Summer gave me the opportunity to re-imagine how I wanted to design the flow of my daily lessons. I knew I wanted to increase the amount of student practice as well as student choice. Due to an increasing number of heritage/native speakers in my Spanish classroom, there is also a high need for significant differentiation.
Understanding that not all students go home to an environment that is ideal for studying or completing homework, I needed to find a way for my students to get the majority of their quality practice as well as instruction while they were at school.
With all those thoughts and goals in mind, the POD lesson experiment was born. The typical POD lesson starts with an opening pod that replaces the traditional bell ringer. Following the opening pod comes a whole group activity/instruction. At the end of class, students return to their small groups for a closing pod activity.
First, why pods? Because 3 brains are better than 1 and small groups are less scary than whole classes. Putting students in small study groups builds camaraderie and breaks down the barriers to say, “I don’t get this” to someone that either will be able to help or commiserate. If helping and collaborative teaching is taking place among students – great! If commiserating is happening, as a teacher, I can spot a derailed group faster than I can spot a derailed individual.
I use the opening pod to increase “buy in.” Typically, students are writing about or discussing a prompt I put on the board. The prompt is connected to what we are doing, but is focused on drawing connections to their world. “Describe a time when you ____,” “share your experience with ____,” “how does ____ make you feel?” or “what is your opinion about ___?”
The opening pod also lends itself to reviewing a prior lesson or pre-teaching /discovering key vocabulary or concepts before the main lesson
Pods have allowed me restructure my whole group lessons. Now, lectures are not interrupted or slowed down for students to “finish copying” my presentation because they are going to be given time at the end of class. Students are closer to me because they aren’t behind desks or tables and thus less able to “hide”, put their head down, or get distracted by their devices. With the time saved during lectures, my whole group activities/practice can now be a lot more interactive and thorough.
The closing pod is great for an individualized wrap-up of the lesson. Some students will find the most benefit from carefully copying notes into their notebook. Others may need to focus on vocabulary acquisition. Still others might need a more detailed re-teaching. Occasionally, a group work activity (that in the past I would assign as homework) becomes the focus. An added benefit of this structure is built-in work time for projects. Progress monitoring is a lot easier when a significant part of work is being in class – without losing quality instruction time. During my 45 minute class period, I try and devote at least 10 minutes to the closing pod.
Bonus Benefits of planning with PODs in mind:
- Smaller carefully selected groups increase the odds that social pressure will encourage more participation. (it is easier to “brave” in a group of 3 than in front of a whole class.)
- The transitions from pods to whole group and back to pods encourages student movement and keeps them alert.
- Since work time is built-in, I am making my classroom and policies more equitable as the direct impact of differences in home-life are diminished, not exacerbated as they are with heavy at-home workloads.
- “Antsy” students have hope that they are not going to be in any one space for too long.
This is new to me and I am still getting used to the pace; but so far I am excited about the possibilities this has for my students’ progress!