Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.13.23Community on the Carpet: Engagement and Belonging in Mandie Avila’s Classroom

MOSAICS Public School – STEAM Education for Canyon County, Idaho

TLAC team-member Beth Verrilli recently watched footage of Mandie Avila’s first grade lesson at MOSAICS Public School in Caldwell, Idaho and shared these notes:

One thing that struck me about Mandie’s lesson was how effectively she engages all of her learners, and authentically creates a sense of belonging in her classroom.

You can watch some highlights of her math lesson here, which begins as students are creating a visual model to represent an addition problem on their whiteboards:


In the video, we see that Mandie carefully sequences her Means of Participation to engage students.

She begins with Everybody Writes, independent work time to allow students time to process content on their own.

A Turn and Talk follows, so students can verbalize their response and then hear it verbalized by a peer.

The sequence ends with a student coming to the board to share out the number sentence, so all students can stamp the correct response one final time.

This final whole-class share out after a Turn and Talk is a smart way for teachers to clear up misconceptions that might occur during paired conversations—though Mandie also does that during the Everybody Writes by carefully monitoring student work.

While Mandie’s thoughtful sequencing supports successful participation, it also creates a warm and positive classroom culture and fosters a sense of belonging.  

Note, for example, that Mandie prepares her students for the Turn and Talk during their independent work (“…and put a star next to the representation that you want to share out with your partner”). Turn and Talk is clearly a routine (students will share out “just like we do each day”). There is a system—L and R partners are pre-assigned, Mandie explains who’s going first, checks that each student knows which partner they are, and reviews their role during the Turn and Talk. When there are familiar routines to engage in—and when students experience their peers engaging in these routines—it strengthens the sense of safety in the classroom.

Within this system, Mandie includes some variation to keep students engaged and to build a bit of student autonomy. For example, the partners are not always “L” and “R.” Somedays, the partners are “red and yellow” or “sunshine and wind.” Mandie intentionally selects the student pair and offers the labels, but within the pairing, students can determine who is sunshine and who is wind. Mandie explains that this promotes engagement: self-selecting their roles means that students won’t know whether they’ll speak or listen first, which can avoid students believing that “Oh, ‘L’ always goes first; they must be the smarter kids.”

Mandie’s sentence starters (“I believe the answer is ___and this is how I solved” or “I respectfully agree/disagree with you”) are another helpful technique to help build students’ socialization skills. Although Mandie uses sentence starters throughout the day, she finds them especially supportive in math, where they help students frame their explanations in a full sentence, slow down to explain the steps involved in a math concept, and thoughtfully enter into the give-and-take of a conversation when they just want to shout, “The answer is 11!”

We thought there was lots to learn from Mandie’s attentiveness to socialization alongside academics. Taking turns, listening respectfully, learning when and where your attention is needed (“Cap your pen…pens on chins”) are all components of successful classroom interactions. They are also, as Mandie describes them, foundations of kindness and respect and “what the world will need me to do” even when I’m not in a first-grade classroom.

As Mandie notes, we are all “still learning how to be humans” and opportunities to engage in courteous, considerate behavior make classrooms safe spaces—communities where every child feels supported in their learning.

(Thanks to the Bluum Foundation for funding TLAC’s work with school leaders in Idaho.)


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