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September 30, 2015

5 Ways to Give the Classroom Back to the Kids

By Erin Klein
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Becoming a parent changed the teacher I am today. I firmly believe that "Every child in your class is someone's whole world." This is a driving statement that shapes what I do in my daily practice as an elementary educator.

    One of the most meaningful gifts I ever received as a teacher came in the form of words from a parent two years ago. As I was packing up one day after school, the mother of one of my students stopped by our classroom. We exchanged short dialogue, but before she left she told me she had to let me know what her son said when he came home from school the day before that took her by surprise. After explaining the struggle with eliciting information about her child's day each evening at the dinner table, she went on to tell me how that yesterday was different for their family.

    I stood and listened, taking in every word, as this parent explained how I made such an impact on her child to empower him by letting him know his voice mattered. She told me as they gathered around the table for dinner, her son talked at length about his new role in his classroom. He was over the moon about his new class job. Though he had class jobs in years before, this time was different. He got to create his job. He was empowered to find a problem, develop a solution, create a job, and take ownership of his new position for the entire year. She told me how the tiniest shift in allowing him to feel like he had choice made all the difference on his outlook about learning and his role as a learner within our classroom.

    This made perfect sense to me as I listened to her story. Though at the time, having students apply for class jobs didn't seem that transformative, I began to understand how small shifts were making an instrumental impact. It was about empowering children. It was about allowing their ideas to flourish. It was about letting them know they mattered. One of the first comments I make to the students at the beginning of each year is: "There are several of you and only one of me. This is OUR space, not mine. Together we will create the environment and culture." After all, don't we all enjoy being a part of something rather than feeling as though we are simply a peg in someone else's game?

    Daniel Pink tells us in his book Drive, how after over 40 years of behavioral research, a few factors play key roles in explaining the science about what truly motivates us as people. Pink explains the importance for individuals to feel a sense of autonomy. This need to be somewhat self-directed is important in terms of personal motivation. We talk so much about student and classroom engagement, however how often do we talk about instructional practices potentially inhibiting motivation, rather than focusing on "bells and whistles" that supposedly promote focus and perceived levels of engagement? And is being "on-task" truly active engagement?  

    Because I strive to be the teacher I'd want for my own children Jacob and Riley to have, I began to talk with my class about ways we could encourage more student-centered learning. Below are a few ideas they came up with during our discussions:

    • Allow students to find a need for a class job, then develop a solution and apply for that position.

    • Encourage students to take an active role in learning by becoming the experts; host a Class Conference (Class Con) where students are the teachers. (Here is a video about our Class Con in second grade.)

    • Promote authentic writing experiences. Daily or weekly teams become the class reporters and blog their classroom news via tools like Class Story.

    • Incorporate multimedia by inspiring students to create video newsletters to share with the community. (Here is an adorable video example from Kayla Delzer's class.)

    • Include students in lesson planning to collaborate on personalized paths for learning.

    Throughout the year, I will take each bullet point and dive deeper with full explanations so you can visually get a feel for not only what this looks like in our classroom but also how to launch it in your own practice with your students. To receive each post, be sure to subscribe to my blog on Scholastic.

    What are ways you foster creativity, student choice, and autonomy in your classroom?

    Becoming a parent changed the teacher I am today. I firmly believe that "Every child in your class is someone's whole world." This is a driving statement that shapes what I do in my daily practice as an elementary educator.

    One of the most meaningful gifts I ever received as a teacher came in the form of words from a parent two years ago. As I was packing up one day after school, the mother of one of my students stopped by our classroom. We exchanged short dialogue, but before she left she told me she had to let me know what her son said when he came home from school the day before that took her by surprise. After explaining the struggle with eliciting information about her child's day each evening at the dinner table, she went on to tell me how that yesterday was different for their family.

    I stood and listened, taking in every word, as this parent explained how I made such an impact on her child to empower him by letting him know his voice mattered. She told me as they gathered around the table for dinner, her son talked at length about his new role in his classroom. He was over the moon about his new class job. Though he had class jobs in years before, this time was different. He got to create his job. He was empowered to find a problem, develop a solution, create a job, and take ownership of his new position for the entire year. She told me how the tiniest shift in allowing him to feel like he had choice made all the difference on his outlook about learning and his role as a learner within our classroom.

    This made perfect sense to me as I listened to her story. Though at the time, having students apply for class jobs didn't seem that transformative, I began to understand how small shifts were making an instrumental impact. It was about empowering children. It was about allowing their ideas to flourish. It was about letting them know they mattered. One of the first comments I make to the students at the beginning of each year is: "There are several of you and only one of me. This is OUR space, not mine. Together we will create the environment and culture." After all, don't we all enjoy being a part of something rather than feeling as though we are simply a peg in someone else's game?

    Daniel Pink tells us in his book Drive, how after over 40 years of behavioral research, a few factors play key roles in explaining the science about what truly motivates us as people. Pink explains the importance for individuals to feel a sense of autonomy. This need to be somewhat self-directed is important in terms of personal motivation. We talk so much about student and classroom engagement, however how often do we talk about instructional practices potentially inhibiting motivation, rather than focusing on "bells and whistles" that supposedly promote focus and perceived levels of engagement? And is being "on-task" truly active engagement?  

    Because I strive to be the teacher I'd want for my own children Jacob and Riley to have, I began to talk with my class about ways we could encourage more student-centered learning. Below are a few ideas they came up with during our discussions:

    • Allow students to find a need for a class job, then develop a solution and apply for that position.

    • Encourage students to take an active role in learning by becoming the experts; host a Class Conference (Class Con) where students are the teachers. (Here is a video about our Class Con in second grade.)

    • Promote authentic writing experiences. Daily or weekly teams become the class reporters and blog their classroom news via tools like Class Story.

    • Incorporate multimedia by inspiring students to create video newsletters to share with the community. (Here is an adorable video example from Kayla Delzer's class.)

    • Include students in lesson planning to collaborate on personalized paths for learning.

    Throughout the year, I will take each bullet point and dive deeper with full explanations so you can visually get a feel for not only what this looks like in our classroom but also how to launch it in your own practice with your students. To receive each post, be sure to subscribe to my blog on Scholastic.

    What are ways you foster creativity, student choice, and autonomy in your classroom?

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