If there is one thing that drives our teaching, it’s giving our students choice in the classroom. My students pick where they want to sit, they choose who they want to work with and with minimal exceptions they are all working on different skills, strategies and goals during reading, writing and math workshops. They show their learning in different and creative ways and they understand that every single choice they make impacts their learning. Alicia and I teach 6 and 7 years old and yet they understand what it means to be a self directed learner. In our classroom this 21st century skill is explicitly taught.
I understand and follow classroom routines. This sets the foundation. My students walk into a fairly bland classroom on the first day. There are no assigned seats, no name tags, there are no colorful bulletin boards, no jobs posted, there are no anchor charts on the walls with guidelines for behaviors. In the first 4 to 6 weeks we will create all of this together. Students will help craft our classroom routines and make agreements so that we can spend each day with one goal in mind and that goal is to learn. And because they have input into how our classroom functions there is a lot of student buy in. 6 year olds want to learn and they want to have fun. And surprising they want structure too.
I work independently for short than longer periods of time. Alicia and I believe strongly in the workshop model and we teach reading, writing and math workshops. The structure is predictable. A short mini lesson on the carpet, followed by ample time to practice independently and then time at the end for reflection. At this point in the year my students are reading self-selected texts for 25 minutes each morning. They are writing for close to 40 minutes a day. They pick their own books based on interest and their ability to read it. On any given morning you would see students independently working on spelling patterns, writing a blog post, using bananagrams or spellominoes to make words or using their iPads to record a video blog in which they summarize a text of their choice.
I understand that my choices impact my learning. (and sometime the learning of others) This is key to making a choice driven classroom work. My students learn through trial and error, who they work best with and who they don’t. And just like we do, as adults, they figure out that sometimes there best friends are not the ones that help them most in the classroom. (And/or when they are supposed to be listening on the carpet.)
I am setting learning goals and persevering to meet them. All of my students set learning goals. These goals are sometime set with me and very often set on their own. Because creating a mindset for learning is also a big part of our curriculum, many of my students will pick a goal around perseverance and persistence especially in subjects that may be hard. Learning to not give up and to be resilient are life long skills that will serve them well.
But becoming a self directed learner doesn’t mean anything if students aren’t allowed some time to explore their passions. My students look forward to Wednesdays because they know that on this day they can pick anything they want to learn about. As their teacher, Wednesday means they are reading and writing and researching topics of their choice. But to them in means they are in total control of their learning, they pick the topic, they ask questions, they make a plan to share their learning.
They are empowered. They take risks. They make mistakes. They begin again. It’s what school should be.