Teachers Who Share The Value of Learning

Jed Harrington and Josephine Johnson, fourth grade students of Mr. Joe Mendes, write essays about an Olympic sport they would like to try.
Because teachers like Joe Mendes and Natalie Wester value what a child is thinking, they help their students value the process of learning itself. Mendes and Wester masterfully create a structured learning environment that encourages deep thinking, participation, and mutual respect.

One morning in Mendes’ fourth grade class, students prepare for a quiet period writing personal essays, and listen as he gives a concise overview of the task at hand: “We are going to watch a video of a speed skater competing, we’ll talk about it, you’ll read an article about Olympic sports and then you will write about a sport that you would like to compete in.” When the video ends, everyone is reminded of the ground rules for discussions—SLANT: Sit still, Look at the speaker, Activate your brain, Nod, Track the talker. During the lively discussion, Mendes keeps them on-topic, includes almost everyone in the room, and ensures students responded respectfully to the opinions of others.

Third grade teacher Wester gathers a small group of readers and reads aloud a story about two girls, one white and one black, who slowly get to know one another while sitting on a fence that divides their town. Wester gives these students an opportunity to think and talk about the big ideas in the book. She waits calmly through long pauses for students to prepare their responses and then she listens closely as they speak.

When everyone regroups for a whole class lesson, Wester reads Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” She asks engaging questions and gives students ample time to organize their thoughts and respond. She builds on what they say, at times drawing out more details and at other times articulating more clearly a student’s idea. The lesson culminates with an opportunity for students to create a poem.

These teachers give students time to think, listen to their ideas, and encourage mutual respect from classmates. They establish an atmosphere of high expectation and trust in which students’ thoughts and learning is highly valued.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 2:22 PM, 04.16.2010