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

Kristi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Fred Jones sounds very similar to H. Wong, who has a book called "The First Days of School." He focuses a lot on procedures and effective classroom management.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with many of you. I teach high school foreign languages. I have found that the best way is best explained in the following book. The author is Ron Morrish and the book is titled "With all Due Respect". It explains in detail how to maintain a high level of respect in the classroom with minimun discipline problems.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a big fan of group learning, as long as it's done right. If it's done incorrectly, a group feeds off of one person, and most of the members do not contribute anything.

I know a college Greek professor (obviously a different situation, but the idea is still pertinent) who assigns take-home tests and encourages students to work together. The students work together to get through tough spots.

Naturally, a group of highly engaged students wouldn't allow someone to be a part of a group if he/she didn't contribute anything. Students work harder so they have something to offer others in return for their help.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You might want to look into the Responsive Classroom
techniques. Lots of great ideas and examples of language and teaching techniques to get the students to internalize learning behaviors instead of having them imposed on them.

Kim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too feel very strongly that students should have more of a say in what goes on in the classroom. I believe that students should be treated with respect and like young adults. If we show them respect we in turn get it back. I struggle often with how much "freedom" to give my students. As a teacher of 8th grade, I think that they can handle more repsonsibility but I often lose students who can't step up to the challenge. Then I feel guilty that I hung them out to dry. I am going to look into Fred Jones that some of you mentioned. This year my school is convinced that using the "jigsaw" method is the answer but I still am not sold on that. In 8th grade they seem to socialize more than work. I also am using the "Y-chart" method at the beginning of the year to start out class rules. I think that the idea of balancing repsonsibility between the teacher and the student is a fine line. I have a colleague who uses the saying "guide on the side" when referring to the role of the teacher in the classroom.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Kristi, the Wong book is a great book to reference to especially if your just starting out. I've been teaching for four years and I still refer back to it. Also in my district we have a lot of independent time during reading, writing and word study (spelling). We drill the procedures into the students and review them everyday and my third grade is doing pretty good for being in the third month of school. If your program allows it we teach a mini-lesson (10 min) and then the students have independent time while we teach a small group lesson. It works wonders.

Lauren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We sometimes allow the students to come up with their own test questions. They work in small groups and come up questions and answers that they think should be on the test. We, the teachers, then take at least one question from each group along with our own to create the test. The students love having a part in such an important role in their grading.

Shawn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I work for a school district that does not use any paticular model for instruction or classroom managment and I am not so sure we shouldn't be. The neiboring town uses the Wong method and they seem to be experiencing many successes. Iwish I could get my administrators to at least consider doing research into Harry Wong.

Christina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too struggle with how much "freedom" to give my eighth grade students. I would like to provide them with the opportunity to work cooperatively more often. When students are engaged in group work, I monitor by walking around the classroom. I notice that while some are engaged in conversation related to the science classroom, others use the time to discuss social issues and plans. As much as I try to explain my expectations, some just are not ready to assume responsibility for their learning. I am in my second year of teaching and not familiar with all of the instructional strategies that are out there. Can you explain the "jigsaw" method and the "Y-chart"?

Christina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of asking students to come up with their own test questions. I use this strategy as part of my unit review. I ask each student to generate a review question that the rest of the class must answer. This gives the students a chance to pick out the important concepts from the unit we just learned. It also gives them a chance to take control of the classroom, leading their own review session. I am going to try to incorporate some of their questions into my next exam.

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