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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

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Nikki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Are you familiar with Fred Jones? His approach to classroom management has been extremely effective in my classroom. He focuses on practicing procedures. The first two weeks of school is pretty much practicing how to do all sorts of things. This is a proactive approach to stopping behaviors before they begin. I have also used the Jones approach with my centers. We practiced how to do it so much that the class is very independant, and they work well with the responsibilities they have. Maybe if you used this approach with your eigth graders, they could handle more responsibility. Just a thought.

Susan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a 3rd year teacher working in a 6th grade Language Arts class. I also have been working on giving the students more room to have responsibility in the class. I have found a strategy that has worked out for me. After we have read a short story, I have the students brainstorm and create different follow-up activities that we could do based on the story. I felt that since they were given the opportunity to create the assignment, they felt they were more responsible and participated more in class. One challenge I have is that we are an open room concept. I worry that my class will distract the other classes with there being no walls. How would you handle this situation?

Jillian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would agree that practicing schedules and routines at the beginning of the year help drastically. Last year I taught a new reading program called Read 180, within this class the students need to do a lot of work on their own while the teacher works with a small group. This class was very hard for me to do at first, because I had to be able to let go and trust more than half of the class to complete the work they have been asked while I give a small group my undivided attention. I would also like to add that this concept of giving up a exact teacher led structure is very hard and took me a quite awhile to feel comfortable, so don't worry if you have a hard time letting go. I did notice that with most of my students they were able to easily adapt and succeed in these settings. However, the first two weeks of school were spent practicing and 'mocking' a regular day so the students knew exactly how to react. These two weeks are crucial!
Since I am now teaching a different program, I am having a hard time coming up with activities for the students to have more responsibility with.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Nikki. Fred Jones procedures are great for any classroom.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am also a 3rd year math teacher at a middle to upper class urban high school. I have found that starting the year off democratically helps a lot. I let the students come up with their own class rules, with a few of mine if they don't touch on them. The entire class then signs the rules and I post them in the room. This way everyone has agreed on apporiate behavior and I can give them more freedom.

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