Processing: The Key to a Successful Activity

stagesRecently we have heard from several teachers that the processing of activities can be difficult. Although this may be true, we believe it is vital to student learning and any teacher can be successful in guiding students to the correct outcome. Asking students the correct questions will ensure the greatest impact from an activity, whether it is math or team building.   Below are some of the commonalities in the types of questions you ask as a teacher.

The most important processing question occurs before you start the actual processing. As a teacher, you must decide what do you want the students to gain from this activity?”   Once you know the outcome, your job is to move students toward that outcome without them knowing you are guiding their thinking. It is similar to a line from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the mom is giving her daughter some advice. A line from the movie “The man is the head but the women is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants” is a guiding force in processing. As a teacher you are the neck, and with the correct questions, you can orchestrate the students in the right direction.

Version 2As a teaching strategy, the correct processing of an activity can be vital to a successful classroom environment. Processing can be used to refocus the students to be more productive. An example of this could be during the balsa wood project when student interest declines or students feel overwhelmed. Generally we process the balsa wood project for 15 – 20 minutes after 2 hours of student work time. We refocus them on their goal; building a balsa wood house. The balsa wood project can be overwhelming and difficult for students initially.

Questions asked:  (in bold are the actual questions):

  • In small groups (4 students) identify 2 things that are going well for you or your team. They were asked to share out in class and it was recorded on the whiteboard. Occasionally we restated the previously listed items, emphasizing what you believe are key items.
  • In small groups (4 students) identify 1 thing that you or your team can improve upon. Again, they were asked to share out in class and it was recorded on the whiteboard. Occasionally we restated the previously listed items, emphasizing what you believe are key items.
  • What we need next are 2 goals for the class based on what is going well and what we need to improve upon. The items were crafted and recorded on the whiteboard. This becomes an informal contract between you as a teacher and the class as well as student to student.

Share out is crucial.  When students share their ideas, they are able to examine their own thinking processes, critiquing others ideas and adjusting their learning.  This is a critical thinking process that we need to reinforce.

In addition, processing can help students apply generalizations learned from an activity to future class situations.   Team builders used early in the year to help students function as a cohesive group would be an example.

  • What was easy/hard about the activity?
  • What are 1 – 2 takeaways that will help us later?
  • What did you discover about someone else in the program?
  • What about this activity was uncomfortable for you?
  • What was comfortable?
  • How does this apply this year in this class?

What can disrupt you as a teacher from getting to the outcome you desire? Below are a couple of the main problems with processing.

  • As with anytime in class, you must be watchful for red zingers. Negative comments from kids about kids that can shut down the processing/sharing. If it occurs, it is wise to stop and address this before it becomes a problem.  You must maintain a safe environment for students to share out.
  • Another struggle point can be not allowing time for student responses.   It takes time for students to process. A teacher answering their own question can kill dialogue. If students are reluctant to respond ask them to complete this statement: “This activity makes me feel _____________________” in small groups and then move to sharing out in class.
  • Chasing “rabbits” can get you off track. Be prepared to restate the question, and to wait for student responses.

It is important to realize the more times you process the better you will become. Give yourself some slack, enjoy the time, and make notes for yourself for the next attempt at processing.