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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Balancing the Classroom: Strategies for Sharing Responsibility

A teacher in our local school district recently posted a question on one of our discussion boards: "I'm having a difficult time coming up with ideas on how to give my students more responsibility and freedom in my classroom. I am very structured and organized -- how can I give my eighth graders a little freedom in the classroom and retain structure and organization?"

This is an excellent question. Responsibility and freedom are clearly two concepts we must embrace if we are to teach young people to participate in our democracy. It's easy for teachers to be so organized and structured that students lose freedom, which in turn lowers the level of student responsibility and increases the teacher's responsibility. Is this the way we want it to happen?

To answer this teacher's question, two instructional strategies come to mind.

1. Project-based, cooperative-, or service-learning methods. These place the responsibility for learning on the student by encouraging him/her to find the answer to a problem rather than memorizing a teacher-given solution.

2. Student-generated and tested hypotheses. Students write down what they know about a concept and then conduct research and experiments to either verify their knowledge or correct their misconceptions. This strategy is most often associated with scientific methods but can be applied to many areas.

How would you answer this teacher's question? Do you have specific examples to share? Please write and let me know!

Comments (65)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mabel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you, Jennifer. I always hand out the rubric prior to a project and allow the students to grade themselves and their classmates after the assignment is completed. 98% of the time, the students are so much harder on themselves and their peers than if I would have graded them.

Heather's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I see responsibility as something that starts when children are very young. As a middle school teacher I am trying to prepare these students for high school and college. It is a very important transitional period for these students, but it is also a time when they can develop the necessary skills that will help them achieve later in life as well. Keeping this in mind, I hold my students more and more accountable as the year progresses. The tasks and responsibilities that they take on increase with each quarter as do my expectations. One of the most important things is that the students take ownership of their classroom and for the most part, they respect each other as well. It is very satisfying to see the progress that they make throughout the year.

Latasha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Taking Responsibility

I agree with the original post. I had never given much thought to the idea that I could be hindering them while I'm trying to help.Sometimes we, educators, focus on our rituals and routines that we forget about our students.

I believe that students do need to follow these because there are norms, laws, and etc, in society that we must follow. It never too early to learn about compliance to these. But, did we forget how our laws were/are created? Next year, I think that I will allow my students to help me create the rituals and routines. It gives them ownership and a better understanding why we need rituals and routines.

Lauren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My team and I use a team and individual calendars. We post projects, tests and quizzes on the team calendar. This allows us to not bombard the students on a particular day and the students can see what is coming up at a glance. I use a personal calendar to post homework in addition to tests, quizzes and project dates. The students are getting better at looking at and using both calendars.

For absent work I have a form that one student is in charge of. At the end of the period that students is responsible for collecting, recording and posting all work that was completed during the period. There is a section on the blackboard where all work is hung. When students return they know where to go to pick the work they missed. I love that the students are in charge of this and it is one less thing I have to do.

For students that lose, misplace or need extra papers I have a binder that contains all the work that is passed out during a particular module. The binder is set up identical to their binder. I simply place any extra copies (I make at least 10 extras on purpose) in the appropriate section. If a student needs any paper they know where to go. This has worked out wonderfully and when kept up has stopped the students from coming to me for extra papers. Along the same lines I also keep a binder with extra work- fun and educational- in the back of the classroom. Students know to go to the binder of they finish their work earlier. Some of the work can be turned in for extra credit.

~Lauren

janet's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! I am new to this whole blogging phenomenon as well! It is wonderful to be able to share insights and information with fellow educators across the globe! I have actually had the opposite experience. As a second grade classroom teacher, I sometimes wondered if I gave the students too much opportunity for choice and freedom. Sometimes the room would be a mess, it was noisy, and clean up was always rushed due to time constraints. I did see, though, the spark that I was able to igninte in my students. I have had children who are now in grade 12 come back to my classroom and recount many of the choices and learning they had experienced. Although it is sometimes hard to see how wonderful an opportunity you can provide by allowing this freedom of choice (to an extent!) I can attest that it is well worth the effort, judging from the feedback from parents and children, as well as the scores on our standardized exams!
Janet

Lauren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In addition to using this idea for reviews I'll also use it during a regular class. At the end of the period students complete a Do Then (review of what was learned). Students come up with the questions themselves. The questions are theirs and I do not have to answer to wines about "hard" problems.

If I have to run to a meeting I sometimes put in a video. Students watch the video and work in pairs or groups to come up with related questions. I then take those questions and use them as a Do-Now the next period, a homework assignment of a quick quiz check. This makes the students pay attention, learn, and not just goof off.

~Lauren

Lauren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My students continually surprise me with their questions. The depth that they go into is quiet impressive. I try my best to get but not all questions make it onto the test, but when they do the students go crazy- in a good way. They love the fact that they made the cut. Plus it acts as a freebee since they came up with it on their own.
~Lauren

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In my experience, I have found that if you give students choices and make them feel like they have a voice in their own education, you will gain their respect and have less behavior problems. You can give students different assignment choices that involve all different learning styles. By giving clear expectations for behavior and explicit directions for each assignment, you can maintain organization and structure in the classroom.

JJ's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too am new to blogging. Wow! What a great way to talk with others. You can remain anonymous, or submit part of your name...no one will ever know who you really are. There is no one to judge you on what you may or may not say. Very cool.

I am a 5th grade teacher who is in my 3rd year of teaching full time. This is a second career for me. Teaching responsibility is essential in this day and age. Students need to be able to rely on themselves as a lot of the time both parents work, or they live in split families and spend part of the week in one home and the remainder of the week in another. It is difficult for them. They need to learn to make choices and be responsible for their actions. They also need to be held accountable for their actions and their decisions. This is a lifeskill that they will use forever.

Janice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I highly recommend Kathy Nunley's site www.help4teachers. There are dozens of lesson plans that use a layered system which gives students choice. I've found that this program lets my independent workers thrive while my more dependent students have the scaffolding they need to be successful. Try it, I think you'll like it.

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