Do I believe whole-heartedly that my classroom should be student driven? Yes, and I constantly work to make that happen. One of the most important things for a teacher in a student-driven classroom to remember is that he or she is a learner, too. Tradition says teacher-driven. Kids’ needs, motivation, and natural curiosity? It’s makes student-driven learning just right.
I don’t believe this change just happens overnight. It’s a journey. But if you’re looking to get started on it, where could you begin?
1.) Be open to kids struggling right in front of you. Be willing not to “rescue them.” May sound easy, or even harsh. It’s not like you’re just sitting with your feet up, while the kids struggle. You are there, asking questions to guide, listening to their thoughts, or just watching to learn. Because what you are seeing and hearing? It’s going to guide your teaching to just the right place… a place the kids need.
2.) Toss the patterns aside and let the kids build their learning. This one’s hard for me. I want things to look… well… even, and straight, and have cute little rows. But, I’ve learned that this is not what learning is about. So, when my kids set out to trace Australia and put their animals all over the map, it was their paper, their drawing, their discussion on how to show the animals. I’m quite sure there was a day where I would have given them a neat little map of Australia and asked them to color it and we’d have moved on. I would have said, “Do this.” Instead? I said “How could we organize the information we’re collecting?” From that question, they discussed, collaborated, created, and found their own way.
3.) Be flexible with the standards. The standards can be woven into many different types of projects. Find out what kids are interested in learning about, then embed them. Allow ginormous, thought provoking questions to guide the kids learning. Insert the standards and formative assessments where they fit. Our Australian animals research became a huge lesson in measurement. To create a “drawn to scale” version of their animals, we had to understand the metric system, using the meter stick, converting measurements, how inches and centimeters related (or don’t) to each other. Imagine if all of our standards fell naturally into projects, rather than forced by what chapter or page they’re on? Which one is truly student-driven?
4.) Engagement more than management. I believe that when kids are truly engaged in a student driven learning environment, the need to micromanage their behaviors becomes non-existent. Engage them in thinking. Allow them to get so deeply interested that they are not even thinking about being off-task. Does this mean the room is quiet and orderly? Of course not. It’s busy. It’s kids sitting, doing, moving, and discussing. It’s whatever it needs to be for learning to happen. When that learning is right, management becomes less of the focus and engagement reigns.
I wish I could say it was easy or that it’s some simple, magical overnight change. But, I can promise you one thing. Turn the learning over to your students, step back, and watch them go. You’ll see that even though it’s not always easy, it’s worth it.