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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

D'ann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When students are working and sharing you are going to have noise. One way I have seen, but not implemented is a stop light. When the noise level is fine then it is green, when it gets marginal it goes yellow, and when to loud the red light goes on. I have seen this work well in classrooms. You have to have a stop light and some way to change it.

Kristin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have really enjoyed reading these blogs. I am new to blogging, and it has been very informative.

I teach first grade and like the inital blogger- I am very organized and structured. However, I too even as a first grade teacher want to give my students opportunity for choices and freedom. I want them to feel like they had a choice and were able to give input because I feel like it truly would allow them to feel as if they had a more vested interest in their learning.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also believe that middle school students--mostly 8th grades have a difficult time taking responsibilities. However, my class requires everyone to contribute and be responsible. I teach art and I have a lot of work to do such as passing out materials, cleaning, and having students owning their "own ideas". Therefore I have to give my students responsibilities or I would go crazy. I feel that I am very successful at it. I call it control chaos. To allow students to have responsibilities, you must have control. You may think by having students responsible that you are losing control, but this isn't the cause. I feel that you must have routines, assigned responsibilities with consequences, and have room for extra privileged responsibilities for students that like the lime light. I assign duties to tables and students and my kids know exactly what time to do these duties or they know what the consequence could be. I believe what keeps things going is my constant reminders of my expectations, rules, and most importantly my positive pep talk on how much I appreciate them for being responsible and how to continue. Overall, the room looks pretty clean when I leave, I do less busy work with maintaining the room, and I feel great when students voluntary to be responsible--including my 8th graders.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I used this method of developing student generated test questions today in Social Studies. The students not only thought it was a great idea, they wrote some very thoughtful tough questions. Great Idea! Thank you

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I applaud your ability to have buy-in with the "job chart". The majority of my fifth students ignore their jobs most of the time, even though they decided on the tasks they thought necessary to be done around our classroom.

My suggestion to you to improve class disagreements would be to have a class meeting to acknowledge the issue. I would create a short skit where two students model proper discussion etiquette. Next I would put students into small groups and give each group a note card with a disagreement scenario and have the students act out an appropriate way to have a constructive discussion. It might seem contrived and silly at first, but maybe after some practice your students will stop yelling.

Ryan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading through the article written by Ken Messersmith I felt a bit more at ease with how I try to conduct my classroom. I believe that responsibilty is a huge factor for young adults. Looking into the future and understanding what is coming at our students and realizing how far away they are for becoming responsible is a scary and earth shattering thing. In my area, parents have full control of their children, no matter waht happens, parents take responsibilty for what their children do. It amazes me as to what they are teaching their children and what these kids are getting away with.

I struggle to find stratgies and activities that have to deal with a student centered classroom, one in which the students are in charge and run the assignment. I have done many research projects but have practically done them for the students.I am always looking for new ideas and strategies to use.

I am organized and have a structured classroom, I also make sure I understand my students and get to know them as soon as they come into the room at the beginning of the year. One activity I do is called "ME in a Bag!" Each student brings with them three to four items in a bag and shares those items. We sit in a circle so everyone can see eachother, we start off with, "this is me in a bag," and end with; "this was me in a bag!" Everyone goes even when they do not bring something in. The rules are simple, share what you have when it is your turn and when you are finished, you watch the person who is next. It is a great tool for me to get to know each student in the classroom and bring me one step closer to figuring where I can take my class through the year.
Thanks for sharing.

Kelly in Colorado's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a high school teacher and trying to instill responsibility in my students as well. I do this by placing a make-up book in the front of the classroom that they are "responsible" for checking if they are absent. I place their name on their worksheets and even provide a copy of the notes. It is amazing how many "forget" or just don't feel the need to make-up their assignments. This is a great tool to use during parent conferences. Many times, you understand where the students get these skills. But at least I'm trying.

Jeanne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach seventh graders and they are eager to be helpful and responsible but at the same time they are trying to impress their friends. This balancing act proves to be more difficult for some. We have a Character Counts program and are trying to incorporate citizenship skills with our curriculum. The students love the controlled chaos but most administrations do not. As long as the expectations are clear, the process should have some flexibility built in to allow them to think outside of the box.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too am a first grade teacher and I feel it is very important to give them a feeling of responsibility. When they enter the classroom on Day 1 they are still babies, but no sooner do they turn into children. My students and I come up with our own rules and consequences. Ofcourse I have what I want in my to steer them in the right direction, but this way they feel like they had a part in the way our classroom runs. I have been very successful with this method.

April's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 8th graders and my team and I had a hard time instilling responsibility in our students last year. Over the summer we got together for a cook out a couple of times and discussed ways we could alleviate this problem. We decided that we needed to have common rules and expectations, so the students were seeing and experiencing the same ones throughout the day. We also found ways to put the responsibility on our students for getting their missed work. Like you, I have a folder on the bulletin board that holds all worksheets for each day of the week. My team mates liked the idea and have since done the same thing in their rooms. The students are finally used to this and when they are absent they know where they need to go to get what they missed. We all have a homework board in our rooms so they can find out what we worked on the day they were out.

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