Why the dynamic classroom creates better mathematicians
This is an updated version of a blog post published on July 10, 2018.
A dynamic classroom shifts the focus away from the teacher and onto the pupils, naturally moving the emphasis from teaching to learning.
In this type of dynamic classroom the teacher encourages pupils to become actively involved in the process of learning. This way, they can identify their own strengths and weaknesses and understand how to make connections between different areas of learning. The age-old idea of the teacher as the expert, passing their knowledge to passive students becomes redundant. It’s an exciting place to be with a real ‘buzz’ around learning.
Why a dynamic classroom?
At the heart of the dynamic classroom lies an emphasis on the development of pupils’ skills and capabilities for learning. By engaging pupils in active learning contexts they develop personal and interpersonal skills, capabilities and dispositions, and an ability to think both creatively and critically.
We often see learning as something pupils have to do (with our help) but we must look at ways to improve the process so that we, as teachers, no longer manage learning on their behalf. The more we can do to help them master the skills of learning, the more able they’ll be to manage it themselves. This argument underpins the mastery approach to learning and teaching. In order to maximise the impact of this approach, we need to commit time to teaching pupils how to learn.
In the dynamic classroom typically the teacher-learners:
- highlight the processes of learning and not just the products
- engage pupils in active rather than passive learning
- enable pupils to develop deeper understanding of topics
- create positive dispositions and habits for learning
- provide a range of criteria against which pupils can evaluate their own progress in learning
What are the benefits of a dynamic classroom?
A key element of the dynamic classroom is transparency. Learners know what they are learning, how they will learn it and the tools that are required in order to make it meaningful. Learners know how to be successful in their work and can offer ‘top tips’ to other pupils, ensuring success permeates the whole classroom. Pupils learn to provide feedback for improvement, both for their peers and for themselves.
Central to working in a dynamic classroom is a commitment to empowering pupils to manage their own learning. It gives them the skills and responsibility they need to make good choices as they navigate new challenges. Overall, it helps them improve the quality of their work, deepening their learning in the process.
Responsibility plays an important role when pupils provide feedback on their own and others’ work using success criteria. This responsibility needs to be carefully introduced. It’s important to avoid adversely affecting pupils’ confidence to the extent that pupils feel unable to ‘have a go’.
Recognising what ‘good work’ looks like
Pupils in the dynamic classroom know what ‘good work’ looks like in any given learning context. By understanding this, they can manage the quality of their own work and become independent learners. If they don’t know what ‘good’ looks like, they will always need someone else to give them feedback and suggest their next steps for improvement. It all comes down to encouraging them to become self-reliant learners.
Learners in this environment become resilient in the face of frustration and failure. They have the ability to respond well to challenges and believe that effort can lead to success.
This is known as a ‘growth mindset’ where pupils create and work towards learning goals because they believe in themselves as learners with the capacity to improve. It’s about having a robust self-efficacy that shapes their attitudes, motivation and commitment to learning.
Pupils with a growth mindset see effort and struggle as the path to mastery, they persevere when the going gets tough and often talk themselves through difficulties. These pupils are more attentive to what they can learn rather than to how good they look or how bad they feel.
Pupils need to be resourceful and resilient in the face of difficulties. Useful strategies like compiling and using an area of a working wall for common difficulties can provide support so that pupils “know what to do when they don’t know what to do” (Jean Piaget, pioneer in child development). Encouraging think-pair-share, talk-partners, peer assessment and group work, supports a growth mindset through the sharing of ideas and by considering alternative ways of approaching problems. Building in time for pupils to be reflective through self-assessment and self-evaluation encourages them to know their strengths and to think of different ways to improve their learning.
How to move your pupils towards a dynamic classroom
If you’re thinking about implementing a dynamic classroom model in your school, here are some key tips to keep in mind to help pupils understand that they are responsible for their own learning:
- Let learners know that getting into difficulty and making mistakes is a normal and valuable part of the learning process.
- Make sure that pupils have opportunities to experience challenges.
- Create opportunities for learners to reflect on their thinking and learning.
- Celebrate their efforts and the learning they have achieved.
- Place less emphasis on praise and rewards; these reinforce extrinsic motivation and can discourage risk taking for fear of failure.
- Model the behaviour and language you would like learners to use. Help them to see how failure and mistakes can be learning opportunities.
After all, as Carol Dweck, a leading academic on the mindset psychological trait, suggests “effort is the key to achievement and self-esteem”.
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