Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How's it going?

When learners enter my class the first day of the semester, they typically see the following projected on the front board:
Sooner or later, the cups draw a learner's attention and the question is asked: "What are these for?" Which is closely followed by, "Is it some sort of stop light?"

Indeed, three cups are stacked in the midst of each table group - a green, a yellow, and a red cup. And they do represent a sort of stop light but it is for me, not for them. I explain that when a group is showing green I interpret that to mean that the group is making good progress. If yellow is showing, I know that they have a question but that it isn't stopping them from moving forward. I try to get to these groups when I can, and sometimes they work out the issue themselves. Red means that a group is stuck and needs help in order to get moving again. Connecting with them becomes a priority for me. Some teachers use index cards instead of cups, but I like the cups because I can hear them being re-stacked when a question arises - even when my back is turned.

Early in the semester, learners will often raise their hands without changing the cups. I always try to ask, "What kind of question is it: red or yellow?" This helps them to be metacognitive and not let every little question sidetrack their efforts. A student teacher told me how using the cups in his class significantly reduced the number of needless questions being asked. The kids told the student teacher that when they took the time to consider their questions often they realized they could answer the questions themselves.

I even have my learners use "red cup" or "yellow cup" in the subject lines of their email questions to me so I know what kind of priority I ought to assign each emails. But I was a bit mystified when I got an email from a recent graduate who had written "Green Cup" as the subject.  It read:
Hi Dave! 
I was in the middle of grading quizes during my planning period and thinking about my todo list for the end of this first grading period and I was struck by this thought. I feel confident, calm, and content with how this semester is going. Granted, there are many things I already decided to change for next year. However, I do not feel a great deal of stress or anxeity. The COE and student teaching was an intense program and very stressful but it wasn't until just now that I realized how much I learned and how well it prepared me to have a classroom of my own. There are still things (like classroom management) that I am continuing to work on, but for the most part everything is going very well. I just wanted to say thank you for the support you provided though out my time in the COE. 
Hope all is going well.
Green cup! 


  1. curious if you maintain the structure throughout the semester.

  2. I use the cups throughout the year - mostly during group work. Some learners apply them during demonstrations, to show me that they are struggling with something being discussed, but I am not as adamant about their use during this instructional approach. In other words, I will respond to a raised hand during a demonstration without asking what kind of question it is. Does this help?

    1. Yes, thanks. I am always interested in those spaces when structures break down. It suggests that organicism is at work.

  3. LOVE THIS! But I was having trouble finding cups to use for this purpose. In SF, the ban on plastics — plus the ensuing shaming, even of those who plan to use and reuse and reuse their plastic cups — makes it difficult to find cups of three colors that can be stacked in this way and used.

    So here, as a public service, I present the links for the cups I found online and was able to order for this purpose:







    Green cup!!!

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    1. Elizabeth-
      Thank you for including these links!! I was wondering where one could find green, yellow, and red plastic cups the same size (I wasn't having any luck on my Target runs...), so I was really happy to see these links. :)

      Have you used the cups already? If so, how are they holding up?