In 2010 I read Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. (Here’s a direct link to a copy on Amazon, go ahead and give yourself an early Christmas gift.) Every time I turned the page I was thinking of ways I could incorporate what I’d just learned into my own classroom. Today, that book sits on my bedside table, frayed with countless re-reads, and scribbled with notes to myself. To this day, my favorite take away from that book is why every teacher should “Break the Plane.”
As Lemov describes, “Breaking the Plane” is stepping across the imaginary line that rests approximately five feet in front of the whiteboard and just before the student desks begin. Have you ever thought about the number of times you cross that line? Of course, it depends on the layout of your classroom. Some classes have groups, others may have the luxury of a horseshoe. Mine however, is a traditional line of rows. Due to the nature of a science lab and the division of the classroom with lab benches in back and desks in the front, there isn’t a whole lot of option for any other layout. I thought about how often I was crossing the line and realized that it wasn’t enough. After taking inventory of the possible solutions, I implemented the “no backpacks at the desk” rule this past August to free up some space. This allowed me to roam the aisles without tripping on clutter and I suddenly realize a whole new perspective.
Now, I’ve crossed that line before, but if I’m being honest with myself, it wasn’t a whole lot. At the time, I was frustrated with my students. They weren’t participating and answering questions that I knew they could answer. I tried to be more entertaining and bring some cool demos to the class but it was to no avail. I then realized that I was so focused on getting to the notes, the practice problems and the nitty gritty of class that I didn’t see the potential of my own students. I had to change the culture of my classroom. I know what your thinking…buzzword!…but stay with me. The moment I decided to create a classroom that routinely broke the plane was the best teaching decision I have made to date. In fact, the result was so dramatic and so instant that it is my number one recommendation to any teacher who seeks advice.
Two things happened right away. First, my students were acutely aware that I was watching their every move. Thus, cell phone use ceased to exist (BONUS!). Second, I began calling on students without giving the option of raising hands. This second result may seem controversial as it can be viewed as “picking on students” or “calling someone out” for being off task. However, in my experience, the result was positive. Because I could actively see what my students were writing as we were taking notes, I could determine who best to demonstrate examples of the material. Students were more apt to participate when everyone is called at random. Furthermore, since I was wondering the rows, the students were going to the board to demonstrate concepts. Instead of having anxiety when called upon, students were waiting for it. By making this unbelievably small change in my classroom management, I was able to make a better connection with my students. I’d like to think that it was because the classroom, though limited by the structure and layout, no longer felt sterile and rigid. The students noticed the change right away. They suddenly sat on the edge of their seats and when they realize that this is the norm of the classroom, there is no longer a teacher/student stereotype, but rather, a we’re in this together atmosphere.
I encourage you to break the plane in your classroom. You never know what you might find from the students’ point of view.
More amazing techniques and awesome blog posts can be found at Teach Like a Champion’s Official Site at http://teachlikeachampion.com/