Is it because I’m an SDC teacher that I have sweat-inducing, heart-stopping, nightmare-inspiring thoughts whenever I consider releasing control to the students in the classroom? Or is this a common, yet-named teacher illness that should have its own label as defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? Regardless of the answers to the above questions, it has always been my experience that when I release control (and dive into the abyss of unknown outcomes), the results are always better than anything I could have planned. As I rewatched a Ted Talk from a few years ago (I’ll post it at the end of the blog), I wondered how I consistently try to create a student-centered classroom.
A. Flexible Seating
Confession #1: I LOVE seating charts! Students come in, they know where they belong; it’s a beautiful thing.
Confession #2: I am also fully aware that students – all students – HATE them.
So why do I use them each year? Is it because I love to flex my Teacher Powers muscle? (yes). Is it because I love having the option of moving seats around if I don’t like how things are going in a particular class? (yes). Is it ever truly the fault of where the student is seated that causes him/her not to do work or be talkative? (Rarely to never). If a student is super-talkative, I can move him or her to any remote corner of the room and s/he will still be super-talkative. If a student is not engaged in my lesson, I can hardly blame it on where the student is seated.
Though my room is possibly one of the smallest on campus, I’ve created a tiny, yet cozy library as an alternate seating area. The students love it. The class begins with independent reading, and many students want to read in that area. Students will be flopped out on the carpet or pillows, or lounging in one of the three actual comfy chairs, reading a book of their choice.
When independent reading is over, students return to a traditional seat for instructions, or a mini lesson. Then, students typically work with partners, small groups, or individually–and some work in the comfy library area, while others push tables together to accommodate their needs. The simple act of being able to work where you want and how you want, makes learning more engaging.
B. Art Projects for Comprehension
Recently, I’ve read other blogs and Twitter posts where teachers argue that art projects in the English classroom are nothing more than busy work and that they do not benefit the students’ learning. I must wholeheartedly disagree, with the caveat that there must be a meaningful reason for the assignment that engages critical thinking, problem solving, cooperative learning, and creativity. Isn’t that true of all assignments?
Whenever I am planning a formal written response lesson, I use art projects as a means of brainstorming, prewriting, and looking symbolically at the characters of a particular text. Typically, the directions are intentionally broad to allow for student creativity and interpretation. I will allow individual or partner work where they must create a representation of the character, include 5-7 images or symbols that embody the character, 3-5 quotes that illustrate moments of conflict or crisis, and a poem about the character. By devoting class time for these types of projects, students are given choices and they work together to explore a character in-depth and then they have a better understanding of the story when it’s time to engage in writing.
C. Multiple Texts and Multiple Prompts for Writing Assessments
Finally, when giving formative and summative writing assessments, I always write prompts that can be used on multiple texts so that students can choose which story they write about. At the same time, I write multiple prompts for the students to choose. In doing this, students select what they understand the best, which means I am then assessing their writing skills as opposed to assessing their comprehension of one particular prompt or one particular text.
Seating, art assignments, and written assessments are three areas that I consistently use to create a student-centered classroom. Throughout the semester, I provide other choices that allow for the students to control their learning and their environment. What are ways that you foster student choice?