There is a lot I am uncertain of this year. As I attempt to hand more power over to my students, I am uncertain that I am still teaching them all that I want to be teaching them. As I attempt to let my students take the lead in the classroom more often, I am uncertain that I am still able to teach them the specific reading and writing skills that I believe will make them more successful in this world. As I attempt to help break my students’ dependence on me, I am uncertain that I know them as readers and writers as well as I did when I asked them to check in with me more often and gain my approval on each step of the process they were moving through. That is a lot to be uncertain about and I want to be honest about all of those things so that no one starts to think that trying to shift power to the students is has been some easy thing for me that feels right all the time.
So now that I have been honest about what I am UNCERTAIN about, let me also be honest about what I am CERTAIN about.
I can feel the power shifting in my classroom. I can see it. I know it is there. And it is. so. exciting.
It is amazing to me that as I have worked to move out of the way a little bit, the students have been eager to step up and fill in that space. As I think back on the changes that I have made so far in my classroom, nothing seems too earth shattering. I know that I have a long way to go in making my classroom a place where the students feel truly empowered, but here are some of the small things I have changed to try and start shifting the power balance in my classroom:
1) I let the students lead discussions. As we debrief activities, as we share our thinking about a text, as we talk about our plans for writing, I have been letting the kids take over these discussions. Often that just means having one student sit in the rocking chair instead of me or letting the students do the writing on the chart paper to create our anchor chart instead of me or letting the students call on other students to share their thinking instead of me.
2) I let the students find ways to use their reading journals that makes sense to them. I do not ask that every child write in one certain way about their thinking. I ask that every child think about what they read. I ask that every child keep track of their thinking so that they can share it with others. But I no longer demand that we all do that in one way. Some children find charts more helpful, some children find it more helpful to track their thinking on GoogleDocs instead of in their notebooks, some children use pictures to track their thinking. As long as students can show me how they are keeping track of their thinking, I am okay with it. It has to work for them.
3) I let the kids choose where they sit. It seems so simple, but having the power to walk into the classroom each day and make a decision about where they are going to sit, makes a real difference to the kids.
4) I listen to their ideas. When a student comes up to me with an idea, I listen. I really listen. I don’t listen just to humor them and then tell them that I will think about it and then just really walk away and forget what they just told me. I listen to their idea and then I ask them, “Well, how are you going to do that?” And then they do it.
5) Our sharing time has become a time for the students to teach each other. I am not the only one doing the teaching this year. At the end of reading and writing workshop, I ask the students to share what they have done that day that has worked for them as a reader or a writer. Sometimes that means kids are sharing how they have used their reading journals meaningfully, other times that means that kids are sharing a writing strategy that they used and how it worked for them, and other times that means that kids are sharing a struggle that they had and how they worked through that struggle.
6) I am asking them more often what works for them and what doesn’t. Before making instructional decisions, I have started asking my students what is working for them and what isn’t. And then, I actually listen to what they are saying and I change my plans accordingly.
7) I have started to name strategies after the kids who come up with them. In writing, if a student I am conferring with has done something brilliant with his or her writing, I stop the whole class, share the strategy and then ask the other kids to see if they can find a place to try “The Sarah” or whatever name matches the brilliant child who came up with the idea.
So those are some of the ways that I am trying to give more power over to my students. And how do I know that it is working? Here’s how:
My kids have started to actually have more ideas of their own. And they are believing in their own ideas.
My kids have started to create things to share with the class. Sometimes they are giving up recess or their time at home to do this.
I had one student who created a slogan about the importance of editing a Tweet before sending it out and then she stayed in for three days during recess to turn her sign into a poster that we have now hung up in the classroom. The entire class will now be reminded to, “Reread it before you Tweet it.”
I also had a student who thought of a solution to the problem of too many kids needing me to recommend books to them at the same time or needing me to recommend books to them when I had to do a reading assessment or conference or guided reading group instead. So, she went home and created a Google Form to share with the entire class so that kids could share their own book recommendations and everyone would have access to a list of peer-recommended books and descriptions of those books. She then taught the rest of the class how to access the form, how to fill it out and how to find the results of the form. By the end of reading that day, 11 students had already added book recommendations to the list.
My kids have started to make more decisions for themselves. They are more willing to try things on their own before they ask for help. They are more willing to believe that they are capable of doing something without me holding their hand through it.
My kids are not afraid to make suggestions. I think that in the past, I unwillingly sent the message that I was in charge and I did not welcome their ideas. As I have worked to change that, I notice that they are more willing to share their voices and ideas with me because they believe that I am actually going to listen to them.
So I know things are working. Yes, there are things I still need to figure out, lots of them, but it is so exciting to see these kids starting to feel the ownership that I was so desperate to help them discover. These kids are showing me that if I give them more power, they are not going to abuse it. Instead they are going to take that power and create incredible things with it. And that makes all of the uncertainty completely worthwhile.