After attending our own in-school educamp last Friday I have a burning question and interest in inquiry. A colleague of mine, a kindergarten teacher, was sharing how her topics in class are student driven.
Over the years I have been aware of the importance of knowing your students, and finding ways to use their interests in the classroom. I recently started doing an Expert Hour in my classroom. The way it looks is students take on the role of teacher on a Friday, and they teach the class about an interest or passion of their own. The goal is to allow my grade 1s and 2s an opportunity to share their passions, and also to take on a leadership role. Thus far I find this endeavor to be very successful!
On Friday when I was visiting the Kindergarten classroom I was introduced to a completely different way to have student interests in the classroom. My colleague runs centers in her classroom that include Math, Writing, Reading, Science and more. I think to myself…. YUP I run centers too. But, what was different about hers?? Her centers are completely theme based around a student driven topic. HOW COOL! Upon more discussion I found out that she has the class generate a theme, and they vote on which topic they would like to learn about next (ie. Space, Gardening)
Hearing about this way of doing things in the classroom I had a lot of questions. I was intrigued on how this could look in my classroom, yet scared about the unknown. How would this work with my Daily 5 Literacy program? How would this work if I am running daily math centers? How would this work with the science topics in the curriculum? I have so many questions that I do not have the answers to yet. What I do know is that I am interested and motivated to find the answers!
One of my big goals as a teacher is to always make learning engaging and exciting for the students. When I think about student centered inquiry in the way that my colleague has approached it, I think that this is a great way to engage students.
Looking forward to the last two months of school, and to the rest of my career, I am wondering how to make the shift to a student driven inquiry within my classroom. I know I wont be the first and I definitely wont be the last. But what I do know is if I spend some time connecting and researching I will be able to find the answers to my questions.
In reading George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset, the question ‘Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?’ comes to mind.
I sit here and think to myself, Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom… and I’m not sure of my answer to that question.
When I think back to my experience as a learner (elementry school, middle school, high school, university) there are certain things that stand out to me that I HATED.
1. I remember dreading ‘taking notes’ off of the board and writing them down in a rushed fashion into my notebook. I always felt like I was rushing to make sure I got everything down before the teacher moved on to the next slide, or overhead sheet. Did I actually ever know what I was writing down? Or was I just writing down words and sentences that I was going to have to re teach myself later? Was the teacher really teaching me these things? Was I missing the information because I was just rushing to make sure I got all of the notes down.. ?
–> Am I doing this? Do I now do this to my students?? Do I give them a task and make them complete it just to have the finished product.. am I actually teaching them the concept?
2. Sitting all day long in a chair that was attached to the desk.. YUK Looking back at my many years of sitting in a hard chair that was attached to my small desk, I remember being so uncomfortable. I would try and stretch my legs out, or twist around in my chair, or get up to go to the bathroom just to get my legs moving again. Is this something that I would want my students to experience as a learner?
–> When I think of my classroom I would like to think that I do a pretty good job of allowing my students choice in their workspaces and seating options. We have many different seating options and students are allowed to sit anywhere and in anyway to work. But… can I do better?? I think of my carpet time.. and I think of my students who want to walk around, or sit on chairs or lay down.. and I find myself allowing it sometimes, and other times I want them all on the carpet. But why? Do I need to have them all sitting on the carpet.. why cant they sit on chairs? This makes me think if they would be MORE engaged if I allowed them to make that choice? hmmm
3. Lack of choice. BORING. I remember being told I HAD to read this book, or HAD to do this assignment, or HAD to study topic. Why???? Why did I have to do it that way?? Why cant I research _____.. or present on _____.. or write my notes on my computer.. Why did it have to be that way? Why were we never given choice?
–> I think about choice in my classroom and I can confidently say that I can do better. Yes I give my students choice in seating. Yes I give them choice in their reading. Yes I give them choice on what they want to write about. But I know I could give them more choice. My students should be helping me to making choices on the topics that we look at and research. They would make choices on HOW they do their writing. Why do I make them write out every book on paper before they make an E-BOOK. Why don’t I let them create an E-BOOK right away? I think to myself now… how can I incorperate more choice in my classroom. Will giving my students freedom in choice be beneficial ?
So do I want to be a learner in my own classroom? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Can I create a classroom that I am DYING to be in? YES.