Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.10.15What is ‘Breaking the Plane’?

Breaking the Plane

Here’s a bit of useful teaching vocabulary for you.

The “plane” of your classroom is the imaginary line that runs the length of the room. It’s the red line in the diagram at left.  The “plane” can be anywhere but it’s often about where the first student desks start.  It indicates where “your” space ends and where “theirs” begins.  Many teachers are hesitant or slow to “Break the Plane”—to move past this imaginary barrier and out among the desks and rows.  But of course what you want to do is to intimate that every part of the classrooms is teacher space–or, if you prefer, equally teacher and student space–and to use that space to maximize learning.

The movement in Breaking the Plane adds energy to your teaching and being out in “their” space 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 not just Breaking the Plane that matters, It’s breaking it often.  You want to signal that it is normal for you to wander just about anywhere as you teach.

It’s especially important to break the plane early — 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.

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