Class Update 3 - Learning should be viral

This is my latest update in my series about changing to a student driven classroom. There are two things that happened in the past two days that caused me to reflect and reevaluate some of my thinking. The first was a rather remarkable thing that happened this afternoon in class. Students were working on a variety of activities both as groups and individuals. One of the groups was discussing a novel they were reading, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. In the midst of their conversation about character development they went off on a tangent as 6th graders often do. The tangent they went off on was a discussion of the first book in this series being turned into a movie. They proceeded to discuss the characters in the novels and who would play them in the movie. While this may seem like off task behavior it was actually a fruitful conversation.

Students started talking about different descriptions within the novel to justify their choices for the actors and actresses. This included specific page numbers and direct quotes from the novel. As a teacher, I was just sitting back and letting this conversation move forward. Then something kind of cool happened…other students started joining the conversation from other corners of the room. It was spontaneous and almost viral the way the conversation spread. To me, this is how learning should be, spontaneous and viral in nature. It should start whenever, wherever, and be free of restrictions.

The other thing that happened was not as positive but equally valuable. I had a handful of students that were working on a series for reading standards for the past few days. During a meeting with them earlier this week I discovered that they were heading in the wrong direction. The work they had been doing was misguided and off target in terms of the learning standards. Rather than chastise them for a lack of progress, I got upset with myself for missing their missteps. I spent the rest of the period working with them to get back on track and give them the attention and guidance that I should have from the start.

What I learned from this experience was that some kids need more direction and I can’t assume they are doing what needs to be done. I gave up more control in my class and provided my students with more freedom but that can come at a price. In this case, I needed to provide more direction and guidance than I had provided. There are some students in my class that are in complete control of their learning destinies, but others such as this group, needed some help identifying and pursuing that destiny.


Alfonso Gonzalez said...

I know how you feel. It's a balancing act giving students enough freedom to fly while also providing them the guidance they need. With 27 to 30 individuals in a classroom it's a wonder we can do it at all! I end up feeling that I'm just not doing a good enough job. All we can is try something better the next day. I think my biggest obstacle is that the type of student-centered, learner-centered environment I am trying to foster is just not part of our culture yet. I am up against all their other classes being graded, test-prep, traditional style environments. It seems to me that they come into my room ready to be bored and disinterested and I spend a great deal of time trying to convince them that they are in charge! I give them so much freedom that they use it to socialize and play games on the iPads. And while I'm not giving up hope it sure is frustrating.

Carl said...

Its knowing just when to intervene and when to walk away that is so critical in this type of classroom.

Lisa Cooley said...

Some of the comments I get when trying (as a non-teacher)to describe this kind of classroom are 1. how to organize this much activity in one classroom; 2. whether kids can be trusted to work independently and 3. whether kids should be allowed to be influenced and swayed by their peers. It's hard to respond without asking them to read this blog or that, but I'm glad there is evidence that teachers are successfully doing it and are constantly learning while they do.

I don't know of a single classroom in my district that is run this way. It's a source of frustration. We go to the very lame "student-led conferences" of my kids and I am ranting and complaining to my husband all the way home.

If there isn't a single teacher in my district who teaches this way, how can I, as a lay person, possibly answer all the questions about it, and encourage teachers to take it on? (Rhetorical question.) At any rate, thanks for providing the example.