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I hope that this email finds you all healthy, happy, and loved. It’s funny, I still get a little nervous or anxious right before it’s time to teach a lesson to students or lead a PD workshop. I recently realized it’s because I want to make sure I am keeping my audience entertained and informed. However, I also recently realized that when I have planned multiple ways for my audience to engage with one another and take a more active role in the course, I am far more calm and confident about my work.

These past few weeks I have had the pleasure of sitting in and observing classrooms and providing feedback on ways to engage more students more often. Throughout my observations I could see dozens of opportunities to get the students to more actively participate. Students do not and should not have to sit passively in their classrooms. Students can and should be equal participants in the classrooms. They should leave their sessions full of new information, notes to reference, new ideas to share, and hands that are tired from all the writing they have been doing. If you believe your students can and should engage more fully in their classroom lessons, may I suggest using the SAW method.

S- say

A- act

W- write

Multiple times per each lesson your students should say something, act something out, and/or write something down.


Last week, I observed a teacher present a lesson on filling in the blanks on a worksheet to describe an array. When I tuned in to the lesson one student was expressing confusion as to how to fill in the worksheet correctly. The teacher asked the student if she could see the array that was printed on the worksheet she was sharing on her screen. The teacher then proceeded to circle the rows to identify where she was getting the numbers from and diligently explaining her process while the students watched. When she was done she asked the student if she understood how to complete the worksheet now and the student responded, “Kind of.” The rest of the students said and did nothing.

What could the teacher have done to put more of the responsibility for learning on the students? How can we check the understanding of the students and get more of them to participate in the lesson more actively?

In my mind, I could envision (S-say) asking the students to say the number of rows aloud, “I, 2, 3, 4.” as the teacher circled the rows.The students could skip count the amount of circles as the teacher circled the rows.

I could envision (A-action)  the students demonstrating with their arms the direction that rows go in and the direction in which columns go in or holding up their fingers to represent the amount of rows, columns, or total area.

I could envision (W-write) students drawing the same array on their whiteboards or paper, using markers or red pencils to record their thinking (because it makes their work easier to read on the screen), and holding their work up to the cameras so that the teacher could verify whether or not their arrays were accurate.

Teachers can use the SAW method to check for understanding efficiently, keep track of student misconceptions and knowledge in the moment to help design effective small group and conference period meetings.

In a second classroom, I observed a teacher sharing a quick image and calling on individual students to share what they saw. Most students said nothing about the image and sat passively while one student shared an interesting observation that went nowhere and another student shared an observation that was completely disconnected from the mathematical purpose of the image. The second student had clearly not been paying attention and I don’t think she was the only one in class who might have been distracted.

How could the teacher have used the image to engage more students more fully?

I could envision recording on my whiteboard the different vocabulary words students said aloud and writing their names next to their statements to show recognition and class participation (kids will work hard to get their name on the board if it is for positive reasons). I could envision students acting out the making groups of items or dividing items into groups. I can envision playing Pictionary where the teacher chats the word to one student, the student acts out the word or phrase while the other students/team tries to guess the word correctly or steal the point if possible. I could envision  students to writing out phrases describing what they noticed using academic vocabulary or writing equations to match what they saw in the quick image. I could envision making connections between students’ thinking by highlighting and discussing those who use multiplication and division to describe the same image. The SAW method is an opportunity to reach into the minds of your students and tap into what they need to know.

A few weeks back, I was speaking with a teacher friend who was sharing the experiences her daughter was having with distance learning. One day she walked into her kitchen and noticed her daughter spinning in circles. She asked her daughter, “ What are you doing here, aren’t you supposed to be in class?” Her daughter replied, “I already told my teacher what my favorite animal is.” When the mom looked at the screen she could see the teacher asking all twenty plus students one by one to share the name of their favorite animal.

How could the teacher have taken a more efficient and interactive approach to learning about his students’ likes and dislikes?

I can envision SAW being used by the teacher by asking the whole class the same question and allowing them time in class to draw a representation of their favorite animal, label it, or create a diagram of the different animal parts, perhaps add in the setting, or use a little onomatopoeia to include the sound of their favorite animal. I could envision the kids muting the teacher while they work as the teacher has a little one on one time in class with a couple of students while the others work. I could  envision students going into breakout rooms and discussing their favorite animals with each other. I can envision students making connections with each other based on liking similar animals or comparing the differences between them. “Ooh, I like giraffes, too. Did you know____?” I can envision students writing animal riddles and the class has to guess the animal based on the clues.

Think about your next lesson and consider places where you can include SAW. Will you be able to deliver as much content, probably not, but would your students have been able to absorb all of the information anyway?

 I see virtual learning time not so much as a time to deliver hours of information and instructions, but as a time and space for students to work, to show evidence of their thinking, and to ask me questions. I get the impression that teachers believe that if they are not talking, then they are not teaching. In fact, the more we talk, the less talking, thinking, and working the students have to do.

We can engage the students during lessons, make them work, hear their ideas, give them opportunities to make connections with you and with their classmates, get them to tune in to find the joy in learning. Thinking about all of the different ways you can incorporate the SAW method into your lessons can make them far more meaningful, fun, and effective.

You know I love hearing from you. The next time your kids are busy working in class, send a pic of their heads bent over in deep concentration (Thanks, Nancy!)

In the meantime, send your comments, questions, and wonderings to