Thursday, April 30, 2015

Guest Post: Baby Steps to a More Student-Led Classroom

By Melissa Milner

Thanks to Paul Solarz and his fantastic book Learn Like a PIRATE, my classroom is becoming even more student-led than ever before.

Baby Step 1

Every time we come back from vacation, the desks and chairs are in the corner due to our room being cleaned and the floor being waxed.  I always have my students collaborate and figure out how they want the room set up.  This time, I said nothing.  I greeted the kids at the door, asked them about their vacations and waited to see what they would do.  They got straight to work moving the furniture, but some were unsure whether they were just putting it back where it was before vacation or choosing a new set-up.  One student said, "We get to decide, remember?"

Off they went, moving furniture and planning the set-up. It was a hoot to watch.

The finished set-up is super cool.  They always have better ideas than I do!
It was really great watching them during the day.  They set up the carpet remnants in the middle of the circle to work and were still able to enjoy the classroom library area because their set-up design purposely allowed for it.


Baby Step 2

Our morning meetings are always student-led. No one has to raise their hand, and they have to listen and respect each other.  I usually pose a question and then sit back and listen.  This time I asked the class how they could lead more in the classroom.  They mentioned that they can use the "give me five" hand signal that our school has adopted to quiet down the class when they get loud.  I challenged them to think of other reasons to use the "give me five" signal.  Cricket... cricket... They clearly were not used to teachers asking them a question like that.

I shared with them ideas in Paul Solarz' book.  They were clearly excited by this new lens on the classroom and their role within it.  I went to the classroom jobs chart and one by one took many of the jobs off.  I kept only a few.  The class was shocked, but they got the point.  Everyone is responsible for the day-to-day running of the classroom!  Here are some of the ways that students led today:

  • The class worked hard on writing work and one student realized it was time to get ready for switching classes.  She raised her hand to give the "give me five" sign and everyone stopped and looked.  She got embarrassed that everyone was looking at her and then said it was time to get ready for switching.  One student praised her saying, "Good job!"  It was adorable.  It amazes me how much they support each other.
  • We already had student-led book clubs and our reading workshop routine is very predictable.  Without a cue from me, students transitioned into reading workshop and were focused and collaborative.
  • One student used the hand signal to get the attention of his classmates and start our daily homework check.  He called on students to tell the assignment for each subject.
  • Many students refocused their peers during math groups after we had a fun interruption from the Rotary Club (trees for Arbor Day).
  • I am sure there are more examples that I can't think of right now and others that I didn't see in the hallway during transitions to different classrooms.
Oh wait...
  • A student wrote the class schedule on the board for tomorrow.  This was a job that rarely got done earlier in the year.  Now that students are in charge of transitions, they understand the importance of having a schedule posted.
I can't wait for tomorrow!

About the Author:

Melissa Milner is a veteran teacher and lifelong learner in Massachusetts. Catch her on Twitter @teach1991 and via the hastags #geniushour, #tlap, and #meadowstaff.  She blogs at Mrs. Milner's Class and What's Up in Room 16?.