I taught K-2 for 11 years before I moved up to the junior grades. After a couple of years of teaching Grades 5 and 6, I’m now back in Grade 1 … and I’m loving it! I can’t help but wonder if my years in junior have made an impact on me as a primary teacher. I see this impact in a few different ways, but most noticeably, in my new ability to “let go.”
I used to plan and control everything in my primary classroom.
- Students had assigned spots at tables and desks.
- Students had assigned spots on the carpet.
- There was a line-up schedule, with rotating positions as the “leader” and the “caboose.”
- There were assigned jobs: from those that swept the room to those that brought down the attendance for the day or even the week.
- Students were assigned places to eat at lunchtime.
- There were strict bathroom break times.
- There was even a schedule for washing hands.
Everything felt regimented, and I was the one making all of the decisions.
This seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Grade 1 students are young. They’re used to support from parents and educators. The problem is though that I felt like my whole job was policing routines. As students grow up they need to learn how to take more responsibility. How do they learn this if we don’t give them the opportunity to have this independence?
Yes, students make mistakes. They don’t always act responsibly. Sometimes they need more teacher support. Not all students are ready for this independence at the same time, and some students, may need this scaffolded for them. (These points can be true regardless of age.) But what I’ve noticed is that overall, students take this responsibly seriously. They’re learning from their mistakes. They’re learning to make better choices. They love the grown-up feeling that they get from being responsible, and I love seeing just what Grade 1 students can do!
After a couple of years of teaching older students and seeing “responsibility potential,” I believe that these skills should be developed before the junior grades. As teachers, what do we really need to control and how can we give students more control? What do you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!
Wow, you raise a really good point. I teach grade 1 and 2 combined. I have jobs and places to sit, but they are flexible. We rotate and chsnge depending on what we are doing. I feel this year is going to pot as I not seeing independence. I am managing things. Have you done things differently and if so is it successful for you?
Thanks for the comment, Kim. I guess I’d ask you these questions:
1) What specifically is not working?
2) Why might it not be working?
3) Is it not working for everybody or just some students?
4) How could the students help change things around?
We talk a lot about choices we make and what these choices mean. For example, if I choose to eat with my friends and talk to them all lunch, I might not finish eating. What impact does this have? How might other people feel (e.g., teacher, parents)? What other choices could I make? We’re always discussing good choices, and what makes sense as a consequence if we don’t make these good choices. For students that need it, I might give fewer choices or have them review the expectations with me before making these choices. All students are not the same, and some do need more support. Overall though, I’ve really tried to give students decision-making skills. I’ve relinquished more control than I have in the past — especially for primary students. I always had some kind of assigned seats, & now nothing. Students have amazed me though! The tie-in to Grade 1 Social Studies has been great, & now students can see just how much responsibility they can take. They even work together to clean up after lunch and are always inviting others to join their table so no one’s left out. I love this!
I hope this helps!
Wow! I love that you are writing about this too! In a blog post I wrote something along the lines of ” if we really want our students to self regulate we need to be willing to give them the control to do just that”. Far too often teachers have so many rules and structures in place for students that they are never given the chance to practice and learn these teacher controlled skills. Something as simple as finding a place to work that allows you to do your best work. I feel as though I often get looks because my students have so much freedom in my room. No assigned seats, lots of choice and the ability to create your own choice if it meets the learning intention. For some students they certainly need and get additional support to be successful at independently making choices about their learning but for many success comes quickly. Thanks for thinking about and hopefully coming over to the dark side with me. 🙂
Also my One Best Thing iBook called Starting with Choice: Primary Classroom Implementations talks about how I introduce choice to my students right from the beginning of the school year. I talk abou the training that we go through so that they learn the skills to make their own choices. It’s available in the iTunes store for free just by searching my name under books.
Thanks for the comment, Karen! You make a great point here about the overlap between making these choices and self-regulation. In many ways, I’m already over on that dark side with you. 🙂 I find my learning times are more and more open-ended, and even when I make suggestions for what to do, students suggest new ideas and new approaches that they explore. I guess this “letting go” is as much about academic learning as learning skills. Thanks for giving me more to think about and sharing your iTunes resource as well. Now we can all learn more from the ideas you share. I’m very curious to hear what others think about this topic, and how they might be “letting go.”
Thank you Aviva for this timely post. Yes! Yes! Yes! Primary students can be responsible, independent and self-regulated learners. We assess them on this but rarely allow them the opportunity to practice and develop these skills in classrooms. There is no doubt that learning skills are crucial for student success. However what are the intentionally planned opportunities in our classrooms for all students to learn and develop them? Letting go of traditional teacher control is difficult but necessary to grow independent, collaborative and self-initiated learners. Long gone are the days when a “quiet classroom” is a learning classroom. I often say that getting rid of half the furniture in classrooms may be the impetus to ensure that student choice is honoured. As discomforting as this may seem to some, lack of traditional classroom furniture creates a need to restructure learning spaces. This upsets the status quo and opens up a space for professional dialogue that may not have been considered before. In my work with teachers I often issue this challenge; why does every student have to have their own desk?
Thanks for the comment, Fatima! You make an excellent point here. Last year, not having a desk for every child forced me to rethink classroom design and practices. This year, I have tables, and again, don’t have a given spot for each child. This also forces students from the very beginning to take more control over their environment as they consider where to sit, when. I’d be curious to know how teachers respond when you ask them this question.
I have to say the initial response is pretty similar, a bit of a shock. End result, we always end up moving some furniture out of the room or make the switch from desks to tables. Most do create work spaces that have multiple purposes during the day and become more flexible about where students sit as they work, but every student still has their own spot. Somehow there’s always a reason for this, French, entry procedures, how will they see the blackboard or whatever. Mostly because that’s the way we’ve always done school and letting go is hard.
Thanks for the comment, Fatima! I agree: letting go is hard, but small changes can be great too. Depending on how these changes go, maybe more will happen later. It’s interesting to hear how others respond and what they do.
Thanks for sharing, Aviva. I think about “letting go” all the time as a parent. When I think about the times when I have learned the most, it’s most often when I have made mistakes. I think that our lives (adults and kids) are so tightly scripted these days that it’s harder to take risks. I applaud anyone that takes these types of risks – it’s messy but in the end, it could be one of the best learning moments!
Thanks Marina! I think it’s important to teach our children how to take these risks, so that it’s easier for them to do so as they get older (and the risks become that much more complicated).
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