Multitasking Classrooms (page 3)
Multitasking classrooms release teachers to teach and students to participate in a variety of high-quality activities. All teachers begin the school year by monotasking in the large group. They start with an instructional frame that contains a single activity session in which all the students perform together. When the teacher and the class are ready, the teacher plans an instructional frame that supports a simultaneous second activity. For example, Table 3.4 shows how the frame can be expanded by adding classroom library time and a journaling activity to sessions two and three. Although additional student activities are now available within the two sessions, the time to perform the frame remains the same. When the teacher makes this adjustment, the activity of the frame shifts from monotasking to multitasking.
The introduction of simultaneous activities within a session of the frame is an enormous advantage for teaching. When the teacher and students work on different activities at the same time, the teacher shares responsibility for the classroom community with the students. Students who work independently release the teacher to work with small groups in targeted lessons and to use IC. In multitasking, the teacher gains the means to diversify from teaching in a large-group format into teaching in other configurations that are more conducive to thoughtful discourse on academic topics.
Introducing Multitasking To introduce the students to an instructional frame with simultaneous sessions, one a teaching activity and the other an independent activity (the example in Table 3.4 shows a simultaneous teaching session and a follow-up session on journal writing), the teacher carefully briefs the students, explaining that the simultaneous teaching and follow-up activities will require the class to be divided into two groups. The topic of the teaching, community building, is introduced, and the follow-up activity extends the teaching focus to journaling. The students who are in the group that does the follow-up activity first, before the teaching activity, will write out of their prior knowledge as discussed in briefing. The frame can be rearranged to avoid the out-of-sequence follow-up to teaching, or it can be used, for example, to elicit students' prior knowledge and experience on the topic of community building.
Because the simultaneous activities require two groups, the simplest way to divide the class is to have half of the students (for example, those on the right side of the room) journal in their homeroom seats while the other half (on the left side) meet with the teacher on the topic of community building. The class can also be divided into halves by counting off by ones and twos, or alphabetically, or in other ways that produce two groups. The students engaged in journaling are to meet expectations for writing and problem solving on their own, which is made clear in the briefing. The shaded area in Table 3. indicates when the teacher is teaching.
Depending on the students' experience in independent activities and on the school schedule, the teacher may choose to pause the frame after the first simultaneous session (session two) to debrief. The teacher would resume the frame then or at the next meeting of the class, briefing the students again to reorient them to the frame before proceeding with session three. The teacher uses a kitchen timer or other reminder to time the sessions in order to stay on the frame's schedule.
In the multitasking frame, students must learn to respect the teacher's time with other students (unless there is an emergency), and it is important for the teacher to respect students' independent work time as well. To emphasize the importance of the teacher's time with other students, it is recommended that teachers ignore students who approach or address them with questions during the teaching session. Likewise, teachers must not intervene in students' independent activity except in cases of emergency (such as sickness, injury, highly irregular student behavior, fire drills, power failures, an accident that ruins material or breaks equipment needed for a task, and so on). Because the expectations of activity have been discussed in the briefing along with the classroom community agreement, students know what they are to do. If students remain confused about their work in an independent session, the teacher needs to reflect on the quality of the task provided and on the explanation given to students in the briefing session of the frame.
Debriefing occurs again after both the teaching activity and the follow-up session are completed. The students discuss their success in their independent work and the quality of the task they have performed. Experienced teachers and students may choose to perform the entire frame in one class period on one day, across class periods on one day, or across days as originally planned, without pausing. Even though the journaling activity may take place at students' homeroom seats, the teacher is introducing a continuing activity setting. When the teacher groups students by numbers that will fit the seating at the designated space for journaling, the students proceed to the activity setting to write in their journals.
Teachers may choose to repeat the sixty-minute instructional frame to introduce another continuing activity setting, such as the classroom library. The library would be introduced in the same way during briefing, and the independent activity would be performed at students' homeroom seats. Students would select their books and bring them back to their seats to read. Other grouping arrangements for accommodating students at multiple continuing activity settings, such as those for computers, vocabulary, observation, games, and assessment, are discussed later in the chapter. Teachers may choose to introduce these topics early while students do their tasks at their homeroom seats.
It is important to emphasize that teachers design and oversee multitasking classrooms in order to increase opportunities to teach students in manageable numbers. The term multitasking applies to the classroom, not to the students, who are not multitasking but rather are focused on each task as they perform it. The multitasking classroom enables student to experience a great variety of tasks and activities in a rhythm suited to their learning levels.
Stocking Activities for Multitasking The task requirements of monotasking frames and multitasking frames are similar, but each frame uses a different schedule. The number of tasks and activities that teachers need to develop for students to perform depends on how many sessions of the instructional frame are to be completed on a particular day. For every activity in a session there must be a task for students to perform. In a monotasking frame, all students perform the task at the same time in a single session. In a multitasking frame, tasks and activities are distributed across the instructional period, which may extend over a week or more.
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