Choice Brings Agency and Focus
The multitude of choices open to learners today has brought more authenticity and agency to our classroom. These opportunities have refocused how we plan, write, learn, and our roles as student and teacher. Student choice is encouraged not only in the way we learn but also in how and what we learn. Students choose from iPads, computers, and apps as easily and freely as paper, pencil, markers, and crayons. Student choice focuses and drives writing and learning.
Classroom Community and Choice
Student-led workshops and classrooms require a strong community. Taking the time to build a trusting learning community must be intentionally taught. Developing a classroom community strengthened my trust in the students. We work together to solve problems, manage the classroom, and grow as learners. This work builds a sense of ownership that enables students to feel pride and power in the classroom and the learning. The learners become engaged learners who are invested in their work, who to take care of the space, each other and themselves.
Classroom Structure is Key
In order for students to become purposeful in how they plan and work, they need to know they will have time to explore the tools and to make choices in their work. We need to create a schedule that is predictable. Students need to trust the availability of time for exploration in their work. Our classroom runs in a workshop model. The workshop structure of our day gives students the opportunity to make decisions. Each workshop begins with a focus lesson designed to support students in the work they will be doing later. The focus lesson ends with students envisioning the work they will do in the workshop. As the students enter the workshop they begin by selecting space, books, and the tools for how they choose to work. Students might choose to work in a partnership, a small group or independently.
Students spread out on the floor, in beanbags, at tables or tucked in corners. Some curl up in one task the entire workshop, others create ways to share their learning. They might create a poster to show their thinking using an app on the iPad. Some may choose to blog about learning and still, others visit the media center or conference within the common space between our three first grade classrooms with a friend from another classroom. The workshop is full of choice each day the students count on this time and often come in in the morning with plans for today’s work already made.
So what does all this choice mean to our roles as student and teacher? It means we are guided by the student’s interest, needs, and discoveries and we are all learners. It also means there is an equal number of teachers and students. The kids are independent and find they can learn from and with each other. During the work part of our workshops, we are conferring and meeting with small groups, with an individual, or with a single student. All along, I am monitoring the classroom and student progress to guide my planning and our next steps together. I now enter the classroom with questions and possibilities, The lesson design comes from the needs of the students and becomes personalized and authentic. I think it’s important to remember the one doing the most work is doing the most learning.