Balancing the Classroom: Strategies for Sharing Responsibility | Edutopia
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Balancing the Classroom: Strategies for Sharing Responsibility

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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

Jacqueline Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a sixth grade reading teacher, and I have worked hard to build student responsibility by doing the following:
1. Drilling my procedures and expectations into the students from the first day of school; this includes positive reinforcement when things are done correctly, and consequences when my expectations are not met

2. Student contracts-students set goals for a certain time period and write how they will reach their goals. When the time period is up, they reflect on whether they met their goals, why they did or did not meet their goals, and what they need to do differently in the future.

3. Design lessons and projects around the students' interests-this lets them know that they are important to the learning process; additionally, when lessons are designed around topics in which the students are interested, more learning takes place.

Erica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sharing responsibility and control
I found your topic very interesting. I think shared control is very important within the classroom. Have you read the book "Teaching with Love and Logic" by Jim Faye and David Funk? They provide much useful insight about shared control and shared responsibility. I know that I have found it useful and effective for the students to help design assessments in the form of projects. Then, the students are able to choose the one that they feel fits their intelligence and learning style. Providing choices as simple as doing odds or evens, the front or the back of a worksheet, just to name a couple, also gives students some control and a sense of responsibility.

Lisa Lucas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that the first few weeks of school are vital in showing the students how to prepare for independent work. I have found that centers are too loud for me while doing guided reading. I instead give independent work for students to do at their seats while I am working with a small group. I do not start actually taking guided reading groups until the third or fourth week of school because I do what I call practice groups first. I may take one student aside and have a small conversation with them during this time. However the important part is that the students at their seats are learning what to do while my attention is not on them. Doing this helps because I can stop my one on one discussion for a moment to answer questions. It adjusts the students to the routine while I can still focus on them. When I really take a reading group I cannot stop for many questions and I need to focus my attention on the small group. From the practice, the students understand this and everything flows smoothly.

Sama's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe it is very important to establish a classroom environment that promotes responsibility and independence. I am a first grade teacher and I would consider myself to be an organized teacher and my classroom to be a structured environment. It is my goal to teach my students how to be independent and responsible by the end of the year. The first month of school is incredibly important as we establish a classroom community. Here we learn how to treat each other like a family, how to speak to each other with respect, and what rules to follow. I do not state the class rule, but rather the students choose them (some with my guidance). I have noticed if they make their own rules, they tend to believe in them and follow them.
The first month of school is incredibly important as it sets the tone for the rest of the year. I think of all possible situations and teacher the student's how to address them. For example, if I am reading a story on the rug and a student needs to use the restroom, we would figure out how she could ask me to go rather than interrupting the flow of the story. We brainstorm some ideas and might vote on a thumbs up sign. This way I can nod yes or no to the student without the rest of the class being disturbed. We talk about what to do if a pencil breaks. We establish an area where the student can place a broken pencil and pick up a sharpened pencil. Again this way, she does not need to interrupt a lesson or group work for a broken pencil. Another example would be how to speak to each other in different learning environments. We come to the conclusion that it would be best to whisper if we were working with a partner, as not to interrupt any other groups. I also try hard not to answer the student's questions, but rather asking them "What do you think?" I think it is really important to have them process and make decisions for themselves.
Once we establish our basic rules and how to handle a situation, we practice them over and over until everyone is comfortable with them. Then we can create an awesome learning environment that fosters independence.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our high school has trained teachers in Fred Jones and it has been well received

Tabitha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have taken the Responsive Classroom training and I have read and used a lot of Harry Wongs techniques in my classroom. I established my class code of conduct. According to Harry Wong if you call them rules than that means they are a challenge for students to break them. By calling the rules class code of conduct it is a statement of what you expect from your students and yourself in your classroom community. I agree that the first month and a half of school is important for setting up routines and procedures. It is important to have your students input on how they think they should act when it comes to cooperative group work or partner work.

I use a lot of cooperative group work and tierd assignments for my students to take responsibility for their learning and they have control over what assignments they want to complete. The tierd assignments enable me to differentiate my outcomes and products according to the students different levels. I am still getting the results I need to see if I need to reteach or move on and my students get to take responsiblity for themselves and their own learning.

Mark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a firm believer in students working in groups to learn, and there are a few things I employ within my classroom to ensure such work is a success. At the beginning of the year, I lay out my expectations for group work. I then model them, and consistently re-cover them before and after each group assignment/project. These reminders, of course, lessen as the year goes on, but allows each student ample time to comprehend.

I also give each group member a specific task to perform within the group. This gives students a vested interest into the task at hand and holds them accountable with the rest of the group. I will then give two grades, one for individual work, and one for group work. A student (or two) finds it hard to get off task, when the rest of the group knows a part of their grade is dependent on that one (or two) individual(s).

Elaine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The middle school student really struggles with taking responsibility for their behavior. I teach 8th grade and often there are students who don't how to behave in a group. They are very social beings and find academics less important than socializing. I have tried group work and found that it works well with some groups and not others. When I come across a student who refuses to take responsibility for his/her role in the group, is it alright to ask him/her to work by him/herself? Some projects they are not able to do without the entire group. How can I handle that situation?

Jayne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, students need to take responsibility for their learning and not be constantly spoon-fed. In my 8th grade classroom, responsiblity was key. Some students took to this concept immediately, while others fought it. Giving students a voice in their education and their future had countless positive effects. They felt valued. I witnessed self-esteem rise, pride grow, and accountability increase. Don't get me wrong it did not happen overnight, and every student did not completely embrace it, but I saw many students make strides in taking responsibility for themselves. This was the most important lesson I could have taught them, especially with high school coming the following year.

Adam Farbman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find that frontloading the beginning of the school year with appropriate class room behavior expectations really sets the foundations for the entire school year. I'ts interesting how different classes of students can be. I may teach six eigth grade classes a year and only be able to have two of the classes consistently work with partners or in groups. I find that the dynamics of the class really dictate if they can be mature and responsible enough to complete group work.

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