5 fabulous tools that will make your class immediately student centered

My last post was June 30.  Today is August 24.  That might be the longest stretch since I started blogging without a new post!  I figured I would do something simple…you know, one of those straight forward posts with a number in the title that would cover some of the best tools you should consider using in your class this year.  I decided to start with the number five.  If you make a list it should be an odd number.  I am not sure why it has to be odd, but I know I have read numerous times that odd numbered lists are better.  I used a “5” instead of “five” because your brain processed the “5” faster and that makes you want to read more. I included the word fabulous because when you couple an odd number with a powerful adjective readers are more likely to engage with the content.  It also begins with “F” and so does five…not sure if that messed with your brain or not.  The rest of the title tells you what will happen when you use the tools, what they will do, and when you will see the results. That’s supposed to really make you want to read what I have to say.  So there you go, next time you see a title in a blog post like “5 fabulous tools that will make your class immediately student centered” you know someone is really just messing with your head leaving you unable to look away.  Try it, look away from this post.  I dare you to not read about the 5 fabulous tools that will make your class immediately student centered.


Couldn’t do it…that’s ok.  Here is tool number one.

1st tool is a Flickr

It does’t have to be Flickr, but get a place to dump all your photos.  Of course, first you have to take photos.  Take your phone out every day and snap some pictures.  Leave a camera out for the kids to grab and take pictures.  Place an app for your site on your phone and upload them regularly.  Go easy on the posed pretty photos. Just snap away without waiting for the “right” time.  In the instagram/selfie era we are going to have a treasure trove of posed pictures but few that show events and people for who they really are.  At my school’s 50th Anniversary Celebration I realized that we had almost no record of what occurred in the school in the last ten years because photos and videos went digital and digital things disappear every time a phone drops into a toilet or a hard-drive fails.  Be the historian for your class, your school.  Snap away and upload regularly.  You can even give the kids an email address that will upload directly to your account.  When you snap lots of pictures or take lots of video, you start to see your kids in a whole new light.  Remember…no posing…just snap a picture of your class or take a video.  You will see who is bored.  You will see who is alone.  You will see who is always leading.  Teachers like to think that we have eyes in the back of our head.  We do not.  We miss most of what occurs in our classroom.  The pictures and video remind me each year who the class should be centered around…and it is not me.  If you end a day or week and use the excuse that you did not have time to take any photos, I can almost guarantee it is because class was centered around you.  Move your focus back to the kids.

Here is our flickr account.
Here is a link to an older post with examples of what you can do with the photos and videos you take.

Take more pictures and video this year.  Upload them regularly.  You will not regret it.

2nd tool is a High Five

Most teachers have this tool already but I rarely see it used.  Part of the problem is that because there is no alert to help you remember to use the High five so most of us forget about it availability.  It is also bulky.  Many teachers in the morning just leave it in their pocket.  Some, realizing that they have two available, cross their arms and hide each one so that no one will notice that they are not using it.  There are teachers that do use it but only as a last resort, usually in response to a students use of their High Five.  Last year I finally decided to use mine every morning.  There was no charge for the download, I just took my High Five out of my pocket and gave one to each kid every morning.  Every kid.  The happy ones, the grumpy ones, and the sad ones. I even gave one to the kids who did not yet have a smart hand and were unable to download one of their own.  That left me just looking silly the first few days.  But by the end of last year 129 out of 130 kids had downloaded their High Five and shared it with me each morning.  It is the equivalent of a middle school hug.  And it will make you smile.  Did I mention it’s free?  There is also a Fist Bump but should only be used by those with the Pro version.  I have seen many inexperienced teachers try to use the free version of Fist Bump and it just gets ugly fast.  Never, ever, use Chest Bump.

I recommend High Five for elementary school, middle school, and even high school.

And if you need a High-Five tutorial, here is one from the Daring Dolphins.


3rd tool is Surprise

I have shared how to use this tool with other teachers at conferences and I always amazed at how many are scared to use it.  I think it is because they feel like using this tool might make them vulnerable, because you cannot predict the results, and because very few districts offer training for it.  Surprise, like the High Five, is a free tool that is easy to get hooked on.  After using it for a few weeks, most people are happy to use it in place of other classroom tools like Predictability, Standardization, and Boredom.  The Surprise tool allows teachers to break patterns and expectations.  I have found that in 8th grade, after years of being in classes that use other tools, it sometimes takes a few weeks before Surprise has any visible impact.   The funny thing is, the more I use Surprise, the more I think of what the kids want, instead of what I need.

Sometimes the surprise is simply doing an activity that they have never done before.
Sometimes it’s declaring a new unexpected tradition.
Sometimes it’s making them do something just a little crazy.
And sometimes it’s just providing a simple unexpected message to greet them each morning

4th Tool is Tape

I know, this tool has been around for awhile since the Web 1.0 days.  Unlike Flickr, High Five, and Surprise, Tape is not free.  The good news is that if you can get a roll from a friend you do not need to purchase a license for it.  The type of tape you choose is probably dependent on your subject area.  Drama teachers usually stick to masking tape, geography teachers find Scotch tape to their liking, and science teachers use a lot of electrical tape, and Food Science teachers get cooking with Duct tape.  The tape can serve a few uses.  First, put a big hunking wad on your seat before you start class and then sit down.  This will make it hard for you to get up and be the center of attention.  I recommend that you do this especially before having a “discussion” and show the kids what you are doing.  Let it be a reminder to you and them that you are not going to be getting up to direct the conversation, ask the questions, and have follow-up comments.  Another place to use this tool is over your mouth.  I DARE you to try this one!  Introduce the assignment and then tape your mouth closed.  You can’t answer any questions, but you will be working along with the kids.  Anyone can come on over and see your work, but they have to figure things out on their own…and it will be ok…eventually.  Not only is this use painful for you when you remove the tape, but it is painful to watch them squirm the first few days as they figure out that they can direct their own learning, rely on their fellow classmates for help, and figure out that all learning does not revolve around their teacher.  There are many other uses but I will leave you with just one more that you have to do in order to believe it’s power.  When kids are giving presentations place a five pieces of tape around the room numbered 1-5.  As they present they have to walk around the room they have to touch each one and make a point at each one.  Two things happen, one is that the class focuses on the presentation and information in a way that they usually don’t.  They listen to see what they points will be and listen to how the student will get from one to another.  For the speaker, it relaxes them because they have to worry about walking around and not tripping 🙂  It is much harder to be scared of speaking when you are moving and your brain is processing where the next mark is.  When we are doing something quick we will put tape on the floor in front of the room where they will stand.  Two pieces, slightly wider than their shoulders.  They come up and put their toes on the mark.  It gives a bit more comfort to an uncomfortable act.  When you know exactly where to stand you simply feel a bit more confident.  When you stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders it make you feel more powerful.  Go ahead, stand up right now.  Stand with your feet together.  Now spread them wider than your shoulders.  You’re feeling it eh? I am not sure if the last use exactly fits the definition of student-centered, but it helps build more powerful kids, and the more powerful the kid is the more likely they are to fight back at you when you try to take control.

If you need help in figuring out how to have a discussion with your seat and mouth taped try a fish bowl.
And a little bit about the importance of doing things with the kids and not doing things to them.

5th Tool is Story

This is a tool that most people would agree is important to use, but most of the Story tools that get downloaded and used in class are used to tell unemotional stories about strangers!  There are all sorts of storytelling tools out there to help your kids tell stories from Animoto to Toontastic.  The tool that I recommend you use with the kids to first introduce storytelling to them is your Mouth.  When you share stories you give an authentic bit of yourself to the audience, and once the audience has shared that bit of authenticity they are permanently linked together by it.  Usually, a story includes some kind of emotion.  Once  that emotion is shared with the group a bond is formed.  Start class with stories.  Usually at the beginning of the year they are my stories, but slowly the kids realize that if I feel safe to share a bit of myself with them, it is ok to do the same and they take over.  Each Monday we do an official “How was your weekend?”  Each kid gives a bit of themselves to the group.  Eventually, kids expect that we will start class with a story and they will come in eager to share.  When you start the class talking about homework or the test results, that shows that content comes first.  When kids get to share a bit of themselves at the start of each class, your class immediately starts off student centered.

Here are some other posts you might enjoy 🙂

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