Multitasking Classrooms (page 4)
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.
In the frame, teaching and follow-up activities are led by the teacher and for the most part require tasks and activities to be prepared for every session. These tasks and activities must be designed for the students' capacity level and for the time available in each session. As teachers discover the potential that a teaching session with small groups of students has for assessing their knowledge and skills. Teachers use the information to design suitably leveled tasks.
For the independent sessions, in which students work without direct teacher supervision, teachers design tasks and activities in standard or generic formats. The products of generic tasks are open ended in order to include student creations such as drawings and writing; they are repetitive or automatic, using workbooks, computer files, data-collection forms, journal entry formats, game scores, and so on.
For example a generic task assignment may be a brief report that includes the title, author, date, and subject of the students' reading during a visit to the library; a journal entry written according to the expectations set for the piece (number of words, length, topic, and so on); or a written response to key comprehension questions about character, plot, theme, conflict, and so on or to comparable content questions on the concepts presented in the text or lesson at the writing activity setting. Suggestions and formats proposed by the curriculum or in teacher guides provided by commercial textbook publishers are helpful in getting started on generic task design. Students come to expect a generic format unless the teacher assigns a specific task. Teachers use generic tasks to develop a system for stocking multitasking frames with many quality skill building tasks.
Like students in monotasking classrooms, students in multitasking classrooms usually perform all of the activities and tasks that are assigned. However, in multitasking classrooms they do so on different schedules with different groups of students, and often on different days. Students need to know where to find their tasks, how to handle their ongoing work, and where to place their completed work products. They also need to know how the products will be returned to them with feedback from the teacher or peers.
It is important to take enough time to implement the first standard's indicators so that everyone—teacher and students—is comfortable with multitasking. Many teachers and students take from six to eight weeks to shift entirely into using a multitasking instructional frame.
Expanding the Multitasking Frame To expand the instructional frame, an activity is added to each session. This expansion can be designed vertically or horizontally, depending on the time available. In other words, a vertical expansion requires that more simultaneous activities be added to the second and third sessions in the sixty-minute frame. The activities in the frame will increase from six eight, including briefing and debriefing. One advantage of this approach is that including more activities in the frame does not require more time. Another advantage is that the size of the groups decreases. The teaching group thus becomes smaller and more manageable. Adding two more simultaneous groups to sessions two and three produces eight activities and a teaching group that is smaller and thus more appropriate for using dialogue to teach. This kind of instructional frame suits an hourly class schedule and can be adjusted to meet the specific minute requirements.
In horizontal expansion, another session is added, so the frame expands to ninety minutes, as shown in Table 3.5. The advantage offered in both types of expansions is that the teacher may now work with a smaller portion of the class—one third—in each activity setting and students work with one another in smaller groups. This advantage increases in a vertica expansion as more simultaneous activities are added to the sessions in a frame.
The ninety-minute frame in Table 3.5 provides eleven teaching and learning activities sessions within the period. Each student participates in three activities with the teacher and one-third of the student's peers. One third of the class is a large group because a class of thirty or more would have groups with more than seven students. The instructional frame can be expanded vertically with no cost in time in order to serve fewer students in each activity; or it can be expanded horizontally by increasing the frame's timeline. For example, an additional twenty-minute session on ICT can be added to make a 110-minute frame, which is just under two hours, leaving a few minutes for class cleanup. The expanded frame shown in Table 3.6 consists of briefing, debriefing, and four teaching and activity sessions, totaling eighteen activity settings. The teaching activities focus on introducing and using continuing activity settings. The class of thirty is divided into four groups of six to eight students each, which is close to the size of a small group.
Multitasking instructional frames offer teachers the opportunity to increase interaction with students on a regular basis. Increasing the number and type of activities that students perform daily in a multitasking classroom provides numerous opportunities for skill mastery and deepe involvement with content topics. There are many options for expanding the instructional frame depending on the curriculum and the teacher's plans for activity settings. Although the organizational possibilities are compelling, all options must be considered in terms of whether they support teaching through dialogue in order to assist student performance in the learning zone. The instructional frame serves effective teaching using dialogue that produces academic learning outcomes.
Developing the Timeline The timeline of an instructional frame establishes the pedagogy system in the classroom. The timeline ensures that teachers use the time they have with students to teach. The first step in developing a timeline is for the teacher to identify the total period of an instructional frame. In the early grades or in upper grades with block schedules, instructional frames are planned for 90 to 150 minutes or more depending on the classroom and the school schedule. In upper grades on hourly class schedules, the frame is likely to be limited to two sessions per class period. Because vertical frame expansion costs no additional time, teachers can still provide students with the frame's benefits in terms of predictability, rhythm, a pace matched to students' attention spans, a variety of activities, IC, and so on.
Next, the length of the sessions within the frame must be calculated. The frame always includes ten minutes each for briefing and debriefing, and about six minutes total for students to travel between activity settings. For example, to move from briefing to the first activity setting, no more than one minute is allotted. Students are quick to grasp the schedule and routing because they are moving and participating in activities they enjoy. Briefing, debriefing, and travel, then, together total twenty-six minutes. The teacher subtracts those minutes from the overall instructional frame period to find the teaching and activity time (TAT). The TAT is then divided by twenty, which is the number of minutes given to each session in the frame. The quotient is the number of TAT sessions, or content tasks, that can be inserted into the frame. One or more sessions may need to be shortened, when necessary, in order to fit the activities into the TAT. Activity sessions are scheduled for eighteen minutes or less only when absolutely necessary. When they teach for less than eighteen minutes, teachers may find it difficult to accomplish their goals. Still, a shortened teaching activity may be useful for catch-up, review, or procedural tasks. Conversely, if the minutes scheduled for travel or other events are not needed, they are often used to extend the ten-minute debriefing schedule. An instructional frame of forty minutes (the briefest recommended) requires one session to roll over into the next meeting time. An example is presented in Table 3.7.
The instructional frame, then, can be used for forty-minute periods to periods lasting many hours, as needed. The frame is vertically and horizontally elastic enough to support a week or more of class work, in the manner of a unit or other large framework of study. Like a train adding passenger cars, the frame can expand to include many activities. More specific formulas for calculating instructional frame timelines are provided in Appendix 3A.
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