Like many new teachers, I used to be uncomfortable giving up control. I saw a well functioning class as largely teacher-directed, and that if you gave students too many choices they would end up choosing poorly for themselves. How wrong I was.
The following tips are some strategies that I use to make my classroom more student-led. While there’s no perfect model, and gradual experimentation is necessary to find where your students are most comfortable, implementing some or all of these strategies can greatly increase student engagement and buy-in in your classroom.
#1 Put their menu in their hands and let them decide what’s on it
I used to write the order of my lessons on the whiteboard everyday before class started. I definitely didn’t do it as creatively as this guy. The kids didn’t tend to read it unless I read it to them, and it wasted a good portion of my whiteboard space.
Instead of doing that now, I use padlet to write up my lessons. I put it in “stream” format and part of our morning meeting consists of students looking at the schedules on their iPads. I’ve made a conscious effort to democratize the process so that students have a say in the order, or even the activity, that we are going to do during each class period. Padlet makes it easy to do so in that it allows you to add contributors. Just so that I don’t have too many fingers on their class schedule, I give this role out as one of my class jobs.
Padlet also has the benefit of allowing for multimedia, which comes in handy if you want to give a quote of the day, an “in the news” activity, or a flyer for a school event, for example.
#2 Use an Apple TV for wireless iPad projection
In my 1:1 iPad class, I was constantly changing between my MacBook Connector and my iPad connector to give students the chance to project their work. Because the connectors are the perfect combination of easily-breakable, expensive, and difficult to use for Year 5s, I wasn’t able to let the students connect and disconnect as they wished. I imagined a classroom where the teacher wasn’t in control of the tech, and that the students were freely projecting their work from all parts of the room.
The solution, I’ve found, has been the use of the AirPlay feature on Apple devices to wirelessly project iPads via Bluetooth to an Apple TV. It has worked with an amazing level of consistency, and students are now completely comfortable with connecting and disconnecting as they wish during lessons. I’m investigating other ways to take better advantage of my Apple TV in the classroom, but just the simple feature of wireless iPad connection has empowered my students to a surprising degree.
#3 Consider Flexible Seating
Students in my class chose their own seating chart, and are very comfortable with suggesting how and where they choose to sit. This can be inside or outside, beanbag, carpet, pillow, chair w/o desk and/or chair with desk, etc. In some cases, as in the picture below, we’ve chosen to eliminate the walls of our classroom in favor of a more free approach when it was necessary. The kids called it “University”, and spent much of their chosen time in the high school meeting rooms in our school.
This photo actually comes from a “Free Inquiry” experiment that really deserves its own write-up
I’m still not sure what’s in store for this year, but the amazing things that I am seeing on Twitter make me want to experiment more with how students best learn. I’m still not comfortable with giving up desks, as I appreciate their role in developing handwriting and good sitting posture, but who knows what these kids will decide for themselves?
#4 Let them be in control of their own behavior chart
I am a big fan of developing habits of mind, mindset, mindfulness and all of the other “minds” we have in education. It is also important for my students to set goals. While I still see the role of public group contingency plans in some cases, I have been experimenting with keeping these charts private and under the control of the individual student.
For their charts, I use StarChart.me, which they monitor and update on their iPads
So far, it has been working, and students are motivated to move towards their next goal once they have completed their chart. The only monitoring I do comes in the form of the e-mail that StarChart sends me everyday, but even then I try to put the responsibility on the student to be honest with their awarded stars.
#5 Use whiteboard paint to give students space to display their thinking
One of the things that we are pushing for in our primary section to be included in our latest round of orders is for every classroom to have an Apple TV, and for every classroom to have a “thinkspace” made from whiteboard paint. I already try to give them as much of the available wall space as possible for posting visual displays of their thinking, but it is hard to match the sheer awesomeness of a full whiteboard wall like my kids are using above.
I’ve also been begging for one of these lego walls (below), but alas, I don’t think it will make the cut. .
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