You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. -Rabindranath Tagore
I recently wrote about incorporating a more personalized approach to learning in my classroom here and how that meant building the plane while I fly it. I’ve always believed in student-centered classrooms and in many ways, my classroom already had many aspects of voice and choice. So perhaps I wasn’t starting the plane from scratch after all.
It can be intimidating and sometimes, downright paralyzing, to consider changing an entire classroom management system. At the core of it all, you have to decide what you truly believe about teaching and learning before making any kind of shift. Once you have made the decision to make meaningful change, start small. Look at what you are already doing and see if anything resonates with student choice. One of the biggest concerns of many educators is what to do with the other students while you are working with small groups. These choice boards for centers were already in place in my room:
These center boards for morning and afternoon help me begin choice in kindergarten. Students are in center teams and they are assigned these centers during 3 rotations in the morning while my assistant and I teach small reading groups and during 3 rotations in the afternoon while we work with small groups of writers. The rotations last 20 minutes each. Even though they are assigned their centers on these boards, once they get to those centers, they have multiple choices of activities to work with. At the ABC center, they have 8 hands-on activities and one cubby has 2 iPad passes that allow the students who choose them to work on their iPads on ABC/phonics activities. The math and games center works similarly. They have 8 math manipulatives and fine motor activities to choose from as well as 2 math iPad passes that allow those students to work on math apps. Here are photos of those 2 centers:
So in a given day, each team would rotate through these centers: ABC, writing, math, reading, and 2 rotations of choice. Choice centers are housekeeping, blocks, legos, science, art, and painting. (I’m not a huge fan of the paint so they often have markers or chalk here.) This controlled-choice helps students learn through a gradual release of responsibility. It’s not chaotic and the kids start learning how to handle multiple choices in a structured way.
As we get a few weeks of school under our belts, and expectations, routines and procedures are more established, I start adding some choice into other areas of the day. Students may choose books in the book center, or iPads for reading. They may also choose writing on paper in the writing center or on the iPad. (Note: with my kindergarten students, we still use paper and pencil for Writer’s Workshop all year. I want them to develop those writing skills.)
By early January, we are able to move away from those choice boards and move into students planning their day and making their own schedules. I will write more about this a little later.
Standing on the edge and trying to wrap your head around change is a little scary but I also find it a bit exhilarating. When I saw my students embracing choice in the classroom, I found I was eager to incorporate their voice and choice in other ways. It made it a lot easier for me to push forward and try new things.
Don’t stand back and look at the water…stick your big toe in and wade around a bit. Come on in…the water’s fine!
Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!
Initial photo credit: Creative Commons