based exploration with discussion, guided inquiry lab (you guessed it – dissecting owl pellets), scientific reading, and formative assessment.

What I Found
I had much higher quality conversations with students. The #notalkWC approach saved an enormous amount of class time (previously squandered on sloooowww transitions) that I could spend interacting with students individually and in small groups. Our conversations, as Keeler predicted, were tailored to individual students’ needs and focused on their particular learning needs.

No power struggle. Because I wasn’t fighting students’ irresistible urge to interact with peers, they didn’t have to fight back. Our time together flowed much more peacefully.

So noisy. Students’ conversations – mostly on-task – reverberated through the classroom. “This is so fun!” several of them hollered while pulling fur off of rodent teeth.

Suggestions for Success
Have routines and structures in place. It helped me to no end when students knew what a bellringer was, how to access Schoology, when to turn in their homework, where to sit, how to be safe in the lab, how to ask questions, and how to turn in their class work.

Do your homework. Preparing this lesson took me about three times as long as preparing a normal lesson. I had to think through every step from a student perspective and provide clear, concise directions for every transition. I needed learning materials hyper-organized, with rock-solid procedures for set-up and clean-up.

Be present with every student. Whole-class instruction is less personal than one-on-one conversations. #notalkWC involves countless opportunities for kismet-colored connections with kids. I really needed present in the moment to make the most of it.

At the end of my #notalkWC lesson, I felt happy and energized. Refraining from whole-class announcements took a lot of self-discipline, but it was an incredible relief to take a break from calling for the class’s attention repeatedly. Would I try this again? Yes, right now, absolutely. Will I eliminate whole-class conversation from my teaching repertoire? Probably not. But it’s great to have this tool back in my belt.

Owl photos are from Pixabay.

Comments

  1. Megan, thanks so much for sharing your experiences of #notalkWC. In many ways what you're speaking of is counter-intuitive for teachers. Not being able to keep the "attention" of students, for many leads them to pull in the reigns further. But you shared the benefits of giving the class time back to students. I can see you spent the time in developing the lesson considering all those critical moments (transitions and materials) and the noise that followed showed engagement! Good luck further using this #notalkWC as yet another tool to use! ;)

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