We have all heard the latest buzzwords in education: differentiation, inquiry, innovation and creation and more recently student centred. In discussion with colleagues it is evident that many teachers would like to try a more student centred classroom, but feel that there are many barriers in the way and just not quite sure how to go about doing it. Over the past five years, I have been on a journey of figuring out how to let go. These are some of the frequently asked questions and concerns that I get when talking to other teachers about moving toward a student centred classroom.
When you have a class of 25 – 30 students how do you track what they are doing if they are all doing different things?
How do you cover all of the curriculum?
If I don’t have every student cover all of the curriculum I am not doing my job.
Don’t you feel out of control?
I struggle with this one all the time, I think it is in every teacher’s nature to want to be in control. If I give up control of my classroom what is going to happen in my classroom? If I don’t tell them what to do they, they won’t do anything! How do you get them to work, how do you keep them on track?
If I have to put marks on a report card I have to have a way to gather a grade, how do I mark 30 different things?
Do I have the permission of my administrator and parents to try this out? What will be the backlash if it doesn’t work?
All of the above are legitimate concerns and I struggle with most of them daily. In this post, I would like to share with you how I have worked with and against a lot of these concerns to create a student centred classroom.
We need to get over our fears and jump in!
As you may have noticed in my previous posts, I am on a mission to change the way we do things in education. I have gone to many workshops, heard people speak, watched TED Talks, read articles, joined twitter chat groups and come to the conclusion that I just have to do it. While the above barriers exist I have decided that I need to get over my fears and just try some stuff out.
I often have discussions with colleagues about what a student centred classroom looks like. A lot of them want to try it but are concerned that nothing will get done. I have to agree with them when they say this. By the time students are in grade 12, they have spent 14 years being told to sit down, be quiet and wait for instructions. If all of a sudden you ask them the questions, what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and what will you do once you have gathered your information, they will not know how to answer this and when given time to do this they will do nothing, mostly because they are lost not because they don’t want to do things. Self-regulation needs to be scaffolded and introduced at a young age. A perfect example of where this is happening is at Blue Sky School in Kanata, ON. At BSS they are completely student centred and are teaching students as young as ten years old to drive their own learning.
I recently came across this sketchnote by Trevor Mackenzie entitled Types of Student Inquiry from his book Inquiry Mindset. It is a great representation of what I have been doing in my classes, as I have gradually let go of control and put into the student’s hands.
What I have found is that the gradual steps to independence and autonomy in the classroom are necessary. What I am doing is by no means perfect but this is what I have found works.
In grade 10 and 11 I follow the outline that I posted in How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom? Students have the freedom to choose issues that they are passionate about and then they follow our Inquiry steps outlined below.
Grade 10 & 11 syllabus for this semester:
- Inquiry # 1 – Goal Create awareness
- Inquiry # 2 – Goal same as above + create a Solution
- Action Plan – What do you want to learn, how would you like to learn it, what will you do with the information once you have learned it? (NEW THIS SEMESTER FOR GR 10s)
- Genius Hour
- Social Science Fair
- Choose a current issue – something that you are passionate about, could be passionate about, that you are already involved in, etc.
- Learn about the current issue and become an advocate for it.
- Create a media piece to gain attention, followers etc. post it – over and over and over to get traction
- Use the Social Scientific Method to research your issue in relation to your course material.
- Campaign: As you research tweet out, and at people who care about your issue – connect with organizations and classmates. Try to get on the twitter pyramid.
- Ultimate Goal – get noticed, get your message out there, create a solution – do something that matters.
- Assessment – students are assessed on a biweekly basis via Twitter, each student reflects at the end of each inquiry and gives themselves next steps for their next one.
After my grade 10s and 11s go through the inquiry process twice we are going try out something that has very few rules to test out their ability to go solo with me as their support. They will be asked the question what do you want to learn, how do you want to go about learning it and once you’ve learned it what will you DO with the information. From there they sit with a mentor and map out an action plan that we write on the walls. I tried this out with my grade 11s and 12s last semester and the things that came from it were amazing!! I have to admit that while this was happening last semester I felt totally out of control and really felt that nothing was happening, but when the students shared what they had done I was blown away.
So, for this semester I decided that we would run the entire grade 12 World Issues course by giving students choice in everything that they do. At the beginning of the course I brought in about 10 – 15 different people from different organizations to tell us about issues that are faced worldwide. We watched documentaries and had discussions. They followed organizations and people that related to the course and built a network on Twitter. Then they were asked what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn it and what will they do with the information once they have learned about it. It has taken almost 1.5 months to sort out what everyone was doing, but I think we are on track now. Each student in my class has filled out a project sheet that has at least 6 items on it which are the things that they will complete by the end of the semester. Some examples include, two students have chosen to lead things that they like doing in other classes such as debates or watching documentaries that relate to the course curriculum, we sit down with a calendar and map out what days those will happen, the other students in the class can participate in them if they want to but can choose to opt out of them if they wish. Another student would like us to do yoga as a class (she is researching mental health), and has asked her yoga instructor to come in and lead a class, again this gets put on the class calendar. Other examples are visiting and working with the elderly in a retirement home, organizing a day for some of us to go to a food centre to cook and freeze meals for their clients, rallying and organizing students and teachers to give blood, bringing in dogs to class for some pet therapy, starting a #nostraw movement, leading discussions, working with Blue Sky School students and so many other things! What I struggle with and have been working on is how to keep everyone organized and on track. One of the things that the students are expected to do each day when they come to class is to look at the calendar and see what is happening. If there is a group activity, as mentioned before they can opt in or out, they then have to use a sheet that we adapted from Blue Sky School and they have to map out their route for the class. They have to indicate specifically what they will work on and check it off as they go. We keep track of their project list, a calendar for each of them and their daily route maps in a binder for both of us to access. The hope is that when it comes time to reflect on their progress they can refer back to what they said they were going to do and see if they actually did it.
Sorry for the uber long paragraph, I am taking a breath now. This is just a snip-it of what I am trying out and it is ever evolving. I am happy to share anything that I have mentioned above. I apologize if it is hard to follow, my description is exactly like my classroom, controlled chaos. Let me know if you want to know more and we can connect!!
If you are interested, I plan to outline in more detail how we use Social Media, how we cover curriculum and how we come up with grades in future posts.
Thanks for reading!!