I have had the opportunity to engage on multiple occasions with a particular student in both a Science 10 and Mechanics 10 classroom, and have been struck by the differences in this student as an individual versus them in a group. During class, this student is closely surrounded (by virtue of the table layout) by five of their close peers, and the result is a bit chaotic. The lack of focus by this student is quite evident when the class is given time to complete worksheets or homework, and where the structure of the class is looser. This student fully disengages, and struggles to maintain focus on the task at hand because they are distracted by the activities of their peers (who are also distracted). Checking in with other members of the group, I found that when I looked at their work they were either done it already, or I could ask them questions and they would be able to answer quite quickly. I could also draw their attention quite readily back to the task at hand, and their disengagement was slower to return. This contrasted with the other student who had a hard time maintaining focus even when I explicitly sat beside them and attempted to guide them through the worksheet. They knew it was important to complete the worksheet, but they were not engaged in the material and chose to copy the answers from a peer instead; the information in the worksheet was secondary to the task of completion. When I probed further with the student about the content of the worksheet, there was clearly an understanding of the material, there just wasn’t much engagement because the activities of their classmates were more interesting.
I have thought a lot about this, and how a student always has the potential to understand the material, but they just need to be in the right place at the right time in order to do so, both physically and metally. I think that this situation will come up a lot during my time as a teacher, and that it has a few elements to it. I think that a knowledge of classroom dynamic will go along way towards how I organize my classes, and perhaps a simple reorganization of desks might go a long way towards lessening distraction. In this case, the student ended up in the middle of five other students, but a “U-shaped” arrangement would make it so students only have two people immediately beside them to provide distraction. As well, a good look at the classroom decor might also help, as lessening visual distractions can go a long way (I’ve provided some useful links at the bottom of this blog). As far as being mentally in the right place at the right time, I think that finding ways to make content relevant or multimodal to a student will go a long way towards increasing engagement in the material. For this student, the topic of genetics was still a nebulous concept which they couldn’t connect to anything relevant to themselves, and perhaps finding different ways to present information (comics, documentaries, class discussion) would help towards creating relevance and set the stage for further engaged learning on the topic.
Some useful links:
-12 Ways to Upgrade Your Classroom Design: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/upgrade-classroom-design/
-How to Get Rid of Your Teacher Desk: