Alexis Wiggins is a teacher that basically became a student for a two-day experiment, according to the Washington Post.
According to the report, the 15-year teaching veteran currently works as the High School Learning Coach in a “private American International School overseas.” The primary objective for her position is to “work with teachers and administrators to to improve student learning outcomes.”
When she first started, the principal advised her to become a student for two days, providing her with a brand new perspective of the standard classroom experience.
Wiggins shadowed a 10th grade student on the first day and a 12th grade student on the second, doing everything that her host students were supposed to do throughout the day. She wrote down lecture notes in her notebook, completed chemistry labs, assigned tests, etc.
Alexis documented her findings and observations in a guest blog post on the official website of her father, author Grant Wiggins. Grant did not reveal the identity of the guest blogger until after the popularity of the post skyrocketed.
— Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins) October 14, 2014
From the overall shadowing experience, Alexis Wiggins was able to take away three key points from this two-day experiment. These “key takeaways” helped to open her eyes in regards to what the average student goes through on a day-to-day basis.
Key Takeaway #1: Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
Wiggins stated that, with the exception of “walking to and from classes,” she “sat down the entire day.” At the end of the day, Alexis “could not believe how tired” she was from all of that sitting. Instead of being drained in a “good, long, productive-day kind of way,” Alexis complains of only experiencing “that icky, lethargic tired feeling.” She also used this part of her experiment to shine a spotlight on the difference in daily physical activity within the classroom between teachers and students.
“We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot. But students move almost never. And never is exhausting.”
If Alexis had the opportunity to go back in time and change her classes, she mentioned that she would immediately (1) require a “mandatory stretch” for the students halfway through class, (2) put a Nerf basketball hoop on her door and encourage students to play at the beginning and end of class, and (3) include a hands-on activity in every single class that requires students to get up and move around.
Key Takeaway #2: Students sit passively and listen 90 percent of the time.
Along with sitting down all day, Alexis writes that the majority of a student’s day is “spent passively absorbing information but not often grappling with it.” The students that she shadowed rarely had a chance to speak at all. She further clarified this takeaway by stating that it was not as if “the teachers droned on while students just sat and [took] notes.” However, one of Wiggins’ students (Cindy) did not feel as if she ever had the chance to make “important contributions to class.”
“It made me realize how little autonomy students have, how little of their learning they are directing or choosing. I felt especially bad about opportunities I had missed in the past in this regard.”
As a teacher, Wiggins recommended the following changes: (1) offer brief “mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels,” (2) use an egg timer to moderate the amount of time that the teacher spends lecturing without student participation, and (3) start each class with an “Essential Questions” session that allows students to have their questions about previous instruction or assignments answered.
Key Takeaway #3: Students feel a little bit like a nuisances.
Wiggins admits that she “lost count of how many times [they] were told to be quiet and pay attention.” It is true that teachers only have a set amount of instruction time in each class, Wiggins’ shadowing experience opened her eyes to how the students feel about being “told over and over again to pay attention.”
“You start to feel sorry for the students… because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day. It’s really hard to do, and not something we ask adults to do day in and out.”
Wiggins also realized that there was a substantial amount of “sarcasm and snark” directed at students by their teachers — something that she openly admitted to being guilty of in her own teaching. While shadowing her students, she realized that “sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier” between the teacher and their students.
“I was stressed. I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again.”
To resolve this issue, Wiggins stated that she would (1) use her personal experience as a parent to show “patience and love” when dealing with students that ask questions, (2) follow a “No Sarcasm” policy and ask students to hold her accountable as well, and (3) offer a specific time for questioning before every formal activity or test. Alexis Wiggins concluded her blog post by stating that her experiment helped her to “have a lot more respect and empathy for students.”
She also hopes that more teachers will decide to conduct the same shadowing experiment for themselves and “share their findings with each other and their administrations.” As a result, Wiggins believes that schools will have “more engaged, alert and balanced students.” According to some of the responses and reactions posted on Twitter (especially on her official Twitter page), quite a few people have truly been inspired by her experiment.
Ask yourself this: if a student is absent fr your class, do you and students lose something valuable s/he brings to class? h/t @grantwiggins
— Putrid Newly-Buried (@polarisdotca) October 16, 2014
What do you think?
[Image Credit: Alexis Wiggins’ Twitter page & Washington Post]