Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.29.14Notes on Circulating: Break the Plane and Engage When You Circulate

Two short segments from TLaC 2.0 on Circulating:

Break the Plane

The “plane” of your classroom is the imaginary line that runs the length of the room,
parallel to and about five feet in front of the board, usually about where the first student
desks start.Many teachers are hesitant or slow to “break the plane”—to move past this
imaginary barrier and out among the desks and rows. Doing so adds energy to your
teaching and allows you to observe what students are doing. You can subtly raise your
eyebrows at one student as you ask an intriguing question or place a warm and gentle
hand on the shoulder of another as you progress around the room.

It’s important to break the plane within the first five minutes of every class. You want
to make it clear to students that you own the room—that it is normal for you to go
anywhere you want in the classroom at any time.The longer you wait to break the plane,
the less natural and normal it’s likely to seem to students, and the more daunting the
idea of wandering as you teach will seem to you.

It’s also important to break the plane early because getting near to students plays
such a critical role in managing behavioral situations and especially in making those
interactions more private. If, in contrast, you move out into the classroom to establish
proximity only when you need to (to address a behavioral situation), this action will
be highly visible. In essence, you tell students that things aren’t going well and that
they’ve got you off your game. It also calls heightened attention to your actions when
you do break the plane, making it almost impossible to exercise the subtlety necessary
to make corrections that don’t interrupt instruction (for example, via proximity). If
instead you’re constantly out and about, you’ll be able to correct inconspicuously as
you teach—breaking the plane is just a normal part of the routine.

Engage When You Circulate

It’s not enough to just stand there; you’ve got to work the room a bit. If you’re teaching
actively (in the “I” or “We” portion of your lesson),make frequent verbal and nonverbal
interventions (a smile; a hand subtly on Steven’s shoulder; “Check your spelling” to
Pamela as you gaze at her notes).

It might be useful to try to mix and match these types of interactions as you Circulate:

Simple walk-by. You walk by a student’s desk slowly enough to show that you are
monitoring what she’s doing but without engaging more extensively.

Touch/nonverbal. You have a brief, unspoken interaction, perhaps just touching a
student’s desk as if to show you are glancing a bit more closely at his work, say,
or perhaps using a quick nonverbal—a thumbs-up for good progress, a traveling
gesture for “c’mon, keep going.”

Basic read/review. You stop and make a point of reading or reviewing what a student
in working on.  You might comment, but you need not.

Pick-up read. You stop and pick up a student’s paper and read what she is working
on, intimating an even greater level of interest in or scrutiny of herwork.

These last two are especially important. Reading, assessing, and responding to student
work in “real time” are indispensable to checking for understanding, showing your
interest in students’ work, and setting a tone of accountability—all functions that are
critical to your ability to provide academic support and rigor (“Try that one again,
Charles”; “Just right, Jamel”; “You haven’t shown me the third step”).

2 Responses to “Notes on Circulating: Break the Plane and Engage When You Circulate”

  1. Ric Caraballo
    December 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    I really liked this article from the others. I do lots of movement within the seats throughout my instruction. I like giving that Alpha presence in the room, it commands the attention and keeps the students in check. Also, I can observe their work and they know I will be watching from time to time so their quality of work will improve. Although I’ll disagree on the student contact, facial cues and body signals are easier for me and the students to see and it gives the teacher more of a perspective on the atmosphere for the students during instruction.

  2. William Miller
    April 23, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    I agree that touching kids is really unnecessary and can create other problems, but peeling myself off the whiteboard creates a different dynamic in the past. I have always used a remote mouse and keyboard to teach from different open desk in the room, but with the Ipad, I’m even more mobile.

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