Are Teachers Scared to Let Students Make Choices?

This year I set the goal for myself to try to give more choice for my students within my classroom. I was feeling I was making decisions for students, in terms of their projects, seating plan, novel study, etc… and after reading numerous articles about the benefits of student choice in the classroom I decided to put to the test.

As a teacher, it is shockingly hard to give over control and decision making processes to students. After all, my kids are nine years old, could they come up with various options that would encompass what I was looking for? I also think as teachers, we’ve been trained and “programmed” to be the ones in charge and be creative with the way we deliver and design our lessons. It’s scary to give a part of that over, and risk the chance to fail.

Failure had always had a negative connotation in my mind, and it hasn’t been until the beginning of this year, where the ideologies surrounding that word have shifted for me as well. Through elaborate discussions with my PLN, I am now able to look at failure as an opportunity for growth: a way to reflect, develop an understanding, and improve and grow. Failure is no longer something I fear entirely, but instead my mindset is changing. I’m trying to instil that in my students as well.

As I began to give more choices to my students throughout the year, there were a few things I discovered:
1) Kids are WAY more creative than I am. When I told them you can show me what you learned about…in any way you’d like, it was incredible to see the differences in their approaches, but also how their personality shone in each one. They expressed themselves in ways I never even thought of.
2) They were engaged! When students have choice, they are 100% engaged in what they are doing! No ifs, ands, or buts about that.
3) They used each other for support and collaborated more frequently. When they had a question about how to use a device or how to do something, they would ask another classmate. They would seek out support, and share ideas with each other.
4) They took pride and ownership in the things they chose. They were generally excited about their work, and put effort into their assignments. There never was any moaning or groaning, but instead a buzzing of excitement.
5) They had fun, and generally appreciated the fact that they had a say in the decision making process.

Within all the craziness of the last few weeks of school, I decided to let my students choose who would sit in their group. I know this isn’t a huge deal, but to my kids it was, and honestly I was a little concerned with some of their choices and the fact that school is almost done and they are wild enough already. After school a boy came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for letting me sit with my best friend.” I hadn’t really thought much about it, but to this boy, it clearly made a positive impact on him, and that’s what I’m always looking to do. I never imagined that something so small could be so appreciated. But it is always the little things. Those smalls things that make the difference and make learning better for students. Allowing students even just a little bit of choice can make all the difference in their lives. So what are you afraid of?

Chatting the #ffcaedu Way

phonto

On Monday night, my district hosted our first ever twitter chat, run by our fabulous Director of Technology, Salima. For some, it was their first twitter chat to date, others were solely lurkers, more active twitters participants, and several new to chatting but participated. Overall, it was a great learning experience for everyone involved.

Our topic for the evening was technology integration in the 21st century. Here’s a brief summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What technology can you never live without (in the classroom)? Why? Examples?

Question #2: Do you think technology motivates students? Why/why not?

Question #3: How do students benefit when given the opportunity to use technology to create-when technology is in their hands?

Question #4: How do we help students become “ethical citizens” when using technology? Tips? Tricks? Suggestions?

Question #5: Why is twitter a powerful tool for educators? What are the benefits? How has twitter helped you professionally?

As you can see, there was lots of good discussion going on during this chat, and a few things that stood out for me:
1) As teachers highlight their favourite technology tool, the thing they couldn’t live without in the classroom, I always wonder how it’s used. For example, I have a document camera and use it several times a week, but it wouldn’t be a go-to-tool for me. How does another teacher feel that tool is essential for instruction? What am I missing?
Education is a field that is constantly evolving, and now with technology, things seem endless. But the great thing about it is learning is also continual. There’s never a time when teaching should be repetitive, or stagnant. We can always learn from one another, and always improve how we teach or the way we teach.

2) Technology must be used as a tool to enhance learning, support instruction, and allow students to create masterpieces. If it’s used solely to replace a pen and paper, then the motivation and engagement may not always be there. Students need to be excited about their learning. They live in a world where technology is always at their fingertips. We can’t ignore that, but instead need to support it, and teach children that they too can be creative geniuses.
Traveling hand-in-hand with the use of technology, comes digital citizenship. It is key that as teachers we model what it looks like, but also provide students with the knowledge to be responsible digital citizens. Equally as important, is the need to educate parents. Parents need to be on board with this, and speak that same language at home. Parents are just as important role models as teachers, and should be setting that example for their children as well. It’s our job to provide them with the tools necessary for this to happen.

3) Twitter continues to be an extremely powerful tool for educators. Time and time again, every tweeter you talk to will reinforce this. It’s an amazing tool to connect with others around the globe, access experts, be supported in learning, and build a powerful PLN. For those who are “anti-twitter” I would challenge you to try it again. Dedicating some time will prove to be more rewarding than one may think.

Here are a couple resources discussed during our chat:
Book – It’s Complicated
Storify Summary