Resetting Student Ownership and Student Responsibility

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-10-20-48-pmI walked my class to the music room and walked back to my classroom to prepare for the final hour of the day. As I walked around the room, picking up abandoned post-it notes and pens that had been left scattered about, I heard one of my teammate’s voices. I was excited to hear Marie walking in, she is very reflective, and her conversations always leave me thinking.

We began casually sharing the events of our workshops and students who stood out to us over the past few days. I shared with Marie how I wanted to help my students get back to being more purposeful in their reading. Lately, I had been noticing the readers seemed to be choosing books with little thought or interest, and during the workshop, their focus and stamina seemed to be drifting. I shared with Marie what I thought had brought us to this point of lackluster reading. One, the workshop was going last and getting cut short. Two, because the time was short I had been delivering less purpose and motivation in the minilesson. Marie emphatically interjected, “This is EXACTLY how I feel about my writers in writing workshop!”

We hashed out our predicament and quickly realized what we could control and what we could not.

Beyond Our Control

Time. Time is always going to be the catalyst in the classroom, and we are just going to have to accept its demands, like it or not! So, time was not up for discussion.

Within Our Control

We control the schedule. So we talked about a flip of our schedule giving the workshop needing the most time the first slot of the day.  We find the workshop that goes first gets the benefit of time and focus, both from the students and us.

Readjusting the Reins
We knew we wanted to teach our students to be readers and writers who read and write for a purpose and throughout their lives. Student ownership we can encourage, so we began to brainstorm lessons, teaching strategies, and books we could use to reset student agency in our workshops. It’s important to mention here both of our classrooms have nurtured and taught students to choose and design their work process, spaces, and goals from day one. We just needed to revisit responsible learning and make adjustments for where we are now as learners. (We were not starting from scratch, our work moving forward wouldn’t need to be as detailed as it was at the start of the year.)

We realized our students needed to revisit why they are reading and writing in reflection to their current needs as readers and writers. Our work has shifted from the skills of learning to decode, spell, and use conventions to inferring, synthesizing, identifying and applying craft techniques, using voice, and then sharing our synthesized thoughts and stories with others.

Owning work like this requires confidence in your thoughts and creative abilities. We knew the kids could do this work, we have seen it. But, did the students know they were insightful and capable of putting more of themselves into their work?

To help the students revisit the reasons we write and read, we gathered the students for share at the end of our workshops. We asked the students to put the day’s work on the floor in front of them. Then, as we called on students, we asked them to share not what they read or what they wrote today, but why they wrote or why they chose their books. The first few students to share looked a bit curious and maybe slightly confused. As we went around our circles, the kids became more and more comfortable, and their answers enlightened the students and us.

  • I want you to know how I feel.
  • I want the reader to know how I learned to ride my bike.
  • I am learning to write about my life.
  • I want to always remember
  • Because it makes me feel good to think about
  • Because when my dog died, it made me feel sad
  • Because writing every day makes writing easier
  • Because my words tell me what to draw
  • I want to learn about bears in the winter.
  • Because I have a dog.
  • I want my mom to take me to a park.
  • I have never been to a circus.
  • Because I like magic.
  • Because I like this author’s other books.

Our learning has grown over the year and our needs have grown. It wasn’t that the kids didn’t have a purpose, what was missing was the opportunity to reflect and share about what we do and why do it!

Reflection resets intentions, brings new goals, and gives us power over what we do. This is exactly why I was so happy to have Marie walk into my room that afternoon and why I take time out of my personal time to write about my practice.